The house is dark and quiet, the only sounds the gurgling of water boiling, a faint hum from the air conditioning, and the occasional scratch of Clooney's nails on the tile floor as he dreams. Fran keeps one eye on the pot, making a mental note to add an electric kettle to Derek's Christmas list, and absently toys with the teabag string dangling over the side of her mug. It's not the first time she's visited Derek and ended up staying in an empty house, but it's the only time she's ever been alone from the beginning. His work's unpredictable, so it was only a matter of time before something like this happened, but her plane leaves tomorrow and she still hasn't seen her baby boy at all. In fact, given that he hasn't even phoned to see how she's doing, she has a niggling suspicion in the back of her head that he might have forgotten about the visit altogether.
He gets that from his father, Fran tells herself as she carefully ladles steaming water into her mug. He was never great at remembering the personal stuff when he got involved on a case either. It's not that he's a bad son, just a little absent minded sometimes. Fran pulls a spoon from the sink strainer and uses it to press the teabag, turning the already tinged water murky. She settles down on a stool at the island and smiles over the top of the mug at Clooney. "At least I got to spend time with my grandpuppy. Nice to know you appreciate having me around, even if it is just for the walks."
As if on cue, Clooney's head jerks up, his ears twitch forward, and he surges to his feet. He's out the door in a whirlwind of skittering paws and excited yelps that leave Fran with an eyebrow arched and a mug halfway between her mouth and the counter. A glance at the microwave clock confirms that it's nearly midnight, but there's nothing threatening in Clooney's bark. No growl, no low menace. Just high, excited yips, punctuated by the occasional thud of what sounds like his tail against the wall. Any lingering doubt fall away when she hears the faint sound of Derek's voice, reduced to a low, indistinct rumble by the walls and distance. She smiles and is already slipping off the stool to her feet when she catches the second voice. It's higher than Derek's and there's an edge of something like discomfort to it that seems to get more pronounced the more enthusiastically Clooney barks. Derek's voice overlaps with it, words just loud enough that she can make out Clooney's name and overly dramatic orders to 'get down, you crazy dog,' that make her grin through her confusion. She pads silently across the room on bare feet, the voices a fraction clearer with each step, especially now that Clooney's mostly quieted down.
When the second voice starts talking again, it's calmer, more relaxed and hushed, and Derek sounds...happy when he responds. There's a comfortable, easy rhythm to their quiet conversation, as if it's one they've had several times before, and Fran pauses, wondering if she should intrude--Derek forgetting that she was visiting is looking more and more likely--or just slip through the den and back to the guest room. Of course, she thinks after a moment, what's the point in having children if you can't embarrass them occasionally. Goodness knows Derek moved far enough away that she seldom gets the chance anymore.
Still, it comes as a bit of surprise when she walks into the foyer and sees that the person her son currently has backed up against a wall, one hand brace over a thin shoulder and the other tenderly brushing back light brown hair, is decidedly male. The young man--and there's something familiar about him, even if she can't quite put her finger on it right now--notices her first, his eyes going impossibly wide behind thick, old fashioned glasses. She can't quite keep the shock off of her face, and the small stab of guilt in her stomach expands at the way the man blushes and stumbles sideways out of Derek's grasp. She can see the exact moment Derek's brain starts back up and makes everything click back into place. There's a tension in his shoulders and she can see just enough of his jaw to note the way it's clenched; it's almost comically like the way he always looked when she'd catch him doing something wrong as a child. That shouldn't hurt, but it does.
"Mama," Derek says, his smile tight and forced when he turns to look at her. There's a glimmer of panic in his eyes, but he's trying his damnedest not to show it, and for a moment she's thrown back in time to when he was ten and had ruined Desiree's favorite necklace by accidentally vacuuming it up. His eyes slide toward the other man, who's nervously twisting his fingers in ways that look rather uncomfortable, then back to her. He steps forward to awkwardly peck her cheek, every movement stilted and jerky. "I forgot you were coming."
"Obviously." She smiles when she says it, but Derek still flinches back a little and his--his what? lover, boyfriend, partner?--whatever he is closes his eyes and bites his lips together like he knows the situation is hopeless and he can't bear to watch, but is determined not to run away either. If Derek was yelling at her about loving whoever he wanted, disownment and reputation be damned, it would be eerily similar to when she first took his father home to meet her parents. Her gut clenches, and she wonders what she's ever done to make her son think she'd react badly to this.
"You remember Spenc-" Derek pauses, swallowing audibly. "I mean, Dr. Reid? We work together."
It's obvious once it's pointed out to her, and she smiles at Spencer as warmly and genuinely as she can manage, which is quite a bit since she still remembers his awkward but earnest reassurances that Derek would be fine. It's the hair and glasses that had her thrown, she decides. "Of course. It's a pleasure to see you again, honey. Shame that it's been so long."
Derek's still standing there, tense like he's waiting for some big confrontation. Fran wonders if he knows that he's moved between her and Spencer. Probably not, she decides. Some strange mixture of pride, exasperation, and annoyance builds in her chest as she looks at her only son, and she'd be lying if she said she didn't feel a little satisfaction at smacking him lightly upside the head.
"And why haven't you brought him home and introduced us properly, huh?"
Derek sputters and gapes at her, but she's already moving past him to take one of Spencer's hands in her own.
"I know I'm supposed to talk him up because he's my son, but Derek does enough of that for the both of us. You do realize you could do better than him, right?"
Spencer's mouth works like a fish's for a moment, then snaps shut as he gives her a considering look. Another impossibly long moment and he grins at her, and there's something borderline wicked playing about the upturned corners of his mouth that makes her simultaneously want to pinch his cheek and wish she was a couple decades younger. "He can be pretty trying, especially when he gets into one of his stubborn moods, but I can put up with that for the time being."
"Oh, those aren't moods. That's his normal state of being. Everything else is the anomaly." Fran laughs and squeezes his hand, ignoring the gobsmacked way Derek's watching them, and really, she raised him better than to stare like that. She glances between them, noting their creased clothes and the deep bags under their eyes. "But I'm keeping you up. You two should go to bed and get some rest. Must have been a hard case if it made Derek forget his own mother."
She shoots a meaningful look at Derek, who shrugs, still looking a bit bewildered, but not nearly as defensive as before. "It was just really sudden, and then-"
"It's fine," Fran cuts in, not entirely certain if they're talking about the case or Derek's relationship. Probably both, in some strange, roundabout way. She presses Spencer's hand again before releasing him to pull Derek down enough to kiss his forehead. "Sleep. The two of you can tell me all about it tomorrow over breakfast."
Derek still looks confused, but Spencer's grinning at her like a kid at Christmas, and he starts herding Derek down the hallway toward the bedroom when she makes a shooing motion at them. She can hear their voices again when the bedroom door closes, soft and intimate, and she lets the sound wash over her as she remembers another very similar, but very different meeting like this one. After several heartbeats, she shakes herself, blinking against the sting in the back of her eyes, and wanders back to the kitchen to reheat her tea.