Thanks to everyone who read and penguincrazy and MonstersDream for reviewing. Apparently I never got this final chapter posted, so fixing that oversight now.
Sam smudged the pencil lines where they crossed and then frowned, staring at the page with a critical eye. Still not quite right, but he wasn't sure what was missing. He stared for a minute longer and then flipped the notebook shut and slipped it and the pencil back into his pocket. It would come to him eventually. It always did.
The light outside the windows of the plane had long since faded, but the interior lights were still on, and he craned his head to check on his team. Mick and Gina had their heads together over the center table, casting the occasional sideways look at Prophet who was lying on his back on the couch with his arms crossed over his chest, and for a moment Sam debated warning Prophet that they were planning something for him. Then one of Prophet's eyes opened and he tilted his head towards the pair. "I know where the both of you live. Just sayin'."
"Shut up, mate, no one asked you," Mick returned almost immediately. "Go back to sleep so we can draw embarrassing things on your forehead."
Gina snickered as Prophet freed one arm and made a rude gesture in Mick's direction, and Sam smiled and pushed himself up from his seat. Prophet could take care of himself, and he was curious where his newest teammate had disappeared to.
He found Beth in the front row of seats, stretched—if you could call it that—out on her side with her head on the armrest by the window and her legs hanging off the front of the seat by the aisle. "That cannot be comfortable."
He'd thought he'd kept his voice low enough not to disturb her, but Beth's eyes opened immediately and she turned her head towards him. "Why not?"
"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."
She pushed herself into a sitting position and shifted into the seat nearest the window. "You didn't, I was just resting. It'll be a few hours before I can actually sleep, but that was a really quick report to write."
"You're done with your report already?" He hadn't even powered up his computer yet. He was trying to get better about that kind of thing, but the odds were that his wouldn't actually be done and submitted until Records sent a reminder. About like usual.
"Seriously, Sam, the guy's alibi was a lie, he ran from us when we went to talk to him, and he had a bloody—literally—torture chamber built into his apartment. Short of him finger-painting a bloody confession on the hood of his truck, I'm not sure how much more straightforward this could have been."
That was a fair point. His team tended to view paperwork in the same way that he did, which was why he was trying to set a better example, but the longest part of this write-up was likely to be listing the interviews they'd done. "In that case, do you mind?" Sam gestured at the empty seat beside her.
He took it with a nod of thanks. "How are you doing? I saw the pictures the CSI team took." The images had been ugly to say the least, and he knew full well that photos never conveyed the full impact of a situation. "I know it's not something you're used to seeing. At least not lately." He had no doubt that she'd seen things like that at some point in the past—she'd been through enough departments that there was no way that she could have avoided it—but it was very much the kind of thing that the mind dulled over time. For the sake of sanity if nothing else.
"Want to bet?" She shook her head. "Counterterrorism overlaps with organized crime a lot more than you'd think since they have to fund their cells somehow, and some of the mob types can get…creative. If I never see another meat hook again it will be too soon."
Sam tilted his head, but she waved it off.
"I'm just glad that in this case there wasn't anyone in the torture chamber." She paused. "I have to give him credit for a clever setup. Gina's got good eyes to have noticed the missing space."
"She's quick," Sam agreed, accepting the change in conversation. If Beth had a problem, he'd trust her to deal with it or bring it up. More likely the former than the latter.
"Although she really needs to tell her family to go to hell if they're bothering her that much."
There wasn't much Sam could—or should—say to that, but she clearly didn't expect a response as she continued talking.
"Did you get anything out of him? Bolver, I mean."
"No, he shut down pretty fast after you guys called it in." Sam had hoped that Bolver would start talking to them after they'd found his hidden room; they had him dead to rights, but getting serial killers talking was how they built up their knowledge going forward. Unfortunately the opposite had happened, and while Bolver's narcissism would force him to break his silence eventually, that could be months in coming.
Beth nodded in understanding. "So it goes. Maybe he'll be willing to talk come the trial or sentencing." She tilted her head. "Any read on whether he'll actually push it that far? Can't imagine that the DA's office will offer much for a plea."
Sam rocked a hand. "You know how it goes, they'll find a token just to keep from wasting money on a trial. Of course, there's no way they'll compromise on life without parole, and he's just about arrogant enough to think that he could sway a jury, so…." He shrugged. "I'm guessing they'll call out either you or me if it comes to that." Him because he'd spoken to Bolver; Beth because she'd been in the apartment when they'd found the hidden room. No prosecutor in his right mind would put Prophet on the stand given his history, and neither Gina nor Mick had much court experience yet although he did make a point of taking one or the other of them with him when he was called.
"So do you think you're going to stick with us?" he asked, changing the subject himself this time.
"I said I would, didn't I?" It was her turn to shrug. "I haven't had the urge to shoot anyone on your team, and none of them have attempted to strangle me yet, so I think we'll be okay. At least for a while."
Her blunt assessment was worth a smile, but the words implied some pretty unpleasant things about the teams she'd been working with. "There's a rousing endorsement," he offered, leaving the comment open.
"You never actually talked to anyone on my previous team, did you?" She didn't wait for an answer, nodding towards the back of the plane. "Do I want to ask what they think?"
"I've talked to them all informally, and they're perfectly happy with you joining us."
She braced herself on the seat back, lifting herself up to kneel on the seat so she could look back at them. "You sure about that? I think they're plotting."
"There's that paranoia thing again." He smiled at her eye roll. "They are, but it's directed at Prophet not you."
"That's…comforting?" She looked at them again and then shifted to sit properly in the seat again.
"As long as it doesn't involve permanent markers or making him give up the couch, he'll probably let them get away with it. To a point, anyway." He waved a hand, dismissing the matter. "I'll find a few minutes to make those talks official, but I'm not worried." She might consider paranoia a survival trait, but he hadn't seen any personality clashes during the case that gave him pause. "Have you heard anything from your team lead?"
"No, but I don't figure I will until the transfer papers are set in stone. I'd say you're probably going to get an 'Are you insane?' email if you haven't already, but then again he might not want to risk you changing your mind."
"If it comes up, I can always tell him that we've been friends for two decades now. From what you've said that will both answer the question and terrify him." This time her grin was real, and he returned it.
"Agent Griffith, please," Fickler greeted, opening the door of his office and waving her in. "Thank you for coming."
Agents didn't get to decline meeting requests from the director of the FBI, but Beth didn't point that out as she entered his office and took the chair he indicated. There was a difference between being blunt and being an idiot. "It's my pleasure, but is there something that I can do for you?" She'd met Fickler in passing a few times over the years but they'd never worked directly together. Probably because his movement through the various FBI departments had been of the political let's-get-my-name-out-there nature as opposed to the oh-great-they-hate-me-too that hers had been.
"I'd like your opinion of the Red Cell team."
It was an odd request for him to make given that she'd only officially joined the team in DC a week ago, but she couldn't read anything in his expression. "From what I've seen they're very effective," she said after a moment, making sure that her expression remained even as well. "I've only been with them for a short time as I'm sure you're aware, but I know they have a closure rate that rivals any of the more established teams." Outright beat, in a lot of cases.
"I'm aware of the official reports, but you've actually worked with them, and I'd like your opinion. What about the rookie, LaSalle?"
"From what I've seen she's intelligent, observant…an asset to the team." Was he seriously getting concerned now about putting a rookie directly into a BAU team? Six months ago, sure, she could see that, maybe even three months ago, but it was more than a little late for second thoughts, especially if Gina wasn't the one having them. Unless her family had something to do with it? That didn't make much sense, though, not when you were talking about the director of the entire FBI. Well, not unless her relatives were exceedingly powerful on top of being exceedingly annoying. Unlikely, but maybe worth checking into if he kept up this line of questioning.
"You're sure? It's a stressful position for someone so young and she doesn't have the life experience that the rest of you do."
"It's a stressful position for anyone," Beth returned, "but she seems to be handling it." And if she wasn't, it would be Sam's job to take care of it. It wasn't a duty that he'd shirk no matter how unpleasant he might find it.
"What about Rawson? He's a foreign national, as I'm sure you're aware."
He wanted a review of all of them? It was possible, but again that was Sam's job. Periodic assessments were part of the responsibility every team lead had, and there was no way that he would try to avoid something like that any more than he would handling any problems that arose. "Sam mentioned it," she agreed cautiously. "From what I've seen, he's intelligent and works well with the others. I understand that he's also sniper-qualified, but there hasn't been a need for that skill in the time I've been with them."
"I get the same impression from him as the rest." She paused and then shook her head. Might as well come right out and ask; she wasn't the talking-around-the-subject type. "I'm sorry, but is there something specific that you're looking for here? Sam would be a much better person to speak with given that I've been with them all of a week."
"Did you know that he's not a full agent?" Fickler asked as if he hadn't heard her last statement.
"Wh—Simms? No." That did surprise her a little. "I was under the impression that he joined the Bureau at the same time as Rawson."
"He did, but he's on the roles as a probationary agent only. Given his history I didn't—don't—want him exerting undue influence over the rest of the team. Are you aware that he has a felony conviction?"
"Yes." He certainly didn't make a secret of it, at least not when asked a direct question. "But undue influence….you can't be talking about Sam, and if you're talking about Gina and Mick they've worked with him for six months and a year respectively. I don't think they care what his badge says." She was damn sure they didn't, actually.
He didn't exactly look pleased by that pronouncement. "When you were working the case with them, did you notice any issues with his temper?"
"Nothing at all? You're sure?"
"No. No issues when they were walking the streets, he and Mick did their interviews together and didn't have any problems—" not unless one counted continued low-level harassment between the two of them, anyway, which she certainly didn't—"and then he stayed with Sam to do Bolver's interview while the rest of us were searching the apartment. Apparently he worked in construction at some point; he was the one who was able to poke holes in the whole roofing story."
"Hm." Fickler glanced down at the papers in front of him. "And what about Cooper, how does he handle them?"
"Fine." And she was damn near an expert at recognizing team leads that didn't handle things well at this point. "He listens to them, and they respect him and trust his judgement."
Fickler nodded again, and then his questions turned to more details about the case, but Beth got the distinct impression that he wasn't paying much attention to the answers. And whether he was or wasn't, she was just as glad when the allotted time was up and she was able to make a graceful exit. Too damn many chances for her mouth to run away from her in situations like that.
Sam had accompanied her to headquarters since short of a direct order she'd be telling him what the meeting was about and it was as good of an excuse for lunch as anything else, so as soon as she escaped the director's office she headed down to the gym to find him. He and an agent she didn't recognize were trading blows in one of the rings, and given that she wasn't an idiot she stayed well clear until they separated and Sam waved that he'd seen her.
"So?" Sam asked, grabbing his water bottle off the floor as he sparring partner moved off to the weight benches. "Is the director kidnapping you for some pet project already?"
"No, he just had some questions about that last case." She lowered her voice so no one else would hear. "Your team."
Sam's jaw tightened, and he nodded to the locker rooms. "Give me ten minutes?"
He was back in less than that, but although they matched pace to the car easily enough neither of them said anything else until they were on their way out of the parking lot.
"What about the team?" he asked.
"Well, at first I thought it had something to do with Gina. Brought up how young she was, how stressful the job could be, that kind of thing."
"Her father tried to pull some strings when she first joined the BAU, but it didn't go anywhere," Sam admitted. "Mostly because she was already a fully qualified FBI agent at that point. I can't believe he'd do that again now."
The fact that he'd ever tried—and the implication that something might have changed if she hadn't already been a full agent—said that Beth probably should take a quick peek at Gina's background, but Sam obviously didn't plan to say anything else on the subject so she let it go for the time being. "Well, then he asked about Mick and Prophet too. Not so much about Mick, that seemed more like a formality than anything else, but with Prophet his main focus seemed to be Prophet's temper." A pause. "Does Prophet have a temper? The worst I've ever seen him do is throw a paper ball at Mick's forehead, and personally, given the provocation, I'd have thrown the lamp."
Sam shook his head. "If you hurt a kid and he's got a hell of a temper, but other than that not so much."
Prophet had said pretty much the same thing, now that she thought about it.
"Anything else?" Sam asked.
"A comment about not wanting Prophet to exert undue influence on Mick and Gina, although I'm pretty sure that ship has already sailed, and then one question about you that was about as formality-type as Mick's and a few more about the case itself. I didn't get the impression that he actually cared all that much about those answers, though."
"He probably didn't." Sam sighed. "I can't be sure, but I suspect he was asking a lot of that because I've been pushing for him to make Prophet a full agent for a while and he hasn't got anyone else to ask for impressions from—at least not anyone with experience—since we don't work much with other teams."
"He did say that Prophet hadn't been promoted past probationary status," Beth agreed. "Which after a year seems a little ridiculous."
"Oh, it is, and it's bound to cause trouble eventually which is why I'd like to clear it up now, but he's been dragging things out. I'm sorry you got pulled into it, but since you did, did he say anything about your responses?"
"No. I mean, I told him there hadn't been any problems, but I can't believe he was expecting that there would have been. I've been with you all of a week so it's not like I actually know Prophet. Or any of them, for that matter."
"They're going to fix that whether you like it or not," he pointed out, smile returning.
"Hey, don't complain. Gina bakes, although Prophet and Mick tend to trade off hosting dinners and get togethers since they've got the best spaces for it. Don't be surprised if you get an invite later this week or early next if we don't get called in on a case."
"Am I actually supposed to accept or is it an asking to be polite thing?"
"And there's that paranoia thing. You don't have to, but they'll be disappointed if you don't."
That would be a new one for her, but Sam wasn't one to lie so…. "All right, I'll show up. But if it goes up in flames I'm blaming you."
"Just bring along a six pack and try not to throw any lamps at anyone. And I'll try to keep you out of the way if Fickler has any more questions."