Ten Feet off the Ground – 1/2 – DarkJediQueen

Title: Ten Feet off the Ground
Author: DarkJediQueen
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Genre: Fix-It,  Angst, First Time, Slow Burn, Crime Drama, Hurt/Comfort
Relationship(s): Aaron Hotchner/Spencer Reid
Content Rating: Mature
Warnings: Assisted Suicide, Dark Themes, Death-Minor Character, Discussion-Child Abuse, Discussion-Domestic Violence, Discussion-Murder, Discussion-Other Trigger Topics, Discussion-Rape, Discussion-Sexual Abuse, Discussion-Torture, Disturbing Imagery, Kidnapping, Violence-Canon-Level, Violence-Graphic
Author Notes: While writing this a single song kept running through my head. Apologize by OneRepublic.
Beta: Grammarly
Word Count: 63,285
Summary: Spencer did not realize what kind of ripples would come out of him not moving his mother but then who does know what happens when decisions are made. Even decisions that should have little effect on the others around him.
Artist: rivermoon1970


 

 


 

Chapter 01-The Inevitable Fight

Spencer Reid had never been more nervous in his life. He raised his hand up and almost knocked on the door but instead lowered it again for the third time. He wrapped his arms around his chest and walked to the end of the hall to the single window that looked out into the DC traffic. It was in the afternoon on Sunday, so the traffic was light, churchgoers were already home, and everyone else was just toiling around doing whatever they needed to do. Spencer had ridden the bus close and then walked the rest of the way, forcing himself to actually do it because a bus wasn’t coming back to the area for at least an hour. He had chickened out three times before today. Spencer knew if he gave himself a chance, he would do it again.

It was one thing to seek Hotch out when they were at work and ask for his help, his opinion, but this wasn’t something that he wanted to discuss in the office. He didn’t know what to do.

“You do realize that after Foyet that the hall has cameras, right?” Hotch asked, his voice ringing down the hall.

Spencer turned around and saw that Hotch was standing just outside of his apartment door. The door behind was still open, but there was no noise coming from inside. Spencer swallowed and couldn’t answer. Spencer had known that he and Hotch had discussed it quite a bit. They had discussed a lot of things.

“There is also a security guard who watches them. Thankfully, he recognized you from my team and just called up to tell me instead of calling the cops. Why don’t you come inside, Reid?” Hotch didn’t look upset. Frankly, he looked worried.

“Okay,” Spencer said, and he took a few steps towards Hotch’s apartment. Hotch didn’t go inside, and Spencer slowed down, looking up at him. Spencer passed by him, and Hotch’s hand dropped onto Spencer’s shoulder. A brand of heat that felt good to Spencer who had been numb and cold for days. Spencer looked for Jack but didn’t see the boy. The apartment was quiet feeling and almost empty because the sound of him wasn’t there. “Where’s Jack?”

“In his room reading a book and listening to music on his headphones. He was doing that before you came up onto the floor. I figure at some point I’ll pull him out. Have you eaten lunch?” Hotch did not move his hand from Spencer’s shoulder at all. Spencer was afraid to ask him to because he would, and Spencer wasn’t sure that he wanted him to.

“It’s that late already?” Spencer looked at the clock on the wall. It was well after one. Spencer knew that he had but hadn’t put it into terms of food in his belly. He frowned as his stomach decided to rumble. Spencer laid a hand over his stomach like that would quiet it. Spencer felt the blush creeping up on his face. “I guess that it is. No, I have not eaten lunch.”

“Then it’s a good thing that I ordered your standard Chinese order, huh? Jack and I slept in, and we ate breakfast late, and so we are eating lunch late. It’ll be here soon. Jack will eat in his bedroom. We have the afternoon to discuss whatever has you afraid of me, or at least afraid of talking to me and is causing you to sweat profusely.”

“Sweating?” Spencer looked at his arms and saw that his shirt was sticking to him in a few places. Spencer didn’t step away from Hotch’s hand. He felt it squeeze and then push at him a little. He followed the push and walked over to where the living room area was. Hotch pushed him down into the corner of the large couch. Hotch sat down on the coffee table in front of him. Spencer tried not to react at how close the man was sitting. It was a thing that Hotch had always done when talking, like being closer, made the conversation better. Spencer wondered where he had picked up that quirk. Sometimes Spencer really liked it. When Hotch had been helping him through detox from Dilaudid when Hotch had been around after Maeve’s death.

“It’s fine, it’s a very nervous sweat, but I’m not used to seeing it on you. You rarely ever get this nervous anymore, especially around me. I just want to help you.”

“I know. I just…I don’t know how to talk about this.”

“The beginning is usually nice.”

Spencer laughed at Hotch’s very, very bad joke but it did help to settle him a little bit. He settled back on the couch and laid his head on the back, looking up at Hotch’s immaculate ceiling. Spencer’s did not look like that, there weren’t cobwebs, but there were small collections of dusty areas. Spencer didn’t care about cleaning his ceiling as often as he cleaned other parts of his apartment. He knew that he was stalling by thinking about weird and useless things. He had been stalling for hours, days, hell even weeks but he just didn’t know what to do and asking for help had never been part of his make-up.

Diana Reid had been a good mother, as much as she could be with her problems. She had instilled in Spencer a mentality to do everything on his own. The two times that Spencer had asked for help, it had ended up being Hotch helping him because no one else stepped up and Spencer wasn’t able to ask for help when it was things for himself. Spencer didn’t blame Hotch for Maeve’s death. She would have still been just as dead if the team had not helped Spencer because Spencer would not have got to her in time. It was still hard to open up to Hotch, no matter what he was opening up to him about.

Spencer had hated when Hotch had pulled him into his office to talk about what happened with his mother not that long ago. Not liking the fact that Spencer had not shared with at least him before going into a serious situation. Spencer could still feel Hotch’s words as they drove into his heart. Unlike the conversation that happened after the whole situation in West Bune, Hotch had just talked about how every single person in that restaurant was in Spencer’s hands, and if their UnSub had proved to be better at getting into Spencer’s head, it could have ended badly. It wasn’t just Spencer’s life on the line. Hotch’s last statement before he had let Spencer talk had been forever cemented into Spencer’s brain.

“I don’t ever want to be the one that has to go to your mother and tell her that you died in the line of duty because of something that we could have stopped if you had just opened up to us.” The tone, the look on Hotch’s face as he said it, the look of utter pain in his eyes would forever be stuck in Spencer’s mind.

“I don’t-” Spencer snapped his jaw together and sighed before he looked up at Hotch. Hotch was looking at him with the concerned face that he used a lot with Spencer. It wasn’t patronizing, but it was different than how Rossi looked at Spencer when he was worried and very different from the way that JJ and Morgan looked at him. Spencer couldn’t figure out what it meant, and that was not helping. Spencer didn’t like not knowing what a look meant and talking to Morgan about it had not helped because Morgan didn’t know what it meant either. Morgan had never seen Hotch make that face either.

“How about a drink?” Hotch asked as he stood up and walked over to where there was already a bottle of some kind out and two glasses. Spencer really hoped that Hotch didn’t leave those out all the time. Jack was a good kid, but the temptation was the mother of all evil. “When Bob told me that you were hesitant to knock and kept on pacing, I thought that a drink might be in order, so I set it out.”

“Just a little.” Spencer didn’t want to get drunk at all and let something foolish slip from his lips. Hotch and Rossi both liked very strong liquors, and those never did well with Spencer. The color was off for Hotch’s usual scotch though, and it wasn’t until Spencer was holding the glass and seeing that there was more in it than just a little that it was brandy. Spencer’s preferred drink. Spencer took a sniff of it and found that it was his preferred brand and flavor as well.

“I don’t have brandy glasses. I really don’t have much besides these and glasses I use for tea. Tea glasses are not meant for this.” The look on Hotch’s face as he said told Spencer that he had ideas of what was to be used for things like this and what was not. One day Spencer vowed to find out his ideas on it all. He wouldn’t be able to get away with it now, though.

“No, they are really not.” Spencer took a sip before he opened his mouth.

“Ah!” Hotch held up a hand. “No distracting yourself and me with the discussion of how each alcohol got its own glass and method of drinking. I would gladly listen to it but not today.” The smile on Hotch’s face was the same that was always there when he had to stop one of Spencer’s babbles. It was never done maliciously, but Spencer had never quite got the hang of when and where it was allowed.

Spencer sighed, but he knew that would probably never get off the topic if allowed onto it and then they would be there all day and Jack would come out and then Spencer would not talk about it at all.

“I’ve always taken care of mom. It’s been her and me since I was ten. Even when I was away at Caltech, I was the one that arranged for people to check in on her and feed her and just care for her. I took care of her.” Spencer didn’t know what to do because he did not want to give up his life for her. It sounded horrible, but he would hate it, and so would she.

“And now?”

“I don’t know what to do to take care of her anymore. I don’t know what to do.” Spencer rubbed his free hand over his face and sighed again. He really needed to get calm and hoped that just talking with Hotch would help him do that. Hotch was good at making his own bias not known when talking to someone. It was why he was such a good lawyer when he had been one and why he did as well as he did in the BAU. Spencer had found some of the court transcripts from the cases that Hotch had run before he had left the DA’s office. Spencer had used them as a way to learn more about his new boss when he had stepped up after Bale had sent Gideon into leave. Spencer had learned a lot about the man just reading the court transcripts. The way that he cross-examined witnesses, and perps alike. He was always careful with victims. That was how Spencer knew he could trust the man in his life.

Spencer had never thought that he had ever got an erection from reading things that were not erotica before, but he had from just reading Hotch smacking down people. That of course had been long after his crush on Hotch had started. That had just seemed to make Spencer want him even more. The attraction to Hotch had always been in the background to Spencer’s life until it wasn’t anymore. Until Spencer was genuinely faced with the fact that Aaron Hotchner might be an ally to anyone who wasn’t straight, he himself was very straight. Spencer had filed away his attraction to Hotch to the dark recesses of his mind, but it hadn’t really gone away it seemed. Instead, it just seemed to grow inside of Spencer until it had turned from attraction to lust and finally to the death knell of love.

It wasn’t until he was sitting in his apartment two months after Maeve’s death that Spencer realized that he loved Hotch and that was he wasn’t sure exactly how long he had loved the man. It wasn’t a coincidence that Spencer had started to find someone that he hoped could love him back not long after Beth had entered Hotch’s life. Spencer wasn’t sure if anyone else figured that out. Hell, he wasn’t sure if anyone else knew that Spencer loved Hotch. Spencer had got very good a managing his body around the man.

“Spencer,” Hotch said, drawing Spencer out of his thoughts and back to where he was. Hotch was looking at him with that indulgent smile on his face that said that Hotch was used to it and not upset at all. Hotch frowned though as Spencer said nothing else. “I can’t help you if you don’t explain it a little better Spencer.”

“I’m slowly losing her. I can’t fix that, but there are ways to try. There are programs and facilities that can house her, even with her mental issues. There are studies and trials that she can do, but she would have to be moved from Bennington.”

“Why can’t she stay there?”

“None are being done close to her. I want to take care of her. She took care of me.”

There was a look on Hotch’s face that made Spencer nearly blow up at him, but as soon as Spencer opened his mouth, Hotch’s eyebrow raised, and Spencer deflated. Spencer slumped back onto the couch.

“I know that she took care of you as much as she could, Spencer. I know that. She did and still does love you more than anyone in the world. I understand what she sacrificed going off of her meds to have you and that after none of them worked the way that they should have. Your parents, both of them, were a little short sighted on those effects. They should have had a plan in place before taking her off the meds and a clear plan of what was to happen. Though I think that after meeting your father, he would have still left you with her like it happened, but maybe something different would have happened. Though I don’t think Monday morning quarterbacking is what you are here for.”

“What’s that?” Spencer asked. He frowned trying to sift through all of his memories of Morgan and his football talk.

“Someone who always tries to point out what he or she would have done differently after an event has passed. It got that because of people complaining over quarterbacks on Monday morning after a Sunday night game.”

“Oh, how have I never heard that phrase from Morgan before?”

“I don’t know, but again, you aren’t going to get me off track.” Hotch scooted forward on the coffee table until his knees were touching Spencer’s and he set down his glass of brandy on the table beside him. Hotch took the other away from Spencer and set it down as well. He reached out and forced Spencer eyes onto him. “What does she want?”

“What?” Spencer asked.

“What does your mother want? Does she want to be studied? Given medicines that no one has any idea of what they are going to do to her mental health? Does she want to move to a new place after spending over fifteen years there at Bennington? You’ve said time and again that she’s happy there. She’s going to degenerate fast once it happens and with her other mental instability, there is no way to track how that’s going to happen. I’ll give you long weekends, Spencer if you want more time with her. You can leave on Thursday and come back on Monday or leave on Friday and come back on Tuesday. I can do three day weekends for you so that you can see her.”

Spencer stared at Hotch and tried to process what he was saying. There was a part of his mind that understood that this was why he was here. Hotch was level-headed. Hotch understood how to tell Spencer things to get him to understand why he was thinking the way that he was. There was, however, a more emotional part of Spencer though that was not liking the way that Hotch’s opinion was going.

Shoving at Hotch’s knees did nothing to push the man back from him. Spencer frowned and shoved again. All that did was make Hotch grab his hands. Spencer used that to shove at him, but Hotch didn’t move at all other than his arms, letting Spencer press them all the way to his chest.

“You want me to abandon her? Leave her in Bennington and let her mind die?” Spencer was loud, he knew that he was. He didn’t care. He shoved at Hotch again, but the man didn’t move, barely let Spencer push at his hands his time. The look on Hotch’s face was full of pity. That made Spencer snarl. “Don’t fucking do that, Hotch. Don’t.”

“Spencer, please.”

“NO!” Spencer near yelled he jerked on his hands, trying to get away but Hotch didn’t let go, and he didn’t let Spencer get away from him. “Don’t. I won’t let her just die without fighting. I love her, and I’m not going to lose her.”

“You were already going to lose her to her disease, and now she has another, and I know you are scared, Spencer. You don’t want to ever lose her, but there is nothing that you can do to stop what is going to happen. It’s your job to make her last years, what she can remember of it the best of her life.”

“What the hell do you know?” Spencer demanded as he jerked on his hands again. He wanted Hotch to let him go, and he wanted it now. It didn’t seem like the man was going to so Spencer went for the proverbial jugular. “What the hell do you know about parents and loving them? I don’t even know why I came here. You have no idea about how it hurts to see parents ill. You were happy the day your father died.”

Hotch said nothing, he didn’t even flinch as Spencer said vile things about him. He just looked at Spencer with a sad look on his face and then pulled Spencer close to him. Hotch wrapped his arms around Spencer as quick as he could after letting go for his wrists. It wasn’t until Spencer was jerked forward in the movement and he crashed into Hotch’s shoulder that he realized that he was crying. Spencer wiggled his arms from in between them and wrapped them awkwardly around Hotch and buried his face in his neck to cry. Spencer let go for the first time in a very long time. He let go and surrendered to the emotions inside of him because Hotch would never let him fall. Ever.

In Spencer’s life, Hotch was the one person who had never let him down. Ever. Hotch held Spencer close and the only time that they moved was when Hotch settled them onto the couch. Spencer should have felt odd half laying on his boss while he cried into his shoulder, but he didn’t. He just felt safe. And loved. He knew that the love, the intimate love, was just one-sided on his part but Hotch did love him, as a friend, as family. Maybe even like a brother, Spencer never could figure that out. Hotch’s relationship with his brother was very tenuous, so it wasn’t a good measure of how Hotch used to love his brother. Still, Spencer basked in that love because this team was soon going to be the only family that he had left.

“I’m glad you came to me, Reid,” Hotch said after Spencer had finally stopped crying. He hadn’t got off of Hotch yet, but Hotch was making no move to try and get him off either. “You are hurting, and I hate to see you in pain like this. You are forgiven for the words you said. You reacted in pain and tried to lash out. We are both too good at the game to not go for the parts that hit the hardest. Yes, I was happy the day my father died because it meant that I was safe, it meant that Sean was safe. I was a teenager, so there was a little bit of outright glee that he was dead, but I grew out of that, and it was just that feeling of safety. You are safe here, no matter what you say. I don’t care if you yell and scream at me that I’m the worst human in the world. I won’t get angry with you.”

Hotch’s words almost had Spencer crying again. Hotch’s hands held Spencer tight, and when Spencer started to get up long before he was ready, Hotch’s hand pushed his head back down. They settled in on the couch like that until the food came. Nothing was said about any of it until after the meal was eaten and things were cleaned up.

***
***

Spencer watched as his mother wrote in her journal. She was smiling as she did. Spencer didn’t even move for ten minutes. The sunroom was empty as many of the other residents of Bennington were either at the game of bingo that was going on or watching TV in one of the other rooms. Spencer knew that she didn’t like the crowds of either option, but sometimes she would move to the hall outside of one of the TV rooms and listen.

“Spencer,” Doctor Norman said as he stepped up beside Spencer. Spencer looked at him. He nodded his head in a direction that was opposite where his mother was.

Spencer followed him over there. Doctor Norman looked normal, but then he was good at playing things close to the vest.

“How’s she been doing?” Spencer asked.

“She’s been good. I have rotated a new staff member to her floor. New to the floor but not new to her. She and your mother were close before she moved to a different floor a few years ago. Diana is taking well to her being back, and we hope that her memories of that time are long to go away. I want to keep her here on this wing for as long as possible. I would like to go it until the end, whenever that might be but if she becomes too violent between her schizophrenia and her Alzheimer’s, I will have to move her for the safety of other patients.”

“I understand.”

“Have you made a decision?”

“No, I’m going to talk to her, though. My boss has given me the time off needed until I have a good day with her and get her feelings on it all.”

“That’s a good thing. I’ll keep other residents away for a little bit just in case she freaks out some and make sure that her favorite nurse is nearby. If you need anything just let me know. I would also like to offer you a cot in her room again if you want. It wasn’t as bad as I thought last time and she might need that. You might need it.”

“Thank you, I’ll let you know.”

Spencer watched as Doctor Norman walked away. He turned to look at his mom, still engrossed in writing in her book. Spencer felt his stomach start to churn. He needed to talk to her, but he didn’t want to because he was pretty damned sure that he already knew what she was going to say and he didn’t like it. Spencer reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. It was already on silent he knew that, but he needed to check to be sure. There was a message from Hotch.

You have four weeks of vacation time to use. Dave donated two weeks, and the rest of the team donated a day or two each as well as Anderson gave you a few days. You take the time you need to get in some good memories with your mother. Go to the grand canyon with her. Take her to Paris.

Spencer smiled at his phone and sent back a quick thank you as well as asking Hotch to thank everyone for him. He put his phone back to sleep and slipped it into his pocket. He looked up at his mom again and found that she was staring out the window, her pen inside of the journal, and it closed. Spencer decided that it was now or never to go and talk to her because if he waited, he would leave and then he would keep doing the same thing over and over again until his four weeks were up and he was going home. If he didn’t give up before then anyway.

“Hey Mom,” Spencer said as he stepped up beside her.

Diana looked at Spencer with a smile on her face.

“Hello, Spencer, you did not tell me in your letter that you were coming.”

“I didn’t know I was coming. My boss moved things around last minute so that I could come.”

“Agent Hotchner is a charming man,” Diana said.

“Yes, he is.”

“I still ache when I think about losing his ex-wife like he did. I know that nothing could have stopped that from happening, but I worry about the boy. He’s happy, right?”

“As much as he can be. I mean Mother’s Day is hard and really so isn’t Father’s Day. Jessica, Jack’s aunt, tries to help where she can and then step back where she’s needed to. Haley used to bring breakfast to Hotch’s on Father’s Day with Jack. They might have been divorced, but she tried her best to be a good role model for her son once she got over the hurt of the failure of the relationship. Hotch did the same on Mother’s Day, and I think really that it was the reason why she started to do it, but still, they were both good for Jack once they got past it all.”

“So he’s doing good?”

“Yes, he was doing art therapy for a while as he was not good at writing, but I think that the art grew on him. He really likes drawing, and he and Henry have been working on a comic about superheroes. I think that all of the superheroes look like us, but Jack won’t admit to it. He’s a well-adjusted boy for what happened in his life. It helps that he has a wonderful and very engaged father. Hotch would do anything for him even if it means that Hotch gets a little less time with him.”

“What hobbies does the boy have?”

“He likes reading, and drawing of course, but he’s been enjoying soccer. Hotch has started to coach the team because none of the other parents like to look up from their phones long enough to do anything.” Spencer laughed a little because he remembered the gripe from Hotch about that the one morning that the team needed to go straight to the jet, so Hotch had picked him up from his apartment so that he didn’t have to take the train in and delay them. Usually, that was Morgan’s job, but since Morgan had retired, Hotch had stepped up and taken that over.

“Young Jack will grow up better for the attention that his father gives him. He sounds like a wonderful father.”

“He is.” Spencer knew that his tone was wistful. He didn’t say anything else though because he and his mother didn’t need to get into the past like that. Spencer looked down at his hands and then back up at Diana. He gave her a careful smile. “Speaking of good parents.”

“Spencer,” Diana said, and she sighed as she did. She looked away from Spencer and out into the garden.

Spencer didn’t say anything because he knew that it would take a few moments for his mother to gather her thoughts and be able to express them. Spencer just stared at her as he waited.

“I’ve had a good life. I’ve got to see you grow up into a wonderful man despite what my own mental health could have done and your father left you with me could have wrought on the world. I’ve known since you were an infant that it could have gone either way. You could have been a force for good, or you could have been a monster that tried to destroy the world. Instead, you were fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. You are a wonderful human, and it shows in everything that you do. You did something that most with your brain wouldn’t do, you are doing public service. That’s enough for me to tell me that I did everything right. I couldn’t have damaged you much.” Diana smiled at Spencer and reached out her hand.

Spencer shuffled closer, sitting on the arm of her chair so that she could cup the side of his face. Spencer closed his eyes and turned his head to press his cheek into her hand harder.

“You did wonderful with me, Mom. You allowed me to become who I wanted to be. We had a few bumps here and there but nothing that is any worse than what some other kids go through. You were and are a wonderful mother who did the best that she could. Let me return that favor and do the best that I can for you, please?”

“Spencer, I’m tired. I’ve worked for a long time at being stable, but I’ll not be stable like that again. I can feel my mind slipping away, and it scares me, but I hate that I’ve hurt you with the fact that you came in here one day and I didn’t know who you were. I know that there are more times coming that I won’t know you from a stranger on the street, but I’ve always known before that it’s you. I might not be able to connect your face, but I always make time for you, even if I think you are a student.” Diana forced Spencer eyes up to her, and Spencer could see the pain in them. “There is nothing that is going to stop what is coming, there is a slim chance that it can be delayed, but we don’t know with the medications that my body already has in it. I have had a good life. It’s been better since you had me put in here. I might have disliked you for a while after that, but it has been better. I know that you love me, Spencer and I love you. I cannot see my life as being anything good without you in it.”

Spencer felt his heart in his throat because even without her saying it, Spencer knew that his mom didn’t want to do the treatment. He swallowed and tried to clear his throat, but it wasn’t going to happen. Closing his eyes for a few seconds, Spencer prepared for the words that were going to come next from Diana’s mouth.

“I know that right now you cannot envision a future where I am not in it, at least not for a long time but Spencer, I’m tired, and I’ve taught you everything that you need. You have a new family, and it’s time to embrace them instead of clinging to me. Trying to keep me sane and here on this earth will only hurt you more in the long run, get your hopes up more and more only for it to fail. I cannot be around forever, and it’s better to let me go with dignity than nothing at all. Let me have that.”

“Okay,” Spencer said, and his voice cracked. He knew that he was near tears, and he would let them fall. Just not yet.

“I love you more than my own life. You know that.”

“I know, you wanted me so much that you hurt yourself doing it. It’s a burden that I have to live with even though you never thought of it like that and hate that I do. I don’t want to lose you, but I will agree with what you want because it’s what you want. I’ve only ever acted when it wasn’t what you wanted once, and I will never regret it, but this I would. Hotch has given me a few weeks off. How do you feel about making that Paris trip?”

“Pairs would be lovely,” Diana said. She gripped Spencer’s cheeks and brought him close to where she could kiss his forehead.

“I’ll take care of everything today and then tomorrow I can come over, and we can start to plan. One last big trip for you before-” Spencer stopped because he didn’t want to say it.

“One last trip.”

Chapter 02-Returning to Normal

Spencer smiled at Anderson as the man ran for the elevator. Spencer was the only one on it so he pressed the hold door open button so that Anderson could get on.

“Thanks,” Anderson said as he slipped into the elevator. His eyes were on the tray of drink in Spencer’s hand.

Spencer handed over one of them to the man with a smile. “This is a thanks for the vacation time, so I could go to Paris with Mom. I know that the value is no way equal, but on my end, the time that I got with her was invaluable.”

“You are quite welcome. Hotch said that you were going to Paris, and none of us really believed us until we got the postcards.” Anderson took a sip of his drink, and his face lit up. “That’s an outstanding Chai. Where did you get this?”

Spencer watched Anderson as he looked at the cup for a logo or anything on it. “It’s from a place that opened up a few months ago here in Quantico. I’ve been at work for a while now, and I needed a drink. Hotch and Rossi will be in soon, and the other two are for them. You three gave me the most time off from your own.”

“I had plans for a convention, but those fell through as my friends aren’t going to be able to go, so I plan on taking a long weekend in New York City.”

“That sounds like fun.” Spencer lifted his drink out of the carrier and took a sip. He had already had two cups of coffee before he had left home and had grabbed a latte on the way in to drink on the train. He had picked out a Chai latte for himself as well as Anderson.

“It will be. Not as much as the convention, but I don’t like to go alone.”

The doors opened, and Spencer saw that Hotch was standing at Spencer’s desk. He had a grin on his face, so Spencer wasn’t that worried that it was something terrible. Anderson toasted Spencer with his Chai and walked toward where his desk was on the other side of the glass doors. Spencer set his drink back down into the carrier and lifted out Hotch’s.

“Welcome back, Reid,” Hotch said with one of his rare smiles on his face. Spencer handed over the drink, and Hotch took it, taking a sip before he smiled. “My favorite, which I still can’t figure out how you know.”

“And I’m never telling.”

“I wanted to invite you up, and we can talk.”

Spencer eyed Hotch, and the man just gave him another smile.

“It’s nothing bad just something private.”

“Sure. I got a jump start on work. Let me leave this on Rossi’s desk, and I’ll come over to your office.” Spencer raised the tray with his and Rossi’s drinks on it and smiled. Hotch nodded his head before turning to go up to his office. Spencer walked the long way to Rossi’s office so that he wasn’t getting into Hotch’s way. He set the drink down in the middle of the desk and added his signature to a post-it note before attaching it like a flag to the side of the cup. Rossi was just paranoid enough that he probably wouldn’t drink it unless he knew who had left the drink. Spencer left his door open as that was the way that he had found it and tossed his carrier into the trash can that was just below the ramp he was walking on. His drink was in hand, and when he entered Hotch’s office, he shut the door behind him.

Spencer stopped because Hotch was not at his desk. Spencer wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. Should he sit in the chair, and wait for the man to get back? Go to his desk, and work while waiting? Hotch said he would be there, so he wasn’t sure why he wasn’t there.

“Behind you,” Hotch said, and Spencer turned around to look at the man who was seated on the couch instead of at his desk. Hotch rarely sat there unless he was meeting with victims, victims’ families. Spencer had used the couch when he had been recovering from being shot in the leg as he needed to sometimes keep it up. Hotch had welcomed him in with open arms to share the office.

The last time that Spencer had sat down on the couches in Hotch’s office was when he was there as part of the interview after Prentiss’s faked death, the grief assessments that Hotch had done instead of Strauss. Spencer wondered why Hotch had chosen to sit there this time. Spencer took the chair that was between the two couches and looked down at his drink.

“I just wanted to talk about your Mom, Reid.”

“Oh. Why?”

“Because unless I force you to talk about it, you won’t, and then you’ll end up looking like you are planning something horrible again while pacing outside of my apartment.”

“That was once,” Spencer said, but he saw the quirk on Hotch’s mouth that said he was trying not to laugh. Most of the people that Spencer worked with never saw it when Hotch did it. Spencer wasn’t sure if it was just something that Spencer noticed because he watched Hotch a lot or because he just people watched a lot and caught the small things that other people missed.

“Yes, well, my building security has asked about you a few times, worried you were suicidal or something. I made them understand you are not. I just want to touch base with you. We used to be closer. Before Prentiss, and then everything with Maeve, and then Morgan. You and I used to talk a lot when it was just the two of us here. While you were gone, I tried to narrow it down to a point where it stopped, and I realized that it was after Prentiss was back. You came to me a few times, and then it stopped right about when we missed your birthday.”

Spencer knew that he couldn’t lie, not to Hotch so instead of confirming that he just shrugged. He looked away from Hotch and focused on a spot on the wall just to the side of where Hotch was.

“You even after all of this time, you still think that I’ll not jump on that. Just as I said that day, I have no reason to give other than it just really did slip my mind. It wasn’t malicious even though I am sure that you thought it felt that way.”

“Everyone was focused on Prentiss,” Spencer said. He flexed his hand that wasn’t holding his Chai and looked at it. “Everyone was focused on her, so anything to do with anyone else slipped their minds. I was the only birthday between her coming back and that point, so no one else’s as missed. They didn’t miss yours even if we were on a case at the time. The meal out was nice.”

“It doesn’t mean you are less important.”

Spencer begged to differ, but he wasn’t going to say it. He knew where he stood. He knew he was the sore thumb on the team, the squeaky wheel that only got attention when he was making noise. He had thought for a while that he had found something different, but it was just more of the same.

“Mom’s doing good. We have her settled again in Bennington, and she’s happy to be home. She enjoyed the trip with the nurse tagging along. It made it nice so that I could do things that I wanted and then she could as well. Paying for her to go with us was a good idea. I’m glad that you suggested it. I’m happy to be home and ready to get back to work. Is there anything else?” Spencer really hoped that Hotch would let him go and get back to the job he was being paid for.

Hotch sighed, and that forced Spencer to look at him. There was a look of pain on Hotch’s face.

“I can’t make you talk to me. I can’t make you talk to anyone, so yes, if that’s all you want to say to me, I won’t force more.”

Spencer stood up, and as he was getting ready to take a step, he felt the sadness from Hotch. Hotch had Rossi, that was what Spencer had told himself when he had started to pull away from Hotch when it was clear that everything was pretty much one-sided even with their friendship. Hotch had Rossi and Spencer had his letters to his mom that he could vent to. Spencer looked around the office, and then he dropped down into the seat again. He could feel Hotch’s eyes on him.

“Why?” Spencer asked.

“Why what?” Hotch asked.

“It’s been nearly five years since we’ve hung out as you have pointed out. Why now?”

“Because I realized that I’m lonely.”

“And because Spencer Reid doesn’t have anyone but this team that means that I get what scraps you have, huh?” The words were harsh, but Spencer really didn’t care. Hotch needed to choose his words a little more carefully.

“No, Reid.” Hotch leaned forward and rubbed his hands over his face. His face stayed buried in his hands, and it seemed to be gathering his thoughts. Spencer waited. Finally, Hotch looked up at Spencer after several minutes. “Even though the subject matter was horrible and I was a little harsh that day you came to my apartment you reminded me of what we used to have. We are both at fault for losing that. Yes, you stepped away, trying to protect yourself, but I didn’t try and reconnect either. I didn’t show you that I would miss you. We both kind of lost it there, and it wasn’t until I saw what we used to have that I realized that I was lonely. Dave’s a good work friend. He’s good when we are here, but outside of it, he does too much that’s not at home. I kind like of being homebound. Jack’s schedule is messy, and so isn’t work for me. I would rather stay at home and watch a movie, cook a meal. Just do homey things. We used to do that. I don’t know if it was the fact that you thought I couldn’t be what Jack needed, so you helped to try and teach me, and there were a few things that I learned. You lived alone on campus and then after for a long time. I’ve never lived alone until I moved out of the house when Haley left me. I have also never raised a child alone, you had to raise yourself and take care of your mother. I was grateful for the help back then, and it took me a long time to see it. And that I missed you when you were gone.”

“I’ve missed it too,” Spencer said, and he meant it. He had missed the bond the two of them had started to form in the two years between Haley dying and the return of Prentiss and the whole birthday debacle.

“I’m glad. We let too much get in the way of the friendship that we had. We both need to do better, and we need to hold each other accountable. To that end, Jack wants to invite you for dinner. Today is your first day back, but I hoped that you would still want to come over. I think that Jack kind of realized you aren’t around as much anymore as well. I think he misses being able to ask you anything and you know at least a little bit about it. I kind of miss that as well.” Hotch was smiling as he said it. It was a hesitant smile like he was afraid that he might have crossed a line or something.

“I wasn’t planning on doing anything. My cleaning lady isn’t going to be there until tomorrow, so everything is kind of dusty. I had her come in and clean my bedroom quickly the other day because of where I stayed away so long. I paid her to clean but didn’t have her actually come and clean, and then her kids came to visit, and I told her to enjoy that so cleaning the kitchen before being able to cook is not something I want to do.”

“Who would?” Hotch asked. He picked up his phone from where he had set it down. Spencer hadn’t even seen him do that or realized that his phone was not on its clip. “I’ll text Jessica that I’ll be getting off early as I want to have a nice evening at home.”

“Are you sure you want me invading that. It’s never that quiet when I’m around.” Spencer knew that he wasn’t quiet when he was at Hotch’s, but that was mainly from the fact that Jack asked a lot of questions or wanted Spencer to tell him a story, even at the few team things that they had done over the past few years, Jack proved to not change that much on that front.

“And that’s what makes it a nice evening at home, Reid. Friends and family and happiness. Doesn’t matter if it’s loud or quiet.” Hotch was smiling, and Spencer knew that he was going to get sucked into that again, but this time Spencer knew his own feelings and understood them and every single day was going to be pain for him.

Wasn’t that what one did if one was in love? Everything to make the other happy? Even if it killed you. Spencer was pretty sure that it was the basis of all tragic stories that had to do with romance. It was better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, and all other shit like that was right, even if Spencer had never thought so before in his life. He wasn’t going to give up time with Hotch.

***
***

Spencer hesitated on knocking for a few seconds, trying to work himself up to where his heart wasn’t going to ache when the night ended when he went home alone. He shifted the bag in his hand to the other before he raised that newly freed hand to knock on the door. There was the sound of running feet, and Spencer shut his eyes as that ache already started. Jack didn’t sound any different than how he had before, and even though Spencer had perfect recall of what he read, there were sounds that never left Spencer’s brain.

Plastering on a smile, Spencer waited for the door to open and Jack to admit him. The door opened, just enough that said the chain was still on it before it was shut and flung open after the rattle of the chain told Spencer that it had been removed from the door. Jack was so big compared to even the last time that Spencer had seen him, not counting him being at the office when Hotch had been arrested on ridiculous charges. Spencer’s mind had been focused on things that were not Jack, and what seemed like the inch he had grown in a few months.

“Spencer!” Jack wrapped his arms around Spencer’s waist, trapping Spencer’s arm holding the bag to his body. Spencer reached down and ruffled his hair.

“Hey, Jack-Jack,” Spencer said, and he forced a smile on his face. The same one that he put on his face every time the team forced him out. No one had ever been able to realize that it was fake before. Spencer wondered as he always did if it was that he was that good or that they were that bad at reading him. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to know the answer.

Spencer looked up when he heard soft steps on the carpet. Hotch was there, dressed down for the night in polo shirt and jeans with no socks. Spencer gave him a brighter smile, not having to fake that one was much as Hotch looked good and that made Spencer smile. Age was creeping on Hotch slowly, but when he smiled, he looked a lot younger. He would still be one of the most handsome men that Spencer had ever seen and it was that thought that told Spencer he was stupidly in love still. He had pushed the thoughts away, but he not been able to get rid of them.

“Welcome,” Hotch said.

“Thanks for inviting me. I thought we could celebrate.” Spencer held up the bag as far as he could with Jack still kind of wrapped around him. Jack let go though and looked down into the bag.

“That looks like those bottles of stuff that Aunt Jessica drinks when her friends come over.”

“It’s not wine. It’s sparkling white grape juice. It goes with anything.” Spencer pulled out the bottle and showed Jack. There was a wine store near Spencer’s that sold the juice to be used for parties where kids were going to be, and they even sold it already chilled for rush things. “I just need to put it in the fridge to keep it cold until we drink it.”

“I never thought about that before,” Hotch said. He held out his hand for the bottle. Spencer handed it over before he tried to follow Hotch into the kitchen.

Jack though waylaid Spencer by grabbing his hand and tugging him back into the back of the apartment where the three bedrooms were. Jack’s room was much changed since the last time that Spencer had been in it. It was very pretty. It looked like a reverse night sky. The black was all around the bottom of the room where the bookshelves, dresser, and other things blocked most of it from being seen while the upper part was shades of purple and reds that got lighter until the ceiling which was light blue.

“This is pretty awesome, Jack,” Spencer said.

“Dad found the image online, but I liked it flipped better. I moved into the guest room for a week while pulled everything out and then got the room painted. Then we carefully moved everything back in after the paint smell had gone away. Which also included one of the really nice windy days of having all of the windows in the apartment open and letting that help.” Jack walked over to a patch of black on the wall that was where Jack’s smaller short and wide bookshelf used to be. Instead, Jack had two bookshelves that towered up in the room, a footstool was in front of one to allow him to reach the upper shelves that he was just a little too short for even then. “I want a few constellations on the wall. Do you think that one day you can come back and do that with me? I want them perfect. I want them here.”

“We can do it tonight.” Spencer thought the idea of spending the entire night in Jack’s room sounded better than being in the living room with Hotch. Spencer regretted agreeing to come. If he had talked Hotch into going out somewhere, it would have been better. Instead, Spencer was stuck in a house with the two Hotchner men. Both of which he couldn’t say no to it seemed.

“No. Dad and I have movies planned for tonight.”

“Movies?”

“Oh, yes. He said that you have been woefully lacking on superhero movies and need to start watching them again.”

“I don’t need to, he just wants me to.” Spencer gave Jack the smile that he always did when Hotch made Spencer watch movies that he didn’t mind watching but didn’t go out of his way to watch.

Jack grinned and tugged at Spencer’s hand again to pull him from the room. Jack didn’t let him go until they were in the living room, and Spencer was being shoved down onto the couch that was aimed at the TV. Spencer looked at the spot where a chair used to be, where Spencer sat when watching movies before. He liked it because he could tuck his legs up and get comfortable. The chair was gone though. In fact, the only thing in the living room was the couch. The couch was big enough for three but compact enough that any movement and they would be touching. If Hotch were a different kind of man and Jack a different kind of kid, Spencer would suspect an ulterior motive in the sitting arrangement.

“Your chair is off getting repaired and reupholstered,” Hotch said as he entered the room with three glasses in his hands. Two were set down on the coffee table, and the third was settled onto the end table at Spencer’s end of the couch beside where his chair used to be. “There was an unfortunate accident with spaghetti and noodles that needed it being cleaned, so I had a place nearby just replaced the stuffing and the fabric as well.”

“I bet you’ll like having it match the rest of your decor more than the eyesore that was that chair.” Spencer gave Hotch a smile at his words, trying to pass off the joke. Hotch’s apartment was clean, looking, earthy tones. The chair had been a yellow and red paisley patterned eyesore. Spencer had loved it though. Spencer had never got a straight answer on why Hotch had bought the chair but on Spencer’s third visit after Haley’s death it had been in the living room area. Spencer had been over the house that Hotch and Haley had lived in, and the chair had not been in that house.

Hotch sat down on the couch in the middle, and Jack piled onto the other side, snuggling into his father’s side. Spencer debated if he would get away with sitting on the floor for now. He did it before, and right now he just wasn’t comfortable sitting on the couch with Hotch right there. Spencer had hoped that maybe Jack would sit in the middle. Spencer grabbed his drink and set it down on the coffee table and tossed a pillow onto the floor to lean his back against to give it something softer than the wood of the front of the couch.

The movie started, and Spencer lost himself in the words that were being said while also trying to tie in what he was seeing to the comics that he had read at some point. Spencer had not been die-hard into comics growing up, but when one read as fast as he did, he got to where he would read anything. When the movie was just about done, there was a knock on the door, and Hotch stopped it to go and answer it. Hotch chatted with the person, and when he came back, there were two pizzas in his hands. Hotch set them both down on the table and opened the top one before grabbing a piece. Jack reached in next. Spencer leaned closer to look at what was inside. It was Spencer’s favorite pepperoni, green peppers, red onions, and pineapple. Obviously, Hotch wasn’t going to have them use plates, so Spencer grabbed a slice and shut the box lid to keep the food warm.

Hotch started the movie up again. The conversation ramped up between the three of them as the credits rolled. Spencer knew there were Easter egg bits in the credits, so he wasn’t shocked that Hotch wasn’t ejecting the DVD. Jack went to the kitchen and came back with the bottle of juice and then went back for glasses. Spencer was a little shocked that he grabbed real wine glasses and kind of shocked that Hotch had wine glasses, to begin with. Spencer remembered Jack’s comment about Jessica liking wine, so Hotch had probably got a set of four for her to use when they were having a meal that wine went with. Spencer had never seen Hotch drink wine, so he didn’t think that glasses were for his own personal use.

“So?” Hotch asked as he popped the lid on the bottle and started to pour out the juice. It was sweet enough that Spencer was glad that Hotch had not got dessert to go with the pizza. Spencer liked sweets after eating kinds of pasta or pizzas to help cut the spice-ladened sauces. This juice would be enough.

“It was good. Not as good as the first ones but still good enough to watch at least one more time in my life,” Spence said, letting a smile quirk his lips. Hotch laughed, and he looked years younger when he did, and it shocked Spencer every single time. Spencer memorized what he looked like right then to help settle his heart when Hotch chose the next woman to date in his quest to not be alone.

Spencer wasn’t sure that he knew what not being along felt like. He had been alone his whole life it seemed, other than his mother. Spencer could understand how someone like him could have turned out bad with mother issues, father issues, and a rage against the world. Spencer often wondered if that was why he was drawn to Hotch. Hotch had his own parental issues that were some ways worse than Spencer’s. Hell, from what little Spencer had been able to piece together about Hotch’s life growing up, it was a shock that Hotch hadn’t turned out to be a serial killer.

The second movie had more talking between the three of them during it. It was like the five years hadn’t happened. Hotch smiled more when Spencer was around, but Spencer wasn’t sure if that was because Hotch was at home and happy, or just Spencer being there and Spencer tried not to think too hard on that. Letting himself believe it was the second wasn’t going to help him in any way, shape, or form.

Jack fell asleep against his father about ten minutes before the end of the second movie, so Hotch woke him and sent him to bed. Jack stopped where Spencer was long enough to give him a hug before he went to bed. Hotch spent a few minutes cleaning up and took their glasses into the kitchen. Spencer moved up onto the couch because there was no reason for Hotch to take the middle seat again and Spencer’s ass was protesting the continued floor sitting.

Hotch came back with two of the wine glasses, filled again. Spencer frowned because he was pretty sure that the juice had been finished off. Spencer took the glass when Hotch offered it. Spencer opened his mouth to ask what was in the glass when Hotch turned off the TV and the DVD player as he sat down on the couch at the opposite end. Spencer shut his mouth and just took a sip to find that it was wine. Really good wine at that, something that Spencer hadn’t got outside of bringing home wine from California wineries when he went out there for a visit.

“There is a vineyard in New England that Haley and I used to go to for weekend visits. I love their wine. I don’t like many other wines, but I love theirs. Jack and I went there this past summer on our vacation, and I found the winery. I brought home a few bottles. Jessica loves the wine, so I got a few for presents for her. Usually, when a case runs long, I give her one. Do you like it?”

Spencer took another sip and let it settle in his mouth for a few seconds before he swallowed. He smiled at Hotch before speaking. “I do.”

“I picked up a few years ago that you were liked wine but not most commercial brands. You were the one that picked up the brand of wine that helped solve that case three years ago. So I thought that you might like these wines. They have three signature ones.” Hotch stood up and left the room very abruptly. Spencer wondered if he was supposed to follow him.

Spencer started to get up to follow him when Hotch came back into the room with a bag. It was a cloth bag. Spencer saw three bottles of wine sticking out of the top. Hotch set the bag down on the couch between them as he sat down again.

“They also make a travel bag for them. It’s their gift bag.” Hotch frowned and picked up the bag again and turned it around to where Spencer could see the name of the vineyard. The bag was beautiful.

“That’s really nice. The bag is beautiful.”

“This is the first wine that they ever made,” Hotch said, raising up his glass to toast Spencer before taking a sip. Despite the fact that it was something that he had that reminded him of Haley, Spencer saw contentment on his face. It was a look that had not been on Hotch’s face when his dead ex-wife was brought up. “It’s still a favorite, but it’s not my favorite.”

“No? What’s your favorite?” Spencer asked. As long as they kept to neutral topics, Spencer would be good. He could stay a friendly friend.

“This.” Hotch leaned forward and picked up the middle bottle out of the bag. It was a white wine, Spencer could tell that from the color. Spencer took the bottle when it was handed to him. Spencer read it over and his mouth watered a little. It sounded like it was going to be a favorite of his. He made sure to make a mental note to get on and see if they did mail delivery or not. He could also take a train up for a weekend that they were guaranteed to not be called out on a case.

“And what’s the other?” Spencer asked as he slotted the wine back in. He picked up the bottle closest to him. He read it over and found the notes of what was in it was in what he was drinking, so he put it back. Picking up the bottle closest to Hotch, Spencer darted his eyes up to look at Hotch. The man was looking at Spencer’s face like he was learning Spencer’s face. Spencer wondered at that because Hotch should know all of Spencer’s looks by that point. Well, all of the looks that actually mattered or were ones that he should see.

“That’s Jessica’s favorite. Well of what she had tried so far.”

“It sounds good as well. I think though based on what’s in each one I’m going to like the one you like the best.”

“Jessica and I opened two bottles yesterday. There was these two glasses left of this one and at least three of my favorite. We can get into that one next.”

“How many glasses do you think I can drink before I can’t drive home?” Spencer asked. It wasn’t meant to be as flirty as it was. Spencer forced himself to not blush at Hotch, but he was pretty sure that he was going to fail. He would blame it all on the wine though.

“You are one of the most careful driver’s that I know so I would say two glasses but Reid I saw you arrive on the bus. I know you are not driving and you’ll get home just fine after two and a half glasses of wine in you. Besides, we still have a movie and dessert to eat, and that will help you cycle out the wine.”

“Three movies?”

“Well more like two nearly three. We will have to wait to finish the other until Jack is with us again. It’s his favorite movie.” Hotch leaned forward to pick up the bag of wine and settled it on its side on the coffee table.

“I don’t know if I have another movie in me,” Spencer said. He was afraid that with the wine and just the day that he had that he might fall asleep on Hotch’s couch and Hotch would be too much of a gentleman to wake him up. He did not need to stay at Hotch’s, no matter how tired he was.

“Then we can talk. There is something that I wanted to tell you. I’ve not told anyone, and the few times I thought about bringing it up to Dave I’ve stopped myself. I almost did to Jessica once, but I thought it might hurt her too much.” Hotch didn’t look like he was afraid of telling, Spencer just that he was unsure of how to start.

“Okay,” Spencer said. Whatever it was, it had to do with Haley because it was the only thing that could hurt Jessica.

“When my scar tissue tore, and I passed out in the roundtable room, I saw things.”

“A white light?” Spencer asked. He remembered that discussion coming up once before between the team.

“No. Haley and Foyet, and my life. Haley was pushing me toward Beth in that. When I woke up, I thought it was my subconscious, but the more I thought about it. The more that I just couldn’t believe that. I knew the moment that I saw Haley that I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life. I was the one chasing her. Beth was the one chasing me, and it’s not that I didn’t want it. It took me time to come to grips with the fact that I was not cheating on Haley, even though we were divorced, I was still in love with her when she died. I didn’t want to move on, but Beth showed me that I needed to. I need to try and make myself happy. I need that in my life. I need to be happy. It’s just taken me a long time to accept that.”

“Tell me everything because it seems like you think that I will have some sort of insights into what you were dreaming while you were under the knife on the table and out cold from blood loss.” Spencer leaned forward because this kind of stuff he could do. He could help Hotch try and figure out what his dreams were while he was not lucid. It would at least keep him awake and remind him that he was not what Hotch wanted out of life.

Chapter 03-The Danger You Don’t Know

Spencer was enjoying his newest routine for the weekends that he was not on a case. He was currently reading a book in bed before getting up to face the day. He could hear the sound of the rain on the glass, and it was why he was still in bed. He had plenty of time to do what he wanted as it was just after seven in the morning. The smell of coffee was just reaching Spencer’s room, so the pot was almost brewed, he had set the timer on his pot to brew some coffee for him. Spencer knew that he needed to get up, but the book he was reading was pretty good. He closed the book and sat up in bed, throwing the covers off as he did. He was just in boxers as it was still pretty warm at night in DC and he had his air conditioner set to where it didn’t kick on as much. He shuffled from the bed to the bathroom, taking his time with the shower while he thought about the book he was reading and then took his with his hair before getting dressed.

DC was just waking up really. Spencer opened the window in his kitchen and went out onto the fir, escape outside of it. He settled down on the metal and watched as traffic went by at the opening of the alley the window let out onto. He finished off his coffee and then picked up the carafe on the counter just inside the window and poured another. He smiled as he heard some families walking somewhere and then they passed the opening of the alley, Spencer saw they were in good clothes, so he was pretty sure that they were headed to church.

Spencer’s stomach started to growl, so he forced himself inside. The window was shut and locked so that he did not forget about it. He had his breakfast ready in the fridge and popped it into the microwave while he filled up another cup with coffee. He would drink the whole pot before he left to start his weekly errands. He would be coming back to the apartment after his shopping trip, but after that, he would not be until probably way too late if every other Sunday was any clue. Still, it was nice to have something to look forward to.

The foot traffic was light, and so Spencer decided that he would walk to the grocery store down the block, the rain had stopped it seemed the city actually smelled pretty clean for once. He wasn’t going to be getting a lot of things, so carrying everything back was feasible. He settled into the walk, people watching those who were out this early in the morning. Spencer grabbed a stack of papers from a stand and laid down the money because the man was dealing with someone else who was being very picky. The man running it glanced at Spencer and nodded. The stack was for him anyway. Spencer had been buying from the man since he had got to town and the man was pretty nice about keeping the papers for Spencer throughout the week and even longer if he was on a case. The man would leave a post-it note on top with the amount of money, and Spencer would drop that down. Spencer slipped the papers into the bag that he brought just for them. He shook his head as the other customer started to scream.

Spencer kept on going because it was not his fight, and the vendor could take care of himself.

The store was pretty damned empty as most people would be going shopping after church. Spencer stopped at each spot that he needed and didn’t dally nor did he really look at anything extra. He only stopped at the books as he was leaving to see if there was anything interesting there. He found that the new releases had a book in a series that Hotch liked. Hotch usually didn’t buy them right when they came out but just whenever he took Jack to the bookstore and picked up the books that he read at the same time. Spencer had not heard him talking about a bookstore trip at work on Friday and yesterday they had been at the soccer fields all day long. Spencer added it to his shopping basket and walked to the register.

Checking out was simple, the young man running it didn’t talk much, more of a fact that Spencer was usually reading the magazine covers and sometimes a magazine while standing there than him being rude. Spencer paid and walked down to pack his own bags as he preferred to do it himself. He slipped Hotch’s book into the bag with the newspapers and put that back over his shoulder before hefting up the two other cloth bags that he had his groceries in. One slipped over his shoulder with the newspaper bag, and the other Spencer carried. He had not brought his messenger bag as it was just one more bag that he didn’t really need to weigh him down on his trip.

The trip back felt quicker, but that was just because Spencer was looking forward to breakfast and his stomach was letting him know that he needed to get something other than coffee and the small breakfast he had put into it sooner rather than later. He put up the things that needed to be in the fridge and left the stack of papers on his kitchen table. He would read the papers on the way into work the next day along with the others he picked up. There was a drop-off point just outside the train station in Quantico for the local animal shelter, so Spencer always dropped them off there.

Spencer grabbed his messenger bag, transferring his wallet into it as he opened up the apartment door to leave. He stopped and reached back to grab his umbrella, just in case the weather was wrong, and the rain was going to start up again. He grabbed a bus, and it took him into the heart of the city, where he got off at a little Mom and Pop diner that he loved. He had found it on accident one night after not being able to sleep. The diner was open twenty-four hours a day and was usually pretty hopping with older people who didn’t want to go to the more youth-oriented places. Spencer bypassed the restaurant and walked to the bookstore down the block a little. There was an order waiting on him, so he picked up those books before going back to the diner. He needed reading material.

The diner was pretty busy for early on a Sunday morning, so Spencer got a two-person booth on the far side and settled in. He had to arrange things a little different as he was used to a four-person table, but he had to do it before.

“Coffee?” the waitress asked as she stepped up. Spencer looked at her badge and saw that her name was Stella. She must be new because Spencer had never seen her in there before.

“No, thank you, Stella. I’m going to do the hot tea today. The biggest carafe you have and two mugs, please.”

“Ready to order your meal?” Stella asked. She wasn’t quite looking at Spencer, so he wondered if she even wanted to be working at all. Or she needed more coffee in her.

“Not yet, thank you.”

“I’ll have your tea up in a moment. Did you want a glass of water?”

“No, thank you.” Spencer picked up the menu. It was a new one, so Spencer wasn’t sure what the number of the meal that he got was. Though having to go through and describe the changes he wanted to, it was going to be hard. The meal wasn’t that much changed, but there were a lot of options, and Spencer didn’t go for any of the normal ones, and he did substitute the grits for the cream of wheat, which was not a normal option. Spencer started down the numbers until he reached seven but found that it was just the same. He kept looking until he found number thirteen, which was his meal exactly, with cream of wheat instead of grits. Besides the number was the words Spencer’s Special. Spencer laid down the menu and laughed. What used to be number thirteen was now fourteen. Spencer remembered the discussion on why the number thirteen was taboo as it was in modern and in older cultures. He wasn’t that shocked that it had become his meal.

Stella brought back the carafe of hot water, one cup with hot water in it, one with water and a bag of English Breakfast tea in it, and the basket of teas.

“Crystal spotted you and said this was how you wanted it. Am I correct?” Stella seemed a little more friendly at that moment, and Spencer wondered if she had drunk her coffee or was just in a better mood now that she knew he was a regular.

“Yes. Thank you. I’ll have the number thirteen.”

“How do you want your eggs?”

“Over easy please,” Spencer answered. He watched as Stella wrote that down and then reached for the menu. She kind of lingered for a second like she was waiting for him to say something else. “Everything else is just fine the way that it comes.”

“You are the first person to get this with me that hasn’t wanted a change of some kind.”

“Well, Stella, my name is Spencer,” Spencer said as he held out his hand for her to shake. She shook it and then looked at the menu in her hand. She smiled.

“It’s nice to meet you, Spencer, and I can see why they made the special with your name. I’ll have that out as soon as it’s ready.”

“Thank you.”

Spencer grabbed the little basket of tea and found the next kind that he wanted. It felt like an Earl Grey morning, so he settled that bag into the second cup to let it steep for a few minutes while he prepared and drunk the other. Spencer laughed a little as he watched a few of the regulars at the counter start to get into it about politics. There was no heat to the argument just old men with a lot of opinions. They were fascinating to watch, and it was one of the things that Spencer loved about this place. Spencer settled into the booth turned a little cater-cornered between the table and the back of the booth. He settled his book in his palm and started to read. He figured that even with eating, he would have all fourteen of the books done before he left the diner.

Stopping reading after finishing his cup of tea, Spencer pulled the bag from the second cup and settled it onto the little plate that he hadn’t even noticed Stella setting down. He poured the empty mug full and picked another bag of Earl Grey to drink. He added one packet of sugar to the one he had pulled the bag from and stirred it before going back to his book.

Stella set down Spencer’s plates on the table, and it drew Spencer out of his reading. He smiled at her as she set down the plates like he normally put them and reminded himself to give Crystal a thanks. Stella set down the next plate, and it was his double order of grilled sourdough toast. Stella didn’t set down any jelly, which was good. His eggs were on a separate plate from his hash browns as well as his bacon and turkey sausage links. The bowl of cream of wheat was set down as well as the little carafe of milk for it as well as brown sugar. Spencer smiled up at Stella.

“Looks wonderful. Thank you.”

“You are welcome. Just wave and get my eye if you need anything.”

“I will.” It was the standard for Spencer in the diner. That way the waitresses and waiters didn’t have to worry about disturbing him while he read.

Spencer swapped books frequently, only paying attention to his food when he needed to. The eggs were eaten first, the white cut off from around them and then Spencer’s spoon used to scoop up the yolk without busting it and slipped it into his mouth to chew. The whites were eaten last. Then Spencer moved onto the meat and the potatoes. Those were devoured without Spencer looking away from his book at all. Spencer prepared his cream of wheat with a little milk and the brown sugar before dipping his toast into it and eating it like that until there was no toast left. Then it was spooning out what was left. Spencer went through three more cups of tea while eating. He was nearly done with the last book, so he savored his last cup of tea while reading.

Rousing himself from the fictional world of British spies, Spencer looked at the table to see that everything was cleared except for a to-go cup with a tea bag already in it and his check. He looked up to see Stella at the register ringing out someone, but Crystal was walking back into the back with a tray of dishes in her hand. Spencer shook his head opened the to-go cup to find that it was the fruity blend that Crystal had let him try of her own stash once. Spencer saw that there was a sugar packet missing from the table container as well, so he assumed that it was in his tea. Spence drained the dregs on his mug of tea, stuffed the last book back into the bag and then got up to head up to the register with his to-go tea and his bill.

Stella was smiles as she checked out Spencer, she didn’t ask about the food, but given that Spencer had eaten all of it, it was a good sign that he had enjoyed it.

“So, what do you have planned today?” Crystal asked as she leaned against the counter beside the register.

“I’m going to do a little fun book shopping around town and then am joining my boss and his son for a meal at his place before they drag me out to do something with exercise I am sure. It’s the same thing they have done the last three Sundays that we have not had a case.”

“Asked him out yet?”

Spencer glared at Crystal. She had been here since Spencer had moved to DC and found the diner. There were a few nights where Spencer was tired and tipsy and was eating something before going to home to help soak up the alcohol, and his lips were a little more freer than they should have been. Spencer did not give her the benefit of an answer.

“You ain’t ever going to know unless you ask.”

“As I have said before I am content with what I have and I don’t want to lose what I have to maybe, I stress maybe, have something more. To me, the risks are not worth it.”

Crystal raised her hands and backed up, but there was no smile on her face anymore. Spencer knew that he had been abrupt, but he was not going to keep hearing the same thing over and over again. He did not need that. Crystal was just one of those people who felt that no one was happy unless they were with someone. Spencer wasn’t even sure that he wanted a committed relationship, with anyone but Hotch that was. Spencer could see himself loving Jack like a son. He could see himself being in their apartment every single morning. Just existing with them.

At first, Spencer had thought it was just proximity, but after a while and a few very failed dates, Spencer realized that it was more than that. It was trust. Spencer hadn’t thought that he had a hard time trusting anyone, but it seemed that he did. Spencer wasn’t shocked about that given his childhood. He knew the number that his father had done on him and to a certain extent, his mother as well.

Spencer gave Stella a big smile before he left the diner. He would be back and if Stella wanted to talk then, maybe he would as well. He was sure that she was confused as hell.

It was hours later that Spencer knocked on Hotch’s door. He frowned as he had knocked twice already. There was no sound of Jack’s feet on the floor running to the door. No sound of the TV which Hotch had on the news a lot of the time. The apartment was dead silent. Spencer drew out his phone.

Hotch, are you home? Did we cancel our day and I not remember? Spencer slipped his phone into his pocket and waited. Hotch usually texted back quickly.

Spencer walked backward until his back hit the wall and then he sunk down to where he was sitting on the floor. He drew out one of the books he had bought for Jack and started to read through it. It was better than nothing, and after Hotch had taken his books from him weeks ago, he stopped carrying books to Hotch’s for their Sundays together. Jack’s books were interesting enough, and Spencer got through them quickly. He frowned because at least ten minutes had passed. Spencer grabbed his phone from the nest like area made by the V of his stomach and legs and checked it. Hotch had not texted back. That was an oddity. He wasn’t sure what he felt about that. It meant that Hotch had not cared to message back or he was doing something that he wasn’t paying attention to his phone.

Either way, it told Spencer one thing. He had been forgotten. Spencer felt the hitch in his breath as he breathed in, but he didn’t let it go further than that. Instead, Spencer typed out the next message that he wanted to send to Hotch. He saw that the first message hadn’t even been viewed. Which Spencer knew how to get around, reading the message without clicking into the actual app so Hotch could have seen it and dismissed it.

I guess I must have not been paying attention when you said Friday that we were not hanging out today. So I’ll go home now.

Spencer pushed himself up the wall and debated for a few seconds what he wanted to do with the books. He decided to keep them and give them to Jack at a later point in time. Or just give them to Hotch to give to Jack. Spencer walked out of the building, rubbing at the skin over his heart. He knew that everything came to an end, but it seemed that this end was quicker than the last. Spencer wasn’t shocked though, really he wasn’t. Everyone left him in the end. Spencer wasn’t ever enough for anyone. He wasn’t enough for his father, he hadn’t been enough to save his mom, he wasn’t worth staying friends with.

Hating himself just a little, Spencer stopped at a store to pick up food things for dinner. He had not been buying food for meals for lunch and dinner on Sundays when we went shopping on Friday. He had just been getting for Saturday and obviously Friday night. Given the job Spencer just stopped on the way home from work each evening and picked up enough things for that meal, outside of the staples like milk and such. Given the job and the fact that he lived alone, it meant less waste in the long run. Spencer walked the aisles of the store and tried to find something that he felt like eating, nothing sounded good, so Spencer went to the freezer section and found a few frozen meals that he liked and got them all. He could keep the rest on hand for later, the nights that getting home from cases late meant he didn’t have enough energy to cook or work was just that bad.

The checkout line was just long enough that Spencer’s thoughts meandered back to Hotch. Spencer had promised him that he wasn’t going to let Hotch slip away again. Given that it had been so short of a time and that Spencer was only giving Hotch the benefit of the doubt that Hotch thought he told Spencer that they were not on for the weekend, Spencer didn’t know if he wanted to try again. It hurt, just like before and clean breaks were always better. Spencer didn’t know if he wanted to open himself up to the pain again of being forgotten, to be pushed aside. For all Spencer knew Hotch was on a date with a woman and Jessica had Jack.

Spencer’s problem was that every single excuse he made for Hotch, Spencer knew that it wasn’t the truth. Hotch wasn’t that kind of man. Hotch did not forget things like telling someone that he wasn’t going to be where he was supposed to be. Hell, the man had been polite as hell just before passing out. The true southern gentleman in him coming out as he passed out from blood loss. The more Spencer tried to make excuses, the more they rang hollow in Spencer’s mind and in his heart. There was only waiting and seeing what had actually happened. Spencer debated texting Jessica but chose not to do it. He had the woman’s number, but that was on accident, and she knew that he had it and had never told him to delete it. Hotch had texted both of them somehow when he had meant to just text, Jessica. Spencer had been in the shower, and the conversation had gone one for a little while before he had noticed it. He had read through it and responded as he thought he was meant to be a part of it. Hotch had apologized, and the conversation had gone to the area that was just for him and Jessica. Spencer hadn’t thought much of it and had just added Jessica to his contacts even though he knew that no matter what he would remember her number.

“Sir,” the woman at the register said when Spencer failed to set his things down on the belt for them to be taken to her.

“Sorry, got lost in thought.”

“Happens when lines are long. Did you find everything that you needed?”

“Yes. I need one of those purple hot and cold storage bags from behind you please,” Spencer said as he eyed the bag. He had one at home that was getting worn out from a lot of use, and he really liked that bag.

“Sure.” The cashier turned and grabbed the bag and scanned it before opening it and starting to put his freezer meals into it after she scanned them.

Spencer grabbed a few packs of gum that would tide him over until he made the trek to the health food store on the other side of DC that carried the cinnamon gum that he liked. The cashier scanned the first and motioned at him and then at the bag. “Oh in the bag, please.”

The cashier dropped the gum down into the bag before she sealed it up. Spencer rushed through the end of the transaction and bid her a good day before grabbing his bag and leaving. He had enough new books that should have been dropped off at his apartment building while he had been heading to Hotch’s that Spencer wouldn’t be bored in the afternoon. It wasn’t going to be as fun as playing with Jack and just spending time with him and Hotch, but there wasn’t a damned thing that Spencer could do about that.

***
***

Spencer was sitting at his desk, clearing the stuff that had been waiting for him in his inbox when he had got in. He was the first to arrive, but then he had made sure that he was going to be there before even Hotch. It was a little bit petty, but if he came after Hotch, then the man could ignore him. Now he would have to go through the bullpen and at least see Spencer. The texts were still unread, and that had worried Spencer the entire train ride to Quantico. Had he pissed off Hotch with the messages? Or had Hotch figured out that Spencer was in love with him and was freaked out?

Everyone on the team was pretty open-minded. They had to be. They saw all sorts of people in the scope of their job, and they could not be prejudiced in any way. That did not mean however that someone finding out that someone of the same sex as them liking them was going to go over well. Spencer blamed his childhood for always thinking up every single scenario of what could be the reason for something. He had to think steps ahead of his mom when she was in a state, and it had carried over long into his adulthood. He thought it was part of what made him a good profiler, but he wasn’t sure.

Rossi was the first to arrive other than Spencer. He came in the door with a tray of drinks. It wasn’t until he stopped at Spencer’s desk that he was greeted with his name on one of the cups and there were only two in the tray.

“Thanks,” Spencer said with a frown on his face that he didn’t even try and hide. Rossi had never brought just Spencer coffee before. Hell, the man rarely bought coffee for any of them, unless his first printing of a book did well. He was more likely to pay for lunch out than to do drinks. He claimed it was too hard to remember what everyone got. Spencer just figured it was him trying to keep up the gruff agent exterior that he liked to keep. Spencer took a sip of his coffee and nearly spilled it all over himself as he looked at Rossi. He looked at the cup to confirm that it wasn’t from the shop closest to his apartment as it was the only place he got the drink and other than those who worked there, no one but Hotch knew that he drank it.

“Dirty Chai with two shots and three pumps of vanilla. Right?”

“Yes,” Spencer said, but he trailed off the end just a little bit. He had no clue why Rossi was bringing him a drink.

“Aaron told me to get it for you as a sorry for missing the day out with Jack that he had planned.”

“He’s not going to be here today?” Spencer asked. Something serious was the only thing that would keep Hotch from work.

“The Director tapped him for a special assignment that started immediately. Jack’s staying with Jessica while Aaron’s away. TDY duty that was a rush job.”

Spencer watched Rossi’s face as he said it. He couldn’t tell how sincere the man was with his words. It felt wrong, but there was no reason why Hotch or Rossi would lie about something like that. It wasn’t like it was easy to fake a TDY. Spencer nodded his head. He turned around in his seat to start to work again. His gut was churning. Hotch wasn’t rash so there had to be a reason why he had accepted a special assignment like that.

For another hour, Spencer worked while the rest of the team filed in with Rossi talking to each of them about Hotch as they arrived. He tried to ignore his gut, but when he couldn’t anymore, he got up to go into the kitchen. He made a pot of coffee and waited for it. No one would think anything of him standing and staring at the carafe as it filled. He did it enough while just waiting for the coffee that navel-gazing would be ignored.

Spencer made a very rash decision as he stood at the carafe and it filled. He went back to his desk and grabbed his personal cell phone. He walked back to the kitchen as he typed.

I’m sorry for whatever I did. Spencer hit send before he could talk himself out of it. It sat unread like the other two messages he had sent. Spencer backed out of Hotch’s message log and opened up a new chat. He found Jessica’s name and started to type in it as well.

Jessica, this is Spencer Reid. Rossi just told me about the TDY for Hotch. If you need help with Jack, I don’t mind watching him for a while when I’m home from cases. It’ll give you a break. Just reach out to me in a text or a call. Tell Jack that I’m sorry we didn’t get to hang out yesterday.

Spencer backed out of the messenger application all the way before putting his phone back into his messenger bag. He left his work cell phone out. He spent the morning ignoring everything that wasn’t work-related. He pushed himself to get as much work done as possible to where after a quick lunch from the snack machine two floors down and pushing through the afternoon, Spencer was done with everything that he had to do by three.

“Hey, Rossi,” Spencer said as he entered the older man’s office. While Rossi hated being the boss, he stepped in when Hotch was gone for various reasons. Usually, it was just a few days things, but this could turn out to be a long stint.

“Yes?” Rossi asked as he set down the phone. Spencer saw that the call was on hold.

“Sorry to interrupt. I finished my work and a little of JJ’s as well that she snuck into the pile. Do you think I could head out?”

“Sure, Reid. Have fun.”

Spencer just waved his hand. He packed up everything that he needed and left saying goodbye to Alvez and JJ as Lewis was still doing some research. Garcia was in her office and Spencer didn’t want to bother her. He wasn’t sure that he could escape without her asking what was wrong anyway. Spencer was glad he had the train ride home to go over everything that had happened the weekend before. He had to figure out what he did that made Hotch accept a special assignment as quickly as he did.

Chapter 04-We Don’t Know the Cost

Spencer rolled over in bed and grabbed his phone. He looked at to see that JJ had texted him about something that Henry had done in the night that he might find funny, but that was it. Spencer still had not heard a word from Jessica about Jack, and Spencer was starting to get worried. He was also beginning to feel that if it wasn’t something about Jessica herself avoiding Spencer, then it was something that Hotch had told her to do. Spencer wasn’t sure which one, but until someone told him to stop doing what he was doing, he wasn’t going to stop it. He was going to go about doing what he was doing. There were a few things that Spencer had kept aside to do with Jack, and he wasn’t going to do them until he could do them with Jack.

There were a lot of things that Spencer could forgive, and he had proven to himself that when it came to Hotch, he was a stupid idiot who would do anything for him, including letting the man hurt him time and time again. He knew if Hotch came to his doorstep and begged forgiveness, Spencer would do it. Spencer would take him back, and while he might be hesitant, he would soon act like there was nothing wrong. It had been a hard pill to swallow, but over the past two weeks, since Hotch had disappeared on the special assignment, Spencer had done a lot of soul-searching.

Spencer rolled back over groaning as he did. The UnSub from the case that they got home from just the evening before had tackled Spencer, and they had rolled down a hill. Spencer wasn’t injured, but he was bruised, and his body was a little sore. He had been given a very mild muscle relaxer when Prentiss had forced him to the hospital to be checked out. There was enough to allow him to sleep at night as well as get through the day if he needed it. Yesterday, Spencer had been pretty sure that he would not need it, but this morning he was changing his tune because his body ached in a way that it never should when he was as young as he was. Spencer reached out for his glasses, blindly trying to find them without moving on the opposite nightstand. He found them on the third set of moving his hand and gently pulled his arm back to allow for the ache to become known as he contracted his muscles.

The world came into focus and with it was the fact that Spencer was lonely. It was Sunday, and he had nothing to look forward to. The previous Sunday he had stayed inside and worked on a few papers to send off, but today he just didn’t have anything to do but going back to his old routine was seemed stupid given that he had nothing to do after that and going back to his old, old routine was like giving up.

“Fuck,” Spencer said as he reached up to push his glasses up on his forehead and rub at his eyes with the heels of his palm. He just wanted to do something, anything that meant he wasn’t giving up in one-way shape or form. Spencer looked up at the ceiling and pushed his glasses back down to where he could see. He saw that his ceiling was clean, which he knew because the Saturday before he had deep cleaned the entire apartment to get rid of energy about what he was not going to be doing.

Picking up his phone, Spencer looked at the contact list for a few seconds before tapping on Hotch’s name and tapping again on the part that would open the texting. It was empty for a second before it brought up all of the other texts. Spencer resisted the urge to read over all of them, back to when Hotch was still there.

I just want to know what I can do to make this right, Hotch. You aren’t telling me anything, and you never did. You had Rossi bring me a drink that you are the only one that has ever seen me get. Yet, you don’t even have the balls to tell me that you are leaving. I don’t know what to feel, and I don’t know what to think.

On the one hand, you are being courteous with having Rossi tell me before the rest of the team but yet you don’t tell me that you are leaving. You left me in the lurch again. You pulled me in and made me feel like I was your friend again and then you ripped that floor out from under me. I didn’t even deserve a message that said something had come up and you couldn’t do our usual Sunday routine. That tells me exactly where I fell on your thoughts that day. Well, I’ve learned what I probably should have learned in high school, hell probably middle school. That it’s not worth being open with friends because all it does is rip you apart.

Spencer hit send on the text so that he couldn’t chicken out on it. He closed the texting application and finally pushed himself to sit up and get out of bed. He was going to take a shower, a long hot one to hopefully help relax his muscles some. He didn’t want to have to take the muscle relaxer but he would if he had to.

The shower was about three times the length of his normal one, and that wasn’t all because of his time just standing under it. Washing off took a little time with the muscles loosening up. Then it was just standing under the water because the hot water beating down on his back felt damned good. Getting dressing had not been as big of a deal because his body was still loose, but Spencer had dressed in clothes that would not be hard to get on and off, especially when it came time to use the bathroom. The linen pants that he chose didn’t button but were stretchy instead, and that would mean less fumbling when it came time. Spencer made coffee while he tried to figure out what he was going to eat as a breakfast snack as he decided what he was going to do for the day.

Settling on a pop-tart that he found in a baggie in the cabinet, Spencer stood and drank his coffee while munching on the pastry. He didn’t eat them often, but there were days that getting called into a case early meant something quick and easy, and the pop-tarts were easy to eat while driving or riding on the train.

After breakfast had been consumed, Spencer walked to his living room and booted up his computer. There were forums for the goings on in DC and the surrounding environs. Hopefully, he could find something on there to do. There wasn’t a lot that Spencer didn’t like doing. He would do anything that kept him entertained. At the moment, he would try anything to stop himself from trying to think about Hotch.

All of the books that talked about love like a disease, Spencer could understand why it was called that. As a child, Spencer had thought that love was something to be cherished, to be applauded. That love was something that was wanted and needed to be happy in life. After he had grown up, Spencer had been happy to not be in love, or at least not know that he was in love. His life had been a hell of a lot happier before he had fallen in love with Hotch. Or he was just really good at making himself think that. Spencer wasn’t sure, but he was settled into what he was now. There was nothing to be done but hope that the feeling went away with time. Spencer knew that only time would tell on everything and whether he just fell out of love with Hotch or it became an ache that he could live with.

Spencer spent an hour looking for things to do after he ate breakfast and there wasn’t anything until noon when a little festival started in one of the small cities about half an hour away from where Spencer was but wasn’t accessible by a train or a bus in a time that was timely enough for Spencer. He decided that it just might be fun, so Spencer packed for a day away from the house and left the apartment to check the gas in his tank. He hadn’t looked at it in a few weeks as most of his driving lately had just been around town when he was getting things he didn’t want to take onto the train or bus. He made sure that he had snacks packed into the car as well as some bottles of water. Even though he didn’t have to pinch pennies as much as he used to when he was younger, he refused to pay the prices for things at carnivals and festivals. He knew that many would pay just for the convenience, but Spencer refused to do so.

Hotch had never broadcasted that he had money but given how little he actually looked at prices before buying had clued Spencer in on the fact that he had grown up with money and still had it. Spencer didn’t begrudge him that. He couldn’t help how he was raised, and it wasn’t like he was mean with the showing that he had money. The most ostentatious display of his money was his suits. Spencer knew that Hotch used the same place for all of his suits. It was very evident as the style might change, but the stitching did not. None of his suits were off the rack. Hotch’s lifestyle wasn’t one of opulence like many people who had money. He lived a simple life with the comforts that having money gave but none of the more significant, outward signs of having a lot of money.

Spencer settled into reading around his apartment until he got hungry again and the diner was open. He was looking forward to breakfast there as he had skipped the weekend before and wasn’t sure what kind of reception he got. While Crystal was used to him skipping every once in a while because of work, he wasn’t sure that he could lie convincingly enough to Crystal that he had not been on a case. Still, Crystal would be understanding if he just told her that Hotch away for work and he had been depressed without getting into all of it. Spencer knew that if it really mattered, she wouldn’t push and would be a good person just to listen.

***
***

Spencer checked his phone again and found no message from Jessica. She was reading them, or at least it seemed like it according to Spencer’s phone. Usually, Spencer wouldn’t go where it seemed he wasn’t wanted, but he couldn’t not do it anymore. Everyone on the team knew where Jessica lived between Hotch just wanting it to be easy for them to go if they were needed to help her with something when it came to Jack or if God forbid something were to happen like Foyet again.

The apartment building was easy to get into. There was no buzzer, hell there wasn’t even a guard. There was just a door that was open and steps and an elevator. Spencer took the stairs and walked up to Jessica’s floor. He stepped out of the stairway and found that something was going on near Jessica’s apartment as there were a few people in the hall. Then as he got closer, Spencer realized that it was happening at Jessica’s apartment.

Spencer stopped in the doorway to see that the apartment was bare and there was a couple inside with someone else. Spencer was shocked.

“Can I help you?” the woman with the clipboard asked, and she took a step closer to Spencer at the door.

“Sorry, someone I know used to live here. I guess she forgot to tell me that she moved.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s no big deal. I’ll give her a call.” Spencer held up his phone, and he gave the woman a fake smile. Spencer turned to leave and didn’t let his thoughts overwhelm him until he was seated in his car with the doors locked and his head pressed to the steering wheel. Jessica had just moved into that place with her father after Hotch had started to help her be able to afford a bigger place. Hotch’s ex-father-in-law had not liked it, but he couldn’t refuse to live with his daughter because the only other option was living in a nursing home, which was something that he didn’t want. Spencer wondered where he was. He wondered where Jessica was.

A thought came to Spencer, and he turned the key and started his car before slowly pulling into traffic. He quickly made his way to where Hotch had been living. She hadn’t been there since that Sunday where he was supposed to hang out with Hotch and Jack but had ended up not doing that at all. Once he pulled into the guest parking lot for Hotch’s apartment building, he sat in the car and calmed himself down. There were a lot of reasons why Jessica could have moved out. She could have moved into Hotch’s apartment with Roy while Hotch was gone and then was going to move somewhere else after he got back. Roy could have hated that building, but the thing was that Spencer didn’t think it was any of those.

Spencer didn’t remember the trek from the car to the door of the building or the elevator ride from the first floor to Hotch’s. He stepped up to Hotch’s door and knocked. There was sound on the other side, and it got quieter as feet moved to the door. The door opened, and on the other side was someone that Spencer did not know.

“Can I help you?”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Spencer looked at the number on the door and frowned. “I guess that my friend decided to move and not tell me. I’ll have to get onto him about that. I’m so sorry for bothering you.”

“It’s no big deal,” the man said. He gave Spencer a smile and shut the door. As he was, Spencer saw the toddler on the other side as well as who he assumed was the man’s wife. They had got settled into the apartment very quickly though from what little Spencer saw of it he knew that at least most of Hotch’s things had been left behind. The only things missing were the ones that Spencer knew were important to Hotch or Jack. The other thing was that Spencer’s chair was gone, whether it was the couple throwing it out or Hotch packing it up, Spencer had no clue. He knew which one he wanted it to be

Spencer tried not to think about anything as he walked out of the apartment building. His stint in just sitting down in the car was longer this time. He wasn’t sure what to think. Spencer felt numb inside. While the rational side of Spencer’s brain said that it had nothing to do with him, Spencer knew that. Hotch wasn’t the type to move. There was also the fact that someone moving into the apartment that quick meant that it was planned. Hotch had not talked about wanting to move, not really. He made comments about him and Jack getting too big for the place, but he had never actually said he wanted to move.

The thought that it had to do with him though had Spencer sweating in his seat in the car. He kept on going back to that. He kept on going back to Hotch had run from him. It was stupid, and it was false, Spencer knew that. He knew it in his mind, but his heart was something else. The only thing that Spencer kept repeating in his head was that someone else had left him again. There had to be more than just a special assignment in this. Unless Hotch was going to be gone on it more than a few months, Spencer couldn’t see him moving for anything less.

Spencer had to know what was up. Rossi had to know something. He was the one who told Spencer about the special assignment and the one that handed over the reins to Prentiss when she had come to help out while Hotch was on his assignment. That meant that Prentiss was going to be the Unit Chief for longer than just a short while to help out. Spencer wanted to know what Prentiss knew about all of it, but he wanted to talk to Rossi first.

It felt like the Doyle thing over again. Spencer’s gut clenched at that because the thing with Prentiss’s faked death was one of the worst times in Spencer’s life and that was saying something given everything thing else that had happened to him over the years. Prentiss had been the first friend, the first co-worker that had died that Spencer knew. Sure Spencer knew other people who had died but no one who Spencer had been close to. He had grieved in the only way that he knew how and the two people that he had sought comfort from had been strange. Spencer had chalked that up to their own way of grieving, but instead, it had been that they were not grieving at all. After it was all over, Spencer had looked back on it all and realized that while Hotch had some grief at lying about Prentiss’s faked death, JJ did not. JJ had only done what she thought was right and Spencer didn’t fault her for that, but it was the fact that when it was all said and done, it had been emotional manipulation that had been used against him.

That was why Spencer had pulled back not only from Hotch but from the rest of the team as well, except for Morgan who had been upset just as much as Spencer. Morgan had not liked when Spencer told him about Prentiss’s emotional manipulation to get him to the team meal at Rossi’s. Thought Spencer didn’t really care about it as much because he was used to it which said something more about everyone else and not him. Logic worked best with him, and Morgan and even Hotch employed that, but everyone else used emotions without understanding that Spencer had no clue what most of them were. His mother had not used emotions or discipline to teach Spencer as a child. Every single lesson had to do with logic. What was the most logical outcome of everything? Running into traffic meant that a car would hit him. It might not happen the first time, but it would happen.

Spencer knew that the decision was out of the hands of Hotch, that much Hotch had explained. He had a gag order placed on him. JJ had been the one to settle that. There was a reason that Spencer had never looked at other departments to go to. Spencer didn’t like secrets, he didn’t like lying, and he didn’t like being lied to. Spencer was not made for undercover work. He wasn’t made to lie about his entire life. The NSA or even the CIA might have had jobs that were better suited to keeping Spencer’s mind truly active without having to search for other things to challenge it, but those were not for him.

There were only a few things that Spencer could do. He could go home and settle into life, knowing that Hotch and Jack had left him in all ways that they could. He could let that fester and make up his mind on what he thought happened and come to resent the man that he loved, the child that he adored. Or he could go to Rossi’s and demand answers. Rossi wasn’t one to keep secrets if he thought that the secret was harming someone. Rossi had said as much in the wake of Prentiss coming back. Rossi had not been on the team for Spencer and his brush with Dilaudid. When Rossi had apologized for not telling him, Spencer had brushed it off. Spencer had done his best to make sure that no one had known what was wrong with him. He had learned from his short stint with Dilaudid not to show anything.

Spencer started his car and checked his mirrors before he pulled out. The area was pretty dead given the time of day, but Spencer wasn’t that worried when a car pulled off the street and got into the same lane as him. Spencer checked his mirrors often and assumed that when he hit the heart of the city that the car would turn off but it didn’t. The statistics rolled in Spencer’s head as he took turns to get to Rossi’s mansion. Spencer wanted to take a few turns that would not take him to Rossi’s to see if the person followed, but that would dilute his actual evidence. So Spencer kept on going. He kept driving and then when he got near Rossi’s he knew. The chance that someone was going to the same block as him from Hotch’s old block was zero. Spencer wondered who the hell was following him. He kept on driving, going right past Rossi’s. Spencer stopped at a stop sign a block away and dialed Rossi’s cell phone. He put it on speaker so he could talk with no issue.

“Rossi,” Rossi answered.

“I just left Hotch’s former apartment after going to see if Jessica was there watching Jack while Hotch was on special assignment. When I left, a car pulled out into traffic with me. I didn’t think much of it until it followed me all the way to your house. I just passed by have turned to head back the way I came and the car is still following me. The chances of this car following me just out of going to the same place are at this point, zero.”

“Shit,” Rossi said. There was the sound of furious typing on his end.

Spencer took another turn that was in a different direction than before, and it seemed that maybe his tail wasn’t going to follow him anymore because it went straight. Spencer let himself breathe a little easier, but he didn’t let himself relax all the way. Spencer did not head toward home. He was going to stop somewhere and wash his car, checking for trackers. There were a lot of ways that he could be tracked.

“Don’t go home. I’m going to text you an address, and you are going to go there and wait for me to arrive with a few friends. Don’t stop anywhere. If your car has a tracker, we will find it. Just…” Rossi paused, and Spencer heard the sound of a magazine being slid into a gun. Spencer did not have his gun with him. He did have a taser in the car though in the middle console. Spencer opened it up and pulled that out, sliding it under his leg. His credentials were in his messenger bag, and he had the authorization to have the military grade taser. Hotch had been the one to get that for him, to make sure it was okay for him to take it anywhere he wanted. It was back when he had issues passing the firearms exam. While Profilers were not required to carry, it was easier and safer for them to do it. Especially since so far a few of the team had been targeted by random UnSubs they were chasing, or in the case of Garcia thought they were being chased.

“Just don’t go home and don’t do anything stupid. Don’t stop until you get to where I send you. If the person keeps on following you, please stay safe. If you stop at a light or a stop sign and it seems like the person is getting out, get to a police station or do something to attract a police presence. I don’t want to involve them in this, but I will if it means you stay safe.”

“Rossi, I am not going to demand answers right now, but you will tell me what’s going on before this day is over.”

Spencer hung up because he didn’t care to hear about what else Rossi wanted him to do. It was minutes later that a chime came through. When Spencer was stopped at a light, he opened the text and put that address into his map application and had its voice direct him where he needed to go.

Watching the road as much as he could, Spencer checked the mirror as much as he could as well. When he was about halfway to where he needed to be, the car came back. It was precisely the same one with the same license plate. Spencer realized where he was and knew that it wasn’t good. The car behind him sped up like it was going to pass him, getting into the passing lane, but instead of getting over once it was passed Spencer, it tried to run him off the road. Spencer slammed on his brakes, and the front of his car clipped the other car. Morgan had taken Spencer through enough defensive driving classes over the years that Spencer knew what to do and he was able to get control of his car and keep on going until he could safely stop. The Amazon was thankfully built like a tank and was not damaged enough to stop him from driving. The other car, though, was. It looked like Spencer clipped it just right, and the back passenger side wheel was messed up. The car was in the ditch.

Spencer had two options, he could get out and arrest the person, but he had no gun, no cuffs, nothing to secure the person with and no weapon to keep the person scared with. Or he could leave. Both options sucked. Spencer watched as the person raised something up that looked to be a gun and aimed it at him. Spencer couldn’t see the persons face so he pressed the pedal to the metal on the gas and took off. Spencer dialed the cops and gave them the mile marker they were at and his name, badge number, and everything. That he had been followed by the car until now and was on his way to secure his person with other FBI agents but that he had no safe way of trying to hold the person. Spencer also told them where he was going to be heading and how they could get a hold of him, with several different numbers. He made sure that only aware cops would get there before Spencer pulled off of the road and texted Rossi what had happened and that cops were being dispatched to secure the scene and he had not been able to see the face of the person. Spencer’s heart was pounding in his chest. He knew of only a single safe place that he could go, and at the moment while Rossi might trust whoever the hell he was sending Spencer to meet, Spencer didn’t. Spencer didn’t know them from random Toms, Dicks, and Harrys.

It was the work of seconds for Spencer to figure out where he was and change his course to get to where he wanted to go. Spencer left his phone on but checked it every time he hit stop sign or light in town. When he was on the highway, Spencer felt a lot better. He still didn’t let his guard down at all and just kept on going and going. Spencer only stopped moving when he was inside of the base, out of his car, on the sixth floor, and in Hotch’s office. He dropped onto the couch and pulled the blanket that still held Hotch’s scent on it over him. Spencer texted Rossi where he was and that he was crashing because he had nothing left. Spencer didn’t even wait for Rossi to text him back before he allowed sleep to take him over.

***
***

There was the smell of something that Spencer couldn’t place as he woke up. It wasn’t the typical smell of his apartment, even if he did set the coffee pot to brew. There was bacon and something else. He didn’t open his eyes because he felt tired. He wanted to go back to sleep but knew that it would evade him. It took only a few seconds for his brain to kick on and tell him what had happened that made him tired. Spencer reached out for the phone on his table and instead hit something else. Then he remembered that he was not at home. He was at the office, on Hotch’s couch if it could be called Hotch’s couch anymore. Spencer opened his eyes to find where he had set his phone to find that there was a bag of something and a cup from the coffee shop close to the base. The bacon smell was coming from the bag.

Looking up, Spencer saw that Prentiss was seated at Hotch’s desk. Spencer sat up and looked at her, waiting for her to realized that he was awake. Spencer was actually shocked that Rossi hadn’t come to him. Grabbing the cup, Spencer took a drink. It was one of the normal mochas that he got when he didn’t get a lot of sleep. Instead of the usual two shots of espresso, there was four — no extra chocolate sauce just more caffeine. Spencer drank half of it before he picked up the food bag. The smell was getting to him, and he just couldn’t wait anymore. Prentiss looked up as the bag rattled. There was a sandwich in there as well as a container of what smelled like some form of fried potato. Spencer grabbed that first, letting the sandwich fall down into the bag.

“You had an interesting day yesterday. Rossi got me caught up. MPD will be by later today to take your statement.” Prentiss got up from the desk and grabbed her cup of coffee and walked over to sit down in the chair that as on the other side of Spencer. She did not sit in the one that Hotch usually sat in.

“Interesting is not the word I would use for it. Someone followed me through DC and then tried to run me off the road.”

“Desperate men do desperate things, and well, this was not in the profile.”

“Profile?” Spencer asked.

The door to the office opened and shut, and Spencer looked to see Rossi was there with a cup in each hand. He looked at Spencer’s cup and shrugged before walking over. He sat at the end of the couch close to Prentiss and set down the second cup of coffee.

“I am here for two reasons,” Prentiss said as she relaxed back into the chair. “I am here to replace Hotch while he is away, and I’m here to catch Peter Lewis.”

“Peter Lewis. Why are you here to catch him? Why isn’t Hotch here to catch him?” Spencer looked at Rossi and Prentiss. Prentiss, though, was looking at Rossi. Rossi sighed.

“Aaron realized that Lewis was stalking him, well to be more specific stalking Jack. He saw him several times over weeks. Whenever agents would get there, Lewis was gone. So Aaron went into WitSec with him. That’s why the apartment was filled so quickly; it’s why Jessica is not responding to your texts. Jessica and Roy are not in WitSec, but they are being watched. Roy was moved into a secure nursing home facility full of old men who like to gossip. Jessica visits him often, but no one wanted Lewis to think that she was a way to get to Aaron. Everyone who has spent time with Aaron has been put under watch. Even someone from the CIA is watching over Beth in Hong Kong. Aaron tried to get WitSec and the FBI to allow us to read you in on this, but they refused. Aaron was adamant that Lewis would go after you with how much time you have been spending with him over the weekends with Jack. I had to get approval after the FBI CSU team went over the car that was left after the axle broke and only once it was confirmed that it was Peter Lewis’s fingerprints did the Director of the FBI agree that we could tell you.”

“That was Peter Lewis in that car?” Spencer looked between them. Trying to figure out if they were lying but neither of their faces said that.

“He got desperate sooner than we thought,” Prentiss said.

Spencer looked down at his hash browns. He unwrapped the fork that was in plastic and started to eat. His brain was going thirty thousand miles an hour. Spencer wondered why no one thought about telling Spencer. Just being that close to Hotch would have painted a target on his back, everyone on the team knew that. It was why Hotch, Rossi, and Prentiss wanted to tell him. There were a lot of things that Spencer would have been doing a lot different over the two weeks. He could have been taken hostage yesterday and would never have been looking for it. Spencer wanted to be really pissed off. He wanted to do something stupid like go and yell at whoever made the decision that he should not be told about what was going on in his own damned life. Instead, Spencer sipped at his coffee. He ate all of his hash browns, and then he grabbed the sandwich.

Glad that Rossi and Prentiss were keeping their words to themselves, Spencer sat there and thought while he ate.

“I can’t do anything about what has happened, but I do want it noted that I could have been taken hostage yesterday, or killed, and never known that I might have even been a target. I could have been killed. Thankfully, I was driving the Amazon, which holds up better than the newer cars and that I realized what Lewis was doing. I am pissed off, and I am hurt. I’ll gladly talk to MPD when they arrive but don’t think I am not writing up my own damned report on this.”

“If I thought he was going to do more than just follow you, Reid I would have had cops find and meet you. I was hoping to catch him. Aaron is not happy being where he is, but he agrees that it’s the best place for him. Right now, we are trying our hardest to find Lewis.”

“I’m not,” Spencer said. He looked down at his hands. There was a smudge of grease on his fingers. “Just like with Foyet, yes I’m worried that he’s escaped, but I am not spending my free time looking for him. If I had known that he was targeting Hotch, I could have been doing more. What about Mom? How in the hell am I supposed to protect her? What if Lewis had got to her already?”

“I have someone in Bennington. She’s in the room next to your mother and is keeping a very close eye on her,” Prentiss said. She looked determined. “She’s going to be safe, Spencer. I promise. Everyone around her knows who she is and knows exactly why she is there. She’s a friend from Interpol who wanted a quiet job for a while.”

“I think that I need to be alone. I’m going to go and fill out the file about my accident yesterday and then work on some files. I think that maybe it’s best that no one talks to me for a little bit while I process the fact that a serial killer was targeting me and no one thought that it was a good idea even to tell me that it could have been an issue at all.” Spencer drained his first cup of coffee and tossed the cup into the bag before picking up the bag and the second cup. He took a sip and found it was a caramel latte — his comfort drink of sorts. Rossi was trying to cover up things that he couldn’t tell Spencer. It seemed like that was always what was going on when it came to Spencer.

Spencer left Hotch’s office because at the moment he refused to think of it as anything but Hotch’s office. It wasn’t ever going to be Prentiss’s office in Spencer’s mind. Spencer pulled out a sheet of paper that he used to write to his mother and was about to start writing on it but stopped. He instead grabbed one of the journals that he had found and was going to send to his mother and started to write in it instead. He wrote out his feelings at feeling like the FBI had not done enough to protect him. He wasn’t sure if he was ever going to do anything with it but just getting the emotions out helped. He knew that he needed to get ready for the MPD visit, so he set the journal aside and instead focused on that. It would at least carry him through the day.

Chapter 05-There Is No Darker

Spencer still wasn’t exactly sure what he was doing in Vegas. Rossi had stopped him the night before, handing him a plane ticket for later that night to go to Vegas. Spencer had been a little baffled, but then he had looked at the return time for later Monday afternoon. Rossi had been taking pity on Spencer since the whole truth of what was going on with Hotch had come out and while Spencer kind of hated it, he was also liking the attention a little. The man was acting like a favored Uncle which was strange for him, but then he had been around Spencer long enough for some form of attachment to come up. Spencer also kind of figured that Rossi was missing Hotch and giving the attention he would typically give to Hotch to Spencer. Spencer wasn’t going to call him out on it because he didn’t want to hurt the man. He understood coping techniques to survive the world around you, changing without your input.

The hotel room and everything had been booked for Spencer, so all he had to do was show ID, and then he was checked in. Spencer had money, he wasn’t going to tell Rossi to stop though. It was one less stress on his mind. Spencer had just grabbed a go-bag from under his desk, and so he had nicer clothes with him but also two outfits of lounging clothes. He had changed into a suit that morning, hoping that he could talk his mom into going out to a nice lunch somewhere. She had a few new, nicer outfits that had been fitted to her. Spencer tried his hardest to take care of her, especially in the wake of her newest diagnosis.

Spencer found Doctor Norman standing in the front hall of the Bennington before the desk that Spence would generally check in at. That was strange enough that Spencer felt that maybe Rossi’s charity wasn’t fully charity. He had a plan and Spencer

“Doctor Norman,” Spencer said as he stopped in front of the man.

“I’m glad you came, Doctor Reid, come with me.”

Spencer didn’t ask what was wrong. He just followed Doctor Norman to his mother’s floor and the wing that she was in. Spencer saw that a lady in the next room watched Doctor Norman as he approached the room and then when Spencer moved to where she could see his face, she nodded at him and then went into her room. That had to be the friend of Rossi’s that was watching to make sure that Mr. Scratch didn’t make a move on her. Spencer was glad that she was confirming who was going into his mother’s room, even when they were going with Doctor Norman.

The sight of Diana on the bed stopped Spencer cold. She was lying in bed and looked like she hadn’t showered in days. Spencer knew that Bennington had an excellent showering schedule, but even they did not force patients who did not medically need a shower to take one until it the point where it was needed for the safety of themselves. Bennington tried to be careful and mindful of allowing the residents as much freedom as they could have.

“She’s been like this for days. I’ve asked her several times if she wants us to call you and she kept telling us no. She’s eating and taking her meds, but she’s just not doing anything. Finally, I called.”

“You called?”

“Yes. Your desk. I got a lovely man named Mister Rossi. He was helpful and said that you were just out of the office for an on-site consult, and he would tell you as soon as you got back.”

“No, he just gave me a ticket for Vegas and the hotel information of where he made the reservation. It’s the standard one that I stay in, so I assume that he had our analyst make the flight and hotel reservations. She’s eating and taking her meds?”

“Yes. No fight on that just like normal. Her new neighbor checks on her throughout the day, and she’ll talk a little and then just goes silent. I don’t know if this is a delayed reaction to the new diagnosis or what. I’m hoping your face will do her some good. Let us know if you need anything, Spencer. Please.”

“I will.”

Doctor Norman walked away, and Spencer just looked at his mother lying there in bed. She looked horrible like she had given up. Spencer felt fear in his gut, and his heart started to hurt.

“Hey, Mom,” Spencer said as he walked fully into the room. She turned over and looked at Spencer. Her eyes were distrustful at first, but then as he sat down on the bed with her and laid his hand on her arm, she smiled.

“Spencer, you came!” Diana sat up in bed and reached like she was going to hug him but stopped. “I think that I need a shower.”

“Yes, a little bit.” Spencer couldn’t help but smile at her. He knew that the funk she had been in was not gone, just temporarily abated by the fact that Spencer was indeed there.

“I heard the doctor calling your desk at work. I didn’t hear who he got, but he got someone who was not you. I wasn’t sure if they were actually going to give you the message or not.”

“Why didn’t you call?” Spencer asked.

“Because you’ve already taken enough time off of work because of me. I don’t want to be a burden.”

“You are not and never have been a burden, Mom.”

Diana reached out and cupped the side of his face but looked toward the door. Spencer saw a nurse there.

“Ready for a shower, Diana?” The nurse asked with a grin on her face.

“Yes. Very much, so.”

Spencer took a seat in the armchair in the corner to wait for his mom to come back. He had a few things planned for the afternoon that was going to be fun for him and let him let loose a little bit. He did not want to overwhelm his mother any with being there too much. Especially if it ended up being a bad day for her brain. Spencer was used to scheduling around that. They had done that in Paris. Spencer knew his mom well enough with her new issues to be able to guess when she was going to have a bad day.

It wasn’t a shock that Diana was gone for nearly an hour. When she came back into the room, she was dressed in some of her better clothes, and it looked like she had got a haircut and it was styled a little bit.

“I talked her into going to see the hairdresser while she is here today,” the nurse said as she stopped in the doorway. She had in her hand a little cup of pills. Diana grabbed her large plastic mug of water and walked over to take the pills. Spencer watched her closely and made sure that she did take them all. After she had drunk nearly half of the mug, the nurse grinned. She turned around to the cart that was behind that another nurse was taking around the wing and grabbed two things off it as well as two spoons. Spencer saw that it was tapioca pudding. “A cup for each of you to share.”

“Thank you,” Diana said as she took the two cups and tucked the spoons against the cups with a finger. Spencer stood up to take something and ended up with the water. He sat back down after setting the water down, but instead of sitting in the chair, he sat down on the floor. Diana took the seat in the chair and handed Spencer his cup of pudding as well as a spoon.

It was silent as they sat and ate their pudding. Spencer knew that it was a treat that the nurses liked to give Diana for taking her meds. Everyone got something they liked to eat or drink. Spencer remembered there was a man who was at the end of his life and while his meds were not working as well as they used to, he still had to take other pills to help manage pain. While it wasn’t the best option, he liked a shot of whiskey after his pills, so the doctors and other higher up staff looked away when he was given a shot with his pills at the past of the day. Spencer had been a little horrified by it but also glad. The man was nearly dead, and it made him happy, that was all anyone needed. The dignity to do what they wanted with what little time that they had left.

“So why the funk, Mom?” Spencer asked after he had thrown away the pudding cups and the spoons and refilled Diana’s water and grabbed a bottle from the guest fridge for himself. He settled in at her feet again and looked at her.

“It’s not easily explained at all, Spencer. I have these, though, but you can’t read them until you leave in a few hours.” Diana reached over and grabbed a bag of books. Or what Spencer thought were books. Instead, it was three journals. Spencer opened the first and saw the date. It was just after her diagnosis with early onset Alzheimer’s. Spencer closed it again and transferred the three books over to his messenger bag. The three were matching and were all from the last set of ten that he had bought his mom. It usually took her several months to fill one. It seemed though that she was writing a lot more these days.

The rest of the morning passed with ease. Spencer talked in loose terms about how everything was settling at work without Hotch, and even though he hated it, he made up stories about things that he did in his personal life. He wasn’t going to tell his mother that he was depressed. He wasn’t going to tell her that he was in love with someone who didn’t seem to care about him at all. His mother had enough of a burden that he didn’t need to add to it with things that she had no hopes of fixing.

“And has there been any word on how Mister Hotchner and his son are doing?”

“No. Neither Rossi or Prentiss have made mention of them at all other than WitSec reports they are fine.” Spencer leaned his head back against the arm of the chair and turned to where his back was against the front. “I figure that Jack’s pouty. He might have not seen his dad as much as he wanted, but Jack’s always been a big supporter in his father’s job.”

“What about after that whole thing where he was taken into custody, and that led to that horrible man escaping?”

“Even after that. Jack understands that bad things happen when bad men are around, but he knows that his father does what he can to protect him. And part of that is the job. Jack likes to hear about the families that we help when we work cases. He is a pretty smart little boy. I’ve tried to get Hotch to give him an IQ test, but he just adds in material that is harder to their at home stuff that they do together to keep Jack entertained.”

“Sometimes it’s best to leave a child in a regular school than to do what we did to you. I know that you did well with is Spencer, but not all kids are made for it.”

“I know, but I think that Jack would do better in a private school. He’s had issues with bullying and while he handled the first well, the second was not handled as well and had to have the school involved. Hotch made sure that it was handled, but the other kid was almost left in the school instead of taken from it. I know that running isn’t good, but sometimes for the health of the child, it’s best.”

“You just care too much, I sometimes wish you hadn’t got that from me,” Diana said as she laid down on her bed.

Spencer saw that she was getting tired and knew that she sometimes took a nap in the late morning if she had a bad night’s sleep. Spencer picked up the book that was on his mother’s bedside and started to read to her until she fell asleep. Spencer looked down at her and smiled as she slept peacefully. He looked at his messenger bag and thought that maybe it would be best if he read them at his hotel. He could stop somewhere and pick up some food and maybe a good bottle of liquor. It wasn’t going to be good, whatever was in the journals.

It was just about two hours later that Spencer was getting into his hotel room with his lunch in hand. He got a call from Doctor Norman that Diana was in bright spirits when she woke up from her nap but that she didn’t want him to come back until the next day. It had taken Spencer an hour to figure out where he wanted to eat while he was sitting in the parking lot of Bennington.

Dropping his messenger bag onto the bed, Spencer set his food down on the desk that was in the corner and sat down. He eyed the bag but decided that he would rather try and eat some food than to try and eat after, even if he did end up throwing it all up. He settled in at the table and cracked open his version of a seafood dish that a place did close to where he used to live in Vegas before he had moved to DC. He was glad that the owner was the same and remembered him and how he liked it made. Spencer loved seafood, so instead of just having crab, lobster, and shrimp, it had all of the seafood that was currently available in it.

Spencer ate until he was full which was only about half of what was in the container, Spencer put the left in the fridge. He might need to eat it for dinner if he was too drunk to go anywhere. Spencer had also bought a bottle of scotch so that he wasn’t charged the astronomical rates for the mini-bar inside the room.

Dropping onto the bed, Spencer settled himself in to read and looked at his bag. He debated if he wanted to grab a glass as he had just brought the bottle of scotch over from the fridge. In the end, as he pulled the journals out of the bag, he decided that he did not need a glass as that could only end horribly. He had his cell phone beside him, and he cracked open the first book.

Spencer knew that his eidetic memory was a blessing and a curse. He knew this, and still, he hated it most days. For the job, it was nice to remember things that were needed on cases, but most of the time, his brain was full of stupid things or horrible things. Spencer had learned a few tricks to delete things from his brain, but most of those were foolish and simple things. He couldn’t erase the bad memories, those clung too hard to his mind. Spencer really wished that he could just willy-nilly delete everything from his brain on occasion. As he read the first entry in the journal, dated the day that his mother had got her diagnosis, Spencer knew that these journals were going to be something that he would want to delete.

Every page turn, Spencer took a sip of the scotch. It burned on the way down, making his body hurt as much as his heart did. He got to the end of the first and started the second. And then he moved onto the third. When it was done, Spencer read it again. It was the one with the most information.

Spencer stared at the wall for a long time. The only reason that he knew that more than a few minutes had passed was because the sun was gone entirely, Vegas was only lit up by the lights. He tried to move but found that he couldn’t. It wasn’t that he was drunk, only about a few inches of the bottle was gone. It was just that he was so upset. He knew what his mother wanted, even if she didn’t directly ask for it. The pleading was spread across every single page in the book.

If there was one thing that Spencer knew it was that he needed to talk to someone. Or at someone. He didn’t need help making his decision, just the confirmation that he was doing the right thing. He picked up his phone and looked at it. It’s calm light telling him the time and date. He tapped the app that he wanted and stared at the conversation lists from working over the past while. Morgan checking in on him and setting up days for Spencer to watch Hank. JJ sending him pictures of Michael and Henry together, or separate. It was Spencer’s life at the moment. It was Spencer’s only lifeline at the moment as well.

Hotch, Spencer sent, and he stared at it. He stared at the words on the screen. Rossi had already said that the phone was off and that no one was monitoring the line, so no one was ever going to get the texts until Hotch was back. He wanted his privacy protected as much as he could and Peter Lewis tracking Hotch that way was stupid. Hotch was very private, and it was why Spencer cherished the time that he had with him. I know that you are not going to get this, but it’s always been you that I have gone to when I need help and right now I really need help. Mom is tired, and she wants to let go. She wants the pain in her heart and in her mind to stop. She wants my permission to allow her to go.

I understand that she had the right to do what she wants, but I still live in the hope that a cure can be found, for both of her problems. That I’ll get the mother back that I remember from when I was young. For once, I’m not mad at the fact that I remember everything from when I was young. I have plenty of memories of her when she was better. When she wasn’t so ill. My hope, though, is only shared by me. Mom is tired and wants to rest. She wants to be happy and healthy again. I just don’t know if I can say goodbye.

Spencer laid down, making sure that the lid on the scotch was on tight and let it rest against his body. He stared at the ceiling for a few seconds before he turned off the light he had turned on when he got into the room. It didn’t make the room that much darker as a whole, but it was darker where he was. There was only the light of the city coming into the room. Spencer watched as lights moved around as cars drove around. It was peaceful in a way that Spencer hadn’t had in a long time. He kind of missed that, the peace that he had in Vegas. But DC was home at the moment. Spencer wasn’t sure if he would ever feel like Vegas was home again. DC felt like home. If Spencer said goodbye to his mom, he would probably never come back to Vegas outside of cases. There would be nothing left for him here.

Rolling over, Spencer grabbed his phone again. He got up and settled the scotch onto the bedside table before changing into his night clothes. The pants were a pair that Hotch and Jack had bought for him a few weeks before they had gone into WitSec. Jack had really liked them and had spent part of his allowance that he got for helping around the apartment to buy them. Spencer also grabbed the sweatshirt that had been given to him by Hotch years before after a case had left him with a chill after going for a middle of the night swim after being tackled by an UnSub. Hotch told him to keep it, and Spencer had. It was worn out in a lot of places, but Spencer didn’t care. He dressed and laid down, making an almost burrow with the blankets on the bed. Spencer reached out when he realized that he didn’t bring his phone in with him. He snagged it and brought it under the blankets with him.

I don’t think that I trust myself to go out and find a meeting to attend for the itch that I have under my skin. I could just as easily find drugs, and that would be bad. So I’m going to lay here in bed in the hotel room that Rossi paid for and just try not to think about the cravings. I miss being able to call you in the middle of the night if the cravings got too bad. Even during the years where I wasn’t sure if we were friends or not anymore I knew that if I called you up, you would be there to talk me through my craving until I could make it to a meeting. I knew that you would be there if I needed you, and that was all that I needed. You are not here now, and that kills me. I want you to be safe, but I am human, and I crave the fact that you were my touchstone.

Spencer sighed as he hit send. He knew that he should sleep but even with the alcohol in him, he was not able to. He didn’t need to keep on texting Hotch either though. Spencer knew what he was going to do because as Hotch had told him before, his mother’s happiness was more important than Spencer’s. Spencer could not see a moment in his life where he would make his mother do something that would bring her harm. Make her do something that she needed to do to live her life the way she wanted, or required as the case was when he put her into Bennington, but that was it. Deny her what she wanted, in this case, would hurt her and Spencer couldn’t do that.

Laying his phone down, Spencer grabbed his pillow and brought it up to his face before he rolled onto his side and wrapped his body around it. He let the pillow muffle his cries and soak up his tears.

***
***

Spencer tossed his coffee cup into the trash as he entered the coffee shop. He had stopped for several cups so far that morning as he had run around to get things for the day with his mom. He had enough items to keep them entertained in a world of their own for the whole day, and the only time he would be leaving was when he went to Binion’s that evening.

Ordering coffee for him and a chai latte for his mom, Spencer looked around the little coffee shop. It was close to Bennington, and the nurses would sometimes get drinks for patients if they were having a bad or sometimes a really good day.

“Hey,” Serena said as Spencer stepped up to the counter. Spencer wondered if she recognized him at all, probably not. The last time that Spencer had been in the shop, she had either not been working that day or not working at all.

“Hello, large mocha latte with no whip please and a large chai latte, hot.” Spencer watched as she typed it into the POS and then started to mark the cups for the person making the drinks. Spencer paid and stepped over to the line waiting on their drinks. Spencer looked at emails on his phone, forwarding the ones that Prentiss needed to take care of while he wasn’t there but responding to a few that were things only he could do.

Spencer’s order was called, and it was already in a drink carrier. He picked it up and nodded at the person and left. Spencer didn’t touch his until he was in the car and driving. Bennington was only a few minutes away, and he was there in no time. Spencer saddled himself up like a pack mule, adding the drinks that he had grabbed for lunch to the carrier to put into the fridge in Diana’s wing. It was nice and easy to get it all inside. He had one hand free and was able to enter the code that would allow him inside with just one hand.

Diana was dressed and ready for him to spend the day. She had slipped in for another shower to help wash off the last of the depression on her. She got up and helped Spencer settle the things around the room where they could fit while he put up the food for lunch as well as the drinks. He had already written her room number and name on them.

Spencer thought that he would feel like it was a horrible day, but after accepting helping his mother rest and move on life, he felt kind of free. He could understand some of the health care workers who risked their life and their job to help their patients move on when they were ready.

“This looks wonderful, Spencer,” Diana said as she looked around her room. It was all things that Spencer had brought before that Diana liked and helped to cheer her up. No one was going to think anything was up, not after the funk that she had been in.

“Anything for you, Mom. You know that.” Spencer gave her a huge smile, and she smiled back. “Whatever you need, whatever you want. However, you want me to help, I will.”

Tears welled up in Diana’s eyes. She opened her arms and Spencer fell into them. There were no tears on Spencer’s side, but he felt the tears of relief from his Mom.

***
***

Spencer wasn’t sure what made him follow Rossi into the small corner at the bar the team had forced him into after the memorial. Spencer was shocked by who had come. He had called them to tell them, and JJ had all but forced him to tell her everything that was going on and what they could do. There was little they could do to help him, so they had decided that they were going to be emotional support friends. Spencer hadn’t been able to deny them the right to come and visit and pay their respects to the woman who had tried her hardest to raise Spencer right.

Every single time a door opened, Spencer hoped it was Hotch but it never was, it wasn’t at the lecture hall where the memorial was held, where his mom taught for many years, and it wasn’t at the bar either.

“I know the look on your face, Spencer,” Rossi said as they settled into the corner where it was quiet. “How drunk have you been?”

“Today’s the first drink that I have drunk since the night before she died.” Spencer didn’t know why he said that, but he did. He looked at Rossi with fear in every single inch of his bones.

“I had a feeling when the doctor said on the phone that she wasn’t doing the greatest mentally. Then when you called, JJ had you on speaker. You had already said goodbye. Helping her end things on her own terms while she’s still as hale of mind as she could be is a good thing.” Rossi reached out and laid his hand on Spencer’s shoulder and squeezed. “You made her happy with accepting her choice.”

“I stayed until she slipped into sleep,” Spencer admitted. Just saying the words out loud made Spencer feel better. He had not actually typed the words to Hotch, but he had written them in a letter that he was going to add to the journal he was keeping in his desk, but he wasn’t going to add it until he actually gave it to Hotch. “She’d not been taking all of her meds all of the time. Her ward is mostly voluntary, and they all take their meds okay so no one has to watch. She’s been stockpiling enough to overdose. There is no way to link that back to me. Where she had been depressed, I did all the things I normally do to get her happy, so that’s nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Carolyn took the pills before I got there,” Rossi said. He gave Spencer a sorrowful smile. “I could only hold her while they slowly stopped her heart. Give her the love that I had for her. I understood, and I understand what your mother was wanting. You gave that to her Reid. You gave her what she needed, which was acceptance of her choice.”

“She wrote in journals. She wrote down over and over again the same reasonings the exact same way so that I knew she wasn’t making a sudden choice. She wanted to go on her own terms in her own way with no one having to remember her when she was at her worst. She hated what it was doing to her.”

“And that’s everything. We see so many who harm others with their diseases and medical problems. We don’t see the pain sometimes that they are in until after we know who the UnSub is but no matter your part, Spencer you helped her. Even if it was just holding and reading to her as she fell asleep.”

“Spence,” JJ said from the edge of the alcove they were in. “Everyone wants a speech. Doesn’t have to be all that long.”

Spencer smiled at her and tucked her into his body as he stepped back to where the others were. Morgan, Savannah, and Hank were at the forefront. Rossi had bought the bar out and made sure that the owner was going to make enough money for the night. Tara Lewis and Luke Alvez were there as well as Anderson, Will, and Henry with little Michael, Garcia, and Prentiss. As weird as they were, they were his family now, and he wouldn’t trade them in for the world, even if there were two missing from that family at the moment.

Chapter 06-Scratches Run Deep

There was something about the city at night that Spencer was coming to like. He hadn’t thought much about it before, even though he had lived in DC for over a decade. It wasn’t like Vegas, the city that never slept. There were eddies and tides to the action inside of DC. Spencer had not had a lot of time to himself lately. He knew that his apartment was being watched. He knew that when he was on cases, the rest of the team watched him closer. Even driving home, there was usually someone watching him and following him. Peter Lewis hadn’t been sighted since he had tried to run Spencer off of the road. Spencer wasn’t sure if he liked that or not. It felt like the time between Foyet’s attack on Hotch and the threat made against Haley and Jack and when Hotch finally made his move on killing Haley.

Spencer looked out onto the city from the top of the parking garage for a local mall. It was the best vantage point for Spencer to see it all. He had a book in his lap and music playing out of the car. He had left his car running so that he didn’t drain the battery. Spencer hadn’t read on his book though; he had just been staring out at the city in front of him. He had a spot he normally did this in, but he didn’t want to go there because it was very isolated and at least this parking complex had cameras everywhere.

“I miss you, Hotch,” Spencer said, and it felt like a weight was lifted off him just saying it to the air. He missed a lot of shit of his life before Hotch had gone away. He missed Hotch liked he was a limb that was missing. Giving up on the book, Spencer closed it and tossed it into the passenger seat. He turned off the overhead light in the car and put it into reverse. The drive back to his apartment was short and long at the same time. It was the same shit over and over again. He pulled in to the parking lot that served his apartment and found that his spot and the guest spot that he paid for was full. Spencer groaned, but he remembered seeing a place on the street, so he backed out and circled the block to get that spot.

Spencer wasn’t sure what he was going to do if he had to find another spot. Thankfully when he pulled around the corner, he saw that the place was still open. It didn’t have a limit or a fee to park there. Spencer looked up at his apartment and just stared at the building. He missed a lot of shit, and he really wished that he had something that he could do that would help with the loneliness of his life. He knew that it wasn’t healthy to focus on how big a hole Hotch and Jack being gone made in his life, but he had never handled change well at all.

Getting out, Spencer walked across the street and into the parking lot. He took pictures of the cars in his two spots making sure that it was evident that they were in the wrong ones. There was a larger guest parking for many of the apartment sets in the area, and it was about a half a block down. He walked toward the front, glancing at the side window of his apartment, and he froze. At first look, it seemed like everything was normal, but it wasn’t because Spencer knew precisely how he had left that plant in the window. He rotated it daily, so make sure that it didn’t get too much sun on one side and tip toward the sun too much. It was turned around to where the smiley face that Henry had painted on the pot was facing the way that it should not. Spencer fumbled for his phone in his pocket and texted Rossi the code that he needed help at his apartment and to have it be silent.

Spencer called his landlord next and let him know that there was a potential killer in the building. After Spencer had found out about Lewis coming after him, he made sure that those in the building would be safe. His landlord would make sure that the residents on his floor were aware to not leave their apartment until the landlord called and gave them the clear and that if anyone knocked to act like they were not home or asleep or something. Spencer could not abide by having someone else hurt when it should be him. He inhaled as he stepped back into the shadows. There was no question that someone had been in his apartment, but whether they were still there or if they were gone after having laid a trap or surveillance was what Spencer wanted to find out.

Ten minutes later, two vans pulled up, one for the electric company and the second for the elevator company. None of the men and women who exited the vans looked like they were law enforcement in any way or shape, but Spencer knew that he didn’t look like one either. None of them looked at him. They just grabbed their bags and entered the building. Two of the people from the elevator company got into the elevator and locked it down before they exited it again and walked to the steps and started up them. There was elevator access to the upper shaft on the second floor, and in the basement, there was access to the under part of the elevator.

Morgan was the first to arrive, and even if he was retired, Spencer wasn’t that shocked. Instead, he just leaned into Morgan as the man settled in at his side. The lights in Spencer’s apartment turned on, and he watched as bodies moved across it. Slowly over the next half an hour, the rest of the team trickled in until all of them were in the far part of the parking lot. There were still bodies moving around Spencer’s apartment, but that was all that they could see.

The lights in an apartment that was on the far side of the building on the same floor as Spencer’s showed that someone had opened the outer door. Spencer knew that it was empty. The sound of gunfire rang out minutes later.

“All clear for hostiles, unsure on traps. The suspect is down, I need an agent to come up and confirm it’s Peter Lewis,” a voice said over the handheld that Rossi had in his hand.

“I’ll go,” Prentiss said as she stepped up.

To Spencer, it felt almost anticlimactic at best. If it wasn’t Lewis, then he wanted to know who the hell had done it. It seemed that there were traps or something waiting for the team. At least the local team that was briefed on taking down Lewis knew that he liked traps and hallucinogens.

“It’s Lewis,” Prentiss said over the handheld.

Everyone around looked at Spencer who just wanted to slump down into the floor and sigh. He only had a single thought in his head, and that was that Hotch could come back. Even as he was escorted up to help clean up his apartment, he looked into the apartment that had been empty but now held Lewis’s body covered with a sheet. Spencer slipped from Morgan’s arms and into the room to look at the body for himself. He lifted the sheet and stared at the body. There were three shots in the center of his chest. He hadn’t died all that quickly, and Spencer wondered if that was because the team wanted to do that or it was only the best spot to hit him.

“It’s him,” Spencer whispered.

“Yes,” Morgan said as he reached down and pulled Spencer up. Spencer didn’t fight at all. Instead, he let Morgan lead him all the way into his apartment. There were already a few points where markers were put that indicated that something had been found. Spencer walked over to look at his plant and found that it had previously been noted and Spencer saw that there was a tube of some kind in the plant with a timer on it. The tube had been clamped shut by a strip of metal.

“Hey, Doc,” one of the team said as he stepped up to Spencer and gently laid a hand on his shoulder. Spencer looked up and saw that it was Anders. Anders ran with him on occasion when Spencer needed to at the track at Quantico. There were days that only the steady trod of his feet on the pavement quieted his mind; it had gone up since Hotch had been put into hiding. “You know your place better than us and will know if he’s messed with anything else. We are going to go over it all with a fine-toothed comb so you won’t be staying here tonight.”

“He’ll crash at mine. I already have Anderson getting a go-bag from the office for you, Reid,” Morgan said.

“Thanks. Yeah, I’ll drive myself though. I still need to at least go into work tomorrow.”

“I know, but I’m not leaving until you are.”

It didn’t take long for Spencer to figure out the things that Lewis had messed with in the apartment. He had laid several traps with his damned concoction of shit that he used to drug people.

Hank was delighted and strangely still awake when Spencer walked in the door with Morgan two hours later. Savannah at least didn’t make him hug her that time. Though it was a near miss. Spencer knew that he wasn’t fragile, he was just shocked. It seemed like Lewis had been caught in the most stupid way possible but then if Spencer hadn’t looked up at his plant, he never would have noticed it. He would never have even thought about anything before entering his apartment where he would have set off the first of the traps. He was smart, but Lewis had not been smart enough to put shit back in the right spot.

It had been easy to figure out what he had planned for Spencer once all of the traps had been found. Each window had been booby-trapped. The thinking was that Spencer would rush to the windows to get fresh air after getting blasted when he entered the apartment. Lewis had been lying in wait for Spencer to run that way instead of into his apartment. It was interesting to see all of the places that had been set up and backup and even tertiary spots that Spencer might have gone to instead of the windows like the sinks, the bathroom, the shower inside of the bathroom and even the toilet. Lewis had wanted him, and he wanted him bad.

“So, what happened?” Savannah asked, her voice soft but not soft enough to not carry from the kitchen. Morgan was making sandwiches for them, and Spencer had been ordered to not even try and go to sleep until he had eaten something. Spencer wasn’t even sure that he could sleep at the moment.

“Using cameras from the area, Garcia was able to track down where Lewis had parked his car, which was in Reid’s guest spot. There was enough gear to keep Reid bound, and the trunk was empty. We assume that he was going to be kidnapped and either used to get Hotch out of hiding or thinking that Reid knows where he is.”

“How is he doing?”

“Pretty good. A little numb, I think, but then that’s normal. Only time will tell how he’s really doing. He’s strong, but this is just another thing that he doesn’t need.”

“When are Hotch and Jack coming back?”

“I don’t know. That’s on Hotch. I just hope it’s not too long. Reid’s going to need him.”

“Why did Lewis think that he would know where he was?”

“We’ve never actually figured out what information that Lewis got from the FBI when he hacked the DOJ for the records of where that woman was that he went after. There is also no telling what he got from other agents that he’s bribed in the time that he escaped.”

“He was bribing agents?”

“That’s why Hotch was framed for that whole terrorist attack thing. Or that’s what I’ve been told about it all. They are still figuring it all out. There is a lot of scrambling happening, and it’s trickling down hill. There are some who think that once Hotch is done playing in the BAU that he’s going to make a run for the Director’s spot, but everyone that actually works with him knows that he has no interest in any of that. He’s going to die sitting in that chair that he’s going to be sitting in soon.”

“This is the second time that someone has targeted him, targeted Jack you think he’s going to come back?”

Spencer turned away to walk down the hall to Hank’s room as the boy was yawning in his arms. Spencer didn’t want to hear Morgan’s thoughts on that because there was nothing else in Spencer’s mind other than Hotch coming back, other than him sitting in the chair that Prentiss had been keeping warm. Spencer didn’t want Hotch to be anywhere else.

Sitting down in the rocking chair in Hank’s room, Spencer sat and rocked him while he fell asleep. He’d probably get yelled at for doing it, putting him to sleep like that but Spencer needed someone close to him. Spencer looked up at the stars on the ceiling that he had made into constellations of all of the protectors in Greek and Roman myths. Spencer thought about what he would do if Hotch left the team. There was no guarantee that Prentiss would stay and then it was just going to be Rossi and JJ who had been around a long time, Garcia as well but she wasn’t out in the field with them. Spencer liked Tara Lewis and Alvez, but he wasn’t sure that he could stay on a team with them and no Hotch and no Prentiss.

“Hey,” Morgan said softly from the doorway making Spencer have to tip his head down to look at him. Morgan was standing there with a beer in his hand. There was no plate of food, which meant that Morgan was going to make him go to the kitchen to eat. Spencer looked at Hank in his arms and saw that the boy was fast asleep. Spencer carefully stood up and walked to lay Hank in his bed. He covered up his Godson and just stared at him for a few seconds.

Spencer leaned into Morgan before the man could pull him close as he drew even with him at the door. He knew Morgan well enough by that point to know that the man would do it. Morgan laughed as he wrapped his arm around him. The beer was handed over. Spencer eyed it to make sure that Morgan had not taken a drink, but it didn’t look like he had. Spencer tipped it up and took a drink. When they entered the kitchen, Savannah wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

“Vannah went to bed. She has an early morning shift tomorrow so she’ll be gone when you wake up unless you can’t sleep. Then you might see her. You have a key to the place so if you want to take a run you can. There are no restrictions on you anymore. Lewis is dead, and you are safe.”

Spencer sat down at the island where there was a plate with a pickle spear and a huge handful of his favorite chip. Spencer picked one up and ate it, his stomach growling at the thought of food. He had been hungry when he had been heading home, but that had been forgotten in the rush of being afraid of who had been in his apartment. Morgan was good because he didn’t make Spencer talk, but he waited it out, waited for Spencer to get his thoughts in a row before he spilled it all. Morgan was good at that, letting him be himself while trying to help him.

“Thank you,” Spencer said as he looked down at his empty plate and the three empty beers that were in front of him. The beer had helped him enough to be verbal enough to really get things off of his chest but not enough that he did something stupid like spill things that he shouldn’t.

“Welcome, and I’m always here.” Morgan reached over and picked up Spencer’s plate while Spencer started to grab all of the beers that they had drunk.

When Spencer actually laid his head down on the pillow, he actually felt like he could sleep. He wasn’t sure how long he could sleep, but he was going to do it for as long as he could.

***
***

Spencer barely heard the knock on the door. He looked down at his book and looked at the pages left. “Be there in just a minute,” Spencer called out, turning his eyes back to the pages and the words on them. He had been reading for days, sometimes outside and sometimes inside but he hadn’t not had a book in his hand unless he was cooking, using the bathroom, driving, or sleeping. He knew that his apartment looked like a bomb had gone off in it. He didn’t care. It wasn’t like anyone else was going to be coming over for a while.

Hotch was still MIA, and if the rumors were to be believed, he wasn’t coming back. He was enjoying his life with Jack elsewhere and wasn’t coming back to DC at all, wasn’t coming back to the BAU, wasn’t coming back to Spencer. Spencer forced himself to focus on the last pages of the book, taking in the words at a slower pace since he was reading for pleasure instead of work. Spencer closed his eyes to savor the ending of the story before he opened them again and picked up the next book in the series. He had been slowly making his way through the young adult sections of local libraries. Most of the stories were really good, there were a few that made Spencer fear for the teens who read them if they thought that the romance in them was good. Spencer had started with the Twilight books that had been a small focus of a case a few years before and thankfully had hoped there were better books out there. Spencer was enjoying them because if there was sex, it was very, very small parts and wasn’t as detailed as some of the science fiction and fantasy books that were in the adult section.

The knock sounded again, and Spencer swore.

“Be right there.” Spencer set down the book he was only about fifty pages into and looked at the time. It was mid-morning and not Morgan’s standard call time to check on him, so he doubted that it was him. It could be any one of the team. Spencer kind of regretted calling out the first time. He wondered if the person would go away if he kept on ignoring them. The knock sounded again, but this time it was lower on the door and not nearly as heavy like it was from a child. Spencer raised the chances on it being JJ and Henry up by a good bit.

Spencer pushed himself up and out of his chair that he had bought a few days before. It was just big enough that he could read in any of the positions that he liked to and soft enough that it felt like he was reading a cloud. Spencer stubbed his toe on a book, cursing out loud. There was a giggle at the door that did not sound like Henry. Spencer stopped and stared at the door, trying to place who could be outside of his door with a child that was not Henry. Spencer just kept staring at the door debating opening it or not.

The knock came again, and Spencer sighed and stepped up to open the door. His hand fell slack from the doorknob at the two faces he was looking at. He didn’t know what to say, he didn’t know what to do. He felt like shutting the door and crawling into bed until he woke up because this had to be a dream. He looked from Jack’s face to Hotch’s and back again until Jack took matters into his own hands and rushed forward into Spencer, wrapping his arms around Spencer’s waist and holding on for dear life.

“Hello,” Hotch said.

“Hi. Umm…come in.” Spencer started to take a step back, but Jack held onto him so tightly that he couldn’t. Hotch gave him a smile and slipped into the room before he shut the door. Spencer watched him set down a cloth bag with a picture of a book on it and the name of a random bookstore that Spencer had never heard of. “When did you get back into town? Are you just coming to tie up loose ends?”

“What?” Hotch asked. He looked at Spencer very confused.

“You could have just called.” Spencer knew that his anger was irrational, but at the moment, it was the only emotion that his mind could process. He was upset, but he was also hurt.

“We came right here after the plane landed,” Jack said.

“Why?”

“Spencer…,” Hotch said, and he looked at a loss for words. He rubbed his hand over his face. “Can we sit down and talk. I had hoped the letter would help.”

“What letter?”

“Dave didn’t give you the letter?”

“No,” Spencer said. His legs gave out on him, and he dropped to the floor. Jack came down with him and settled into his lap, hugging him still. Spencer wrapped his arms around Jack and just held onto him. Spencer heard movement and looked up to see that Hotch was going for the cabinet where Spencer kept his liquor. There wasn’t much, brandy for him and scotch for anyone one else that came along. He filled two glasses with scotch and grabbed a warm bottle of water. He sat down against the back of Spencer’s couch and settled the water in at his side while handing over a glass of scotch.

“I wrote you a letter, and while I knew you would hate getting a letter, there was just no time, and WitSec wasn’t allowing me to call anyone. I hated being another person leaving, especially so close to us being friends again, but there was no other option.”

Hotch’s phone rang, and Spencer used it to take a drink of his scotch. Hotch snorted and answered, but strangely he turned it onto speaker instead of pressing the phone to his ear. Hotch held a finger to his lips, and Spencer nodded.

“Yes, Dave?”

“You are not at the airport. Did your flight get in late?”

“No, it came in over an hour ago. I told you the wrong flight time on purpose.”

“Why?”

“Because I had something more important to do than to listen to you bitch about everything while I was gone. Which leads me to the question that you’ve dodged for the entire time that I’ve been in WitSec with Jack and had a check-in with my Marshal. How did Reid take the letter?”

There was nothing but silence on the other end of the line.

“Hard to lie, isn’t it?”

“You told me all about how his father left, how Gideon left, and how just leaving a letter had hurt him. I didn’t want you being one of them.”

“So you make him think that I left him behind without a single word. I asked you for one damned thing besides finding Lewis, and you failed on that, Dave. Have a messenger bring over the letter, please. I don’t think that I want to see your face at this moment.” Hotch actually hung up on Rossi. He looked at Spencer. “I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for.” Spencer looked down at Jack, who despite being too old to fall asleep at the time of day that it was, he was asleep on Spencer. Spencer brushed the slightly longer hair that he was sporting away from Jack’s forehead and smiled down at the boy. “Did he not sleep last night?”

“No, we were packing up the things that we wanted to bring. Once where Lewis was found to be operating out of here in DC, they wanted to make sure that there was no plan in place in case he was killed before we were actually released from Witness protection. There is still a very deep investigation into a lot of it, including why his thoughts on me were taken seriously enough to arrest me. Jack slept very little last night. He was too excited to come back and to see you.”

“I missed him a lot,” Spencer said.

Hotch stood up and picked up Jack, making Spencer frown as the boy tried to cling to him. Hotch turned Jack to where the boy was pressed with his face in Hotch’s neck, and they moved to Spencer’s bedroom. Spencer stood up to watch them. Jack stopped trying to get away when he was settled down in Spencer’s bed. Hotch covered him up with a sheet after removing his shoes, when he left the room, he pulled the door mostly shut.

Spencer nodded toward the kitchen area of the apartment. Hotch turned that way to walk.

“Are you hungry?” Spencer asked as he thought about the food that was in his apartment. There was not a lot. Spencer had been ordering in for lunch and eating it for dinner as well. He was pretty sure that he had a frozen pizza or two and maybe some of those frozen breakfast sandwiches that he liked left.

“I didn’t even think that you should be at work.”

“I was given two weeks off and a few visits with a therapist to make sure that this had not damaged me even more. So, I’ve been reading.” Spencer looked at the stacks of books that were everywhere. He needed to run some back to the library.

“Some light reading, right?” Hotch asked. He looked in the living room area but not at the books. He was looking at the bag that he had brought. “I brought you some more things to read. I took a page out of your book, and every day that I was gone, I wrote to you. I knew that I could send them, so I wrote in a journal of sorts. That’s what’s in the bag. You can read them when I leave. I don’t think I want you to read them when I am here. So how did the team take it when they were told that I had gone into hiding?”

“Actually that part was handled pretty well but probably because it wasn’t until after I had already gone to your place and Jessica’s as she was not answering me on me taking Jack. We were told that you took a special assignment for the Director, and that was why you had disappeared overnight. Though no one thought to tell me that you thought I could become a target for Lewis until after he tried to run me off the road.”

“WHAT?!” Hotch roared. He looked like he was about to fly off the seat he had just sat down on. His eyes were wide, and he seemed distraught. “They left you without knowing that someone could be targeting you?”

“No. I was left blissfully unaware until I was either nearly killed or taken as a hostage to get you out of WitSec.”

“It’s like the whole of the FBI upper brass took a brain vacation,” Hotch said as he let his head drop to where Spencer could only see his chin. Spencer could only nod in agreeance. “I would ask who you pissed off enough to want you dead, but you’ve done the least amount of that kind of stuff to bring the ire of anyone within the FBI. Morgan, I could see him pissing someone off like that. Even Dave and me but you…You are like the little angel of the BAU.”

“Yeah, JJ brought that up, and I just ignored her. I can’t think of anything that I have done either. You never answered if you were hungry.”

“No, we ate before we got on the plane. I wouldn’t say no to lunch when Jack wakes up, though. We can stay here or go out somewhere. We have a lot to catch up. The Marshal service didn’t tell me anything while I was in there, Dave was my only contact and evaded a lot of things. Jack’s talked about trying to talk you into going Vegas for a weekend to visit your mom.”

“Where is your cell phone?” Spencer asked. He hadn’t looked carefully at the one that Hotch had used to call Rossi.

“Here.” Hotch pulled his phone from his pocket and handed it over without a care in the world. Spencer saw all of the texts that were listed at the texting app as unread. Spencer opened up the whole set that he had sent. He wanted to delete a few, but he didn’t. Instead, he set it to the start and handed it back over. “What?”

“Read,” Spencer said. He got up to start a cup of coffee. He had gone to a machine that brewed a cup at a time but also had his older brewer on hand just in case he needed a lot in a short order of time. Spencer watched as the coffee dripped down into the cup mixing with the little bit stark white liquid creamer that was in the bottom. Spencer heard the scrape of the chair legs and braced for whatever emotion Hotch was going to have for him.

“Spencer,” Hotch said, and he sounded a little bit broken. He wrapped an arm around Spencer’s shoulders, hugging him from behind. Spencer turned his head to the side and laid it down on Hotch’s shoulder and upper arm where it was arched up to hug him. “I’m so sorry that you had to do that alone. I would have wanted to be there. I would have wanted to fly out to you and help you. I’m sorry that you had to make the decision, but I’m glad that she’s at peace.”

Spencer turned around in Hotch’s hold, and he didn’t care about anything but the purge of emotions that had been bottled up inside since Hotch had left. Spencer wasn’t sure he long he stood there in Hotch’s arms and cried or the point in time when he fell down to his knees, but Hotch didn’t let go of him.

“I’m here for you, Spencer no matter what you need, even if it’s a three a.m. call to help you not crave, or an extra touch on the arm to remind you that you are not alone. You’ve been alone too long, and I hate that I was not there when you needed it when you needed me the most. You are a strong person, but even you need help.”

“Don’t,” Spencer said when it seemed like Hotch was going to let him go.

“Just moving around,” Hotch said, and there was a smile in his tone. He wrapped his arms tightly around Spencer and held onto him.

The smell of Spencer’s coffee was strong in the room when he finally felt like he could let go of Hotch and make it on his own. Spencer tried to pull back, but Hotch didn’t let him go far. Hotch gripped the back of Spencer’s head and forced their eyes to lock.

“I mean that, Reid. I don’t care what time of day it is. I don’t care if we just finished talking and you thought that you could do it but you just really can’t. I don’t care. I want you to call me or to drive to my house.”

“House?” Spencer asked.

“Yeah, Dave took my money and found me a house I wanted along with a good bit of land. Jessica’s life got upended by all of this, and while she’s very proud, she took my logic on why I needed to help her. So I own a pretty nice sized house with a huge tract of land that has a smaller house at one end that Jessica’s going to move into and then she’s going to find a different job. Her other boss was not that happy about her having to take a sabbatical so I promised her that I would take care of her until she was on her feet job wise and that she needed to find one that she wanted. When Jack and I get at least moved in a little, I’ll have you over that first Sunday. Right now, there are boxes everywhere as Dave knew we were headed home, and my things were pulled out of storage.”

“He knew?” Spencer asked. He tried to think back to see if Rossi had stopped anyone from their talk of him not coming back at all.

“He was supposed to tell everyone that we were on our way back. I start as Unit Chief again as soon as I pass my physical, and I’ll still pass my gun test, so I don’t see any issues.”

“He didn’t. He didn’t tell us anything. Hell, he’s listened as the rumors started and spread that you weren’t coming back. That you were liking being a stay at home Jack for everywhere, the Marshals had dropped you and Jack and didn’t want to leave there!” Spencer was near yelling at the end, so he stopped and settled down again. Hotch still had an arm around him, and they were too close for usual societal standards for friends. Spencer didn’t want to be anywhere else. He actually looked at Hotch, the man didn’t look all that different. He was in a nice pair of slacks, and a polo. The same kind of clothes he wore on his downtime before he had left. He was wearing the same cologne, a scent that Spencer had missed a lot. Spencer had never found it in the stores, and he’d looked but then he didn’t shop at a lot of the stores that Hotch did. Their clothes while both high end were very different. Spencer wondered at if it was something that Hotch found while traveling for work years before and did mail orders and now Internet orders for it. Spencer had debated long ago, slipping into his bathroom to see what he used but never had.

“I’ll talk to him. Sometimes he lets his very literal thinking get in the way. He’s a good profiler, but sometimes he’s too much of an agent to be a good person. So what were you thinking about for lunch?”

“I don’t know. I’ve not really left here other than to get groceries. I’ve been ordering in food. Is there any place that you have missed? Or Jack?” Spencer didn’t care if they ate dirt as long as Hotch stayed around. Spencer knew that he was clinging to the man, but so far, Hotch had not at all acted like he wanted to get away from him. Spencer could take it for as long as he could get it.

“That stupid place that you took us to that one time? Where the Italian man and the Chinese woman married and had a kid, who made a very weird restaurant that’s Italian, Chinese, and Hawaiian food all mixed onto the same menu.”

“We can go there. They open at eleven today.” Spencer smiled, and it was the first smile in a very long time that felt real.


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DarkJediQueen

You can call me Becca. I am a barista in my day to day life. My free time is spent writing fics as well as a few original stories. My current fandom obsession is Criminal Minds and the pairing of Hotch/Reid with a smattering of James Bond with the pairing of Bond/Q. You can follow me on my website or on Archive of Our Own under the name DarkJediQueen.

2 Comments:

  1. Way to tear my heart out! It’s been so lovely that I didn’t even mind. I’m really enjoying Spencer’s journey so far!

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