When Henry was three months old and JJ returned to work, looking tired and nervous about leaving her baby alone with someone, anyone, who wasn’t her, Spencer Reid decided he needed to get to know his godson better.
“I could babysit.” He hoped he didn’t sound as nervous as he felt about it. “A night a week, something regular, give you and Will some time alone? If we don’t have a case, I mean. I’ve, uh, read every baby book I could get my hands on, I’m ready for anything. Really.”
JJ laughed, eyes sparkling at him. “Spence, you’re never really ready for anything just by reading about it, especially with babies.” Seeing his face fall, she quickly added “But that sounds like a great idea, I’m sure you’ll be great with him. How’s tomorrow sound?”
“Uh...” too soon, that’s how. Reid floundered for a moment, panic threatening to make him retract the offer, but he couldn’t, could he? It was his responsibility as godfather. “Sure, tomorrow’s good.” He told himself there was a good chance they’d have a case, anyway.
They didn’t, of course. At 19:00 the next evening Reid presented himself at JJ and Will’s door, with a messenger bag full of small fluffy toys and a heart full of terror. JJ dragged him inside, showed him where the coffee equipment was, and where Henry was sleeping peacefully in his crib. She also showed him the list of emergency numbers, the changing table and diapers, and the TV remote. He actually knew already where all those were, having helped JJ and Will move in several months before, but he let her reassure herself that he knew, because it was reassuring for him as well.
“I left a bottle for him in the fridge.” She said, while Will leaned against the wall and looked amused at her fussing and Reid’s obvious nervousness. “You need to warm it up-”
“To body temperature, I know.”
“Yes, and don’t put it in your coffee.”
“Hey, it’s not half bad in coffee.” Will interjected, grinned, and she slapped his shoulder in mock-anger as Reid blinked very quickly to dispel the mental image that brought up.
“Will, you’re awful.” She informed him. “Spence, breathe. And remember to test it on your wrist before you give it to him.”
“Uh huh.” The thought of touching anything that came out of JJ’s - body- was terrifying in itself. “Um, about what time?”
“In an hour or so. He’s been napping for a while, he’ll wake up hungry around eight. You can let him stay up with you as long as you like, or until he gets cranky and tired again. The longer he’s awake now, the longer we’ll sleep through at night, ok?”
“Yeah, got it.” He nodded. Now he just had to get to get through the evening. “And yes, I remember how to change a diaper.” JJ had demonstrated, when he’d insisted that he needed to know, and he’d done it maybe twice since then. “Go, you’ll miss your- whatever your plans are.” By Will’s grin, they weren’t planning on a movie. JJ kissed his cheek, wished him luck and promised they’ll be home before midnight. And then he was alone, in an apartment that wasn’t his own, with a baby. He was so close to freaking out.
But Henry was adorable, all curled up and tinier than he could’ve imagined, but still noticeably bigger than he’d been as a newborn, and he was asleep and quiet for now. And he was off the clock and...Yeah, he could deal with it. He settled on the sofa, pulled out three journals and a pad of paper and started working on notes for an article he’d been asked to write for a conference. He kept an ear and a half on the nursery, only half concentrating on the notes, and still when the sudden, unfamiliar noise of a crying baby caught him, he was startled. He checked his watch- 19:55.
“You’re early, baby.” He informed the crying infant as he picked him up carefully and carried him to the kitchen. “But that’s alright, because it’ll take me a while to get your bottle warm, anyway. Remember me, kid?” Henry had calmed down by the time they got to the kitchen, and Reid turned him around so they could see each other. “I’m Spencer. I‘m your godfather, but I guess you’ll call me uncle, like you’ll call the rest of the team, even though none of us are your mommy’s siblings. But that’s ok. You don’t actually remember me, either, but that’s ok too. Your cognitive abilities aren’t quite developed enough for that. Your mother claims you’re the smartest baby that ever lived.” He smiled. ‘I’m going to put you down now, alright? Trust me, it’s for both our benefit, I can’t warm a bottle one handed and I’m not going to risk dropping you.” The sound of his voice seemed to keep Henry distracted and interested, and he didn’t even protest being dropped in a bassinet to wait while Reid popped the bottle in the microwave, following the written instructions he’d memorized earlier. “Anyway, I’m not going to tell her that while I’m sure you’re incredibly special to her, there’s a 70% chance that you’re within the average range for your age- which is entirely fine, you know? I’m sure you’ll be great at something. Even several things. You’re starting out with good potential both for nature and for nurture, so things should turn out pretty good for you. You’ll appreciate it better when you’re older.”
He kept talking, explaining the leading research on the merits of mother’s milk and breastfeeding as he tested the temperature of the milk. It helped him to distract himself as well, because really, mother’s milk? It just felt inappropriately intimate to be handling it. Henry seemed to like it well enough, though, and took the bottle eagerly and without complaint. Spencer settled down with him in the living room, carefully supporting his head and angling the bottle so he didn’t choke. The boy spat it out before all the milk was gone, and didn’t look like he wanted to take it again, so Spencer put it aside with a shrug. “If you’re not hungry anymore then we’re done. You’re supposed to know exactly how much you need, because you’re not thinking about it consciously yet.” He explained, and Henry wasn’t inclined to argue. “Uh. The books say I need to burp you now. Please, please don’t spit up on me, ok? JJ didn’t show me where the towels are and I don’t have a spare shirt.” Half the reason he didn’t like children was that they were usually sticky, dirty and messy. But Henry was actually warm, and peaceful, and made little noises that didn’t sound like distress. And he didn’t spit up on him. When Spencer put him on a blanket on the floor and left him explore his own feet or grab for the fluffy toys he’d brought, he was even pretty sure there was a smile involved. A tiny, toothless smile that made a goofy grin blossom on Spencer’s face. And then, between one gurgle and the next, Henry was asleep again. As carefully as if he were handling blown glass (or a live bomb, his treacherous mind added), Spencer carried him back to his crib, and went back to his reading.
When the heart rending screaming from the other room brought him running again, he knew it wasn’t hunger. It took him several very scary moments to understand the cause of the red faced, clenched fists wailing, and with a look of faint distaste he moved his godson to the changing table. “It’s a natural process, and it’ll be ok, I’m getting you cleaned up, ok Henry? Please stop crying, you’ll feel better soon, I promise.” He started reciting The Cat in the Hat from memory as he tried not to notice exactly what he was doing. Somehow, despite several fumbles, he finally got Henry cleaned up and into a new diaper, but the child, though quiet, still didn’t look happy. When Spencer put him back in the crib he started screaming again. “Please, hang in there, just for a moment, ok? I have to wash my hands. Believe me it’s for the best.” Panting, Spencer rushed to wash his hands quickly, scrubbing away and feeling like an abusing babysitter for letting Henry scream. He was a terrible person but he couldn’t even pick him up without making sure his hands were clean, could he? He rushed back into the room and swept Henry from the crib, rocking him slightly against his shoulder.
“C’mon, buddy. It’s ok, I’m here, not that I’m much help, I know, I’m not your mom or your dad but I’m all you have, ok? I’ll tell you a story, and you’ll see you just need to go back to sleep. You need a lot of sleep at your age, you know? You do most of your growing while you sleep, and you’ve got a lot of growing to do. Come on.” He settled down on the sofa with Henry lying on him, heartbeat to heartbeat. Henry’s was fast, thumping against him like a frightened small animal- which, Spencer thought, was close enough to the truth. Quietly, in as soothing a voice as he could, he went back to the Cat in the Hat. Gradually, after both sequels of the Cat and the Fox in Sox, Henry drifted off.
When JJ and Will came back shortly after eleven, they stood and looked down at their sleeping child, sprawled on his godfather, also fast asleep.
“They look so cute together.” JJ leaned into Will side, and he kissed her hair.
“They do.” He was pretty happy after a peaceful dinner out for the first time in weeks. “Should we wake him up?”
“Not quite yet.” JJ snuck off to get a camera and quickly snapped a few blackmail photos. “Garcia’ll love these. Now you can wake him up.”
“I’m awake, thank you very much.” Spencer blinked and shifted, arms going automatically to secure Henry. “What time is it?”
“Just after eleven. No disasters, I take it?” Will picked Henry up and the boy snuggled against him, not even bothering to wake up.
“No.” Spencer stood up and stretched the kink out of his neck. “We- uh, I think we had fun together. He liked the purple dragon best, so I’m going to leave it here, ok?” He picked up the other toys from the floor, as well as the blanket. “Um, good night?”
“Good night, Spence.” JJ kissed his cheek again. “And thanks. We had a great night.”
“I’m glad.” He paused at the door. “Next Tuesday ok for you?”
It became a regular thing. Tuesdays or Fridays, depending on whether they had a case or not, Reid babysat Henry for an evening. Garcia usually helped Will out if the team was away for more than 48 hours, so she got plenty of ‘baby time’, but evenings were saved for Reid. Once, on a very difficult case which kept them close enough to home that JJ commuted back and forth, but far enough away that Spencer didn’t bother to go home for over a week, he made a point of clearing an evening even though it was a Wednesday. He was still nervous when taking care of him, and a little freaked out when there was screaming involved, but generally they got along well enough.
“You know, we could drop him off at your place.” JJ suggested one week, shortly after their return from South Padre Island. She knew Reid had had a hard time with the case, and planned to keep an eye on Adam/Amanda until some breakthrough was made. “If it’s easier, and anyway we’re heading in your direction, Will’s taking me to see a stand-up show. I tried to tell him that between Morgan and Penelope I’m getting my full comedy quota, but he insists.”
“My place isn’t baby proofed.” Granted, it was Spencer-proofed, which meant he tried to minimize the number of sharp corners, unpadded edges and doors that locked, but he didn’t have any of the baby stuff Henry needed. “I don’t have a crib, or anything-”
“He can sleep in the bassinet, and you don’t need to baby proof, he’s not even crawling yet.” That was true. At six months Henry was experimenting with pushing himself around on his stomach, without much success yet. “You look beat, Spence, you shouldn’t drive.” In fact, JJ thought he shouldn’t babysit either, but she knew those evenings were important to him, and besides they’d already bought tickets. “We’ll bring everything he needs with us, I promise.”
“Ok...I guess.” It was a little scary, but he was pretty tired. “I can set a few things up. Are you trying mashed vegetables again this week?”
“Yup.” JJ grinned. “He still gets more peas on me than in his mouth, but he loves carrots.”
“Smart kid. Ok, drop him off whenever.”
And so it was a date.
JJ had brought Henry’s bassinet, a diaper bag, spare clothes for him and two jars of baby food along with bottle, spoon and plastic plate. “You’ll have to feed him while you hold him, I’m sorry, we can’t get the high chair into the car.” He nodded, hid his opinion of having mashed carrots smeared all over him, and sent them away with a smile.
It went reasonably well- or rather, it wasn’t a complete catastrophe. It took Henry over an hour to settle in the unfamiliar surrounding- an hour during which Spencer recited more Dr. Seuss, some Shakespeare, and finally mathematical formulae, which always seemed to calm the boy down, for some reason. As it worked just as well for Spencer, he went ahead and did it. He was awake for longer now, and a lot more interesting since he was turning over, trying to sit and crawl a little, and mimicking facial expressions, which Spencer had some fun with before they both got bored with it.
“You’re about to want your dinner, aren’t you?” It couldn’t be put off any longer. Spencer clenched his jaw, reminded himself that he’d faced deranged killers and lived through it, and that nothing could be as disgusting as blood and brain matter, and charged into the fray.
That was also the night he gave Henry a bath for the first time. There was carrot mash everywhere. On both of them and all over the kitchen. There seemed to be more of it outside the jar than had ever been in it, despite several spoonfuls actually making their way into Henry eventually. When Spencer opened the door to JJ and Will at the end of the night there were mashed carrots in his hair and a harried expression on his face. He’d changed his shirt, but he couldn’t leave the kid alone to shower, even if he was asleep. Will took one look at him and started laughing, which only made him feel worse.
“Adventures in feeding?” JJ managed not to laugh, but it was a struggle.
“He ate eventually. Mostly formula though.” Spencer admitted, letting them in. Henry was asleep on the sofa, two pillows stopping him from accidentally rolling off it. “His clothes are in a plastic bag, they’re sort of...filthy.” As Will picked Henry up JJ glanced into the kitchen and couldn’t help laughing.
“God, Spence, I’m sorry about the mess.” She knew Spencer hated cleaning, especially the kitchen.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.” Or rather, he’d make it livable again and be glad the cleaning service was coming on Saturday. “It was ok. He had so much fun making a mess I couldn’t even be annoyed.” He’d discovered he loved to hear Henry laughing. There was something so joyful and innocent about it. “He’s a good kid, JJ.”
“So’re you, Spence. A good man.” He was left grinning awkwardly, mashed peas sticky in his hair, his kitchen a nightmare, but oddly enough he didn’t have any actual nightmares that night. Henry was better than the Bureau therapists any day of the week.
For almost two months after he gets shot, Reid doesn’t babysit. He can barely walk, is constantly in pain, and doesn’t feel up for running around after a very fast crawler who’s working on taking his first steps. His misses Henry, but they’re all reeling after the attack on Hotch and the leadership changes, and he doesn’t want to risk having to deal with him when he’s barely dealing with himself.
When Hotch effectively grounds him to Quantico, however, JJ calls him at the end of the first day of the investigation. She sounds harried, tired. “Spence?”
“Yeah, anything new?” He’s busy with trying to track money, along with Garcia who’s doing a far better job of it, and distracted.
“Not for the case, but you’re invited to dinner tonight.”
“Jaje, you’re in Long Island.” He points out. “You’re coming back?”
“Nope. Will’s invited you to hang out with him and Henry, since you’re technically on office hours. He just asked me to call you and ask, just so you know I’m ok with it.”
“Why wouldn’t you be?” He hasn’t thought about that option, but the idea does have a certain appeal. “Uh, sure. I’ll call him and work out the details.” He smiles at the phone. “Thanks, JJ. It’s a great idea.”
He waves Garcia’s curiosity away as he calls Will, who invites her along as well, but she grins and shakes her head. “I’ve got a hot date with Kevin tonight. And besides, you’re running very low on godson time, Boy Wonder. Go and play a bit. I’ve seen him three times since his birthday party, he misses you.”
Reid winces with guilt. Three times in as many week would be his usual quota as well, but he hasn’t seen him once since then. “He’s only a year old, Garcia, he doesn’t remember me.”
“Sure he remembers you. Didn’t JJ tell you he was starting to talk?”
“Really?” She hasn’t, but he’s impressed with his Godson all the same. It’s a good age to start talking, following all the developmental patterns. He’s doing pretty well so far. “That’s good. He should, at this age.”
“Yeah well, we didn’t all start talking in the womb and then never stopped.” She’s joking and he knows it, so it’s not hurtful, but he protests anyway.
“I started at eight months, it’s not that unusual. Anyway, what’s he saying?”
“Simple stuff, you know. Mama, dada, he’s discovered ‘no’ which is making life harder for his mommy and daddy. He’s trying for other things, without too much success. All he can manage for me is ‘Pee’, or ‘Cee’, which...” She smiles, glowing a little, “I’ve been called worse by worse, right? And JJ said he’s been saying ‘Pes’ a lot. She’s sure he means you. Go get some time with him, you’ve been putting it off too long.” She shoves at his shoulder lightly.
“Ok, ok, I’m going. You know I can’t chase him around on crutches. I can’t even pick him up, not hold him and walk, anyway.” He can barely handle a cup of coffee and the crutches, and dropping Henry would be far worse than losing a coffee.
“I know.” She nods. “Bring a dessert he’ll enjoy, like yogurt or pudding, and don’t snap at him.” Her expression softens. “He’s a baby, he doesn’t understand you’re injured.”
He nods and they get back to work. That night, he buys a family sized tub of chocolate pudding and limps up to JJ and Will’s place, almost as familiar to him as his own apartment by now. Will greets him with a grin and a clap on the shoulder that nearly overbalances him, but it’s the squeals of joy from around carpet-level that surprise him.
“Pes!” Chubby hands wave at him and bright eyes look up out of a smiling face. Spencer reels back, stunned.
“Yeah, he’s been saying it all week, since JJ showed me some team photos. He’s missed you.” Will nods. Spencer finds himself at a loss, almost as nervous as the first time he babysat.
“I can’t pick him up. I- I’m sorry.”
“Don’t sweat it. Siddown.” Will relieves him of his burden of dessert, and steers him to the sofa. “Henry, come to daddy.” Henry power-crawls up to them and pulls himself up on the side of the sofa, surprising Spencer further. “Good boy. Now come give your Uncle Spence a hug.”
As a laughing bundle of arms and legs is placed in his arms- and one foot immediately kicks him in the knee, he barely feels the pain, hugging the small boy and feeling truly happy for the first time in weeks. “Hello, Henry. I’ve missed you.”
“Pes!” Repeats, very firmly.
“Yeah.” He grins. “That’s me.”
“I’ll let you two catch up and go take care of dinner. Fried chicken good for you?” Will discreetly retreats to the kitchen while Spencer listens to Henry babble, and almost sees the patterns of formed thoughts trying to become sentences with real words in them. He’s not really there yet, but it’s fun all the same.
“You know something, Henry?” The boy stopped and listened, blinking up at him. “There are only four people I know who call me Spencer, and only your mother calls me Spence, ever. So you’re a member of a very small elite group. Be proud.” Here, in this apartment that isn’t even his but sometimes feels more like home than his own place, he can stop being Dr Reid for a few hours and just be Uncle Spencer. He finds he really likes it. It’s nice to be ‘just Spence’ for a while.
He wonders, as he spoons pudding into Henry’s mouth later, why it’s taken him so long to understand this.
It was a beautiful day, one of those that only hit DC about every other month. Reid was sure that it almost counted as a warm day. He decided he needed to do something, this being a very rare free weekend. Three phone calls later, he hesitated for only a moment before hitting 1 on his speed dial.
“Will’s repainting the bathroom tomorrow and Garcia’s dragging Prentiss and JJ off for a girls’ quality time morning. I’m taking Henry out to the park, would Jack like to join us?” He said all that without breathing, before he changed his mind. It’d been six weeks since Haley’s death, six weeks since they all watched their team leader fall apart. Three weeks since he came back to work. Reid was worried about him, they all were, but this was the first time he’d ever suggested anything like a joint outing, and he was pretty sure he was about to get his head bitten off. There was a very long silence at the other end, long enough for him to start stuttering an apology. A sigh stopped him.
“I’ll ask him. It might be nice, the weather’s pretty good.” A moment of hesitation, during which Reid’s heart started beating steadily again. “He might not agree to go without me, though. He’s been a bit- clingy.”
“I’d be surprised if he wasn’t.” Reid nodded, phone or no phone. “Well. you’re welcome to join us. I was thinking you might want some time alone-”
“No, I’d like to come, if Jack’s interested.” The unspoken lies between them, the knowledge that Hotch has had far too much time alone. He hid it better, but he was about as clingy as his son just now. Separating for work was hard enough, but on a weekend? It was too soon.
“Uh, if you’re rather be alone with him- I mean, that fine, it’s- I understand, you know?”
“I know, Reid.” He thought he could hear the pale shade of a smile. “I’ll ask Jack and call you back, ok?”
The next morning they met at the park, all four of them bundled against the lingering chill. Jack was subdued and shy at first, but Henry, even before being released from his stroller, proved almost as interesting a distraction as a remote-controlled car.
“You have to be careful, alright Jack?” Spencer said as he let Henry down to stand on his own. “Henry’s smaller than you and not as fast, but you’re big enough to watch over him, right? And your dad and I are watching both of you, if you want to ask anything.”
“Ok.” Jack nodded. “I’ll keep him safe. Promise.” He took Henry’s hand, given in complete trust. “Wanna see the funny rocks over there?” He pointed across the wide stretch of grass and benches. Henry, looking mystified, nodded even if he wasn’t entirely sure of what Jack meant. Hotch and Spencer followed the two boys, only a few feet behind him but far enough away to let Jack feel grown up and responsible. Halfway there, Henry tripped over his own feet and plopped down. He tried to push himself up and slid in the grass, frustrated, until Jack pulled him up- a little too hard, it turned out, as the two of them tumbled back to the grass. Henry looked about ready to start crying, but then Jack giggled, and, startled, Henry giggled as well. And then they were both laughing, on their back in the wet grass.
“Pens, up!” Came the command, followed by outstretched hands, and Spencer chuckled and absent mindedly handed Hotch his cane as he swept down to pick Henry up. “It’s your fault if I drop you, young man.” He informed the boy seriously, and Henry giggled again and lay his head on Spencer’s shoulder. As he took the cane back, he could swear Hotch was almost smiling.
“‘Pens’?” He raised an eyebrow as Jack rolled to his feet and continued in the general direction of the rocks.
“He takes after his mom when it comes to names, I guess.” Spencer shrugged. “It’s easier for him to say.” And was far easier for Spencer to hear, too.
“It’s cute.” Hotch followed Jack and Spencer followed Hotch, smiling slightly. It was nice to see Hotch unwind just a little. They had a good time, watching rocks and trees and early flowers, having candy apples (Spencer decreed it too cold for ice cream, and Hotch agreed), and just walking. Henry got tired of walking and went back to the stroller for a while, but Jack ran around yelling and laughing and swinging and climbing up and down the slides and bridges until he too grew tired. Spencer and Hotch talked a little, quietly, of unimportant things. Finally, Hotch shook his head.
“I still can’t get over you and a stroller. You’re really good with Henry.” He said. “I always thought you and kids didn’t get along.”
“Generally I don’t get along with kids.” Spencer agreed. “Henry’s special, he’s used to me by now and I’m pretty used to him.” True, he still didn’t like getting messy and sticky and dirty, but sometimes it couldn’t be helped. And something about a clean baby was almost worth the dirty baby part that came before it. “He’s a good kid.” He repeated the words he’d said to JJ months before. “Jack is as well. He seems to be holding up.”
“He has good days and bad days. His therapist says it’ll get easier.” Hotch paused, looked away. “I don’t want him to forget her.”
“He won’t. You’ll tell him about her, we all will. He won’t forget, Hotch.” He touched Hotch’s shoulder, hesitant, feeling the tensed muscles under his hand. After a long minute, Hotch relaxed.
Spencer’s grin more than made up for the fact that Hotch only smiled on the inside.
JJ leaves on a Wednesday. Friday morning, they're swept away on a case that keeps them busy over the weekend. They catch the unsub, after working for almost 72 hours straight, but not before he kills two more women. Everybody's tired and depressed and Reid missed JJ exactly as much as he thought he would, which is a lot. They're home in the wee hours between Monday and Tuesday, and play catch-up on reports for the rest of the day. Nobody really bothers with going home to sleep.
Tuesday evening, Reid knocks on JJ's door. He doesn't bother to call beforehand- they have a standing date, after all. JJ opens and looks surprised to see him for a moment, before a relieved smile shines at him. He feels better almost immediately.
"Spence?" She pulls him in, and he notices she’s not dressed to go out. "We- uh, we didn't make any plans for tonight."
"It's Tuesday." He says simply. Henry runs over to him, having mastered running recently, and holds his arms out for a hug. Spencer picks him up and gets a sloppy, sticky kiss for his efforts. Mashed carrots have obviously been part of supper again. "Just because they took you away doesn't mean I'll ignore my godson. Or my friends." He smiles slightly. He won't admit that part of it is also that he's had a bad few days and Henry is one addiction he can safely indulge in. "You can still make a late movie, if you like?"
"Why don't you just stay and we'll watch something together after Henry's in bed?" She suggests, and he nods. He needs time with JJ as badly as he does with Henry. "Will, Spencer's here, throw an extra steak in the pan." She grins conspirationally. "I was hoping you were in town, subconsciously at least. Made a little extra of everything." He smiles, and she gives him a long look. "You looked wrecked, Spence. Bad case?"
"Spree killer. We got him. A bit too late for two of his victims, but we got him." She motions towards the couch and they sit, Henry happily perched in Spencer's lap. "You know, nobody's called me Spence in six days. I-I missed it." He snuggles Henry and JJ hugs him, uninvited but very welcome.
"You know you're always welcome here, right? We may not be on the same team anymore, but we're still family." He's too much of a profiler, and knows her too well, not to know that she's trying to reassure herself as much as she does him. But if they both agree on it, and work towards it, it'll happen. He nods firmly.
"We're still family. You won't believe what Morgan did today-"
He tells her about the case, and she tells him about her new job, and Will tells him about Henry's daycare, and Henry relates a long and mostly incomprehensible tale involving the neighbor's dog. JJ says they might get a puppy for his second birthday. Spencer really doesn't like dogs and it's usually mutual, but he agrees it's a good idea to get him used to animals early. The evening flies- they eat, they talk and joke, and slowly Spencer relaxes. It takes him longer to shed 'Dr Reid' tonight, but by the time they put Henry to bed he's finally relaxed enough to just watch a movie quietly. JJ sits in the middle between him and Will and they watch something with explosions and completely inaccurate police procedure, ripping it to shreds between them as the plot becomes more and more absurd. When Spencer falls asleep on JJ's shoulder she shares a silent consultation with Will and they both nod. Quietly and carefully she slides away, letting his stretch out full-length on the sofa. It's too short for him, but he doesn't even notice as she pulls his shoes off and drapes a spare blanket over him.
Henry's up at the crack of dawn and if Spencer's a bit embarrassed to have intruded all night, and more than a bit surprised they hadn't just woken him up and sent him home, a morning with his godson is a new and interesting experience. He gains a new appreciation for a parent's patience when it comes to feeding and dressing and getting work on time.
He changes into a clean shirt from his go-bag at the office and Morgan teases him, but Garcia looks like she knows and understands. Around lunchtime she stops by his desk.
"You did good, Boy Wonder. We gotta keep this family together."
He looks up at her and for a moment he's Spencer again. "We will. We'll be just fine."
She smiles, clearly glad to know she has his support and help in this. "Good. Lunch at my place this Sunday, if we're all here, yes?"
The next Tuesday, he calls JJ in advance to see whether they're going out or staying in, and what to bring for dessert.
After the second Tuesday in a row Reid finds an excuse to cancel his evening with Henry even though the team's in DC, JJ flat out asks him.
"Spence, what's up?" He's not injured, as far as she's heard, and Garcia keeps her pretty well updated. Reid's begged off the team Sunday lunches as well, so she hasn't seen him in weeks. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." He insists as the sun's glare makes him duck his head and cross the street to the shaded side without looking to see if a car's coming. Fortunately, the driver sees him and stops in time, beeping loudly. "Nothing's wrong." He repeats. "I've just been busy."
"We 're all busy, I still see the others." He's hurting her feelings, which is the last thing he wants to do but it's for the best. "You know what, if you're suddenly back to being afraid of children then at least have a coffee with me."
He owes her at least that much. And he does miss her. "Ok. Tomorrow afternoon? I can leave early if we don't have a case."
"It's a date."
The next day drags them to the case in Miami, and by the time they're back Reid's confused, tired and has his test results back. He never imagined a negative result would be so very depressing. When his phone rings he doesn't even look at the caller ID, just answers on autopilot. JJ's voice takes him by surprise.
"I know you're back, Penelope told me. I'm going to drop by your place around six this evening. Be home." It's not a tone of voice that invites argument. He's home by 17:45.
JJ arrives with cookies. He makes coffee. After the small chit chat part, they sit at his kitchen table in silence. Finally she breaks it.
"You look like hell."
He smiles wanly. "Thanks."
There's another long pause. JJ squared her shoulders. "I'm just going to ask, ok? Spence, are you using again?"
"What? No!" The question shouldn't surprise him, but it both surprises and hurts him. "I'm not, JJ. Really. Look." He pushed both sleeves up, showing only the old scars, nothing new. Of course, they both know he could be shooting up somewhere else, or getting drugs in pill or liquid form, but he isn't and his tone is apparently convincing enough.
"Than what's wrong? Garcia says you've been distant and distracted- is it your mother?" JJ grabs his hand, and it's a shameless manipulation- she knows physical contact can put him off balance, even from her. "Talk to me, Spencer."
"It's not mom." He wants to tell her, but saying it would make it real. He sighs. "When- when you asked me to be Henry's godfather you were putting a lot of trust in me- more than I deserved, probably. And I promised myself I'd never, ever, do anything that might harm him. This is me keeping him safe, Jaje. You trusted me then, trust me now. Please." It sounds like begging, and it sort of is, but it's all he can do. He's just so tired...She squeezes his hand.
"Please tell me, Spence. If I can help- something's eating you, and you work with profilers. I know you're a better liar than anybody gives you credit for, but they'll notice eventually." She pauses. "Are you sick?"
He laughs, high and tight and uncomfortable. "No. Yes. I don't know anymore." And it all spills out- the migraines and the light sensitivity and the occasional things only he can see. "And I- I think I'm losing my mind, Jaje. And it's- it's really scary." He pauses to wipe his eyes, she pretends not to notice. "I've had tests done. The doctor- he said there's nothing physically wrong."
"That's actually a good thing, Spence." She reminds him, quiet and comforting and attentive, still in listening rather than advising mode. "So what do they think it is?"
"Stress." He says, almost laughing again but holding back because that way lies hysteria and he doesn't even have a uterus and why is his mind making these kinds of connections, now of all times? "He said it's all psychosomatic. And there was this witch doctor in Miami who said there were demons haunting me on the inside."
"Stress is part of the job." She says, and then he can see understanding hit her. "You think it might be schizophrenia?"
The thing about JJ is she can be as blunt as an eighteen-wheeler at full speed sometimes. He has to either face it and answer, or be bowled over. "I don't know. It might be. It- it can manifest so many ways." The hallucinations are what freaks him out most. "With mom- it started her second year of college, you know? She was already on meds when she had me, and it gradually got worse. I'm not presenting any of the symptoms she described, but there's such a huge grey area when it comes to mental illness..." He takes a deep breath, stops before he starts rambling and rattling off statistics. "I honestly don't know. I'm still not seeing government spies behind every wall unless they're actually there. And my colleagues do count, if you ask mom." He tries to make a joke of it and fails. "I won't know until it's too late." He doesn't want to lose his mind, it's really all he has.
"You know, it could really be stress. You forget to eat and sleep and go home, but so do the others. It's part of the risks of the job, along with marital issues, nightmares, an extreme aversion to pork-" They both make the same disgusted face, "and the occasional need to do something for stress-relief. How long since your last real vacation, that didn't end with a case or a kidnapping or some kind of injury?"
He thinks. When did he join the team? “Six years, eleven months,, two weeks and three days." He answers promptly. "I spent a week in Greece before I joined the Academy."
"Seriously?" She seems surprised and he shrugs.
"Well, I take time off for Christmas, if we all have it, but it's not really relaxing, you know?" He hates the sanatorium, and the guilt eats at him every time he visits for not visiting more. "None of us ever use vacation time. The longest I've had off work in recent years were when I was in hospital after being injured." Not really rest, either, despite it being called bedrest. "Part of the job, like you said. The others are the same." None of them are very good at relaxing anymore. "So many bad things happen on vacations we're all a little wary of them by now."
"Tell me about it." She half-smiles, squeezing his hand again. "So you agree it might be stress-related, right?"
He looks down. "It's the best case scenario. But it still sucks. I don't see any of the others not functioning over what we do. I don't see them too afraid to drive because a migraine might make them crash, or- or-"
"Or too afraid to be alone with their godson?" She suggests gently, and he nods, looking away.
"I'm sorry. I might hurt him. He's too small to understand if I have to go lie down, or if I'm too nauseous to play. It's not fair to him, either way, but at least he's safe."
"Spence, for a genius you can be a complete idiot sometimes." He glares at her and she scowls at him. "Listen. We'll go by logic, ok? You're stressed, it's natural, and you need to relax, right?"
"I suppose." He agrees reluctantly.
"And you've told me more than once that you find spending time with Henry very relaxing, right?"
"Uh, yeah, but-"
"Shush, I'm talking. You see how putting one and one together and getting 'avoiding your godson at all costs' as the result is counter-productive? You won't hurt him, Spence, and he might just help you."
"I might hurt him. And besides, I can't just...use him. He's not a teddy bear or a security blanket, he's a child. I can't just drop all my stress on him." He can't just go and hug him whenever he needs a safe, uncomplicated exchange of affection. Henry isn't his, and he can't grow dependent on that sort of thing. He'd thought it an addiction he could live with. Maybe it isn't. "JJ, I can't."
"You can, and you will." She stands up now, dropping his hand and standing close to him, taking the advantage by looking down at him, and he lets her. Not like he really has any high ground here. "You have a duty, you know. You're responsible for his education. He's entering the 'why' stage, we're going to need all the help we can get. Come on, stand up. I'm not going to let you wallow, it doesn't suit you. You're coming over for dinner tonight."
"I can't." He stays seated, resolute.
"You can. We'll be there too, so there's no risk if you get a migraine, and I'm driving."
"Ok, so I don't want to!" He almost yells, glaring up at him. She doesn't even blink.
"Liar." And they both know she's right. "Come on. I recognize this behavior. You're in baby-withdrawal. You're about to get a nice, safe, controlled fix. Up on your feet, Spence." She grabs his hand and pulls, and he stands, shaking his head.
"Jaje, what if he gets old enough to really remember me and then suddenly I disappear?" That's the part that scares him most, when it comes to Henry.
"What makes you think he doesn't remember you? He asks where you are when you don't show up for team lunches, too." He is being slowly but irresistibly dragged out the door. "You don't get to plan for that sort of thing, Spence. Life doesn't come with a nice easy map. Eventually, like it or not, you might be forced to stop being a part of his life. Until then, give him good memories of you. I know you miss him, and- you said we'll stay family."
"I have a very bad track record with family." He points out, but they're already halfway down the stairs.
"Not with mine." She replies, and he can't argue with that, either. "I know you're scared, I get it. But one thing I'm sure of is you're not going to relax on your own, especially not if you keep working yourself up over it maybe being more than just stress. Now, you are going to play with my son. Maybe color some pictures together. After that, we'll talk. Ok?"
"Ok." Not like he can argue any further, as they're in the car and on the move. He's angry with JJ and with himself until he walks into their apartment and Henry runs to his mother, but then reaches out to him, chortling.
"Pens!" There a golden retriever puppy jumping at him as well, obviously Henry's birthday present, and he flinches back but is forced to ignore the dog in favor of the very enthusiastic boy who's trying to wriggle away from his mother and towards his godfather.
"Hello Henry." He has to smile at him, there is such pure joy on the child's face. "I'm sorry I haven't visited in a while, but I hope you'll forgive me."
Two years and three months may be a bit young to discuss themes of abandonment and forgiveness, but as Henry drags Spencer to the living room and insists they paint all the cats in his coloring book blue, because it's his favorite color in the world today, he rather assumes he's forgiven. There's no migraine that evening.
"We'll be home next Tuesday." JJ tells him as she drives him home, hours later. "We'll expect you at seven."
"If we don't have a case." He nods. "It's a date."