Actions

Work Header

Stained in the Blood (of a whole generation)

Chapter Text

 Chapter 7:

2:40 pm, Saturday, Newark, New Jersey:

Morgan’s ears rang from Hotch’s double-tap and his nose filled with acrid smoke. He scrambled to his feet, his shoulder sore where he’d crashed into Teddy Altman. The room was engulfed in flame, the yellow and orange laced with blue. The door to the balcony stood open only a few steps away.

Teddy was on his feet milliseconds after Morgan, lunging across the bed to try and reach his mother. The fire rolled thick between them. Hotch crooked his arm over his face to shield himself from the heat and smoke as he vaulted Whitter’s prone form. Morgan grabbed Teddy, pulled him back, wrapped an arm around his shoulders to drag him out the door.

“Medic, we need a medic up here,” Morgan yelled into his radio as he hit fresh air, the sodden carpet giving way to the steel of the balcony under his feet. “We’ve got two down, agent inside.”

Teddy tried to break free from his hold, to push his way back in to the room. “Let. Me. Go!” Teddy yelled, wrenching his arm free from Morgan’s grip. He only managed a single step. Morgan grabbed him, and as he wrestled his arm behind his back a belch of flame from the doorway sent them both reeling.

“I have to help her!”

“Hotch!” Where the hell was he? Come on, man, come on- “You can’t go in there, kid!” Morgan pushed Teddy off into the waiting arms of a local officer. “Get him clear,” he ordered befowe turning to dive back into the flame and the fire. Sirens below, that would be the fire department, too slow, too late. He was going to go in and drag Hotch out by the scruff of his neck, fire or no fire.

He made it to the threshold just as a pair of dark shapes tumbled out. Hotch was on his feet but coughing. The shape in his arms was only barely recognizable as female, clothing black and fused to the flesh beneath. They made it down the stairs together, small flames dying out under Morgan’s hands as he helped Hotch lay her down, red embers smouldering at the edges of the fabric, her hair. She let out a shuddering breath. Morgan was holding his.

Hands tugged at him and he let the paramedics pull him back. Breathe, refocus. They had this. What was his next job?

The firefighters were taking over the scene now, one carrying the limp body of Kurt Whitter out of the room, the rest unspooling hoses and running past in heavy booted feet.

Hotch was being harassed by a medic even as he waved off the oxygen mask she was trying – and failing – to get over his face.

Police were holding motel guests and staff back behind a line at the edge of the parking lot, a pack of teens clustered there. Morgan recognized all of their faces, if only from the pictures Garcia had sent. He flagged down one of the officers in the cordon and pointed them out. “Get these kids over to the side, make sure they don’t leave.”

Paramedics had Sarah Altman, but from the set of their faces and the way they weren’t moving at top speed to load her onto the gurney, there wasn’t a whole lot of hope there.

And Ted Altman; Teddy was standing, statue-tall and still while a paramedic checked him over, his eyes ever-fixed on the medical team working by the ambulance.

The lead EMS shook her head. She called it, signed the clipboard, peeled off her gloves.

Teddy held on a breath more. He collapsed to his knees, staring mutely.

Behind the police barricade, Billy Kaplan lost his ever-loving mind.

Hotch said something to the officer holding Kaplan back and the cop released him. Billy tore across the parking lot, kicking up pebbles as he went, and flung himself around Teddy, buried his face in Teddy’s shoulder. Teddy’s arms came up around Billy and they clung to each other, Teddy’s fingers clutching desperately at Billy’s shirt.

Morgan’s throat caught with a tickle that had been there since he’d hauled Altman out of the fire, and he coughed to shake it loose.

“You need to go and get yourself checked out.” Hotch nodded toward the ambulance.

“Just as soon as you do, Hotch,” he replied, with a pointed look at the scorch marks on Hotch’s sleeves, the little dark hairs on his forearms that had curled back against his skin from the heat, the little tremor of a cough that he was doing his best to suppress.

One of the paramedics zipped a long black body bag closed, and Hotch turned, just a quarter-step, so that it was no longer in his field of vision. Hotch raised an eyebrow at Morgan. Morgan met his gaze.

“They’re waiting for us back at the precinct,” Hotch changed the subject. “New Jersey PD is organizing transportation for the kids, and they’ll meet us there. Altman and Kaplan will ride with us.”

Morgan shook his head, scrubbed his hand along the back of his neck. “What’s he going to do now, Hotch? The only mother he ever knew is dead. His biological parents died before he even knew they existed. Everything he thought he knew about himself, hell, even his name, was a lie. That’s one hell of a stressor.”

“Kids are resilient. He’ll adapt, because he has to.” Hotch looked up and over Morgan’s shoulder, and a small smile might have flickered in his eyes for a moment. “And I don’t think he’s lost quite everything.”

Morgan looked over at them one more time, following Hotch’s glance. The boys looked impossibly small and young, somehow, curled around and in and over each other. “Maybe not,” Morgan shook his head, though. What was real and good and right at seventeen – that could change a hell of a lot by the time you hit twenty. It usually did. “Let’s hope it’s enough.”

 

3:45 pm, Saturday, 19th Precinct, NYC:

“Their parents – or representatives – have started to show up,” JJ tucked the stack of folders under her arm, Prentiss and Morgan trailing her back through the station. She glanced down the hallway toward reception as she spoke, watched Kate Bishop argue with the lawyer that her father had sent in lieu of coming himself.

Morgan nodded. “What about the Altman kid?”

“He’s not physically hurt beyond some bruises and scratches, but he’s still in shock, I think,” JJ frowned. The young man had tried to be a hero, and ended up a witness to something no-one should ever have to watch.

Thank god for Morgan; at least from what he’d told them, he’d managed to keep Teddy away from the worst of it. Especially after. No-one needed those images seared into their mind. It was bad enough when it was ‘only’ pictures of victims, and not someone you loved.

“Doctor Kaplan’s sitting with him. And we’re waiting to hear back from Social Services about Tom Shepherd.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.” Prentiss frowned. “They’re stretched thin everywhere, and a runaway seventeen year old isn’t going to be on the top of anyone’s priority list.”

“You’re not my father! Don’t even pretend that you care!” The shout came from the bullpen, a young girl’s voice, and JJ stopped short, turned to look.

“Hold up,” Morgan gestured to Prentiss, lifted his chin in a quick nod in the direction of Officer Burdick’s desk. He was standing, hands raised in front of him, his stepdaughter Cassie jabbing a finger at him. She barely missed connecting with his chest and he took a step forward into her personal space, looming over her short frame.

“If you don’t want me to act like a parent, Cassie, fine. Let me act like a cop. By all rights, you and your friends should be up on serious charges right now! We’ll start with obstruction of justice, interfering in a police investigation, interfering in a federal investigation, negligent homicide-“

“Hey, hey now-“ Morgan took a step in, but Burdick ignored the new arrivals. His colleagues were heads-down, for the most part, ignoring the fight. JJ got the feeling that this sort of scene wasn’t all that unusual around here.

“All we did was help a friend, Blake. If you want to send us to jail for that, then go ahead!” Cassie’s voice was shrill, tears in her eyes as she began to verge on the hysterical. One hand was balled up like a fist, but she didn’t look like she was going to take a swing.

Burdick growled, his hands gesturing faster in front of him as he let himself be baited. “You’re just like your father! Arrogant, reckless, stubborn, never thinking first!”

JJ was moving across the room before she could formulate a proper plan, the venom between the two spiralling further out of control the longer she hesitated. She’d thought that maybe Burdick would have been able to de-escalate things, but he was as caught up in the moment as his step-daughter, the adrenaline and near-misses of the afternoon (near-misses for the kids, anyway) caught up with everyone.

“My father was a hero!”

“Scott Lang was a thrill junkie, and his recklessness got people killed. What if you had gotten hurt on your little joyride? What do you think your mother would have done?”

“Enough!” JJ pitched her voice loud enough to carry, and it sliced through the thick tension. Burdick and Cassie both stopped and stared at her, and JJ drew herself up to her full height. “Do you really think this is the right time or place?” She dropped her volume back to conversational and stared up at Burdick. She didn’t get quite close enough to push herself between them, but close enough so that she could if she had to. Burdick didn’t seem the type to strike out physically, at least not at a kid, and not with everyone in the room watching, but the signal itself would be clear.

Even more of an audience had gathered. Jonas Pym was standing in the doorway of the bullpen with his father, the older man’s hand tight on the nape of Jonas’ neck in a gesture both controlling and protective. Jonas looked furious, his hands balled into fists. Eli Bradley, who had been sitting in a chair against the wall, was standing as well, straining forward, ready – she’d put money on it – to jump in and start laying waste if JJ hadn’t interrupted first.  

Burdick’s eyes flared and for a minute it looked like he was about to turn his anger and frustration onto JJ. She held her ground, didn’t step back, and the heat in his expression faded as he struggled for control of his temper.

“They’re just kids, man.” Morgan was by Burdick’s side now, even and calm. “They were trying to do the right thing.”   

Cassie was close to tears, her breathing quick and shallow, and JJ edged back a little so she was standing closer to the girl while Morgan talked Burdick down. “That’s why we have rules,” Burdick bit off, not looking at Morgan. “So that well-meaning kids trying to ‘do the right thing’ don’t get other people killed.”

“That wasn’t our fault?” Cassie’s voice trembled and upticked when she spoke. She was tough and proud, yes, but in that moment JJ remembered how very young she was. “That wasn’t our fault,” she repeated, with more confidence. “If we hadn’t found Tommy, and made him call you – we tried, Blake! But your guys hung up on Jonas, and you didn’t answer the phone when I called, and we tried. But we were the only ones left. And so we did it. Ourselves. And we helped.” She glanced at JJ, her lower lip trembling, but only a little, and her chin high. “You know we did.”

Blake pulled out his phone, scrolled through something and stared at the screen for a moment, before lowering his head with a dark frown.

JJ hesitated, torn. Her immediate impulse was to reassure, to soothe; to agree and tell Cassie that it would be okay. That their impulsive race to help a friend had been useful and decent and right.

But.

But they’d ignored common sense, and the law, placed Ted Altman in a position where he’d had to watch his mother die. And there was no way to roll back the clock and find out if Whitter could have been talked down. If Teddy hadn’t been there, would Hotch and Morgan have been able to do their jobs? Could they have been taking Sarah Altman home right now, shaken but ultimately unharmed?

(And if they had, then what? A trial for Whitter, a trial for Lenore James? What would have happened to the Altmans then? But at least she would have been alive.)

“What Kurt Whitter did to Mrs. Altman wasn’t your fault.” JJ could say that much, at least. “He killed a lot of people before today. There was nothing you could have done to stop him.” Cassie met her eyes, nodded. 

“Cass-“ Jonas was calling to her from the doorway, and Cassie turned, gave him a tight smile.

“Come on,” Morgan was still talking to Blake, who scowled in response.

JJ looked from one to the other, caught Morgan’s eye and nodded. Prentiss had retreated back to talk to Hotch in the hallway, their hands moving and flickering in and out of the shadow as Prentiss filled him in.

“Let’s go,” JJ relaxed her posture deliberately, gave Burdick a gentle, professional smile. “Take a minute, we’ll go get a cup of coffee. Morgan can stay with the kids for a bit, while everyone cools down.” Morgan’s eyebrow flickered up at her when she made the offer, but he leaned back against Burdick’s desk, and nodded once.

She heard Morgan’s voice pick up where she’d left off as JJ followed Burdick away, using that careful tone he had when he was trying not to sound like he was impressed. “Yeah, you helped. And it was brave. I’m not saying it was smart, because that was one of the dumbest stunts I’ve ever seen pulled. But it was brave.”

 

4:15 pm, Saturday, 19th Precinct, NYC:

The shouting had stopped, but the hectic activity in the police station had not. Everywhere except around Tommy Shepherd. He’d given his statement and then been stuck in a chair in the corner, told ‘wait here, someone will be coming for you shortly.’

Only, no-one had.

What a shock.

The door was right there. In half a minute he could be out, on the street again, free to-

To do what?

 Kate had asked, back at the house, and he hadn’t come up with a real answer. But anywhere would be better than here. Better than sitting on a hard plastic chair in a police station, everyone passing by knowing that he’d been there for ages, would be there for hours still.

Because nobody was coming.

The door at the end of the hall opened.

He was FBI – not the hopeless suit with no taste for sarcasm who had done his interview, but a skinny guy in an argyle vest who must have gotten beat up a lot as a kid.

Guys like that ended up being the sneaky ones you really had to watch out for.

Tommy let go of the straps of his backpack, kicked it surreptitiously back under his chair like he hadn’t been a ten-second countdown away from bolting.

“You’re Thomas Shepherd, aren’t you?” the agent asked.

“Tommy,” Tommy answered. “Yeah. Who are you?” He put his swagger on, looked FBI-guy straight in the eye, refused to flinch. Let him be the one to look away.

He didn’t.

“My name is Spencer Reid. I talked to you on the phone earlier today.”

“Oh, yeah, hey, sure.” Tommy leaned back, draped his arms over the chairs to either side of him as casually as he could muster. “I remember. ‘Everything’s going to be fine. Help us get the bad guy. Save the cheerleader, save the world.’ Nice job your guys did on the rescue there, Spence. My faith in the system has been restored.”

Tommy braced himself for the yelling. Waited for the usual lines about respect, and tone, and ‘do you know how much trouble you’re in, young man.’

It didn’t come. Agent Reid just gave him an odd little frown. “The ‘system’ is nowhere near perfect,” Reid admitted. “Because a system is just people, and people make mistakes.” Tommy flinched.

“Tell me something I don’t know.” Tommy recovered, rolled his eyes. What’cha gonna do with me now, Spencer Reid? I’m not buying what you’re trying to sell.

Reid seemed to take that as a challenge. “You didn’t run away from the transition house because you were unhappy there.” 

His stare went deeper than skin, and Tommy felt like a bug under glass. He should have made that break for the door when he had the chance.

“You ran away because you were starting to get too comfortable. You were starting to like people there, to consider letting them in, and that scared you.” Reid turned so that he was sitting forward on the chair, not quite facing Tommy anymore, but still holding him with that peel-you-open kind of look. “Up until now, the people you trusted have been the ones to betray you. You ran away because it was less painful than waiting for this new group to reject you, first.”

“Sure. Because I get my kicks out of abandoning people,” Tommy scoffed, pushed back, tried to get back to a place where Reid was uncertain around him.

Reid’s calm didn’t waiver. “No, you don’t. But it makes you feel safer. Like your tree house did at home.” Tommy hated him. A lot. “You were tucked away, out of sight, but close enough for your parents to find you if they wanted to.”

Tommy stopped, a tight punch to the gut pushing the air out of his lungs. He saw a glint in Reid’s eye and knew that he’d noticed.

“It must have hurt when they didn’t come looking for you, the night of the fire.” Reid was poking at him with words again, looking for another weak spot.

Tommy looked away. ”You guys talked to Frank and Mary.”

“My colleagues did, yes.”

Tommy stared at his hands, at his knees as he pulled them up and into him, at the wall. At everything but the headshrinker next to him, pretending to be just another FBI agent. He swallowed, now. Felt every one of his seventeen – almost eighteen – years, and not a day older.

He had a mother who hadn’t wanted to get better; not even to keep him. He had parents who only wanted him until they got to know him. He’d burned his bridges with Miss Campbell and the others at the home; they wouldn’t have him back now.

“Whatever,” he said, crossing his arms in front of himself and forcing his muscles, tight and tense, to relax back into the chair, all casual-like. “No matter what they saw or didn’t see, Frank was never going to believe me.”

Reid shifted in his chair, all gangly limbs and awkward. He didn’t say anything.

“Aren’t you going to ask me how that makes me feel?” Tommy sneered. Go away. Go away and stop picking through my head. You’re wrong.

“Do you want me to ask you about your feelings?” Reid looked like a woebegone spaniel when he cocked his head like that, brushed his floppy hair away from his eyes with a flutter.

“I don’t have feelings. Doesn’t that make me one of your sociopaths? You may as well arrest me now and save yourself the trouble of tracking me down again later.”

Reid just looked at him. There was a moment where Tommy was sure that he was going to laugh, but then he was all quiet and… well-meaning. And that was worse. “You don’t display any of the standard indicators of sociopathy,” Reid said instead. “You have feelings. You simply don’t like them. And that makes you very normal.”

He had no snappy answer to that, and he sat still for a moment. Anything he said in denial would get twisted around into another data point. Agreeing meant he’d be expected to share his inner world and that was not happening.

He sat in silence. Reid sat quietly beside him. After a few minutes, the time ticking by on the large round wall clock so loud that it hurt, Tommy spoke. “How long before it stops hurting?” His voice sounded small and thin even to his own ears, but it was too late to take it back.

Reid frowned. “I can’t really say. But hurting can be a good sign.”

“Oh yeah. It’s fantastic.”

“It means you’re still alive. And the bad guys didn’t win.”

The chair was digging into his back and legs. Tommy shifted in the seat, got both feet back on the floor. Better. “Save the kumbaya speeches for Billy and the rest of the Power Rangers, Agent Reid. I don’t do inspirational hugging.”

One of the other FBI guys – Old Mafia Guy, this time – stuck his head around the corner and gestured to Reid. Reid stood, looked thoughtful, then patted down about five of his pockets before he pulled a business card out of one of them. He was leaving, then.

“Take my card, just – just in case you feel like talking. Or, sitting. Sitting works. Call me, whenever.”

“Don’t hold your breath.” Tommy turned his head.

But Reid kept holding out the card. And to make him go away, Tommy took it.

He tucked it in his pocket. There weren’t any garbage cans nearby; that’s all. And he zippered the pocket closed.

 

7:00 pm, Saturday, 19th Precinct, NYC:

The thrum of the jet’s engines was soothing, a white noise that helped the decompression phase of any case. Rossi signed his name to the bottom of the form in the folder and flipped the cover closed. Aaron Hotchner was sitting and staring at his own paperwork in the seat across from him, eyes glazed, not registering anything outside of his own head. Rossi shifted deliberately and dropped the folder on the small table between them, directly in what should have been Aaron’s line of sight.

Aaron looked up, his focus snapping back, and his eyebrow flickered once.

“So what’s going to happen to those kids now?” Rossi asked. Conversation about the case was safe, and better than letting Aaron dwell on anything personal right now.

“Thomas Shepherd and Ted Altman are both close to eighteen,” Hotch replied. “They’d age out of the system long before they could get any kind of concrete placement. It’s not worth the paperwork, at this point.”

“And?” Rossi raised his own eyebrow in return. There was no way Hotch – or JJ, for that matter – would leave things so unresolved.

“The Kaplans have offered to take both boys in, at least long enough for them to finish high school. Doctor Kaplan’s already put in a petition for temporary guardianship.”

Laughter erupted from the group at the back of the plane. Rossi heard Morgan groan, followed immediately by Prentiss gloating. “That’s not a bad deal.” Rossi said, satisfied. It wasn’t the tidiest of ways to clean up loose ends, but it was a damn sight better than many got.

Hotch grimaced, his brow furrowing slightly before he replied. “That’s alright for Ted Altman; he’s been close to the Kaplan family for a while now. Shepherd’s a different story. He may have a genetic link, but realistically, they’re complete strangers.”

“True. But on the other hand, Doctor Kaplan has training in dealing with the kinds of issues they’re likely to face. They know Thomas’ history, both criminal and psychological, and they’re taking him in anyway. You can’t underestimate the value of that kind of acceptance. I have a feeling they’ll be fine.”

Another explosion of laughter from the back of the plane caught Rossi’s attention, as did Morgan rising to his feet. “No way, Reid; you’re not impartial. We need Hotch or Rossi up in here to settle this.”

Morgan began to make his way up toward the front of the jet. Rossi watched him, as Aaron shook his head one last time. “They’ve got a long way to go before those kids will be ‘fine.’ For their sakes, Dave, I hope you’re right.”

 

4:30 pm, Friday, Downtown Manhattan, NY:

“No, you go in the middle. You’re not pulling a runner again.” Kate pushed Tommy into the booth at the diner, intent on trapping him behind the scratched and stained formica table. He made a show of stumbling, flailing his arms and grabbing at her. Eli followed, ended up on one side of the booth with Tommy, Kate somehow in the middle, Billy and Teddy sprawled on the other side.

Ted looked like hell, had been pale and withdrawn and quiet for the past week. He was supposed to go back to school on Monday for the first time since – since. It was a crapshoot as to whether he was going to make it, as far as Eli could figure.

“I’m not hungry.” Teddy was shaking his head at whatever Billy had been suggesting, pushing away the plate that the waitress had set in front of them.

“Seriously. You have to eat something other than cheese strings sooner or later, or you’re going to wake up one day with a feeding tube inserted. My mother’s that devious and connected.”

“Yeah,” Tommy snorted, “because the guy’s at risk of wasting away to nothing over there.” And he reached for Kate’s onion rings.

Kate jabbed at his wandering hand with her fork. Tommy yanked it away before she actually made contact.

Eli smothered a laugh behind his fist. He wasn’t sure, for starters, how Tommy would take it. As much as he looked like Billy (or a vaguely punked-out version of Billy, with the bleached hair) and how tempting it was to forget and treat him like Billy, he was a completely different person.

“Hey, guys.” Eli looked up at the sound of Cassie’s voice to see her walking in to the diner, Jonas trailing behind her. She stopped at their table and dove for Teddy first. He let out a mild ‘oof’ of surprise as she wrapped her arms around him – and the half of Billy that was practically fused to Teddy’s side – and gave him a hug.

“Hey, you,” Kate ruffled Cassie’s hair and yanked on Tommy’s arm to pull him further around the table. Jonas and Cassie packed themselves into the booth. That left Tommy squished against Kate – which he was obviously enjoying, damn it – and Eli squashed between Jonas and Tommy. Which he was not enjoying nearly as much.

Between the crush and the movement, and Jonas’ stupid pointy elbows, and Kate looping a protective arm around Teddy, it took Eli a moment to notice that his fries were missing.

No, not missing. They were in front of Teddy now, and Tommy was distracting him, engaging Kate in a fencing duel with their silverware. Teddy was watching, hand moving between the plate and his mouth entirely on autopilot, and his eyes looked a little more alive.

“So are you not grounded anymore?” Kate was asking Cassie, and she tossed her long black hair back over her shoulder.

“Are you kidding?” Cassie groaned. “I’m grounded until I’m thirty. I’m actually at the library right now.”

“That’s the spirit!” Tommy lifted a water glass and clinked it against the one that the waitress had just set down in front of Cassie.

Jonas shuffled over a little bit to give Eli room to breathe. “And Officer Burdick thought I was the bad influence.”

“I can’t stay long,” Cassie interrupted Jonas. “But I’m here now!”

“How’s school going?” Jonas asked Tommy, leaning forward to see around Cassie and Eli. “You transferred, right?”

“Yeah,” Tommy looked up, seeming surprised at the attention. He nodded anyway. “It means I’m going to have to stare at that every day in the cafeteria-“ he jerked his thumb at Billy and Teddy, Teddy’s hands wrapped around Billy’s, and Billy’s head resting on his shoulder. “But so far the teachers suck slightly less than my last school.” He shrugged, eyes flickering to the door.

He watched the door, and Eli watched him, but Tommy made no move to run.

--

The air outside was colder when they left than it had been when Eli had arrived at the diner. A few snowflakes drifted lazily downward through the darkening afternoon sky.

“Fries?” Eli pinned Tommy with a look, before he and Billy and Teddy could take off for the bus, and home.

“He needed them more than you,” Tommy fired back, hands in his pockets and tension behind his fake smile.

“Yeah, whatever, Robin Hood,” Eli snorted. Billy might still be on the fence about him, and if Tommy didn’t stop hitting on Kate he was likely to find himself maimed (by Kate, not by Eli), but overall, the guy wasn’t bad. He was starting to grow on him, anyway.

“You owe me fries next week,” Eli said, pulled his backpack on over his shoulder, smiled.

“Assuming I’m still around by then.”

He was.

 

Epilogue:

Six weeks later, Dr. Reid gets a phone call. It lasts 83 seconds.

Subsequent calls are much longer.

--

Eight years after that, an envelope arrives at Quantico, addressed to the BAU. It lands on Dave Rossi’s desk, and he opens it. The card inside is made of heavy cream cardstock, the Thank You on the front engraved and touched with silver. The photograph mounted inside makes Rossi’s day.

The kids from New York are all older now, of course, the short, neat beard that Billy sports one sign of that new maturity. The matching tuxedos that he and Teddy are wearing are a little inappropriate for a daytime wedding, but who's going to tell that to two grooms who look so happy? They're toasting the unseen photographer with flutes of champagne, their friends beside them.

A small diamond sits on Cassie’s left ring finger, a slim steel band on the littlest finger of the hand that Jonas has snug around her waist. Eli, Tommy and Kate stand guard on either side of Billy and Teddy, Tommy further away from the others. He still smirks rather than smiles, but his eyes are softer now. His hair is still bleached white.

The handwritten note scrawled below the picture reads ‘As you can see, we’re doing just fine.’ A second, neater hand beneath that has written, ‘Come by NYC sometime; we’ve still got half the cake in the freezer.’

Rossi smiles, and sets the card aside. Later that day, he’ll put it up where everyone will see it. Later still, Morgan will scan it and send the file to Prentiss, now far off in London.

His phone rings. It’s reception, and he glances at the clock on the wall when he recognizes the voice.

 “Agent Rossi? Agent Shepherd is here for his orientation.” Right on time.

And Rossi smiles. “Inform Doctor Reid. And let Tom know that we’ll be right down.”

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. – Maya Angelou