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Ashley Seaver winced as the Seattle tech tugged on the wire's adhesive tape. "You make all your probies go play bait?" she asks Aaron Hotchner, trying to keep her voice light.

Hotch furrows his brow in reassurance. "We'll have eyes and ears on you at all times," he tells her. "At the first sign of complications, we'll move in."

He does not, Spencer notes with a mix of internal amusement and frustration, tell her that she'll be safe.

You're an FBI agent now, Gideon had told Spencer the first time they took her out into the field, a gawky too-tall probationary agent in a knee-length corduroy skirt and a sweater-vest, summed up and dismissed by the local cops within minutes. You don't put on that badge to be safe.

Spencer leans against the wall, unable to shake the cold clammy feeling Seattle always sets in her bones, and watches Ashley Seaver prepare to go undercover.

The unsub is targeting high-risk, middle-class blonde girls, and after three weeks of nothing, the BAU is prettying up one of their own to throw to the wolves.

The team is in the room, watching, quiet, and Spencer is extremely grateful that no one points out that Emily usually does this sort of thing.


Did, anyway.

Spencer traces the raised seam in her cardigan's cuff, letting the itch of the yarn snag on a rough edge of her fingernail, and watches the technician prepare the BAU's latest offering to a killer.

Spencer never plays a part in the back-stage preparations for the night's entertainment; it's easier to let Hotch position the players in their places on the stage. So when Seaver pulls her gaze away from Aaron and lets her attention drift to Spencer, it's... unexpected.

"Next time we have an unsub going after blonde twenty-somethings, you want to flip for undercover?" Seaver asks, her smile nearly perfect in its obliviousness.

Spencer doesn't react. Without taking her eyes off Seaver, she can extrapolate the reactions of the rest of her team. Derek, flexing his shoulders awkwardly as he reminds himself that Spencer can handle herself. Hotch, his eyelid twitching as he remembers what he said as he screamed at her in front of an emergency room of hostages, before Spencer could pull the ankle-holstered gun and shoot Phillip Dowd in the face.

Rossi will be watching Spencer with inscrutable eyes, thinking of Benjamin Cyrus and of cults and messiahs and fire.

(JJ would have looked out the window, remembering Tobias Hankel, remembering the dogs. But JJ is with them no longer.)

"You're already better at this than I am," Spencer says into the sudden quiet. "I've never figured out how to run in high heels."

Hotch steps in with more instructions, and they finish strapping Seaver together and toss her out into the night. They catch the unsub before he kills again, and after a straight twenty-four hours tearing through the man's house and his car and picking through his brain, Spencer finally cracks the code, and leads the team in hand to where the last of the bodies are buried.

Three women are dead and BAU is back on the jet to Quantico before the week is out.

It's either late or it's early and everyone is asleep, lulled by the white noise of forty thousand feet.

Everyone except Spencer.

She hasn't slept in days.

As she always does at times like these, Spencer curls up on the chair by the table, her knee-length skirt tucked demurely under her legs, sweater pulled close against the chill of memory. She arranges chess pieces as they had once been, in the middle of the last game she'd played with Jason Gideon, and she waits for the memories to come.

Every part of her aches. It started with her head two days after they arrived in Seattle, had settled into rigid muscle tension in her shoulders and spine soon after. Her legs ache from days standing at the whiteboard, trying to pry some sliver of insight loose from the dismembered bodies. And now that they have caught the killer, her whole body hurts with thinking of those they saved, and those they did not.

Spencer contemplates going for the ibuprofen in the first aid kit in the galley, but she'd have to pass Derek to do so, who will likely wake at the slightest movement. He gets twitchy when she's around pills, and it's late and far too early for Spencer to spend the mental energy on placating him, or conjuring up her own justification around painkillers. It's easier to just... ache.

"Doctor Reid."

The voice catches her unaware, and she nearly knocks over a white bishop. Seaver's voice, cautious and quiet and suddenly Spencer feels so very old.

Maybe this was what she made Gideon feel like, near the end.

"Agent Seaver," Spencer says deliberately, pushing all the chess pieces off the board with a sweep of her palm. "You did good work this week," she adds, because that's what one is supposed to do with new agents, isn't it? Encourage them while keeping them from running off on their own?

"Thank you," Seaver says, slipping into a chair with a feminine grace Spencer envies. Seaver indicates the chess board. "I didn't know you played."

"I don't," Spencer replies, putting the pieces away. Not anymore, she thinks, because Jason Gideon had been the last man she played with, and once he left (her), it wasn't interesting anymore.

"Oh," Seaver says awkwardly, looking away out the window. Her body telegraphs her every emotion and insecurity, at least to a seasoned profiler like Spencer Reid, PhD. Spencer toys with the idea of telling Seaver exactly what she's thinking, but no one likes that Sherlock Holmes crap on a good day, and today...

A killer is caught and three women are dead; it's not a good day at all.

So Spencer slides the chess board away and lets Seaver struggle, because Spencer has been doing this for years and she doesn't have anything left to prove to anyone, let alone the new girl on the team.

"I may have said something I shouldn't have, earlier in the week," Seaver finally gets out, her cheeks going slightly pink.

Spencer knew this was coming, has known for days. But she's trying to be supportive and mentoring, and so she doesn't look away. "You don't have anything to be sorry for."

"I... it's just that, Rossi said some things about you being undercover..."

This pulls Spencer up short. She'd imagined Derek or Garcia doing something behind her back, cautioning Seaver to cushion her words, but what the hell does David Rossi know about Spencer, anyway?

Seaver doesn't see any of this. "...and in the past sometimes things didn't work out so well."

Technically, this is true. Technically, too, Spencer can imagine Rossi's voice saying these words. Only that's not everything that Seaver's talking about, and Rossi would never tie such things back to Spencer's previous incidents, and this means Seaver has been listening to the gossips in the FBI, the ones who fill in the worst details of an agent's life under the guise of helping, and Spencer's hands twitch with memory.

It's not Seaver's fault; there are times Spencer brings this on herself by existing.

"I'm not sure if you've read any of Agent Rossi's published works," Spencer says when she can control her voice, "But sometimes he goes a bit over the top. A novelist's prerogative."

Her voice is shriller than normal from the tension, and across the aisle, Hotch twitches in his sleep.

"What happened at the commune in Colorado ended fine. For the most part."

Spencer has to stop again, because all she can remember are the bruises on Emily's face, from taking a beating meant for Spencer, and that's how she's going to remember Emily from now on, because Emily is dead and there was nothing Spencer could do to save her because Emily didn't even ask.

Emily is dead and Seaver is staring at Spencer, all wide eyes and newness, and Spencer was never this young. She walked into the FBI at twenty-one and she'll never walk out again.

"And those other times," Spencer goes on, digging her nails into her thigh under the table to keep her voice steady, because she is nothing if not skilled at lying to her co-workers. "Weren't undercover operations, so Rossi's situational examples don't apply."

"I see," Seaver says, her hesitation the only sign of her disbelief.

And because Seaver doesn't know Spencer yet, she doesn't comprehend how Spencer lets local law enforcement see the librarian clothes, the too-sharp cheekbones and awkwardly placed revolver on her hip, then write her off as not worth too much attention, in spite of her height, of the knife-sharp words that fall from her tongue, the way she thinks like the men that they hunt.

No one outside of the BAU thinks Spencer is dangerous.

Those inside the BAU remember that Spencer Reid once dug her own grave, and placed in it the man who would see her dead. They know she remembers every word read, every crime scene photograph seen, and can lead you in hand to where the bodies are buried.

One day, if she lasts in the BAU, Ashley Seaver will know these things as well.

Now, however, it is late and it's early and three women are dead on the ground in Seattle and Spencer doesn't want to do this anymore.

So Spencer leans closer to Seaver, and whispers in a stage voice, "Want to know why I don't do undercover?"

Seaver nods, eyes wary.

"I'm too tall," Spencer says, leaning back in her chair. The plane yaws three degrees to starboard, drifting slightly, and Spencer's brain tells her than they are likely somewhere over Minnesota. Seaver just stares at her. "Undercover usually means high heels and that puts me over six feet. How many unsubs will go for a victim that much taller than them?"

Seaver gets a slightly panicked expression, as if she hadn't expected there would be a quiz. "Not many?" she hazards.

"In all my time with the BAU, I've seen it happen twice," Spencer says, letting her gaze drift to the windows. Full dark outside, but the sun will rise over DC in less than an hour. Belatedly, she recalls that she is attempting an object lesson with Seaver. "But really, I meant what I said. You're far better with the high heels and chasing the bad guys. I'll watch from the sidelines."

"Okay," Seaver says, sounding relieved and uncertain at the same time. The younger woman gives Spencer a wan smile as she stands and heads to the back of the jet.

It's early and it's too late for this, and Spencer stares down at the deconstructed chessboard. Out of the corner of her eye, she spots a tiny movement, and her head turns automatically. Across the aisle, Aaron's eyes are open and he's staring at her with an intensity Spencer has grown to hate.

She wonders how much he heard.

She wonders what he's thinking about.

She remembers the feel of Aaron's small gun in her bound hands, the emergency room floor cold under her back as she rolled and aimed and killed a man.

No one outside the BAU thinks Spencer is dangerous, don't seem to remember she's killed two men while bound, beaten, unarmed, and close to death.

Spencer misses Emily. But Emily is dead, and sometimes Spencer thinks that Emily was the only one who wanted to see through Spencer's camouflage, seeing the cultivated fragility for the facade it is.

Now, Spencer stares back at Aaron as silence settles back over the jet's cabin.

Spencer Reid once dug her own grave, and placed in it the man who would see her dead. She doesn't need anyone to protect her from the big bad wolf.

She looks away first.

It doesn't mean anything.