Friday, March 28, 2014

No Place Like Home

Derek asks Penelope a very special question…

"Move in with me."

Derek's words still rang in her ears as Garcia sat trying to focus on the latest case.

"Move in here..with me."

She'd dreamt of hearing those words and now that he'd finally spoken them she was speechless. She saw the puzzled look on his face when she didn't jump at the offer. This is what she wanted, right?

BAU Headquarters, Quantico, VA - Morning 
The team sat in the conference room examining files of the case that had required their presence at an ungodly hour. It had been a while since they'd been called in so early and especially for a local case. Their last case had ended less than eight hours ago and each of them seemed drained and exhausted; what little sleep they had only served to tease them of what they craved but could not have. So, deliriously tired they struggled to listen as Hotch outlined the latest nightmare.

"Local PD has found the bodies of three men in an alley in downtown D.C." He began. "There were no signs of sexual assault and no signs of a struggle."

The pictures of the three victims were displayed on the board next to Hotch. Each man was propped against the alley wall with their eyes closed, peaceful as if they had only fallen asleep.

"No signs of robbery, no signs of a struggle…maybe they knew their attacker?" Morgan suggested.

"What were these men doing in this alley?" Rossi added.

"Look at their clothes. They look like they may have been homeless." Reid said.

"There's no stress." Alex noted as she looked closely at the pictures.

"What?" JJ asked.

"They look so…so…peaceful. There's no signs of shock or tension in their body. It just seems as if they fell asleep." Alex explained.

"You're right." Hotch agreed.  "Reid, you and Alex go to the Coroner's office. The bodies should be there by now. Morgan and Rossi, head to the crime scene and JJ come with me, we'll canvass the area around the scene." Hotch ordered.

It struck Morgan odd at how peaceful and normal the streets seemed as they arrived to begin their investigation. People coming and going with no clue that three people had been murdered mere steps from where they now hurried about their business. While on the way to the crime scene, Garcia had learned the identification of the victims; Marc Taylor 45, Irving Johnson 29 and Eduardo Espinoza 53. All the men were homeless veterans who had fallen on hard times.

The crime scene was unremarkable a typical alley. Morgan and Rossi confirmed that indeed there had been no signs of a struggle which meant that the victims knew their attacker or they were killed somewhere else and dumped in the alley or perhaps, both.

"Three veterans, willing to fight for their country, no doubt saw some action and this is all their country can offer them is a dirty alley to die in. Somehow it just doesn't seem right." Rossi muttered to himself sadly.

"I hear you. Nobody should die like this; especially a veteran." Morgan added looking concerned at his friend. " You okay, Rossi?"

"No! Not at all. Not at all." Rossi turned and walked out of the alley toward the SUV.

Hartman McLemore wasn't a wealthy man but what he had he worked hard for. He had a special place in his heart for the homeless citizens of D.C. He knew all too well what it felt like to be homeless. He watched as the needy of the nation's capital were treated as if they were invisible; stepped over and ignored by the people rushing blindly by each day and night as if they didn't see the countless men, women and children huddled in doorways or hiding in the cloak of darkness in the city's alleys and abandoned buildings. Hartman had spent five years on the streets of D.C. shortly after coming back from his third tour of Afghanistan. He was suffering from PTSD and everyone was eager to dismiss him as some worthless drunk who couldn't take care of himself. His family had grown tired of his binges and nightmares and his status as a veteran had not helped him find work. He served his purpose and now he'd been thrown out like the rest of the men he'd seen on the the streets, invisible, disregarded by the good citizens of their nation's capital.

Now, he ran a food bank and on Friday nights he fed over 100 people a hot meal. He'd been able to clean himself up and get a job but he knew he was one of the fortunate ones. His earnings as a butcher at a local market wasn't much but he was willing to give what he had to help those less fortunate. When he heard of the recent murders of the three homeless men he was overcome with grief; they didn't deserve this, not at all…

Hotch and JJ joined Morgan and Rossi at the mouth of the alley where the three bodies were found. Neither of the two groups had found anything that would lead them to a break in the case.

"Nobody saw a thing."  Hotch said.

"Yeah. there's nothing here that seems out of place either." Morgan added.

"Just three dead vets. If that's not out of place then I don't know what is." Rossi added bitterly.

"Come on Rossi. I didn't mean…"

Rossi walked away toward the SUV before Morgan could finish his sentence.

"Is he alright?" Hotch asked concerned.

"You know how he gets when it comes to our vets. He's upset." Morgan answered.

"Who would want to kill three homeless men? What's the motive?" JJ asked to no one in particular.

"We could be dealing with a housecleaner." Morgan piped up.

"Ridding the city of what they believe to be dirty, worthless." Hotch added.  "Let's head back. Reid and Alex should be back from the coroner's by now."

The ride back started quietly, Rossi was still upset by what he saw in the alley. Morgan didn't press him to talk about his feelings.

"Look, Morgan, I'm sorry about what I said back at the crime scene."

"You don't owe me an apology Rossi. I get it." Morgan interrupted.

"I asked Garcia to move in with me last night." Morgan said changing the subject.

"Well, congratulations!" Rossi welcomed the change in subject. "She must have been thrilled."

Morgan kept driving not responding his jaw tightened as he kept his gaze straight ahead.  Rossi sensed something off.

"She was thrilled, right?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean?"

"She didn't answer me, Rossi! She just jumped up and bolted. I didn't know what to say or think."

"Well, have you talked to her?"

"No. I haven't seen her or talked to her since she left my house around ten last night."

"I know you Derek. Did you call her?"

"Yes, I called her! She wouldn't take the call. It just went to voice mail."

"Give her time. She loves you. You probably caught her off guard she'll come around."

"I don't know. I think she's having second thoughts about us. Things have been kind of crazy these last few months."

"Come on."

"No. I'm serious. She's probably come to her senses, man. I mean really, what woman in her right mind would sign up for all of this?"

"Give her some credit. She knows exactly what she's signed up for and she's not going any where."

The two men rode the last few minutes back in silence. Rossi felt another hair turn gray and swore that Morgan and Garcia were responsible for at least ten of his newest grays. Those two were hopeless and he wanted to wring both of their necks and put himself out of his misery.

BAU Headquarters…Conference Room…

"The Coroner says all three men had high levels of cocaine in their system." Reid began.

"Cocaine? Where would three homeless men get the money to buy cocaine?" Rossi shouted.

"The Coroner says there were no signs of injection and their was no trace around their noses indicating that they had snorted it." Alex added.

"It doesn't make sense. How did it get in their system?" JJ asked.

"The Coroner believes it was given to them in their food." Alex said.

Hotch placed a call to Garcia.

"Garcia. What else have you found on our three victims?"

"I was just about to buzz you my Fearless Leader. It looks like all three men were regulars at the Craven Street Shelter."

"That would make sense. The Coroner said that all three men had the exact same stomach content; remnants of beef, carrots and potatoes." Reid chimed in.

"Remind me not to order the Beef Stew special in the cafeteria." Morgan mumbled under his breath.


"On it."

"Rossi go with him."

The two agents headed to the Craven Street Shelter to question the director. Rossi had seemed a little calmer as they approached the worn building two blocks from the crime scene.  The pair were greeted by a heavy set graying woman of about sixty. Her light gray eyes examined the two suspiciously until she was satisfied that their credentials where in order.

Abigail Witherspoon had been running the shelter for twenty years and was fiercely protective of the people who came through her doors. She was unimpressed by the agents interests in the murders and was reluctant to answer their questions. Why didn't the government send agents to investigate why thousands of people found their homes amongst the garbage and in the doorways of buildings? Why were these unfortunates pushed out of the heavy traffic and tourists areas? It just seemed ludicrous to her now that these men's lives didn't matter until they were dead.

"Yeah, I know them. They were regulars here. Good men! Veterans! Look what they got for it!"

"We're sorry for your loss. You seem quite attached to the folks that come here." Rossi surmised.

"Somebody should care about these people. Most of them served in battle for this ungrateful country!"

Both men became uncomfortable at the woman's rants.

"Um, ma'am…according to our coroner's report all three men had beef stew as their last meal. What was on the menu here last night?" Morgan asked.

"What are you trying to say? That I killed these men? That would make it real easy for you wouldn't it!"

"We're not trying to say anything. We just want to find out what happened to these men." Rossi insisted.

"I was under the weather last night. the guy who runs the kitchen on the weekend can tell you."

"We'll need to talk to him." Rossi said.

"He's not here. He works down at the Third Street Market during the day."

The two agents stood and headed toward the door. Morgan fished a business card from his wallet and handed it to the woman.

"Thank you for your time, Ma'am. If you think of anything else please give us a call."

The woman took the card without responding and watched the two men leave.

Third Street Market -

Hartman McLemore was is in the back wielding a large cleaver, hacking away at a fresh side of beef. He heard voices up front and saw the two men hold up gold badges and I.D. for the store manager's approval.  His heart stopped he knew why they had come and he wasn't going to get caught and he damn sure wasn't going to jail.

"Sure he's in the back working." Said the manager puzzled.

"We need to talk to him. Now." Rossi said impatiently.

Just then the sound of the back door slamming shut was heard that startled the manager and agents.

"Is there another way out besides the front?" Morgan asked.

"Uh, yeah. The side door. There."

The manager pointed toward a door to the left of them about one hundred yards away.

"Rossi, take the back door. I'll go this way."

Morgan headed out the side door where the manager had just indicated and Rossi headed toward the butcher shop behind the counter.  Morgan nearly collided with McLemore rounding the corner of the building like a mad man. Morgan grabbed the man and slung him violently to the ground where he crashed face first.

"FBI! Don't move!" Morgan yelled.

Rossi crashed through the back door and ran up to Morgan just as he was cuffing McLemore who was  laying face down sweating and out of breath on the alley floor.

"Let me guess, you were just coming out to take a break. Am I right?" Rossi asked sarcastically.

"I didn't do nothing! I didn't do nothing!" McLemore yelled frantically.

"Why'd you run?" Morgan huffed pulling the man to his feet.

"Maybe he thought we were food critics." Rossi answered.

Morgan looked at Rossi and shook his head and the three walked out of the alley toward the SUV.

Downtown Police Precinct - A few minutes later...

Since Morgan and Rossi had apprehended McLemore Hotch allowed the two agents to interrogate him. Rossi took the lead as Morgan watched standing behind Rossi near the door. As usual this suspect pleaded his innocence. He didn't see the errors of his ways and was puzzled as to why he had been brought in.

"Hartman McLemore." Rossi began taking a seat across from the nervous suspect. "You served two tours in Iraq it says here." Rossi thumbed through the pages of the file on the table.

"That's right. So what?"

"Seems like you had a bit of trouble adjusting when you got back."

"I did alright."

"I see. Went to the community college learned a trade, got a job as a butcher at the Third Street Market."

"Why am I here?"

"Three men were found dead in an alley not too far from the shelter where you volunteer as a cook."

"Yeah. I heard about it on the news."

"They'd all eaten at the shelter, Hartman! They'd eaten the beef stew that you cooked!"

Rossi was steaming and Derek moved a little closer just in case things got out of hand. Hartman shot a quick glance at Morgan and then to Rossi.

"Look, I don't know what you're trying to say…"

"I'm saying that you killed three innocent men who made the fatal mistake of eating your food!"

Suddenly, McLemore's face turned stone cold and confident. He sat up straight and dignified in the steel rickety chair and looked Rossi dead in his eyes without blinking.

"Do you know how it feels to put your life on the line for your country, agent?"

"Yes, I do. I served in the marines!"

"Then how can you sit there and judge me?  I gave those men something that this country, their country never gave them!"

"And what was that?"

"Dignity! I gave them peace and an end to the the humiliating life that their country gave them. The thanks for their willingness to die or if they were lucky to be maimed so that you all can sit here on your privileged, ungrateful asses and look down on them like they were garbage when they returned!"

Morgan interrupted; he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"So you think you did these men a favor?" Morgan began pacing the room.

"Yes agent! I lived on those streets! I was one of the lucky ones who got out but I know what it feels like to be thrown out of restaurants just because you want to use the bathroom! I know how it feels to cover yourself with garbage in the winter to keep warm! I know how it feels to knock on doors of your own flesh and blood and they ignore you and watch you from the peep hole refusing to open the door and let you in!"

Rossi stunned and angry stared in silence for a moment and then slammed the file closed. Morgan motioned for the officers on the other side of the glass window. Immediately two uniformed D.C. police officers entered and lead McLemore away. He seemed relieved to have told his story said his peace.  Perhaps no one had given him audience before but finally, he'd been able to purge himself of years of pent up hurt and pain and he felt lighter, jittery with relief. Morgan and Rossi looked at each other in amazement and stood in the small room trying to figure it all out.

"I did them a favor, you know! Really! There at peace now…finally!"

BAU Headquarters - 2 Hours later…

Garcia checked her watch again; the team should have been back by now.  She knew it would take them a little while to finish up the paperwork for the locals so she expected to have heard from at least one of them by now.

On cue there was a knock at her door and she jumped to her feet. She hadn't talked to Morgan all day except for business related calls. They had a lot to talk about.

JJ poked her head in the door and for a second saw disappointment in her friend's eyes.

"Hey, JJ, I-I...your back!"

"Yeah, uh we just got back…you okay? You look a little disappointed."

"No, no, I'm glad you're back, really." 

"Let me guess, you were expecting Morgan."

"No…yes…oh JJ…" Garcia couldn't help but ramble.

"Garcia, what's going on?"

"Morgan asked me to move in with him last night."

"Garcia, congratulations! That's good…right?"

"Yes! I-he…we had just…and then out of the blue…he..."

"Whoa! Slow down! Start from the beginning!"

JJ led Garcia back to her chair and she sat in another nearby ready to listen to her hysterical friend.

"I love Derek. He's my Prince. I never thought we'd be together. Now we are and everyday I keep thinking I'm going to wake up and all of it will have been a dream."

"Penelope, Derek loves you! He's loved you for a long time. You've made him a better man and I'm sure he'd be the first to admit that."

"Thank you. I know he loves me…it still doesn't seem real but I know he loves me. Just hearing him ask me to move in made me panic and I bolted."


"Yeah. I jumped out of bed and ran out of there like a bat. I haven't talked to him since."

JJ shook her head and tried to figure out what to say to her hopeless friend.

"Look Pen, you need to talk to him. He's probably thinking the worse, you know how he is."

"Yeah. I don't know what to say. He's probably so mad at me."

"Just be honest. If you don't want to move in with him then tell him. He'll understand he doesn't want you to do anything that you don't want to do."

"That's just it, JJ I do want to move in; more than anything in the world! I've dreamt of sharing a place with him…I just didn't think it would happen. I panicked and you know what happens when I panic! I do something stupid! I think I really messed up this time!"

"Calm down, just talk to him!"
Morgan had made no attempt to see Garcia when Rossi and he had returned. He struggled to keep his mind on the case report in front of him. He didn't want to think about her reaction when he'd asked her to move in with him. He thought it would make her happy even though he'd asked on impulse he still meant it. He'd been thinking about it every since they'd gotten together but he didn't want to rush her. Now he felt like a fool wanting to take their relationship to the next level, something she obviously did not want. He'd avoided her all day talking to her only when it related to the case. He didn't want to hear her confess that she'd decided that them being together wasn't a good idea.

There was a knock on his door and he looked up just as Garcia poked her head in the door.

"Hey, I didn't know you were back."

"I got back a while ago." He answered going back to his report.

"You didn't tell me you were back…you always tell me when you get back."

"I wanted to get started on these reports."

Garcia walked over to his desk and gently closed the file in front of him.

"Are you mad at me?"

Morgan exhaled and slowly looked up at her.

"No, Garcia, I'm not mad at you…just busy." He said grabbing the report and opening it again.

"Can we talk? She said meekly.

"Not right now. I really need to finish this. Later, okay?"

"Oh, okay…later."

Garcia stared at him as he continued to write and refusing to look at her. She fought the tears threatening to reveal themselves on her face.  No matter how he tried to seem uninterested she could see the hurt in his eyes and in his body language. Without another word she left his office and headed back to her lair.

Home of Derek Morgan - Much later

The smell of pasta sauce greeted Morgan when he opened his front door. There were sounds coming from his kitchen and if it hadn't been for Clooney's calm disposition he would have pulled his service revolver. He leaned down to pet the puppy and nearly tripped over a familiar flower printed suitcase.

"Penelope?" He called out.

"In the kitchen!" She answered cheerfully.

Morgan rounded the corner and stopped in the doorway of the kitchen. Penelope was at the stove hovering over a steaming skillet.

"What's going on?" He said taking a step into the room.

"I thought I'd cook. Pasta okay?"

"Sure. I just wasn't expecting to see you tonight."

"Why not? This is a special occasion."

"Did I miss something? What are we celebrating?"

"Our official first night as roomies!"

Morgan turned and looked toward the door remembering the flowered suitcase.

"Is that why…I thought you didn't…"

Garcia turned and closed the gap between them wrapping her arms around his neck. Smiling she looked longingly into his eyes.

"I'm sorry I freaked out on you last night." She said softly planting a soft kiss on his lips.

He returned the kiss still confused as to the turn of events.

"Are you sure?" He asked pulling her close to him.

"I'm positive. I've always wanted it I just didn't think it would ever happen. I'm sorry for hur…"

He kissed her stopping her rambling apology. It didn't matter why it only mattered that she was here in his kitchen…their kitchen making him dinner and looking like heaven on earth. Only because it was necessary to breathe he pulled away still looking into her eyes with the biggest smile she'd ever seen.

"So, what's for dinner?"

"Spaghetti and homemade meatballs." She said proudly.

"Homemade? Since when?"

"Since I called Rossi and he walked me through it."

"Rossi…so he can keep a secret, well..Okay."



"Good. The meatballs are ready. I just need to cook the pasta. 10 minutes and we'll be ready to eat…"

Again he interrupted her. He wasn't much in the mood for talking. He was starving, true and the smell of homemade meatballs was incredible but he had a taste for something quite different. He kissed her again pulling her even closer to him. 

"Can dinner wait for a while?" He asked her with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

"I thought you were hungry?' She asked curiously.

"I am." 

He planted a kiss on her lips again and for a moment she thought she heard fireworks.

"Welcome home, Baby Girl."


“Happiness doesn't lie in conspicuous consumption and the relentless amassing of useless crap. Happiness lies in the person sitting beside you and your ability to talk to them. Happiness is clear-headed human interaction and empathy. Happiness is home. And home is not a house-home is a mythological conceit. It is a state of mind. A place of communion and unconditional love. It is where, when you cross its threshold, you finally feel at peace.” 
― Dennis Lehane

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Nightmares, Apologies and Things to Come

Derek thought that his cousin Cindi's nightmare was over, but when he is called home for a family emergency he realizes that his nightmare has just begun.

Now I believe I can hear the philosophers protesting that it can only be misery to live in folly, illusion, deception and ignorance, but it isn't -it's human.- Desiderius Erasmus

"Did something happen to my mom?" Derek whispered into the phone.

He wasn't accustomed to getting calls from Chicago at 2 a.m. unless something was wrong. He definitely wasn't used to getting calls from Stan Gordinski at any hour of the day. Derek sat up in bed, heart beating furiously in his chest waiting  for the bad news.

"No. No it's not your mom. She's just fine." Stan answered quickly.

"You do know it's two o'clock in the morning, right?"

"Yes. I know what time it is and I'm sorry to have to call you but…"

"But what?" Derek began to panic all over again. "Is it Sarah? Des?"

"No. It's Anthony... he's missing!" 

It was silent for a moment while Derek struggled to process what he had just heard. Penelope began to stir next to him so he carefully eased himself out of bed and headed out of the room.

"What do you mean he's missing?"

"Your cousin said that she was having trouble sleeping so she got up to make herself a cup of tea. On her way to the kitchen she looked in his bedroom and he wasn't there."

"Any signs of forced entry?"

"No. Nothing." Stan began. "I got the call about twenty minutes ago and I have men on the scene now. I know time is of the essence in a child abduction so I thought…"

"I understand. Thanks Gordinski."

"I've already placed a call to Hotchner. I'm inviting the BAU in on the case."

"Thanks. I'll see you shortly." Derek ended the call just as his phone sounded alerting him of a new case.

Derek stepped back into the bedroom to see Garcia already awake and headed to the bathroom.

"You got the call too I see." She said sleepily.


"Wait. Why are you already up?" 

She saw a distant troubled look in his eyes and she knew something was wrong. His look stopped her in her tracks.

"Anthony is missing."

"Oh my God, Derek! Baby…" She reached out for his arm. "Wait. Is that the case?"

"Yeah. Gordinski just called me…"

"Derek, you know you can't work this case! You're too close."

"Nobody's going to stop me from working this case, Garcia! Nobody!"

Derek brushed past her and into the bathroom. She watched him in shock knowing better than to say anything more.

Jet - One Hour Later…

"Detective Gordinski received a call from Derek's cousin Cindi about an hour and  a half ago that her son was missing." Hotch began.

All eyes were on Derek as he looked far away his foot tapping nervously on the floor.

"There were no signs of forced entry and Cindi says that she didn't hear anything." Hotch continued his eyes glued to Morgan.

"Hotch, you said the call came in about an hour and a half ago. That would mean that she noticed he was missing about one thirty this morning. What was she doing up so early?" Rossi asked.

"According to Gordinski, Cindi told the responding officers that she couldn't sleep so she got up to make herself some tea." Derek answered.

He had seemingly come back from wherever his mind had taken him and he was ready and present working the case.

"Derek…" Hotch began.

Derek looked at his boss with a stone cold look in his eyes.

"Hotch don't even try to tell me that I can't work this case!"

The team looked at Hotch then at Morgan and back at their boss as he seemed to decide his next move.

"Morgan. Are you sure you're going to be able to handle this case?"

"I'm sure, Hotch."

"Fine but the first sign to the contrary I'm pulling you off and sending you back to Quantico."

Morgan looked up and shot Hotch a, "you-and-what-army" look.

BAU Headquarters - 

Garcia desperately wanted to be on that jet with Derek and the team. He needed her with him and the thought of him dealing with the old demons that this case would conjure up made her stomach knot up. She knew he still blamed himself for Cindi's abduction and all of the torture she'd endured for eight years; now it would begin again with her young son's life in danger.

She began working, hunting cyberspace for clues hoping to find some information that would lead them to a successful end to this case. She felt bad for delving into Morgan's family history. His cousin Cindi was the first on her list because she'd learned over the years as the team worked similar cases that the parents and especially the person who saw the victim last was always on the top of the suspect list.

There wasn't much information on Cindi Barnes and Garcia wasn't surprised. Her life had stopped for eight years and so for the last two years it was as if she had been reborn and struggling to begin a new life for herself and her son. She'd managed to find a job at a Chicago bank. After little over a year she'd been promoted from a teller to an assistant manager and seemed to be rebuilding her life. Anthony was enrolled at a public school near the small house that Cindi was renting. Garcia found no irregular bank activity or credit card purchases. She and her son seemed to live a quiet life. Garcia continued searching  trying with all of her inner strength to not worry about Derek; secretly she knew it would be much easier to stop breathing than it would be to stop worrying about her man.

Chicago Police Department - 5:30 a.m.

Stan Gordinski had met the team at the airport and driven them to the station. The distraught faces of his family met Derek as he rushed through the door. Seeing the tormented eyes of his Aunt Yvonne and Cousin Cindi pierced him deep to his core. The blame and guilt that he'd been able to control for the last two years welled up in him and he felt nauseous.

"I have a large conference room in the back set up for you all." Stan said pointing toward the rear of the large precinct.

"Thanks, Detective." Hotch answered as he took a deep breath and headed toward the conference room.

The rest of the team followed Gordinski and Hotch while Morgan took a detour and headed over to where his aunt and cousin were seated.

"Auntie Vonne. Cindi." 

Yvonne stood and hugged him tightly around the neck. He felt her body shaking as she cried into his shirt. Cindi sat unresponsive on the old wooden bench staring at her feet. Derek saw the tears on her face, his heart wrenched as he tightened his grip around his aunt and closed his eyes fighting back his own tears.

For some odd reason, Morgan was momentarily drawn to the mud on his cousins worn converse tennis shoes. "Maybe she just grabbed the first pair she saw." He thought to himself quickly feeling ashamed for judging her choice of shoes at a time like this.

"We're going to find him. I promise." He said emotionally.

His aunt pulled away slightly and looked him in his eyes.

"You can't make that promise, Derek, Remember?"

He looked away not wanting to go back to a dark place and time when he had made that promise to her.

"Yeah Auntie, I remember."

Hotch, Gordinski, and the rest of the team looked on in worried silence as they watched Morgan and his aunt.

"Let's get to work." Hotch ordered breaking into the moment.

"What do we have so far?"

"According to Cindi, she got up around 1:30 this morning to make herself a cup of tea and on the way to the kitchen looked into her son's room and noticed that he was not there." Gordinski began.

"Does anyone else live in the home?" Rossi asked.

"No one." Stan answered.

"How about boyfriends, ex-lovers…" Rossi added.

"No. Cindi and Anthony live a pretty solitary lifestyle. Pretty much stay to themselves unless they're with family as far as I know." Stan answered.

Hotch pulled out his phone and dialed Garcia.

"Hey boss man."

"Garcia, what have you found on Cindi Barnes?"

"Not much I'm afraid." She began. "Cindi's been working at the Chicago Mercantile Bank for the last year and a half or so. Started as a teller and just got promoted to assistant manager a few months ago. She has a checking and savings account…not a lot of money in either account…no suspicious activity there or on her credit cards."

"Thanks, Garcia."

"I'll keep digging. Garcia out." 

After a short while, Morgan joined the team in the conference room. Hotch was giving orders and preparing to send each out into the field.

"Time is running out. We need to bring this case to a quick close sooner rather than later."

Hotch looked up to see Morgan enter the room.

"Morgan I want you and Rossi to go to your cousin's house and look around."

"On it." 

Morgan quickly turned not waiting for Rossi and headed toward the front door. Rossi quickly caught up as Derek neared the SUV.

"Hotch did send us out together." Rossi barked.

"Anthony's running out of time, Rossi!" Morgan struggled to maintain his control.

"Don't you think I know that, Derek? Look, I know this is hard but you've got to keep it together!"

Morgan climbed in and gripped the steering wheel and  closed his eyes inhaling and exhaling before he spoke.

"I'm sorry." Derek began. "He's just a little kid, Rossi. He's been through so much already. I've got to bring him home."

"No. We have to bring him home. This isn't your fault!"

"Rossi…this is my fault…"

"No!" Rossi interrupted. "No! it isn't! If you take this on it will destroy you!"

Morgan, not ready to believe his partner looked helplessly at Rossi and started the SUV and headed toward the Barnes home in silence.

Home of Cindi Barnes - 

The home that his cousin shared with her 9 year-old son was small, sparsely decorated and immaculate. It was odd to see a home so organized especially a home with a young energetic little boy. Derek searched the house beginning with Anthony's room. Rossi searched the perimeter surrounding the home looking for clues that may have been missed by the CSI unit that was still on the scene.

Rossi approached Anthony's bedroom window  and noticed something that had caught the attention of the crime scene tech. It was a foot print.

Derek smiled as he picked up the toys and carefully examined them. Things hadn't changed much since he'd been a boy; hot wheels, baseball gloves, footballs, and comic books where still the stuff that filled the closets and toy boxes of kids even in this day and age. Judging by this little boy's room he had an interest in football and crime mysteries. Derek remembered his aunt mentioning Anthony's wanting to be a cop or an FBI agent when he grew up. Morgan silently prayed that he'd get a chance to see that dream come true.

So deep in thought, Morgan didn't hear Rossi enter the room.


"Nothing. He likes football." He said holding up an old worn pigskin.

Rossi smiled as his eyes surveyed the small room.

"CSI found a foot print."


"Just outside this window." Rossi pointed to the room's small window.

Derek moved to the window and looked out.

"CSI thinks it may belong to a woman or a teenager." 

Rossi had already formulated a theory in his mind but he was leery of mentioning it to Derek just yet. 


Derek turned to see the troubled look on Rossi's face.

"What are you trying to say, Rossi?"

"Morgan, I'm not trying to say anything but you know how these cases work."

"No way. I know you're not trying to say what I think you're trying to say."

"I know this is hard but this is our job. This is family, I get it and if you can't separate the two…"

"I can do my job, Rossi!"

"Then do it!"

Morgan felt his jaw tighten as he looked at Rossi. He was right. This was their job. It was also why agents were not allowed to work cases where they had a personal interest. Morgan shook his head and let his eyes look around the room again. Then something struck him.


"What?" Rossi responded confused.

"Shoes!" Morgan repeated. "Rossi, is the ground damp outside the window?"

"Yeah it's pretty muddy."

"Damn!" Morgan sat with a thud on the small twin bed.

"What's going on?"

"My cousin had mud on her shoes…"

Chicago Police Dept.

Hotch had asked JJ to interview Cindi. As a mother she couldn't imagine if she were in this mother's shoes. Cindi and her son had gone through unimaginable horrors at the hands of Malcolm Ford. He'd raped and tortured her repeatedly forcing her to have his child and then using the child to control her. 

"Cindi, I'm not sure if you remember me from a few years ago… "

"Yes. Of course. Agent Jarreau I remember you." Cindi answered.

"Please call me Jennifer."

"Okay. Jennifer."

Now the hard part began. She had some tough questions that needed answers and she had to do it in a way that didn't cause Cindi to shut down.

"When a child goes missing the first thing we do is work to illuminate the family as suspects."

"I understand." Cindi said her voice shaky and nervous.

JJ watched as Cindi sat dazed across from her.

"Is it normal for you to be up at one thirty in the morning?"

"I haven't been sleeping well lately."

"What's keeping you up?"

"Two weeks, three days and twelve hours will be the tenth anniversary of my abduction."

JJ watched her mood change from dazed to teary.

"Every time I close my eyes I see Malcolm's face. I feel his hands around my neck. I feel the pressure of his body on top of me…forcing himself on me…"

"Cindi, I'm sorry…I didn't realize…"

"It's okay. Look Agent Jarreau…Jennifer, I didn't hurt my son. I love him. He was my heart, my life…"

"No one is suggesting that you hurt your son. These are questions we have to ask."

"Yes. Yes. I understand."

"Has Anthony mentioned any new friends, anyone, suddenly paying him a lot of attention or hanging around the house or his school?"

"No. No one."

"Has Anthony ever run away before?"

"No. Never."

"Have you two been getting along okay?"

"We are very close. We're all we have."

Cindi broke down losing her control. JJ felt bad for the troubled woman who had worked so hard to put her life back together after her life had been interrupted by the evil intentions of a maniac.  JJ had one more task and that was to get a DNA sample and to get a closer look at the mud caked shoes she was wearing.

Morgan and Rossi had returned to the precinct and joined the others in the conference room. To say that Derek was distraught would be an understatement.

"Let's not jump to conclusions…" Hotch began.

"Hotch, she has mud on her shoes and their is a foot print outside of Anthony's room!" Morgan insisted.

"She could have stepped in mud earlier in the day. Let's wait until we get the forensics report back." Hotch continued.

Morgan began pacing the room. Was he crazy to think that his cousin could hurt her own child? Had her ordeal with Ford done more damage than any of them had realized? 

As the team debriefed, Morgan's phone rang and he breathed a sigh of relief to see Garcia's name on his screen.

"Hey Baby Girl."

"Hey Handsome. How are you holding up?"

"We haven't found any real leads and Anthony is running out of time."

"I know but I have faith in you and the team. You'll find him. I know it."

"Hold on to that, Garcia, because I'm not getting a good feeling about this at all."

As Morgan and Garcia were talking, he noticed that JJ had finished her interview with Cindi and was walking her and his Aunt to the door.

"I got to go, Baby Girl." He said abruptly ending their conversation.

"Oh-Oh okay." 

Penelope continued to do what she did best…hunting down the hidden dirt and secrets that helped her team bring down the bad guys. This time a child's life was in danger and she had to dig faster if they were going to bring Anthony home.

Morgan joined JJ and his family as they reached the door.

"JJ, tell Hotch that I'm going to drive my Aunt and cousin home."

"Sure. I'll see you when you get back."

The three headed to his SUV. Once they arrived at his Aunt's home she tried desperately to convince her daughter to stay with her. Cindi refused wanting to be home in case Anthony came back.
The team was running out of ideas when Garcia called.

"Hello my fellow Crime Fighters."

"What you got Garcia? Alex asked.

"I did a deeper search on Cindi. Did you know that she is using Malcolm Ford's name on all of her legal documents now?"

"Why would she do that? JJ asked.

"So she could control his assets while he's in jail." Reid answered.

"Are you saying she is actually in love with this psycho?"

"Not necessarily. She wants what she thinks belongs to her. Eight years of being forced to be this guy's wife, bear his child and endure his torture…she wants whatever he owns as retribution." Reid added.

"You might be on to something, Reid." Hotch said.

Hotch dialed Garcia again.

"Yeah Boss!"

"Garcia has the lab results come back on the shoe print at the crime scene and the mud on Cindi's shoes?"

Garcia began typing furiously, no doubt hacking into the crime labs computers.

"The mud on Cindi's shoes seems to be a combination of two different types of mud. The lab found traces that match the mud outside the boy's window and mud from another location. The shoe print however is an exact match."

"Thanks Garcia." Hotch ended the call.

Home of Cindi Barnes

Morgan pulled into the driveway and killed the engine just as a text from JJ appeared on his phone. It wasn't what he'd hope to find out.

Cindi was eerily quiet as he walked her to the door and entered the house. 

"Do you think you and your team will find him?" She asked as she walked the few steps toward her son's room.

"We're going to do all we can to bring him home."

"Do you ever blame yourself?" She said her back to him staring into the small bedroom.


"Do you ever blame yourself?

"I-I don't under…"

"For what happened to me, I mean."

Derek's heart sunk. He'd always wondered if she blamed him, now he had his answer. 

"Look Cindi, I am so sorry for everything that happened to you…if I could change it I would…you know that."

"He wanted me to have his child. He wasn't going to be satisfied until I had a baby."

"Cindi. I'm so sorry."

She chuckled. The sound of her laughter seemed odd and out of place. She still had her back to him and he kept his distance processing the tragedy of her life.

"The older he gets the more he looks like Malcolm; his smile, his eyes…his voice even sounds like Malcolm."

A sick feeling came over Morgan as he listened to his cousin. She chuckled again and then turned to face him.

"He was born exactly a year to the day of when I was kidnapped. Now that's funny." 

Tears began to stream down her face as she looked through Morgan.

"Cindi, did you do something to Anthony?" Dread filled him.

"I couldn't look at him any longer. He's a reminder that Malcolm won. He ruined my life and then made me give birth to..."

"Cindi, where's Anthony?"

"I did him a favor you know. It's not fair to be born out of such ugliness…"

Chicago Police Department

"Boss, I think I may have something!"

"What, Garcia?" 

"Malcolm Ford owned a small farm about five miles outside of Chicago. It's been abandoned since Ford's been in jail…but that's not the kicker…the mud found on Cindi's shoes, is found in that part of the city. It contains high amounts of ammonia, as in urine from farm animals…Ford raised pigs and cows on his land until Animal Control confiscated them after Ford's incarceration."

"Oh, my God! She's been behind this all along!" Alex said.

"She said, 'he was my heart.' "JJ chimed in.

"What?" Reid asked.

"During my interview with her she said, Anthony was her heart. Like she knew he was already dead."

"She played us!" Rossi said angrily.

"She interjected herself into the investigation so she would know what we knew." Hotch surmised. "Garcia send us the address."

"Already on your phones my Lige."

"Where's Morgan? Hotch asked.

"He took his aunt and Cindi home."

"Call him. He could be her next target." Hotch ordered. Reid, Alex come with me to Ford's farm. Rossi you and JJ go to Cindi's house and bring her in."

The team headed out taking Gordinski and several uniformed officers to each location for back up. 

Home of Cindi Barnes

"You were supposed to protect me! Big time Chicago Police Officer! You let him snatch me in broad open daylight right under your highly trained nose!"

Cindi pulled a gun from her purse and aimed it at Morgan. He wasn't going to be able to talk her out of her madness. She'd been planning this for a while and nearly got a way with it.

"Cindi put the gun down and let us get you some help."

"Like you helped me ten years ago? No thanks!"

"Please tell me you didn't kill your son. He's just as much a victim as you are." He struggled to sound calm. "What will your mother think when she finds out that you killed her grandson?"

"She'll get over it."

Morgan began to slowly move toward the deranged distracted woman. He should have seen this coming and perhaps he did but after all this was his fault and the last thing he wanted to do was kill her.

"I took him to the farm…he always loved the farm. I figured it would be kind of me to let him die there."

Morgan could hear the cars arriving out front and so could Cindi; this wasn't going to end well if he didn't reach her before she pulled the trigger. Her eyes darted from Morgan to the door and back her hand was shaking as he slowly took another step toward her. 

"Cindi, don't do this. We can still fix this." 

He took another step toward her.

"There's nothing you can do to fix this."

He took another step he had to make his move and quickly. Suddenly the front door burst open and he grabbed her hand wrestling it away from her. JJ and Rossi ran toward them. JJ grabbed Cindi and cuffed her. Rossi stopped short of Morgan as he dropped into a nearby chair, the look of despair and helplessness made him feel numb; He didn't feel Rossi's hand on his shoulder as he just sat silently as the Crime Scene Investigators rushed through the door.

"She killed him, Rossi…her own son."


"I can't make sense of this anymore…"

"I'm sorry, Derek."

Morgan didn't really hear a word his friend said it was just noise mixed with the hustle and bustle of the others who had begun working gathering evidence.

After several minutes, Hotch, Reid, and Alex entered the room. Morgan looked up at them briefly before looking away.

"Morgan…" Hotch began.

He didn't respond. 

"There's someone who wants to see you."

Gordinski came through the doorway holding the hand of a very confused nine year old little boy. He was home and no doubt still wondering why his mother had driven him to the farm so early that morning and locked him in the underground cellar. He'd tried so hard to be a good boy; his mother always seemed on edge and he didn't want to make her mad but she was always mad. He made it a point to try his best to be perfect but it wasn't enough.

He slowly walked in, past Gordinski and stood next to Derek. In his grief Morgan had not noticed the boy's entrance until he felt a small hand on his shoulder.

"Hi Uncle Derek."

Derek knew his mind was playing tricks on him. He slowly lifted his head and looked into the watery eyes of an innocent little boy.

"Anthony?" He said shocked.

"I'm home."

Morgan pulled him into his arms and held onto him for dear life. He could no longer hold back his tears as his team teary-eyed looked on smiling at each other.

"Yes you are. Welcome home, little man!"

Morgan was already bracing himself for the endless speeches from his family and his friends about this all not being his fault. Still, he couldn't shake the guilt and he couldn't erase the look of madness in his cousin's eyes. Most of all he knew that he would never forget the fear and confusion in little Anthony's eyes. A child should never have to witness his parent's hatred of them. This poor kid had already lived a dozen lifetimes…it wasn't fair none of it was fair…life seldom was. There was nothing more he could do but be available should Anthony or his Aunt need him. He knew Yvonne would do her best to raise him with love and patience and prayerfully it would help her to deal with her own feelings of guilt and failure. It broke his heart to see his cousin destroyed at the hands of a man that was pure evil…it wasn't fair…not fair at all and if his job taught him anything it was that life was not for wimps. Yes, it was scary, uncertain and most times uncontrollable by any human effort, but, it also held so much promise and possibilities and it was the anticipation of those possibilities and things to come that drove him and others like him to keep fighting even when it seemed as if the battle was a sure loss. Every time they saved a life it solidified his purpose and his determination to never give up. 
"The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next." - Ursula K. Le Guin
The End...