Status: complete

All the Madness in the World

Fight or Flight

"Without heroes we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go." – Bernard Malamud


“Spencer, put that down.” I shook my head at him but indulged him in a smile as he set the warden’s snow globe back on his desk. Hotch had brought the two of us to Connecticut to interview a death-row inmate as part of the Criminal Personality research project going on at the BAU. He was scheduled to be executed in less than a week, and we were hoping to get a few details about his case cleared up. It was him who called us, though, offering the sit-down. Maybe he was finally seeing the error of his ways.

“Agent Hotchner?” A man walked in the room holding a case file and extended his hand to the three of us. “And you must be the Reids. Adam Merriman, assistant warden. You’re here to see our infamous inmate Hardwick?”

“He agreed to meet with us before his execution.” Spencer explained as the warden looked at him with excitement.

“I’ve read some of your journals on criminology. Killers are a kind of hobby of mine.” Merriman gushed as I exchanged a glance with Hotch. The warden began to ramble on but Hotch cut him off quickly.

“Sir we’d really like to get started as quickly as we can.”

“Oh, of course. Forgive me.” He started to explain how the prison had no formal interrogation room but there was a place he’d set up for us to use. “You’re not armed, are you?”

“We secured our weapons already, it’s not our first time in a prison.” I had to contain my smile at Hotch being snarky.

“No, I guess it’s not.” He laughed, leading us to the door. “I have to say that when I heard he contacted you I was surprised…Chester Hardwick, he doesn’t talk much. To anyone.”

“Well, that usually changes when someone’s about to die.” Hotch said in an attempt to get a move on. I nudged Spencer ahead so that we all started walking. Merriman lead us to a small room with one tiny window. On the table there was a box with Hardwick’s case files that Spencer was rifling through as the warden gave us the layout of the room.

“The door will of course be locked from the outside and this button here sounds audibly as well as triggers the flashing lights to signal the guards when you’re finished.”

“Thank you.” I nodded to the warden in an attempt to get him to leave. However he crept closer to the files Spencer was lying out and eyeballed them with morbid curiosity.

“Are these the crime scene photos?”

“Yes some of them.” Spencer said, completely oblivious to the irritation shared by Hotch and me. Merriman held up the photos and stared at them with awe.

“God…I knew what he did but I…never saw…23 victims like this….”

“Sometimes in these interviews they talk about crimes they were never charged with so there might even be more.” Spencer informed him. I took a step towards the warden and held my hand out for the photos.

“Giving this kind of attention to them may be detrimental to what we’re trying to understand. We’d like to let him show us what’s important here.” I said gently as he nodded and gave me the photos. There was a loud buzz and the door opened, revealing the man himself bound in restrains and clad in a bright yellow suit. He had a smug look on his face as he was escorted in. One of the guards asked if the chains were to be left on.

“Yeah, I—I think that’s a good idea.” Spencer said quietly, but Hotch overruled him.

“No, they won’t be necessary.” Hotch said as I crossed over to Spencer’s side, all of the guards filing out of the room and leaving us alone. “We’re just going to talk, right Chester? Sit down.”

“I’d like this window opened.” He said, staring at the grey brick wall outside the glass. “I’ll answer any question you have, but only if this window is open.”

“Go ahead.” Hotch allowed before turning to me and motioning for me to begin.

“You were born April 4, 1950?” I asked.

“Does my birthday really matter?”

“It’s customary for us to start at the beginning, we want to know as much as we can about your childhood.” Spencer explained.

“There’s nothing to know, it was average. I lived in a nice house on a quiet street. I ate cereal, I went to school, I watched cartoons.”

“I don’t have time for this.” Hotch said sternly as Spencer and I looked over at him. “You didn’t live in a nice house on a quiet street, you grew up in a series of projects in east Bridgeport, each one worse than the last. You spent your teenage years peeping in your female neighbour’s windows and burglarizing their underwear drawers when you got the chance. And you started a hundred small fires for which you spent 2 years in a juvenile detention.”

“We’ve done extensive research, Mr. Hardwick. We’ve talked to almost everyone you’ve ever known…including your mother.” When I said this he finally peeled himself away from the window. He stared at me for a few moments too long, eyes going up and down my form quickly before the smirk settled back on his face.

“Good ol’ Jean? I bet she was a real treat.”

“Good old Jean is down the street in a state hospital.” Hotch said bluntly.

“At this point, lying to us isn’t really possible.” Spencer shrugged. “Or helpful.”

“Well then, you’re wrong.” Hardwick spat.

“About what?” I pushed.

“I started a lot more than a hundred fires.” He took a few steps towards the table, meeting my eyes again before sitting down and crossing his arms, turning his attention to Hotch. “What do you want to know? How papa beat me and Jean’s ass every single day? That the kind of thing you want to hear?”

“If it’s true.” Spencer said quietly. Hardwick turned to him and narrowed his eyes.

“Nobody gives a damn about the truth.” He got up and went back to the window and started talking about the weather, the seasons and the temperature. Spencer remarked about the summer coming soon.

“But not for you.” Hotch added, his irritation with Hardwick plain. We’d come here for a reason, not to talk about the weather.

“No…not for me.” Hardwick turned around again, facing Hotch. The two of them started a staring match, this combative gesture of two alpha males. The feel of this interview was beginning to turn darker, and so in an attempt to fix things I tried to get us back on track.

“Let’s talk about the specifics of the case. Why did you choose Sheila O’Neil?”

“You gotta show me a picture.” He smiled, blinking at me. “I don’t know the names.”

“Is that what this is about?” Hotch challenged. “Some chance to relive all of this?”

“I have an excellent memory. I thought you wanted to know the truth. Truth is they meant nothing to me. They were toys, a diversion; and from the moment I decided to kill them they were dead.” He turned, eyes fixed on me as I grew more uncomfortable. “They begged and cried and it didn’t matter because they didn’t matter. Sometimes I wish I was normal, that I’d had a regular life. But I didn’t.”

“Why did you ask us here?” Hotch asked, exasperated. Once Hardwick’s eyes were finally off me, I looked over at spencer. His hands were under the table and he was fiddling with the edge of his sweater.

“I wanted to smell the air.” Hardwick said simply. “They’ve got me on death watch. 24 hour a day isolation. And I will be until they take me to the death chamber. So I wanted to smell the air one last time before I die. Thank you for giving me that.”

“Let’s pack it up.” Hotch ordered, shutting down Spencer’s questioning for continuing. I pulled the folders together, putting them into a pile as Spencer strung his bag over his shoulder. Hotch walked up to the door, pressing the buzzer twice. “Have a nice trip, Chester. You’re going where you belong.”

“It’s 5:17.” Hardwick said as I waited by the door beside Hotch. “Evening hour started at 5:00. Guard staff’s outside with the population. There won’t be anyone to open that door for…at least thirteen minutes.” He held up a picture of one of his victims and looked at me with a smile. “And it took me less than five to do this.”

At this, my heart stopped. For a moment I couldn’t even believe this was real. It had to be some bad joke on the warden’s part. The serial killer who harmed me in my childhood had resurfaced, finally had a name, and my ex-boyfriend and almost-husband from university was his accomplice: yet I was going to be murdered by this guy? It almost made me laugh, but then I remembered the severity of the situation. I reached forward and grabbed a hold of Spencer’s arm, pulling him behind me. He was looking over at Hotch with panic in his eyes as Hardwick continued.

“While you were doing all your research perhaps you should have looked in to the security tones.”

“I heard the tones.” Hotch replied, taking a step forward in front of me. Hardwick was pacing the room, rubbing his hands in preparation for whatever he was about to do.

“So you planned to be locked in here with me with no guns or weapons.”

“I won’t need any weapons.” Hotch said, reaching one arm back and pushing me sideways, nudging me towards the other side of the room. Keeping Spencer behind me I steered us to the corner farthest away from Hardwick.

“There’s no way they’ll execute me next week after I murder three FBI agents. You saved my life by coming here!”

“But unfortunately for you, I’m not a 5 foot tall, hundred pound girl.” Hotch said, taking a step forward and removing his jacket. I could hear Spencer’s shaky breath, mere decibels louder than the thumping of my heart. Hotch was going to fight him, defend Spencer and me from this psychopath. Save me for the second time.

“We have to do something.” I whispered to Spencer as his fingers began tapping—his nervous twitch.

“Your whole life you’ve gone after victims that couldn’t fight back. And the rest of the time you spent looking over your shoulder.” Hotch proceeded to slip off his tie, this unprecedented anger and hatred seeping into his voice. “Worried about the knock on the door. Scared that somebody like me would be on the other side ready to put you away. At your core, you’re a coward.”

“Chester!” I called out as he drew close to Hotch, a growl escaping his mouth. “Do you want to know why you killed those women?”

“What?” He huffed, torn between the desire to listen and the desire to fight.

“Earlier you said you wish that you were different.” I was praying that Spencer had some explanation in his head because I was just stalling. “I can tell you why you killed them. Why you are what you are.”

“You can tell me why I did the things I did?” He challenged, looming closer. Hotch was quick to cross the room and stand before me, halting Chester but not stopping him from holding my eyes.

“Your mother’s bi-polar.” Spencer chimed in as I kept my face void of emotion, bereft of fear. “And almost certainly an undifferentiated schizophrenic. Your father suffered severe shell-shock in the war, what we now refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder. As far as I can tell he remained depressed the rest of his life. Fifty-three percent of all serial killers have some mental illness in their family, and in your case, both your parents suffered from psychological disorders which they largely took out on you. They beat each other as much as they beat you.”

He continued on talking—stalling—rambling on about the hypothalamus and underdeveloped sections of the brain. He explained the influence of parents in childhood development and with every statistic the primitive quality of Hardwick’s anger diminished. His eyes drifted and my panic decreased as Spencer’s words got through to him.

“Earlier you said your victims never had a chance. I think deep down, it was you who never really had a chance.”

There was a jingling of keys and the door was opened. The guards entered, looking around and moving towards Hardwick. I released a quiet sigh of relief. Hotch assured the guards that everything was alright before gathering his jacket and tie and announcing we were finished. I ushered Spencer out the door in front of me, but Hardwick got in one last question.

“Is that true? I never had a chance?”

“I don’t know, maybe.” Spencer said, rushing out of the room. I kept him close at my side as we walked through the prison. I took care of thanking the warden and promising him we could show ourselves out. When we got back in the car it was much quieter than usual, the awkward silence always a puzzling phenomenon to Spencer. Every time I peered at him in the rear view mirror he looked perplexed.

We all stayed quiet until we got onto the plane. Spencer took his usual seat off on his own and pulled out a book, lifting the window cover so the fading sunlight illuminated the pages. Hotch was looking over a case file and I left him on his own for a while but eventually left Spencer’s side and took the seat across from him.

“You okay?” I set my own book down on the table, careful not to cover any of his papers. He looked up at me for a moment before returning his eyes to the pages.

“Yeah. I think it’s safe to say I lost it a little in there.”

“Hey, there’s a first for everything.” I teased, earning the smallest of smiles. He set the file down and sat back in the chair, looking out the window at the ant-like city beneath us. “I wanted to thank you, though. For…you know, willing to fight and all.”

“I’m just glad you and Reid are quick thinkers.”

“Hotch.” I gave him a look for trying to evade my words of gratitude. He smiled at me, a whole one, and blinked once.

“You’re welcome.”

“Besides, it would’ve been pretty anti-climactic if Chester Hardwick beat Anton Miller to the whole murdering me bit.”

“I will find him, Natasha.” He said sternly. It was my turn to give him a half-hearted smile. I got to my feet, grabbing my book and retreating to the seat I’d partially claimed. Spencer had nodded off and I pulled a blanket off of the couch and draped it across him, taking the book from his hands and laying it on the table beside him. Curling up on the chair I opened my book, but my eyes found their way outside as I thought about Miller. I couldn’t help but wonder if Hotch was wrong in his promise.


I dragged myself up the stairs to Hotch’s office door, so ready for sleep. I knocked twice, as I always did, and poked my head in. He was on the phone but waved me in as I held out the report for him to take. He moved the phone away from his mouth but kept an ear pressed to it. I explained what it was and he thanked me.

“Is that right, buddy?” I realized he was talking to Jack and smiled, eyes falling to the new picture in a shiny frame sitting beside the phone—the one I took of Jack in his superhero costume. “Yes. Okay, I’ll ask—he wants to talk to you.”

He handed the receiver to me and I didn’t bother to contain my grin, pulling up a chair and bringing the phone up to my ear. “Is this superman?!” I teased, thumbing the picture frame.

“Nooo, it’s Jack!”

“Oh, that’s right, I forgot about your secret identity. You know, I know superman can stay up late but 9:00—that’s too late for Jack! Shouldn’t you be in bed, mister?”

“Auntie Jess said I could stay up and call daddy.”

“That’s awful nice of her, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” He said dismissively, as if building up to something more important. “When are you going to play with me again?”

“Oh, I don’t know, sweetie pie.” I looked over at Hotch, a small smile on his face as he filled in the part of the conversation he couldn’t hear. “That all depends on your dad. You should ask him.”

“Sometimes he doesn’t let me do fun things.” I could practically hear the pout in his voice.

“Well, honey, that’s because he loves you very much and he wants to make sure you’re safe. In fact, he has a lovely picture of you that he keeps on his desk where it’s safe.”

“He protects it?”

“It’s what he does best.” He was quiet for a moment, thinking about this. I could hear his heavy breathing, a calm pace in and out, in and out, until he settled on his question.

“You help daddy fight the bad guys, right?”

“I sure do, buddy.”

“Does he protect you too?” The question struck something within me, and for a moment I didn’t reply. I stuttered for a moment before finally finding the words.

“Yes, he protects me too.” Every part of me wanted to look up at Hotch out of reflex, but I restrained myself. I suddenly felt very exposed and confined at the same time, and I knew I needed to flee to the sanctuary of my home. It was Rossi’s shift tonight and he was usually pretty good at leaving whenever I asked; he wasn’t a workaholic like Hotch. Like me. “Now you should get some sleep, okay sweetie? I’m going to give you back to your dad.”

“Night N’tasha.” He said after a yawn.

“Night, Jack.” I handed the phone back to Hotch, wasting no time in waiting around for the phone call to end and exiting the office. Just next door Rossi was sitting at his desk, struggling with a Rubik’s cube. The sight put me at ease, made me smile even, as he turned his attention up to me.

“Whatever gene it is that you Reids have, you’ll make millions when you isolate and sell it.” He promised, shaking the cube at me with each word before tossing it into a drawer and getting to his feet. “Ready to go?”

“So long as you are.”

“I’m always ready to leave this place.” He joked, offering a smile as we rounded up our things and headed towards the elevator. We made small talk for the duration of the trip, both of us no doubt thanking whoever the hell had finally gotten around to fixing the elevator in my building. Rossi did a quick sweep of my apartment before reminding me, as he always did, that I had his number and leaving me to my own devices.

For a moment I just stood there, basking in the silence of the place, before moving around to get ready for a nice early bedtime. It was quarter to ten when I settled under the covers, my body ready for sleep but my mind racing—about things it shouldn’t be. Why on earth was some part of me secretly happier on the nights when Hotch was on guard duty? How did simple words like good morning, good job, and good night make me feel like a love-struck preteen girl? It went beyond stupid things, though. I had been honest when Jack asked if Hotch protected me: he did. And perhaps that was, above all else, why I so greatly craved to be near him. At the end of the day, it was where I felt safest. He’d prevented my kidnapping in this very building, he didn’t treat me like a poor little girl victimized by her childhood trauma, and even today he was willing to take a beating in order to protect not only me but the person who mattered most to me.

With a sigh I buried my face into my pillow. I was reading into things too much—and I needed to re-establish my own damn boundaries. He was my boss. It had only been a few years since Hotchner had to listen to his wife being killed by a serial killer he’d failed to catch. It wasn’t like a break up or spiteful thing, he had lost her and blamed himself. That wasn’t exactly the thing someone got over quickly. Every time he saw Jack he was probably reminded of her, and I was not at all trying to replace her. I needed to get over it.

In the absence of giving time to matters of my heart, I was burdened with matters of my mind. Luke. I still hated myself for having been so oblivious to it all, but no matter how many times I called myself an idiot, he was still out there and things weren’t going to change. I kept turning this fact over and over in my head: I had never once in all that time suspected him to be lying to me. It’s one thing to keep a part of your life hidden—a girl on the side, a racist grandparent, a mild addiction—but to bury yourself entirely…how had he managed?

He had never once dropped the accent. He had every piece of identification you could need, a steady job and his own apartment off campus. He never displayed any dominant or worrying traits—but then again, Deimos had been the more submissive of the two boys. Things made sense, though, when I thought about the night in Paris. Perhaps some part of him was more human than the others: maybe some part of him cared about my existence for a fraction of time and it was Ares who drew him back to his side upon understanding this. Regardless, I knew if we ever caught him I would not be gentle with him. He could not be trusted.

But then again, could anyone?