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“The Swift brother’s been all around town,” Todd reported grimly to the conference room filled with BAU agents. “Asking how residents feel about ‘Sherri’s murder’.”

“Already?” Hotch asked. “I thought it would take him another day.”

JJ shook her head. “No. He gathered Sherri’s crew and hit the streets of Huntsville.”

“I’m betting he’s not getting the sensationalized race-baiting that he’s used to,” Morgan added. “You’ve got good people. I just hope they realize that it’s a ruse to investigate what Sherri was after.”

Todd puffed up at the seemingly off-hand compliment. “They realize alright. We’re getting phone calls left and right. I’ve got a trail for you to follow, Dr. Reid, if you need it.”

Reid knew that Morgan wasn’t done yet and was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. He wasn’t disappointed even as he nodded in acknowledgement of the future geographic profile.

“I just don’t get how no one could have witnessed anything,” Morgan mused in the same off-hand, non-confrontational tone of voice. He obviously didn’t say that other Shifters had to be protecting the injured one. They knew there was a pack involved and since no lynching groups had formed in town, those not in the pack were accepting and protective toward Shifters.

“There’s a lot of territory out there,” Sheriff Todd tried to explain yet again to the city folk who had heard the concept but didn’t understand the practicalities. “Acres and acres with nothing in between. Someone would have to be intending for a house to end up near one. This is not the city where someone might see something looking out their window at night.”

Hotch understood, but still… “The Shifter was hurt,” he explained. He didn’t say that the Shifter was probably very young. “And he had help of the two-legged variety. He’s a local. Someone knows something. Our profile is unclear, we need answers to get a fix on what occurred.”

“I asked around,” Todd told him. “The Lacys are an older couple to the south of the scuffle and didn’t know anything. The Morrises to the north of them have a sick daughter that they’ve been hovering over for a couple days now. Steve Kieran, east of the site, thought he saw something his way, but the man has been hitting the bottle since being laid off. The Auers, the Lees and the Livingstons, west of the site and closer to town, all reported an eventless night. I don’t know how to help you, Agent. No one is coming forward as an eyewitness.” Todd was getting defensive, so Emily, JJ, Morgan and Rossi excused themselves so that the sheriff didn’t have an audience.

Hotch was visibly frustrated and Reid was surprised that he let it show. Finally Hotch said, “I just want to show some evidence of progress being made on the case before some of the residents start taking things into their own hands.”

Todd straightened. “I know most people think we’re hicks, but I think we’re better than that. And we’re proving it. There’s no mob here. Robert Heilick is the only loud mouth against Shifters in town and nobody’s listening to him.”

Hotch nodded. “Good. Keep an eye on Heilick and make sure he doesn’t gain a following.”

“Will do.”

“And have a deputy walk through the bars to get an idea of the what the hotheads are thinking.” Hotch gathered his computer and put his borrowed coffee mug in the sink. Reid was trying to make order out of his mess. Hotch was waiting for him so that they could walk to the rental house together. “We’ll see you in the morning,” he told Todd.

“Hopefully, things will be clearer,” Todd offered.

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Arkansas had been in the middle of a dry spell, so the early morning rain was a welcome relief even if it might wash away evidence not yet found. Unexpectedly, the rain also revealed evidence. Reid had known it to happen, but was always surprised when it did.

In this case, Sheriff Todd walked around the station wrinkling his nose and frowning.

“Something the matter?” Emily asked politely.

Todd shook his head. “I swear I smell a cat. I guess one snuck into the building to escape the storm. Do you smell it?”

Emily shook her head, ‘no.’

“Ah, well, I’ll have Cortez hunt it down. He’s got a good nose.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Morgan said in the even voice that warned the rest of the team.

“You tossed it out?” Todd assumed.

“No. This particular cat was invited in.”

Todd snorted. “What dumbass would do a thing like that?”

Morgan grimaced. “You did.”

Reid watched at the sheriff realized that Morgan was the cat, a Shifter. Morgan had run through the rain on his way into the station. His hair had been just wet enough for identification. What Todd had smelled had been too faint for normals and he had outted himself as a Shifter.

Morgan tried to relax but at the same time step away from the team if there was a confrontation. Hotch, being Hotch, stepped between Morgan and Todd. Morgan opened his mouth and said, “It’s funny. All I smell in the station today is canine.”

Todd, to his credit, didn’t try to deny the revelation. Morgan was a feline Shifter (and his team knew it and accepted it) and Todd was a canine Shifter, probably a werewolf alpha. Reid took into account Todd’s comment about Cortez and deduced that most of the deputies, if not all, were werewolves. The Shifter pack was dramatically larger than first supposed and larger equated more organized. As much as the BAU used past interviews to understand unsubs, Shifters used thousands of years to predict how other Shifters would react to certain circumstances. When there were physical repercussions for a misstep, normally a beating, people learned from mistakes quickly.

All this to say: Shifters don’t follow normals.

They’ll lead normals. They’ll partner up with normals, but for the most part, Shifters lead other Shifters. The notable exceptions tended to be within the mob or the military, places where there was a clear-cut chain of command, with physical consequences for breaking the rules. Young males not in the military –Morgan’s age- often would be loners, not associating with anyone. And they very, very rarely followed Shamans, if one or both of the supernaturals were Native American. The fact that former US Representative Santoro was managing to unite Shamans and Shifters against Swift Supernatural Exposés in their lawsuit was a phenomenal accomplishment. So, Reid could almost see the wheels turning in the Sheriff’s head. If Morgan was a Shifter, what was Hotch, his obvious leader?

Unlike Morgan, Aaron Hotchner’s heritage wasn’t evidenced by smell. Reid watched Todd try to puzzle it out, knowing that the likelihood of a correct answer was less than three percent. He was much more likely to guess ‘Shaman’ than the truth.

Todd caught Reid staring at him and must have smelled his amusement. Reid grinned at being caught. Todd grinned back at Reid’s amusement. Reid could easily see why such an even-keeled, smart, alpha had been elected sheriff twenty years running. Todd could have easily turned the sheriff’s station into a blood bath. Some Shifters would have considered killing an entire FBI team as an acceptable way to protect their pack.

As the perceived threat dissipated in the conference room, Reid’s mind was leaping from revelation to conclusion with a few deductions in the middle. He forgot his mind/mouth filter and blurted, “You must be huge as a werewolf.”

Hotch shot him a long-suffering look. Morgan rolled his eyes and Emily giggled. Todd adjusted his belt on his portly girth. “You think I can’t lead other Shifters without being the biggest, baddest wolf on the block?”

“No, sir. I mean, yes, sir. I mean that Shifters don’t carry fat on their bodies; it’s used up in the transformations. They only carry muscle mass and that muscle mass carries over in a 1:1.34 ratio. So what appears to be fat on your human frame is assuredly muscle as wolf. To accommodate that much muscle, your skeleton would be approximately four feet high, at the shoulder.”

Todd looked overwhelmed at the overload of information. “You’re actually pretty close.”

“Plus or minus two inches,” Reid allowed.

“Where did you get him from?” Todd asked Rossi, referring to Reid.

“He was a special order from a Shaman in Las Vegas,” Rossi quipped. It was an intentional use of humor to lighten the mood.

Todd laughed at the blatant lie. Shamans were notoriously protective and possessive of their experiments, even more so if they breathed.

“Sheriff Todd,” Hotch said sternly. “Have you been protecting the Shifter that defended his or herself against Sherri Swift? We know that you only called in the FBI when it was apparent that the Swift camera crew would have done it for you.”

Todd huffed. “I would if I knew who they were. But whoever it was isn’t coming forward in the pack. I really truly believe that one of Swift’s previous victims caught up with her here.”

“Bad luck,” Morgan muttered.

“Yes,” Todd agreed vehemently. “The pack knew to stay out of her way, act normal and call me any time Swift got on their lands. Everybody was keeping to the script. Swift wasn’t getting close to any of them.”

“Or you?” Rossi asked bluntly.

Todd inclined his head to admit that he was in as much danger as any of the others. “Or me. She ran from anybody in a uniform. She was breaking the law and we had her at that. We just couldn’t legally keep her out of town for being a pain in the ass.”

Reid mused at how the Sheriff’s language deteriorated as he became more comfortable and relaxed. Reid was suspicious that the werewolf was putting on show for their benefit. He need not have bothered: until they had proof otherwise, the BAU would assume that the werewolf alpha was protecting one of his pack.

Now they just had to evaluate the size of the pack and the members. They didn’t ask Todd for a list; he would lie.

No. Now that the light sprinkle outside showed no signs of stopping, Morgan would have to go for a walk around town and count up the number of Shifters. Reid decided to walk with him and to attempt to deduce a Shifter before Morgan confirmed it. Reid had found too many in town that had a majority of Holmes’ listed characteristics.

“They’re all Shifters, wolves,” Morgan muttered to Reid ten minutes later. Everyone would know he was a ‘cat’ by sunset. They needed the head count before Todd could warn the pack to stay indoors.

Still, Reid looked at the crowded Main Street and blinked. “Are you sure?” He had deduced the possibility but to hear it confirmed was amazing. So many of the residents were Shifters that Reid was getting plenty of practice of visually recognizing a person to be a Shifter as versus a normal.

“Well over half of them are and it looks like interracial dating and marriage is accepted,” Morgan elaborated as he watched two teen couples enter the diner under the watchful eye of the waitress. By Reid’s deductions, both of the females were werewolves and one of the males was. The count fit with Morgan’s analysis.

“I had wondered,” Emily murmured.

Reid faced his other co-worker. “Are your powers getting stronger? I’ve read that a Shaman gets more powerful as they age.”

Emily grinned. “No, genius. I watched them react to Hotch.”

Reid opened his mouth and then closed it. It was a painfully obvious litmus test. All Shifters reacted atypically to Hotch. Which, by definition, made it a typical Shifter reaction. They all, even alphas, submitted to Hotch, mostly subconsciously but then, so did most normals. Reid evaluated every interaction between Hotch and the town residents. No one had given Hotch a hard time. Nothing obvious, but still, relevant all the same. Reid started to add up all the little clues, like the disproportionate number of dog owners to cat owners. In the United States, the proportions were 39:33 percent. Reid did a quick calculation in his head. In Huntsville, the proportions of pet owners were 45:13 percent dogs to cats.

“Well,” Emily state wryly. “We know what brought Sherri Swift to town: a large pack of werewolves, with possible child Shifters. That, at least is confirmed.”

“Musta thought she’d hit the motherload,” Morgan added. He ushered Emily and Reid into a quiet, abandoned store off the beaten path.

Reid trusted that Morgan had directed them enough away to be out of Shifter hearing and pulled out his cell phone and put it on speakerphone. “Garcia?”

“Yes, my favorite genius?”

“Have you had a chance to search Swift’s laptop?”

“Yep. And it’s a doozy. Can we say ‘paranoid’?”

“What evidence can you find to tell us where and on whom Swift was investigating?”

Garcia practically growled. “You remember that website you and me took down a while ago?”

Since there had only been one, Reid answered, “yes.” He knew the heading of this conversation. After all, he had been basing some of his own theories off of Homes’.

“Ms. Swift had a screen capture of Holmes’ deductions on how to spot a Shifter. The link to that file was one of a few icons on her desktop. She referred to it often. She even had a secondary file listing Holmes’ deductions and then adding her own. Keep in mind that she had everything and I mean everything password protected, so that you should be applauding my genius.”

“You are a genius,” Morgan flirted.

“I know I am,” she sighed. Then she turned to business. “So Sherri Swift had tons of files and different passwords for each of them.”

“Anything that relates to Huntsville?”

“She had a folder for Huntsville. She was filling out a Shifter questionnaire based on Holmes’ work for several residents of the town. She had fifteen different questionnaires in various levels of completion.”

“Who?”

“She has the actual person’s name coded, even behind all of her other security measures. Some with titles like EN1 through 4 and others titled MT1 and 2. TE1 through 7. It made sense to Sherri Swift, not to me.”

“Send us the files,” Reid said. “We’ll try to match them up with residents. We need to know who felt the most threatened by Swift.”

“Will do, snookums. But here’s the really interesting piece of news. Those files were accessed two hours after Sherri Swift had died. For all of her security, someone knew her passwords and snooped through her computer. I don’t believe they removed anything, but they copied some things. I’ll call if I find more.”

“Thank you, Garcia.”

“No, thank you, I love playing in someone else’s sandbox and finding the sewer.”

The computer tech hung up before Reid could evaluate whether or not she was being serious or snarky.

Reid’s phone rang not ten seconds later and after looking at the area code, knew that it was Dr. Rivers, the federal medical examiner from Little Rock. Reid answered the phone. “Dr. Spencer Reid, FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit.” He noticed Morgan and Emily wandered away as he took the call. They were within listening distance but focused more on the residents in town going about their daily routines.

“Dr. Reid. This is Dr. Rivers.”

“Good to hear from you, doctor. What is your conclusion on Sherri Swift’s autopsy?”

“There are three types of wounds on Sherri Swift. The first are bite marks made by a Shifter. It’s a small Shifter, werewolf and female according to the DNA swab.”

“Young?” Reid asked.

“I can’t guess that from the evidence.”

Reid liked that answer as much as he didn’t. “Please, go on.”

“There are only two shallow bites on the body. There are two kinds of claw marks. The first kind is shallow and has no hesitation marks. As the paw size seems to be small, I would make an educated guess that they belong to the same Shifter that bit Ms. Swift. The second kind of claw marks was clearly made by a standard werewolf size, Shifter Blade, much deeper and with hesitation marks. I found traces of silver in those wounds. You are familiar with the type of blade.”

“Yes, I am. The top of the line Shifter Blade. Interesting. So you’ve confirmed two different unsubs. Where were the Shifter’s wounds on Swift’s body?”

“One bite was on Swift’s left hand and one was on Swift’s left knee.”

“And the Shifter’s claw wounds?” Reid prompted.

“All on Swift’s left side, none higher than her hip.”

“Any of them dangerous?”

“The Shifter managed to catch a vein in the leg. If Swift had been alone and didn’t know enough to keep pressure on the wound as she tracked out of the woods, it might have killed her, but odds were in her favor.”

“So the Shifter did not attempt to kill Ms. Swift,” Reid concluded.

“I would swear to it on the stand.”

Good. “Now tell me about the other claw marks.”

“They start at the hip and overlap Shifter wounds. Due to the dirt in the Shifter wounds spreading into the claw blade wounds, I must conclude that the Shifter attack happened first and the blade was used after. The Shifter Blade was used from the neck down to the hip. Only one light claw mark at the breasts. The neck was the first wound inflicted by the claw blade. There is next to no dirt in that wound. Then, the hip was wounded and then the claw marks in between the neck and the hip were inflicted. Then the person disfigured the face to prevent identification. There are a lot of hesitation marks on the face.”

The second unsub had hesitated. He or she had started at the neck to ensure a quick death and then had tried to contaminate the evidence by overlapping the claw wounds. The second unsub was not a sadist and did not have much experience killing. The fact that he or she avoided the erogenous zones could indicate two different things: the unsub was not physically attracted to Sherri Swift, or the unsub was not aroused by inflicting pain and death.

Reid thanked Dr. Rivers for his professional opinion and for taking the time to verify all of his theories. He gave the medical examiner his e-mail to send a copy of the autopsy, including all of the photos before saying goodbye.

Reid quickly called Garcia to have her double check that there isn’t a connection between Huntsville and Dr. Rivers of Little Rock. If Sheriff Todd could get the state medical examiner to say that the Shifter hadn’t killed Sherri Swift, it would be an appropriate alpha protection method. Garcia couldn’t find any evidence that they had crossed paths anything but professionally, so Reid had to accept Dr. Rivers’ word as truth. From the photos, Reid agreed with the assessment: Sherri Swift had been mauled by both a Shifter and someone using a Shifter Blade. A silver claw blade; that indicated money and a solid belief in some of the myths. A Shifter Blade made out of silver would have been a month’s salary for a Huntsville resident. No one here had that kind of money. Silver blades did hurt Shifters but no more than an iron or steel alloy blade. The Huntsville residents wouldn’t have bothered with that kind of expense. They would know the truth about silver. On a related tangent, silver was popular with Shamans in their experiments.

They had two unsubs, a Shifter and someone not in a Shifted form the night of the attack. The second unsub could have been a Shifter in human form (very unlikely because of the claw blade material), a normal or a Shaman.

They needed a motive, but too many people would have reason for killing Sherri Swift. They didn’t even know if the Shifter was knowingly working with his or her partner. Their profile was incomplete.

The first unsub was a young Shifter and easily frightened. If he or she was working purposefully with the second unsub than the Shifter was the submissive in the relationship. The second unsub was intelligent enough to cover up the death, move the body and create misleading evidence in an effort to… do what? Frame the young Shifter? Probable. Hide their own involvement? Most definitely. They didn’t want to kill Sherri Swift, either due to their own morals or some other reason, Reid didn’t know. The second unsub hadn’t gotten any emotional fulfillment out of the act but had killed her anyway.

They needed to find the Shifter Blade. It would fill in a number of blanks.

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Reid shared the autopsy findings with the rest of the team. Everyone agreed that they needed to find the claw blade and that the werewolf pack could be used. Sheriff Todd and his deputies were the local law enforcement and would be delighted to find the clue that would exonerate the Shifter.

Hotch briefed the Sheriff and told him that they were looking for the silver claw blade and the four-wheeler and to use every available man to find it. The two pieces of evidence could be anywhere from the town limits of Huntsville, to any of the surrounding mountainside to a trash can on the way to Springdale, where the camera crew was still housed. Emily Felten was too small to move Sherri Swift’s body and John Siddall had been in love with the woman, but some of the evidence (the prints in the abandoned van) pointed their way.

Todd was eager to find the clues and emptied the sheriff’s office of personnel to hunt it down. As Shifters and experienced trackers, they had a chance of finding the clues. They were warned to under no circumstances touch the evidence. If they found the evidence, they were to call it in and only federal personnel would collect it. Todd easily agreed and left with his people.

Hotch waited ten minutes, while the team was reading the printouts for Sherri Swift’s werewolf suspects and then started giving orders. It appeared that Sherri had not realized that the sheriff’s department was full of Shifters. Todd was innocent of protecting himself and his deputies, at least. Hotch said, “I want us to interview the residents closest to crime scene. Rossi and JJ, you have the Lacys, to the south. Morgan and Prentiss, you have the Lees, Auers and Livingstons that live closest to town. Reid, you’re with me. We’re going to visit the Morrises and Kieran.”

Rossi raised an eyebrow. “So you noticed that Todd was distancing us from the possible witnesses, as well.”

“Yes,” Hotch said shortly. “You know the questions to ask. Stay in contact as much as possible depending on the cell coverage.”

The team nodded and scattered. They used the SUVs that had been rented for them. Normally they had a driver, but in this case, they didn’t want a local around during the interviews. The team was familiar enough with the area to find the houses.

Reid climbed into the passenger’s seat as Hotch climbed into the driver’s seat. He read through Swift’s analysis again and determined that the EN possible Shifters were a single family, living outside of town. The TE possible Shifters lived in the town of Huntsville and the MT was code for ‘Mountain Trail’ the four-wheeler path along which Sherri Swift had died. Sherri had been suspicious that two of the residents that lived along trail had been Shifters.

Reid shared his conclusions with Hotch and the rest of the team over the phone. Then he relaxed in his seat and waited for the ride to end. He continually mulled over the clues and the profiles and the probably places where Todd and his pack would find the silver claw blade and the four-wheeler.

Finally, Hotch pulled into a gravel driveway and followed it for over a mile to a house. The wooden frame sagged slightly, but was waterproof. It was a single story, with a stone floor porch. This family was poor. A man, followed by two females stood in the shadowed doorway at the sound of the SUV in their yard.

Tawny. That was Reid’s first impression of the Morrises. All three at the door had dark blond hair that blended in with their tan skin. Their eyes were brown. Mrs. Morris had slightly darker eyes and hair than her husband and fourteen year old daughter. She was thin and athletic but not as wiry as the others.

If Reid had to guess, he would say that all three of them were werewolves. He had plenty of experience spotting a Shifter after his walk in town with Morgan. It had become easy to spot a shifter: to look at a person, run through Holmes’ list and realize ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Reid wondered if it had always been this easy to see for Holmes. Mrs. Morris was the only one who could possibly be a ‘normal.’ They all had the strength and the lack of tan lines. It was in how they stood and protected each other. Reid knew without a doubt that these were EN1, 2, and 3. He also bet that EN 4 was the sick child inside the house, who was not sick but injured. The Morrises had two daughters and the Shifter that defended herself against Swift had been injured with silver buckshot. Sherri Swift had shot at a werewolf knowing that there was a child under the fur.

“Let me in,” Hotch demanded and the Morrises step aside without pause. They only thought twice about the command when Reid snuck in behind. “No,” Hotch ordered and they shut their mouths with a click.

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“Where is your other daughter?”

All three pointed to the back of the house.

“Take me there.”

Bethany Morris was covered with a light blanket on the couch. She was seven.

Seven.

Reid was so furious at Sherri Swift in that moment that he couldn’t think. Bethany had a fever and was in obvious pain. Annalisa was fourteen, old enough to truly respect Hotch’s power but young enough to crawl next to her sister to comfort her with her presence. Bethany had the same coloring as the rest of her family. She was just a pint-size version of her coltish sister.

Reid kept back as Hotch calmed the sisters and gained their trust. It was merely a matter of time until they had the full story now. No Shifter could deny Hotch when he gave an order.

“Does he have a pack?” Thomas Morris quietly asked Reid.

Reid snickered a bit but dropped the humor at Hotch’s look. “He runs the FBI’s BAU.” It was a pack in the loosest sense of the term.

“What kind of Shifter is he?” Moira asked. “I can’t pinpoint it and normally I can.” That was fascinating and a rare gift, indeed. “He’s not exactly a werewolf but we had to obey him. It’s got to be something close.”

“He doesn’t Shift.”

Moira and Thomas both turned huffy. “We may be hicks,” Moira said stiffly, “but we’re not stupid. We wouldn’t follow Agent Hotchner’s orders if he wasn’t an alpha Shifter.”

Reid looked at Hotch. The other agent was seemingly completely absorbed in making the two girls relaxed and feeling safe, and if Reid wasn’t mistaken, was also starting to heal Bethany. He did nod slightly for Reid’s benefit. Reid was allowed to tell the secret, the little of it that he actually knew. “Hotch is a Shaman experiment… that worked a little too well.”

“I don’t understand,” Moira shook her head.

“The Shaman was attempting to make an alpha that all Shifters would obey.” As a rule, Shifters only obeyed those of the same subset as themselves. A very powerful alpha could get other subsets that were marginally close (ie all mammals to obey a wolf, or all avians to obey a hawk) to obey them, but it was rare. Hotch had never given Reid a clear answer as to when the particular experiment occurred: two decades ago, or two centuries ago. Hotch had ordered him to drop it and like a Shifter, Reid had obeyed and dropped it. “The experiment worked a little too well. When Hotch chooses, he can make anyone obey. My guess is that the Shaman couldn’t fight Hotch’s,” or Hotch’s great-great-great grandfather’s, “orders. Those who give orders routinely tend not to accept them well. The Shaman created a human that could order any Shifter around, but he (or she) couldn’t order which had been the actual goal: to order all Shifters through a proxy.” Reid was pretty sure that the actual experiment, whether or not it had been Hotch, had killed the Shaman that had created the genetic traits. Reid knew that it was genetic because he had watched young Jack Hotchner with Morgan. Jack could order Morgan and he could also heal him. Hotch was using Morgan (with his expressed permission) as a practical example of how someone with Jack’s talents had a duty to care for all Shifters in his acquaintance and not abuse them.

There was a reason why Shifters obeyed Hotch, he was a true alpha and cared for them. He was sweating at the moment, hard at work healing Bethany. Annalisa watched in awe. She had shoved the blanket off her sister and lifted her shirt. If Reid had any doubt about the Morrises being Shifters, that move erased it. Shifters didn’t have the same concepts of nudity as normals.

Reid and the rest watched as Bethany’s ugly wounds disappeared. Hotch sat back on his heels to catch his breath. Thomas hurried to the kitchen and returned with one of the straight back chairs. He placed it behind Hotch with respect. Moira fetched a glass of cold water for him.

Hotch nodded his thanks and finally addressed their eyewitness. “Bethany, you tell me the truth and I give you my word that I would have you protected.”

“You promise?” Bethany already believed Hotch, because all Shifters believed Hotch. She just wanted to hear the words out loud.

Hotch smiled, like he only smiled at children. “You will be a witness in protective custody, your family will go with you.”

“But won’t they be mean if they know we’re Shifters?”

“Not where Hotch plans on placing you,” Reid was quick to reassure Bethany. “The US Marshals have the highest concentration of Shifters than any other domestic force, not counting the Texas Rangers. They specifically place Shifters with handlers that will protect them…”

Hotch cut in, “Like a pack.”

“But we’d have to leave this pack behind,” Bethany realized sadly. “Todd wouldn’t have thrown us out for lying to him, but he wouldn’t have been happy.”

“Yes, you have to leave.” Hotch paused. “Sheriff Todd didn’t know it was you.”

Bethany shook her head, hair flying. “No. Can we be in your pack?”

“I don’t have a pack.”

“But you’re a wonderful alpha.”

Hotch blushed enough to make Reid grin. Reid knew that only a forthright child would have this affect on his boss. An adult would never provoke a response, even by saying the same sentence.

“Tell me what happened,” Hotch sat near Bethany’s head. The timber of his soft voice demanded the truth.

Bethany wasn’t afraid of him or his power over her. “Ms. Swift started following me in town. It was late. I wasn’t supposed to be there on my own and I was afraid that I’d get into trouble. I figured that I’d be better at hiding than she would be at seeking. I could keep in the woods and she’d never find me.”

“But…” Hotch prompted.

“She shot at me!” Bethany was horrified and shocked and in pain and it all came tumbling out. “Right at the edge of town. It hurt too much. So, so much. I was scared, the only thing I could think of doing was to Shift.”

“Which was exactly her intention,” Hotch told her.

“After I Shifted, she shot at me again. She hit me again. So I was hurt and trying to run home.” Remembering the fear made Bethany start to Shift.

“No,” Hotch ordered. He placed a hand on her furry arm. “You’re safe. I need you to speak, to tell me what happened.”

Bethany obeyed and looked amazed that she did. Normally, a Shifter couldn’t reverse the Shift mid-way through the process.

“So you Shifted,” Hotch reminded her. “You were running for home and Sherri Swift shot you. What happened next?”

“It hurt. A lot. She kept coming at me. I didn’t understand why. She kept trying to hurt me. There was a man and a woman following the woman hurting me. They were on a noisy thing… a four-wheeler. It smelled bad. They just watched. They didn’t try to help me or her.” Reid noticed that as she remembered the events, names fell to the wayside. She was thinking more as a Shifted animal than as a human at this moment. It was a fascinating revelation; too bad he’d never be able to report it. He had expected that she wouldn’t be able to report any actual conversations, but hadn’t thought through the other ramifications.

“I was trapped. The other man and woman blocked the way. I needed to get through, so… I bit her. I didn’t want to but I just…”

“You were defending yourself,” Hotch told her. “You are always allowed to defend yourself. What did you smell?”

“The woman I bit smelled of fear. But I didn’t bite her that much,” Bethany told Hotch. “I promise. I just wanted her to stop hurting me.”

“I understand. Go on, tell me what happened. I won’t judge you, Bethany.”

“I scratched her too,” the girl admitted. “Just enough to hurt her, so she couldn’t follow me.”

“But you were hurt and you couldn’t go far.”

Bethany nodded.

“So you crawled away as far as you could go,” Hotch supplied. “Did anyone follow you?”

“The other woman wanted to, but the man, he was carrying something,” she looked a bit confused, trying to put her memories into a human context. “A video camera?”

“Possibly,” Hotch allowed.

“He put down the camera and tried to get the woman I bit cleaned up, but the woman I bit, she didn’t want to be cleaned up. She stopped the man from putting the bandages on her. He was really upset that she wouldn’t let him help. They were talking. He was pleading. She kept saying ‘no, no”. I could understand that. She kept on saying it.”

Reid stilled. Sherri Swift had not wanted to be saved.

Sherri Swift had not wanted to be saved.

Surely Sherri Swift didn’t believe that a werewolf bite turned one into a Shifter? But Sherri Swift had not wanted to be saved.

“Did you see what happened next?”

Bethany nodded. “The unhurt woman talked. She gave the man something shiny and sharp. He said ‘no’ but not for long. The woman I bit put the shiny, sharp thing on his hand and then submitted. She bared her throat. And… and… the man… he made blood. He made the kill and the smell of blood made me sick. Then he used the shiny, sharp thing on the rest of her body. I wanted to get away. I eventually got away. I didn’t want them to hunt me down. I didn’t hear anymore. But I could still smell them. I could smell tears from the man. And the standing woman? She smelled like a wolf pack after taking down a deer.”

“Satisfied,” Hotch translated for Reid’s benefit.

“Do you know where they went with the silver claw and four-wheeler?”

Bethany shook her head. “No. I’m sorry?” She didn’t like disappointing Hotch.

“Don’t worry about it,” Hotch reassured her. “We’ll find it.”

Emily Felten talked both of them into it, for some reason. And then orchestrated the cover-up. Reid was sure the answer to reveal itself. Felten had not turned in all of the evidence. There was video of the fight. Reid was sure that it was already in the hands of Swift Supernatural Exposé, across state lines, along with copies of Sherri Swift’s files that had been copies after her death. The BAU had no proof that the evidence existed to get a gag order on the TV show. They had no proof against Emily Felten.

John Siddall had killed the woman he loved because of stupid, stupid folklore. Sherri Swift had not wanted to be saved. Sherri Swift would rather die then chance becoming a Shifter herself. She had had less that a fourteen and a half percent chance of becoming a Shifter, but that had been too much for her.

She had convinced her lover to kill her because of such a slight possibility of turning into what she hated and hunted.

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The case was anti-climatic after that. Hotch ordered the Morrises to pack up. He ordered Reid to drive away far enough to find some cell phone reception. He needed to call Morgan and Emily. They were to arrest Emily Felten and John Siddall for the murder of Sherri Swift. Rossi was to give them backup and JJ was to run interference with Stephen Swift and his camera. Neither of the camera crew resisted arrest, but Stephen Swift was not pleased to lose his camera in the middle of an interview.

By the time Sheriff Todd and his deputies finally called in with the locations of the Shifter Blade and four-wheeler, John Siddall had confessed to murder and the Morrises were safe, hidden, outside of the town of Huntsville.

They would never return.

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“The Shifter did not kill your sister,” Hotch told Stephen two days later. “John Siddall did.” Morgan had gotten a confession within five minutes of arresting the cameraman. Siddall broke in the face of the agent’s interrogation. Siddall claimed that it was all his idea, that Emily hadn’t been involved. It was certainly true that Siddall had killed the woman and had moved her body and then left the van in the junkyard, but he hadn’t been the mastermind. Felten had been directing every step of the way but the BAU had no physical evidence connecting her to the crime. They had no way to break Siddall’s story or Felten’s. They hated to do it, but Siddall was going to jail and Felten was going to walk free.

“Siddall did the right thing,” Stephen said. “It was better for Sherri to die than to become a Shifter. It was the right thing for Sherri.” He showed no remorse for his sister’s death. “Even Dad is proud of her last choice. Swift Supernatural Exposé will continue without Sherri. Sherri would like that. If you have any further information to give me, please call my personal assistant, Emily Felten,” Stephen motioned to a semi-familiar face at his elbow. She was only semi-familiar because it was obvious that she had had a makeover since their last meeting. With a new haircut, dye job and contact lens, she looked completely different. She was wearing a brand new suit that –if Reid wasn’t mistaken- would have cost her two full months of her previous salary.

Reid deduced several things: one, Felten had gotten a significant raise from Stephen and two, it was a reward for a job well done. Felten had gotten rid of Sherri and bagged Stephen a huge show on which to build his career. Three, Reid had absolutely no proof. What a Shifter witnessed in his or her Shifted state was still debated as permissible in the courts. Even Reid could attest to the usefulness of such testimonies, ie the smell of satisfaction.

“I’ve got video evidence of the youngest were on record,” Stephen bragged. He didn’t even need to be prompted to spill the news. He wasn’t as smart as his sister; Sherri Swift would have never admitted to the video evidence before airing it. Stephen did have a reason to be smug; Hotch would never be able to find a federal judge to confiscate the video before show time.

“She’s merely a child,” Hotch told Stephen Swift. “That was shot full of silver. She didn’t try to defend herself until then.”

“She’s a monster,” Stephen bit out. “A monster.” Emily Felten at his side was equally unmoved.

“You’re putting her in danger.”

“Good.”

“She didn’t kill your sister. We have your sister’s killer in custody.”

Reid could see that fact didn’t matter to Stephen Swift.

Stephen shrugged. “I’ve already turned in my report. The family of werewolves will be featured tonight.” He glanced at his watch. “In two hours, everyone will know about them.”

Hotch tried to humanize the family by naming them. Reid knew that Hotch knew that Stephen Swift would not change his mind, so he was fishing for something. “Thomas, Moira, Annalisa, and Bethany Morris are humans. If Swift Supernatural Exposé features them, they will be hunted down.”

“They are animals. They don’t deserve your protection.”

“They are protected under the US Constitution. Same as you and me.”

Stephen looked suspicious. “Not same as me. We have nothing in common. Maybe same as you because you are a were. What will I find if I dig at your background?”

Hotch’s smile was threatening. “Please do. It’ll distract you from finding true Shifters and we’ll all be safer.”

Stephen looked like he wanted to punch Hotch, but was smart enough to know that it’d only get him thrown in jail for assaulting an FBI agent. He wasn’t smart enough to know that Hotch was baiting him. “The show will air tonight and by Friday, the weres will be dead. I don’t even have to suggest that it needs to happen. My viewers understand what this country needs.” Stephen Swift stomped off, thinking he had gotten the last word.

Hotch and Reid watched him go. Then Hotch turned and touched the keypad to his laptop. “Did you get all of that?” he asked.

Garcia’s voice answered him. “Loud and clear and in full color, my sneaky commandant.”

Reid grinned.

Hotch nodded. “Good. Send it to former Representative Santoro. I’m sure she’ll be able to put it to good use.” Then he looked at Reid. “We can’t stop the airing of Swift Supernatural Exposé, not at this juncture, but we can put the Morrises into protective custody as promised. The arrangements have been made. We’re driving to the exchange. We leave in an hour.”

The Morrises might be forced to leave their lives, but with Stephen Swift in charge of Swift Supernatural Exposé, it wouldn’t last long. The man had a big mouth and half his sister’s smarts. Santoro would bury him and his show in court.

They’d be off the air in six months.

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Epilogue:

Hotch chose Reid to accompany him throughout the entire process to deliver the Morrises to their new home and their US Marshal handlers. Reid knew what to expect. The Morris family was quiet and subdued as their entire life was ripped out from under them, but they trusted Hotch to do the right thing, even if their first impression of their Marshal handler was that she was rude and mean.

Unfortunately, their first impression would be their lasting impression. Mary Shannon was rude and mean. She mentioned the Swift Exposé that had destroyed the Morris’s life and that Reid and the rest had pointedly not watched. She picked at that unhealed wound without reservation. That was Mary Shannon, the very definition of casually cruel. She was also the exception to every shifter stereotype Reid could remember, and Reid could remember them all. Neither of Marshal Shannon’s biological parents were Shifters and yet the acidic woman was a were-puma. Reid had personally tested her blood against that of her mother and salvia letter sample from her father. The couple that Shannon believed to be her parents were her parents and yet neither of them carried known Shifter DNA.

Also “cats” and “dogs” notoriously quarreled. Shannon’s best friend and partner was a werewolf. She was an alpha and yet she took direction from her “normal” boss. She and Morgan hated each other even though they were both felines Shifters. She was pretty much immune to Hotch’s powers, though she respected him enough to do favors. Or maybe she was susceptible. Reid couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter. With or without the Shifter DNA, Shannon was one of the best Witness Protection Marshals in the United States.

Her partner, Marshall Mann was fourth generation active werewolf and US Marshal. He was genuinely a nice, smart man. His great-grandfather was the first known werewolf accepted into the Marshal service and he opened the door for many others.

Reid knew that Hotch wouldn’t trust Shifters in Witness Protection to anyone but these two. The Morrises would be safe in New Mexico.


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“All families have their secrets, most people would never know them, but they know there are spaces, gaps where the answers should be, where someone should have sat, where someone used to be. A name that is never uttered, or uttered just once and never again. We all have our secrets.”

― Cecelia Ahern, The Book of Tomorrow

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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
jebbypal
Jun. 24th, 2012 01:32 pm (UTC)
Amazing verse you created there. Loved the fold in of IPS!
faithburke
Jun. 25th, 2012 01:13 am (UTC)
Thank you! I had a blast creating it. I'm glad you enjoyed the IPS, I think that was 1/2 the reason I finished the story, to include Mary.
butterflykiki
Jul. 16th, 2012 07:55 pm (UTC)
Looooooove this 'verse. I'd love to see more here. Love Hotch's thing of being king of Alphas, and the ongoing questioning and prejudice against Shifters and the struggle that comes out of that (yay Rep. Santoro!). Love Reid's ongoing curiosity on the topic, and the cameo of Holmes from a distance; love it all. YAY.
michelel72
Jul. 28th, 2012 07:03 pm (UTC)
This is a fascinating 'verse. And of course Sherlock would come up with ways to tell, heh.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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