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Burning Bridges

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Part 1

Anger.

There was only anger inside her. So much rage and anger.

It swelled and peaked as she drew ever nearer, trying to swallow her up, as she waited; she was always waiting. Waiting for him to come, and she knew he he would, he always did. And then she could finally have her revenge.

The anger peaked again, and she felt like she would drown in it, until she wailed with it, screeching out her rage into the cold, silent room.

He would pay. She would make him pay.

****

“Kid!”

Spencer jumps in surprise at the loud voice, attention snapping to Morgan where he stands a few feet away.

“You coming, or what?”

There’s no impatience behind the voice, just mild amusement and Spencer knows he’s been caught staring. He ducks his head as his face blooms red and he scrambles to gather his things and join Morgan where the other man is waiting.

Derek Morgan.

Morgan is a bit of a mystery to Reid. Morgan is the captain of the basketball team. And for some reason, Derek Morgan is friends with Spencer Reid.

Spencer knows how it happened; he isn’t entirely sure on the why.

It was the end of the last semester, Spencer's first at college and he had managed to get through the entire semester without talking to single classmate. A fact that hadn't bothered Spencer at all. It was actually a nice change from the hell that had been highschool.

And then Reid’s roommate had had the brilliant idea of dragging him along to the last basketball game of the year.

And Reid had protested. Oh how he’d protested. It was the end of the semester, he had study to do (which, of course was completely unnecessary, hello eidetic memory), but his roommate had physically pulled him out the door. Which admittedly wasn’t hard. Spencer admits there isn’t a lot to him, other than height and hair.

The home team had lost.

It was a good game and their team had played well, but when his roommate had unintentionally said, ‘I don’t understand how they lost! They played so well!’, right next to Spencer’s ear, he felt obliged to explain it to him.

Apparently in ear-shot of one Derek Morgan. Who had clearly thought the explanation was miraculous, instead of the rather simple tactics and logistics that it was to Spencer and he had immediately convinced the current couch to bring Spencer in as co-coach; whether Spencer was interested or not.

That was the how. The why that had Spencer confused, was why Morgan seemed to take that as a good reason to accompany Reid around campus, why Morgan sat with him in all their classes now and why Morgan invited him to gatherings and outings and parties as if they were friends.

Spencer didn't understand; but he wasn’t going to protest.

Being Derek’s friend wasn’t bad, and he wasn’t getting bullied by the man so who was Spencer to complain. Besides, Morgan knew Hotch.

“Guys! Guys, before you all leave…”

Speak of the devil.

The T.A’s voice booms through the lecture hall, trying to get everyone’s attention before the student’s scatter like ants, off to do whatever normal college students do. Spencer wouldn’t know.

“Have a good long weekend, all of you. Remember there was a young man murdered just a few weeks ago, so be safe and stick together and enjoy your Halloween!”

And just like that, the lecture hall is a flurry of noise and motion, frenzied in a way that it wasn’t just minutes before, like all of the students needed reminding that it was Halloween and now they all had somewhere very important to be.

Spencer flicks one last glance up at the T.A and meets his gaze. Shocked and caught of guard to find the T.A looking in his direction, Spencer snaps his head down to his desk, organising his books and trying to shove them into his bag as he blushes furiously, before he stumbles gracelessly out of his seat to join Morgan.

*****

“What were you so involved in before, huh?” Morgan asks him and Spencer snaps his face up from his feet to stare in shock at the man's face.

They're headed across campus now, to the library and Spencer almost trips with the panic that shoots through him at the question. Why had he been so obvious!?

“You know I can introduce you to her if you want.” Morgan offers, grinning manically .

Spencer’s still staring at the other man, but now it’s all confusion.

What?

Morgan obviously notices the confusion in Spencer’s expression because he clarifies. “JJ and I are friends. I could introduce you.” He repeats and nudges his head to the left.

Spencer’s gaze follows the gesture and there, in the distance is JJ.

The beautiful, blond, female basketball captain, Jennifer (or JJ to her friends, of which Spencer definitely is not) is clutching her books to her chest and speaking quietly to the real object of Spencer’s preoccupation.
Spencer exhales in relief, but thankfully he thinks it comes across as nervousness.

“What ah… what would I even say to her?” He has no idea how to tell Morgan the truth about himself, or if he even wants to. Better to play along.

“I dunno, Pretty Boy.” There’s sarcasm dripping from every word. “She’s the basketball captain, and you’re the basketball coach. How could you two ever have anything in common?” Morgan looks at him with his classic you’re an idiot expression; eyebrows raised.

Spencer chuckles, self-deprecatingly and ducks his head. That’s a good point.

“I don’t think she’d be impressed with my statistics.” He jokes. Reid doesn’t know why, because he loves statistics; but from what he’s learnt from Morgan, most people don’t share his affinity for them. He imagines JJ is the kind of person Morgan would classify amongst the ‘most’ category.

Morgan laughs out loud. “Now that’s for damn sure!” And he laughs some more. “I’m sure you could manage to have a normal conversation with JJ about basketball without spouting off some statistic or another.”

Morgan sounds so sure, but Spencer is highly doubtful. He’s pretty certain there isn’t a definition for ‘normal conversation’; he remembers everything he’s ever read, and he hasn’t once come across that.

“Tell you what,” Morgan isn’t finished. “She’ll be at the party tomorrow. I’ll introduce you to her and I’ll bet you… twenty dollars you can have a conversation with her without resorting to statistics.” Morgan announces and then he clearly is finished, because he slaps Spencer on the shoulder and strides away.

“Wait, Morgan!” Reid protests and hurries to catch up to the other man. He wasn’t even planning on going to Morgan’s party. “I-” he tries once he’s level with Morgan again.

Morgan doesn’t even let him start. “No! You’re coming. And you’re talking to JJ. Make sure you have a costume. I’ll come and drag you there if I have to.”

Reid fish-mouths for a moment before snapping his mouth closed and sighing. He’s run the variables of this conversation through his head and he can’t see a way to get out of this party. Guess defeat it is.

He nods slightly and Morgan beams next to him, slapping him on the shoulder again.

“Great!” And that’s the end of the conversation because they’ve reached the library.

*****

It’s not the first time he’s read this book, but David Rossi’s detailing of criminal profiling makes the book different from anything else he can get his hands on.

The sound of someone clearing their throat less than a foot away from his desk, jerks Spencer out of his concentration of the detailed psychoanalysis of Jeffrey Dahmer.

He looks up toward the sound, and over the top of the ten books he has stacked in front of him waiting to be read, is the T.A that Spencer has been preoccupied with all semester.

Aaron Hotchner.

Everything about Jeffrey Dahmer, David Rossi, criminal psychology and even the quiet sounds of the library make a hasty exit out Spencer’s brain. The only thing left in there is how dashingly handsome Hotch’s face is.

Hotch, as everyone calls him is even more of a mystery to Spencer than Derek is.

Spencer knows almost nothing about the man, except that he’s the T.A for Spencer’s criminal psychology class and is halfway through his Masters degree in law.

And he seems to come across Spencer in the library a lot.

Spencer suddenly notices the smirk stretched across the man’s face, who’s leaning casually against a bookshelf waiting for Spencer to snap out of it.

Reid blushes furiously again; just like every other time this has happened and stammers out, “Ah… h-hi.”

“It’s fascinating, isn’t it?” Hotch nods his head toward the book Spencer still has open in front of him. “How they took psychology to a whole new level.”

Spencer knows that Hotch is his Criminal Psychology professor’s T.A and therefore, he shouldn’t be surprised that Hotch has read David Rossi’s book; but he is and the words are trailing out of his mouth before he can really think about them.

“Well, actually, the methodology that Special Agent Rossi details in his book combine many aspects of studying human behaviour; not just psychology. At the BAU, or the behavioural science unit as they were first known, they call it ‘profil-’”

He’s cut off in the middle of his explanation by a loud shushing coming from a desk a few paces to his right.

“Sorry.” He hisses out and looks back to Hotch, picking up where he left off. “‘Profiling’. It encompasses many forms of human sciences.” He’s leaning toward Hotch, hissing out his words, trying to keep quiet but project them out enough that Hotch can hear him. He’s about to continue when something about Hotch’s expression ticks in his brain and he pauses.

Hotch is smirking at him. Again.

“Are you… You already know all of this.” It’s a statement but he looks up for Hotch’s confirmation anyway.

The other man nods, eyes sparkling. “But it’s fun watching you ramble.”

Oh, now hang on.

“I wasn’t rambling!” Reid protests, but his voice suddenly goes high and then he’s blushing again. He glances up at Hotch’s chuckle.

“Sorry, Spence. You’re too easy.”

Spence.

His entire body goes hot and tingly, just like every time the nickname rolls of Hotch’s tongue.

Spencer’s never had a nickname. Well, not a nice one anyway. Except for ‘Pretty Boy’, he supposes, but Spencer thinks Morgan is physically incapable of not giving everyone around him a nickname; besides he hasn’t entirely decided if that’s a nice nickname.

Thankfully, Hotch never seems to notice his reaction to the nickname.

“Are you going to Morgan’s party tomorrow night?”

Well. Spencer hadn’t been expecting that. He nods his head dejectedly for a moment before he mutters quietly, “Morgan’s making me go.”

Hotch chuckles, a little longer than Spencer thinks is really necessary, before he pulls himself together and nods like he’s pleased. “Good. I’ll have someone to talk to then.”

And wow, Spencer was definitely not expecting that.

But before Reid can pull his metaphorical jaw off the floor, someone else catches Hotch’s attention. Spencer watches helplessly as JJ steps up close to where Hotch is still leaning against the shelf, leaning in close to talk quietly into his ear. Spencer blushes for no reason and ducks his head.

What did you expect? Of course he’s interested in JJ.

He looks up at the two of them again, because he’s a glutton for self-punishment and his gaze is suddenly caught by Hotch’s, who’s staring at him with a blank expression on his face, while he nods at whatever JJ is saying to him.

Strangely though, the gaze blankets Spencer in warmth.

And then JJ says something to Hotch and his face snaps away, looking down to JJ and he pushes himself out of the lean he had maintained against the shelf, turning to go.

He turns back to Spencer a moment later, looking apologetic. “Sorry, Spence,” He waves a hand out to his side, like he’s attempting to swat away something that only he can see, “I have to go. I’ll see you at the party?.” He asks, but he doesn’t wait for a response before he turns again and strides out of the library with JJ by his side.

Spencer nods even though Hotch can’t see it.

Spencer turns back to David Rossi’s words of wisdom and tries to forget about the entire encounter.

He doesn’t really succeed.

*****

Part 2

It’s close. So close.

She only needs to wait a little longer and then he’ll be here.

He’ll be here and she’ll have her revenge and everything will be better.

She wails again as the rage takes her over, wails and wails, but the anger remains. It never leaves.

*****

“Pretty Boy! You made it! And I didn’t even have to drag you here.”

The unadulterated pleasure in Morgan’s voice makes Spencer duck his head and chuckle happily to himself.

But he’s nervous about the party; not only because of the masses of people he doesn’t know how to talk to, or because Morgan will no doubt be trying to set him up with JJ, but because he secretly loves Halloween and he thinks the costume he managed to come up with in a single afternoon is pretty damn cool. He’s probably going to be the only one though.

“Oh man, Reid, you look great! But I’m not even going to try to guess who you are. Probably a character from some obscure book, huh?”

And there it is. But at least Morgan doesn’t think he looks weird. Despite not knowing what the costume Reid is wearing is supposed to be, Derek still seems to be happy that he’s here.

And somehow, the nerves are gone. Spencer grins and looks back up to Morgan, wanting to repay the compliment, but he can’t quite get the words out of his mouth. Morgan does look amazing, despite the dirty shirt; but the dark leather jacket and pants fit him like a glove and seem to accentuate all his best assets. Reid guess that the strange plate-thing over his right shoulder and the over-the-top knee brace on his left leg are supposed to be clues, not to mention the myriad of tools and weapons that seem to be attached to Morgan by some sort of magic, but Reid has no idea what it all represents.

“You look… you look great too, Morgan! But ah...What- Who are you supposed to be?”

“Reid!” The tone was affronted. “Who am I supposed to be!? Isn’t it obvious?” Morgan gestures to himself in a large sweep as if Spencer has had his eyes closed the entire time and looking is what Spencer needs to do more of. Reid just stares helplessly and shakes his head.

“Um…?”

Derek throws his hands out to his sides, presenting the full costume to Spencer’s scrutiny as Morgan’s voice changes from incredulous to doubtful. “I’m Mad Max?” at Spencer’s lack of recognition he continues, “Come on, kid, please tell me you’ve seen Mad Max!”

“I’ve heard of it?” Spencer admits and Morgan immediately groans.

But then he chuckles and slaps a hand down on Spencer’s shoulder, nudging him into the house. “Christ, Pretty Boy,” back to ‘Pretty Boy’, that’s a good sign, “You have to get your head out of those books every once in awhile and catch up with the world around you.”

Spencer is about to explain to Morgan that movies do not make up the world around him and that there are much more pressing world issues that are almost never addressed in movies, but then he catches sight of something across the room, and the words get stuck in his throat.

Hotch.

Hotch dressed as Superman.

And Spencer is caught again, unable to tear his gaze away from the man.

Reid would almost think it ridiculous and arrogant to dress up as Superman, even on Halloween, except the man is dressed in black slacks and a simple blue button down, opened to about midway down, revealing the classic red diamond ‘S’ surrounded by blue. Hotch’s dark hair is slicked back and a pair of thick-framed glasses perch on his nose and the man looks absolutely stunning.

Thankfully, the other man doesn’t notice that Spencer’s about to start drooling on the floor, because he’s once again got his entire focus on one Jennifer Jareau. Who’s dressed in a tight, dark pink dress that doesn’t hide a lot, purple boots that reach up and over her knees, and a lacey green scarf tied around her neck. She looks amazing, but Spencer doesn’t know who she’s supposed to be and he hates her a little for being the object of Hotch’s attention.

Which, he knows is irrational and silly and he attempts to push it aside.

Which is lucky, because a moment later Morgan nudges him gently with his shoulder, pushes a red cup filled with an unidentifiable liquid and says, “let’s go talk to Hotch and JJ.” suggestively and winks at him.

Reid considers just standing there and waiting to see how long it takes for Morgan to notice he’s missing, but his hopes are dashed when Derek wraps a hand around his left bicep and drags him over to where JJ and Hotch are standing.

Jennifer’s laughing as they approach, her head tipped back and mouth wide open, probably at something Hotch said and another spark of jealousy races through Spencer. He stamps it down sharply as JJ comes the end of her laughing fit and turns, toward Reid and Morgan as they join them.

“Hi guys!” JJ says cheerfully, still chuckling lightly. “Wow, Morgan you look great!” She smiles widely at Derek and he grins back, but Spencer swears the man in question is almost blushing.

What the hell?

“You too, JJ. Daphne, right?” he replies and she nods her head, her blond hair bobbing along.

JJ suddenly turns to Spencer and his gut clenches as her eyebrows scrunch in confusion at his costume.

“Spence!” She exclaims, “wow, what are you-” but she doesn’t get to the end of her question.

Bucky Barnes, right?”

Once again Hotch has shocked Spencer. Reid stares at the dark haired man for a moment in surprise before he nods his head.

And immediately JJ and Morgan start protesting, which confuses Spencer but Hotch steps in again and explains.

“He’s dressed as the Bucky Barnes from the original comics.” he explains to JJ and Morgan before he turns to Spencer again and smiles. “They’ve recently released a new Marvel movie with Bucky in them and obviously he looks nothing like that.” Hotch waves a hand up and down the length of Reid’s body, indicating the slim red jeans, the bright blue tunic top and the bright red, mid-arm length gloves. “It looks amazing though. I’m glad you went with the original.”

Spencer shrugs and drops his head, blushing again. He didn’t know there was a new Bucky, so it wasn’t really a choice.

But that doesn’t really matter. Instead he looks up at Hotch and repays the compliment.

“I like that you chose Clark Kent instead of the traditional outfit of Superman, it’s a nice choice.”

“Thanks, Spence.” Hotch replies and Spencer almost swoons as the name rolls off Hotch’s tongue. But he doesn’t. Instead he starts to ramble. Hotch was right before, he’s definitely a rambler.

Right now though, he doesn’t really mind because Hotch is grinning at him and that’s all that matters.

A few moments later though and Spencer is halfway through explaining to Hotch why movie adaptations could never really capture the essence of what the comic books were about to people, when he notices that Morgan and JJ have wandered deeper into the room, their heads leaning toward one another, talking quietly. And JJ’s giggling, which Spencer doesn’t really care about, but what does catch Reid’s attention is that Hotch is no longer paying any attention to Spencer, his sole focus is on JJ.

Reid berates himself silently, taking up all of Hotch’s time with his stupid rambling, when the man clearly wants to be somewhere else. So he cuts himself off mid sentence, clears his throat quietly and announces he’s going to find a bathroom.

He notices as he leaves that Hotch hasn’t once turned to look back at Spencer.

Well, Spencer had warned himself.

*****

He’s been wandering the corridors and hallways of the massive, old mansion; half curious, half avoiding the other party-goers who can have normal conversations, when he pushes on a door as he passes and it creaks ajar.

He stops dead in his tracks and inches toward the door. None of the other doors he’s pressed against have opened.

He pushes the door slowly open and cringes at the loud creak it gives.

Once he steps over the threshold, he lets out a loud breath of wonder. He’s stumbled upon a massive, ancient-looking library.

Spencer spins in a slow three-sixty and can’t believe his luck. All four, massive walls of the library are lined with shelves; filled with books. He doesn’t even know where to start. He could probably spend months in here.

He wonders who owned the library in this abandoned house, if it was just one person who collected all these books, or a number of descendants; the books passed down over generations. He wonders what happened to the family who owned this library; why they left this house in the condition that it finds itself now. The gathering place for drunk college kids on all hallows eve.

He’s inched closer to the back wall, craning his head up to stare at all the different titles and authors, when he’s snapped out of it by a screeching, horrible sound. It makes him want to reach up and cover his ears, but it’s over before he gets the chance.

It’s only now that he notices how cold it has become in the library. He wraps his arms around himself and tries to rub heat back into his skin.

He’s about to turn and head out of the library when a door that he previously hadn’t noticed on the left wall, toward the back and hidden behind the shelves, creaks ajar; seemingly of it’s own volition.

He’s so cold now and his mind screams at him to get out, to get back and join the rest of the party, but his feet seem to have other ideas and he finds himself walking towards the doorway.

The door creaks further open at his approach.
Go! Get out of this room! Nothing makes sense to his rational mind and all he wants is to escape. But his feet continue to carry him over the threshold of the doorway and then down the wooden, spiral staircase. More creaking following his steps down.

Spencer is starting to panic slightly now. Why won’t his body obey his mind’s commands? Why is it so cold?

The spiral staircase finally comes to end and he finds himself in a new room, almost as big as the library, with a high ceiling and a very large four-post bed pushed into the top left corner.

The new room is even colder, but he still can't make himself leave. There’s a large fireplace on the right wall, opposite the bed, obviously empty; but even as Spencer watches, flames spark to life and he’s still moving forward.

The flames grow higher, as Spencer kicks into full-blown panic now and starts to fight his own body, trying to jerk his feet in any direction other than forward, bending down and trying to wrench at his legs. His feet continue ever towards the now roaring fireplace.

It’s as he notices that his breath is wasping out of him in tendrils of steam, despite the roaring flames, that something flickers to life right next to his face, opaque and translucent at the same time, with the face of a woman and then she flickers out again a moment later.

Spencer gets only a second of relief before there’s a flicker on his other side and she reappears.

And wails.

The sound is so horrifying, Spencer’s brain practically goes offline and he can do the only thing he can think of; he screams.

*****
This is it.

This is what she’s been waiting for.

There’s no sound, there’s no heat and soon there will be no air; but she doesn’t need it, she hasn’t for a long time.

And soon he won’t either.

*****

At least, Spencer tries to scream. He opens his mouth to draw breath and suddenly it’s like there’s no oxygen in the large bedroom. He coughs sharply instead and tries to draw another breath, failing again and he starts to heave, his chest constricting in pain with the lack of oxygen.

He’s going to suffocate. In an open room with a fireplace roaring.

Spencer knows that if he can’t get oxygen into his lungs, he’s going to lose consciousness within a few seconds and a few moments later, ischaemic injury will cause his heart to stop beating. Minutes later and his brain will cease to function and there’ll be no more Spencer.

All this train of thought does though, is to kick up Spencer’s involuntary panic again and he can’t help but struggle against his invisible bonds, his hands flying to his throat.

HIs fingertips are clawing at the skin of his throat, and he’s quickly losing consciousness; blackness creeping around the edges of his vision, when there’s a sharp movement through the air. Spencer sees a bright orange flame spark and disappear in the middle of the air and then it’s gone and suddenly he’s gasping with the sweet taste of oxygen; his lungs burning, his arms suddenly too warm and his feet back in his control.

He takes the opportunity to fall over.

*****

“Spencer!”

The voice sounds familiar to Spencer, but his brain is still too shocked at what just happened to try to figure it out.

A moment later, he doesn’t need to, because Hotch is kneeling next to him with a hand on his shoulder, checking him over with his eyes and shaking him slightly.

“Spencer, are you alright?” The voice is calm and all Spencer can think is, How? How are you calm?

But the oxygen is finally getting to his brain now and he’s starting to think clearly and he realises that Hotch is concerned about his health and he needs to answer before Hotch assumes he’s permanently damaged.

He nods before he speaks. It seems safer.

He was wrong. The dizzy spell hits him hard and he shoots a hand up to hold his head steady and squeezes his eyes shut.

“I-” he cuts himself off and coughs before he clears his throat. “I’m ok. I don’t know what happened.” He knows he sounds as confused as he feels.

Hotch just nods at him and then stands. “Come on,” he says as he helps Spencer to his feet. “We need to get you out of here, before she comes back.”

“She?”

Spencer mumbles, and forgets about everything else completely as he tries to connect the dots.

But the facts don’t make sense.

It had been so cold. Too cold for a November evening at least. He had descended stairs, which could cause a small temperature drop if he was getting closer to the ground, but that didn’t explain the sudden re-warming of the room upon Hotch’s arrival. More worrying than the cold, was the sudden lack of oxygen in a large bedroom with windows. But the fire had been roaring, which meant that there had been plenty of oxygen in the room, but for some reason Spencer had been cut off from it, temporarily.

Perhaps he’d had a mental break. Maybe none of this was real.

Except Hotch seemed to know what was going on. Perhaps Spencer had conjured up Hotch as well. Had Hotch ever been real?

But no, he’d seen other people talking to Hotch; JJ and Morgan and their professor, so Hotch was definitely real, but maybe this Hotch was a figment of Reid’s imagination.

Spencer startles back to himself with this conclusion and realises that they’re almost at the second door in the room. A door that could absolutely anything behind it. Well, not anything. Most likely a cold, dark dungeon. oxygen deprivation must have affected his mental capacity.

He jerks his arm out of Hotch’s grip and turns his face to stare at the man, trying to decide if the real Hotch is standing in front of him or if it’s just another apparition of his mind.

He reaches out an arm and places it on Hotch’s chest; it’s solid and warm through the blue dress shirt.

Hotch cups Reid’s elbow in his palm and gently nudges him in the direction of the door, still trying to get them out of the room. Spencer doesn’t understand, but the hand on his elbow definitely feels real, the chest under his fingers feels real and he almost died in here a minute ago, at least his mind believes he did and so maybe getting out of here is a good idea after all.

He’s about to acquiesce and let Hotch lead him toward the door, when the temperature suddenly drops again and Hotch is flying through the air, his body slamming into the far wall with a loud thud.

“Hotch!” Spencer shouts in utter shock.

But Hotch doesn’t crumple or fall, he remains frozen in the middle of the wall, arms stretched out to his side, seemingly held there by some invisible force.

Spencer attempts to move over to where Hotch is pinned, but his feet are once more uncooperative. Spencer looks around him for a cause, when he notices the fireplace stoker lying just by his feet. He’s about to reach for it, unsure of why it’s even there, when there’s sudden flicker next to him and the image from before flashes into existence beside him.

The woman.

She lets out another screeching wail and Spencer buckles in pain as soon as the noise hits his ears. He lands hard on his knees, his hands flying up to his ears, attempting to drown out the sound.

The pain is so great after a few moments, Spencer thinks there must be blood vessels rupturing inside his brain.

Once again, he’s about to die from this... whatever this is and he can’t think of a single thing to do about it.

But then he hears a raspy yell coming from across the room. “Spence…”

Spencer manages to lift his head slightly to find where Hotch is slumped against the wall, hands on his ears, but struggling to regain his feet.

“Spence, the stoker!” The other man yells, stronger this time.

In his half-bent position on his knees, the stoker is within arms-reach; he would barely need to stretch for it, but retrieving the stoker would mean removing a hand from an ear, letting in the disgusting sound, and Spencer doesn’t think his brain will survive that.

But Hotch is desperately trying to move toward him, struggling with the pain, and Spencer can’t do nothing in the face of that struggle and so he removes one hand from an ear and reaches for the stoker.

As soon as the hand is gone, Spencer doubles over again, palms hitting the ground; the pain so great he’s barely able to support his weight. But his right palm is now right next to the stoker and Spencer concentrates, manages to lift his hand and land his palm on top of the stoker handle, curling around it. He’s almost thankful for having something to squeeze onto.

He draws the stoker towards him, getting both hands around the stoker handle and the only thing he can think to do with it is wave it around madly in the air and hope that it does something useful. Hotch wanted him to grab it for a reason.

He lashes out around him with the heavy metal, and the wail intensifies and Spencer’s about to give up and drop the stoker, the pain too great, when a streak of orange sparks shoots across his eyeline and the wail suddenly stops.

The stoker drops to the ground with a loud thunk and Spencer follows it, on his hands and knees on the ground, heaving breaths in and out.

“Hotch,” he pants, concerned. He’s about to make his way over to the other man, when Hotch sits up and thumps his back heavily into the wall, knees pulled up, looking exhausted.

“Thank you, Spence.” Is all Hotch says, casual as anything, breath coming in short pants as he nods toward the stoker still in Spencer’s hands.

Spencer doesn’t know how to respond to that. He has so many question, but he doesn’t even know where to start.

But Hotch is pulling himself to his feet as he says, “We need to get out of this room.” and moves to help Spencer to his feet.

It takes only about fifteen steps to reach the new door and Hotch pulls it open and they step into the hallway that lays beyond.

*****

Hotch leans against the bedroom door once it’s closed, head down like he’s thinking.

Spencer looks around; the hallway they’re in looks exactly like the one outside the library. He guesses they’re just a level below.

“Hotch…” he wants to say more, but Hotch doesn’t acknowledge him, so Spencer stays quiet.

Hotch finally speaks, seemingly to himself, because Spencer doesn’t understand any of it.

“I left all this behind. I came out here, to college, to law school to get away from all this. How does this shit keep finding me?”

He looks up at Spencer, like he might hold all the answers to his questions but Reid just stares back, clueless.

“Hotch, what are you talking about. What is going on here?”

Hotch looks like he wants to vomit and shakes his head. “You don’t want to know, Spence. I don’t want you to get involved in this.”

The warmth of the nickname rolling of Hotch’s tongue is overshadowed by the knowledge that Spencer is stuck in his own delusion.

Spencer stares for a few more seconds before he nods and turns away. “Of course you can’t tell me, it’s highly probable that you’re not actually here.”

“Spencer, what are you talking about?”

Hotch’s voice sounds confused behind him. Spencer doesn’t want to face the apparition, so he explains to the floor. “My mother has Schizophrenia, and clearly I’ve inherited it from her. I’m the right age for it to present.” he reasons.

Hotch’s large, warm hand grips his shoulder and urges him around. Reid stares up into the face of his delusion.

“Spencer. This is not a psychotic delusion. You know it’s not.” Hotch gives him a tiny shake. “If it were, you’d be confused and agitated.”

Spencer cuts in, “I am confused and agitated!” It’s true but he knows it’s not in the way Hotch is talking about. He’s thinking clearly; he’s able to recall the events of the last hour and he’s able to put reason behind his actions.

Hotch gives him a look that screams, don’t be unreasonable. I know you know what I mean. But he says, “A psychotic delusion would never be this clear or detailed, would it?”

Spencer stares into Hotch’s face for another moment, the real Hotch and then shakes his head. No, it wouldn’t.

But.

But if he’s not delusional, then what the hell is going on?

“Hotch, you need to tell me what's going on. If this isn't a psychotic delusion then I almost died in there!” Spencer’s voice steadily gets higher and louder as he speaks. He takes a breath and tries to stay calm. “That… That- Whatever it was, was trying to kill me.”

Hotch nods his head but says, “I don't know why she was after you.” instead of actually explaining anything.

Slander waits. And waits and then when it doesn’t look like Hotch is going to provide any more information he asks, “She?” Trying to keep his calm.

Hotch nods his head and then sighs in defeat.

“Ok, alright. Look, Spence… This is going to sound unbelievable, but I need you to think about it. Think about what you’ve seen. The room was unnaturally cold, like the heat had been sucked out of the room. You were lured down there by something Spence, something forced you down those stairs, didn’t it?”

Hotch pauses briefly, but doesn’t seem to expect an answer.

“The room was freezing cold, unnaturally so. It happens when there’s one of them around. They seem to disperse all of the heat out of the room.”

Spencer’s brain seems to be refusing to follow Hotch’s logic because he’s still coming up with psychotic delusion.

“It was the woman, Spencer. Do you remember when she first appeared, when she suddenly flickered into existence? What she looked like?”

Spencer nods his head slightly, thinking back to it; the horrible, horrible wailing as her face appeared next to him, just snapped into being from out of nowhere and he remembers the way she looked both solid and transparent at the same time, how she looked both evil and vulnerable and Spencer doesn’t understand how this is possible.

“The stoker was made of iron, Spence.”

Hotch doesn’t explain what that means, but something suddenly clicks into place in Spencer’s brain and the point Hotch is trying to drag him towards, finally becomes clear.

He opens his mouth, to voice what Hotch is trying to tell, whether he believes it or not, but the words stick in his throat and he ends up standing there, staring at the other man, gaping like an idiot.

Hotch nods, like he understands Spencer’s inability to talk and says, “It was a ghost, Spence. She is a ghost.” He gestures behind him at the closed door, like the woman is still in there, trapped by two inches of wood.

And really, maybe she is, how would Spencer know. Hotch seems convinced she’s a ghost.

Finally Spencer finds his voice. “What- But- Why would she- It.” He’s found his voice, but apparently not the ability to string a sentence together. He exhales his frustration and tries again. “Why was she trying to kill me?” And then something else occurs to him. “Why is she in there? Why isn’t she…” dead.

Hotch nods, understanding what Spencer is trying to say, without saying it.

“That’s what we need to find out.”

*****

Part 3

He ruined it!

He ruined everything.

The rage is building, building; ever growing and she screeches with it, but there’s no one there to hear it now, not since the other one took her husband away.

How dare he!

She wails again in frustration. She needs to make him pay!

He better come back. He has to.

*****

When they get back downstairs, the party is practically over.

There’s a sudden, deep gong from somewhere to his left and Spencer flails in shock for the umpteenth time tonight; his frazzled nerves about ready to give out.

He lets out a yell with the surprise which catches Hotch’s attention, but the other man, steady as always just smiles slightly and places a warm hand on Spencer’s shoulder; calming.

Thankfully though, Spencer’s yell doesn’t seem to attract anyone else’s attention and the two of them make a hasty beeline for the door.

Spencer peers around looking for Morgan, knowing that if anyone is to stop them from leaving, it’ll be Derek Morgan. Spencer spots him as they pass through the large front room, but Derek’s on the other side of the room, engrossed in a conversation with none other than Jennifer Jareau. Spencer scrunches his brow in confusion but doesn’t stop his movements toward the front door.

As soon as they’re on the other side of the massive front door, Spencer lets out a breath of relief. He isn’t sure why he was so afraid of running into Morgan, perhaps because he doesn’t think he could lie to the man. Or explain to him the night that he’s had.

They reach Hotch’s black Camaro and Spencer climbs into the passenger seat, glad to see see the mansion fade into the distance as they head for Hotch’s apartment.

Reid had been reluctant to leave the room so accessible, but Hotch had convinced him that it was unlikely anybody else would stumble upon the ghost and that there was really nothing they could do with more information.

And the easiest place for them to do that is on Hotch’s computer, back at his apartment just off campus.

A yawn racks Spencer’s entire body as he slumps down into the comfortable passenger seat, feeling completely exhausted all of a sudden. It’s been a long night.

The car is mostly silent, soft noises emanating from the radio but neither of them are talking. Each too deep in their own thoughts.

Spencer lets his head fall to the side against the headrest, and takes a long look at the man in the driver’s seat.

Hotch had saved his life tonight. There’s no doubt in his mind that the woman, ghost in that room wanted to kill him.

The thought is exhausting itself and Spencer can’t stop his eyes from closing briefly.

*****

“Spencer.”

Wait, who’s saying his name?

“Spence, we’re here.”

Spencer jerks awake and sits up, but his body is caught by the seatbelt still across his chest and he falls back into the passenger seat, taking in his surroundings.

So much for briefly closing his eyes.

He looks over to Hotch, who has a guilty little smile on his face as he watches Spencer’s surprise and Spencer flushes as he mutters out a “sorry”.

Hotch just shakes the apology off and climbs from the car, heading immediately for his front door, keys in hand.

Spencer kicks himself into motion and follows Hotch out of the car and into the apartment.

Spencer has never been here before, though the inside isn’t surprising to him. Very Hotch. It’s small and tidy, with little clutter.

“The computer’s in my room.” Hotch says and jerks his head toward a small hallway, down which Spencer can see three doors.

And now Spencer’s uncertain about what he’s supposed to do as Hotch walks away. Is he supposed to wait for Hotch to find the information? Or should he follow the man, was that an invitation?

He stands there unsure for a few moments, until Hotch has a hand on the door knob to what is probably his room and looks back to Spencer like he’s waiting.

Guess it was an invitation then.

Hotch’s room is the same as the rest of the small apartment. Tidy and sparse, the double bed, desk and dresser the only furniture in the small room.

“Make yourself comfortable.” Hotch instructs as he sits down in the desk chair and boots up the computer.

Spencer flounders again, wondering just how to do that in a space so foreign. He guesses his only option is to sit down on the bed, and he yawns as his body dents the mattress.

Spencer sits silently for a while, waiting patiently as Hotch searches, staring intently at the computer screen.

The minutes tick by excruciatingly slowly though and Spencer’s yawns become more and more frequent, the tease of the soft mattress under his legs too much for him to ignore.

He isn’t sure how much time has passed since they arrived at Hotch’s place, but Spencer is suddenly horizontal on a comfortable surface and he can’t keep his eyes open, no matter how hard he tries.

A moment later, he’s asleep again.

*****

Spencer blinks his eyes open and panics.

He’s in a foreign room and his foggy mind doesn’t recognise anything or recall how he got here.

He blinks against the flood of light coming through the window and tries to remember where he is.

It takes only a few seconds for the details of yesterday’s party to come back to him and he suddenly realises he’s fallen asleep on Hotch’s bed. Oh no.

He pushes himself out of the bed, hands running through his tangled hair even as he looks down at himself, realising he’s still in the red and blue Bucky Barnes costume before he quietly exits the room in search of the man whose bed he commandeered for the night.

He finds Hotch in the kitchen, making cereal.

Hotch looks up as Spencer approaches, sending him a smile. “Morning, Spence.”

“Ah… Sorry. For falling asleep- I didn’t mean to- I’m sorry I stole your bed.” Spencer’s trying to say too many things at once, but Hotch just shakes his head and pushes a bowl towards him.

“That’s alright Spencer. I was up fairly late anyway. I found out some information about the house.” He says as he picks up a second bowl and pushes a spoonful of cereal into his mouth, jerking his head toward the kitchen table.

Spencer picks up the bowl in front of him and follows Hotch to table, taking a seat and digging into the offered cereal. God, he’s starving.

They eat in silence for a few minutes until Hotch finishes his cereal and pushes the bowl away from himself. Then he produces a folder from somewhere and starts to talk.

“In the 1950’s the house was owned by Richard Kingsford, the mayor at the time. His young daughter, Sarah, had married a lawyer named Charles McKellen and the two of them had moved into her father’s house.

“A few weeks later, the mayor and his wife were killed in a car accident. The accident was caused by a drunk driver, running a red light. According to a newspaper article from the time, Sarah was devastated but Charlie was taking good care of her.

“It seems though, that the article lied. Sarah started seeing a therapist and he got her to keep a journal of the things that were troubling her. She was constantly suspicious that Charles was seeing other women while she was shut away, trying to get better.

“On August 18th, 1956 Sarah returned home just after midday, from her therapy appointment to find her husband in their bed with another woman.”

“According to the coroner’s report from the time, Sarah McKellen had shot both the woman and her husband, before finishing the job by strangling her mortally wounded husband with her bare hands. Sarah apparently left the two of them dead in the bed, went into the library and hung herself.

“The police report states that witnesses reported hearing a woman screaming for hours.” Hotch finishes his story and pushes a printed out copy of a photo toward Spencer. The photo is black and white and incredibly grainy and it’s the faces of the three, pale, clearly dead people. One male and two females.

“So you think it’s one of these three, that’s haunting this old house?” Reid asks, looking up from the piece of paper.

“I’m fairly sure it’s the wife.” Hotch replies and hands over another printed copy of an old, black and white photo. This time it’s a happy photo, a wedding photo of Mr. and Mrs. McKellen he guesses. Spencer immediately notices the similarities between the man in the photo and himself; the man is young, lean and wiry but probably not as tall as Spencer, with sharp angular facial features and Spencer can’t tell the colour of the floppy hair, but it looks light, either blond or mousy brown, just like Spencer’s.

Spencer looks up from the photo to Hotch, questions all over his face and the man nods, confirming his suspicion. “Charlie McKellen.” Hotch says softly. He opens the folder in front of him again, taking out a new sheet of paper and passes it over. “I did some further research. There have been two more deaths in that house since the 1950’s. The first was a young descendant of the McKellen line, after Charlie’s brothers had inherited the house. His body was found in his parent’s bedroom. He had died from suffocation, but the Medical Examiner had been unable to find evidence of strangulation. But it was the 60’s and so things may have been missed that we would spot today.

“The second death was also a young man,” Hotch pauses here and looks Spencer directly in the eyes, holding steady as he says, “a young college student back in the 90’s. The house had been abandoned since the 60’s when the McKellen boy had died and in the 90’s a few college kids decided it would be a good place for a Halloween party. Until John Stewart had been found dead in the Master bedroom. The M.E had ruled the death as suffocation and again there was no evidence of strangulation. No ligature marks, no fingerprints on the throat, no fibres from a pillow being held over the face. It was like the oxygen had been forced out of the man’s lungs somehow. There was also evidence of ruptured vessels in the brain, which could have been a result of the suffocation; but it was noted that the boy’s ears had been bleeding prior to his death.”

Hotch finishes here and passes over a third, much more recent photo of another young man that looks remarkably like him.

“Sarah is killing her husband, over and over again. Or at least… She’s trying.” Hotch gives Spencer a pointed look.

Spencer nods, that all makes a certain kind of sense, but there's one chunk that Hotch has failed to explain.

“Hotch. How do you know about all of this? How is this even possible?”

Hotch spares a resigned look for the table before he speaks.

“My parents, my family are what we call ‘hunters’. We deal with things like this,” he waves a hand toward the folder of papers. “Ghosts and demons and other supernatural things that are out there. The knowledge is passed down through the generations. But, my sister and I, we wanted something else. We wanted to have a normal life.”

Spencer doesn't know what shocks him more; the fact that there are demons and other supernatural things or the fact that there is a sister.

His brain latches onto the more normal of the two.

“You have a sister?” He asks weakly, voice going higher than he likes to admit.

Hotch nods. “JJ.” He says, matter-of-factly, like he isn't currently blowing Spencer's mind.

Spencer pushes himself out of the chair, suddenly too shocked to stay seated and stares incredulously at the other man.

“JJ!” he exclaims. “JJ is your sister?! I thought- I thought that…”

Hotch just raises an eyebrow at him, daring him to finish that sentence. Better not.

“JJ is your sister.” he says again, slightly pleased now. So all the attention Hotch had been paying JJ was brotherly attention and not… anything else, Spencer doesn’t even want to remember thinking it now. Which meant… which really meant nothing for Spencer and he should definitely move on.

“Demons?” He finally comes back to the important part of Hotch’s seemingly simple explanation.

Hotch nods once again, but doesn’t say anything more; he just waits patiently for Spencer to come to terms with it all.

“So, what do we… What do we do about…” Sarah. The ghost. He isn't sure what he's supposed to call it, is it even Sarah anymore?

“Ghosts are mostly the result of a traumatic death.” Hotch explains. “They’re usually tethered here by something personal to them. It’s usually their remains. So we need to find out where she’s buried.”

Spencer nods. That sounds easy enough, he's almost afraid to ask what they do when they find them. Scared enough that he decides to leave that as a surprise for later.

“Ok.” He says instead. “How do we do that?”

*****

It takes a while, but Hotch finally finds the information they’re looking for.

Spencer notes the other man looks rather bleak as he emerges from the world of internet research.

“She’s buried on the house grounds.” Hotch says it like he’s having a hard time believing it himself. “The McKellen’s didn’t want her to be buried in the city cemetery family lot after she’d killed their son, and Sarah had no living relatives after her parents died in the car accident and so Marcus McKellen; Charlie’s father, had decided to have her buried on the house grounds.

“He said in an interview that ‘she would remain in the house forever more, like the good housewife she clearly never was. She would serve the sentence that she was due, that she escaped by killing herself, by spending the rest of eternity trapped in the house in which she she committed the murder of his honourable son.’” Hotch pauses here, with an expression on his face that Spencer thinks means he wants to hit something, hard. Or throw up.

“He buried her in the house?” He asks, doubt clinging to every word. There’s no way there’s been a body decaying in that house for sixty years without anyone noticing.

“It’s the only reference to a burial of Mrs. Sarah McKellen I can find. It’s almost like she disappeared. I’m going to have to do a little more research,” He waves a hand back toward his room from which he emerged a few moments ago. “See if I can find any work or remodelling that was done on the house at the time.”

Spencer can feel his forehead clenching together in confusion. But a moment later, realisation hits. The only way Marcus McKellen would’ve been able to secure his daughter-in-law’s capture within the house for eternity, with no one noticing for the rest of time, would be to bury her body inside the walls or floors of the house. Spencer can feel his face change to one of disgust at this new development, but he shakes it off quickly.

“That information will all be accessible at the city library. They keep all the plans for building renovations.” he explains to Hotch, who stops in his movement back towards his bedroom and quirks an eyebrow at Spencer, clearly mystified as to why Spencer knows such information, but then he nods and changes direction to get his jacket and keys.

“Ok. Let’s go.” He says and heads out the door, leaving Spencer to trail after him.

*****

It’s almost nightfall by the time they leave the library.

It took time but they had eventually found the contract for new floorboards to be laid in the bedroom and library after the events that occurred in their in 1956, paid for by the one and only Marcus McKellen, the new owner of the house.

“We need to get back to the house then.” Hotch announces as soon as they’ve found the one piece of paper they’ve been searching for. He doesn’t wait for an agreement, he’s already striding down the library hallway by the time Spencer has made it to his feet.

Spencer takes a moment to pack up the laminated building plans and contracts they’ve had spread over the desk, before he jogs to catch up to Hotch.

“Hotch,” Spencer hisses out to his retreating back, but Hotch doesn’t stop. Spencer finally catches up to him as they exit the building and he tugs on Hotch’s coat sleeve. “Hotch! What are we going to do?”

Hotch looks at him, surprised, like it hadn’t occurred to him that Spencer might not be fully on board with the plan, that Spencer might not know what the plan is at all.

“Sorry, Spence. I’m used to being the one trailing behind while all the decisions are made.”

That opens up a whole barrel of questions Spencer wants to ask, but now is not the time.
They’re almost at the car; Hotch’s black Camaro, and Hotch steps over to it and opens the trunk. Spencer peers inside at all the tools; a very large gas tank, an unlabelled tin of something, flares, shovels, pitchforks and shotguns.

Spencer can feel his eyebrows trying to escape into his hair as he takes a step back.

“Wha- umm…” Now he’s not sure of the right question to ask.

Hotch chuckles softly before he answers the unarticulated question. “We need to find where that old bastard buried Sarah McKellen’s body, and then we salt and burn her remains.”

Spencer isn’t sure this is actually happening. All he can manage is to gape and shake his head.

“You don’t have to come along Spence, I can drop you back at your dorm. But we need to stop it; it’s not Sarah anymore, it doesn’t know what it’s doing and this is the way we do that.”

Hotch has moved, during his speech, and now has a hand on Spencer’s shoulder; squeezing slightly, applying comfort. It works.

Spencer feels himself nodding before he’s even decided what to do; because he knows what Hotch has said is true.

He climbs into the passenger seat of the car without saying a word.

*****

Part 4

 

He’s close again, she can feel it.

Feel the rage swelling, ready to burst. Soon, soon.

The tall one won’t stop her this time. Why was he here? What did he want with her husband?

Not that it mattered. He would die.

She would get her revenge tonight.

*****

It’s fully dark when the two of them let themselves back into the property. They head straight for the master bedroom, pausing at the door.

“Perhaps you should wait out here.” Hotch suggests and Spencer immediately shakes his head. He wants to help.

But Hotch helpfully points out, “You’re the one she’s trying to kill.” Which Spencer knows is true and so maybe it is best if he stays out here. He nods his head to Hotch and sulks back against the corridor wall, watching as Hotch hefts his sledgehammer and heads into the bedroom.

A few moments later there’s a loud thump and crash as Hotch starts making his way through the old, musty floorboards.

It feels like hours later when the thumping and crashing finally goes quiet.

“Hotch?” Spencer says loudly, trying to project his voice through the wall. “Did you find it?”

Silence.

More silence and Spencer’s starting to worry. What if she figured out what Hotch is trying to do? What if she doesn’t care about killing her husband anymore and just wants to kill anybody that breaches her bedroom.

He’s about to throw caution to the wind and step into the room, when Hotch’s voice finally reaches his ears.

“Yeah, I think so.” Comes the loud reply.

A few moments later, Hotch reappears around the doorframe, sweaty and mussed and Spencer is distracted for a moment by how beautiful he looks like that. Spencer has an irresistible urge to run his hand through the man’s wayward hair.

“Spence?”

Shit. Hotch sounds confused and Spencer wonders how much he’s missed.

Spencer shakes himself back to the issue at hand and quirks an eyebrow at Hotch. “Sorry, what?”

“We can’t burn the remains in here. The whole place will go up.”

Spencer nods, but draws up blank with an alternative course of action. “Oh, ah… so what now then?”

“We need to move the coffin outside.”

And once again Spencer can’t really believe his ears. He feels like he should be getting used to this by now.

And so instead of questioning Hotch, he just says, “Um, ok?”, but he doesn’t really know how they’re going to do that.

*****

Spencer is heaving and sweaty, covered in dirt as they finally reach the grass out the back of the house; the November air crisp and cold as they drop the heavy coffin to the ground with a loud thud.

Hotch kneels next to it and pries open the lid, dust blooming in the air with the movement, shielding Spencer’s vision.

A moment later though, the dust clears and Spenser is staring at the mostly decayed remains of Sarah McKellen.

At least, he’s fairly sure it’s the body of Sarah McKellen. There’s no identifiable features left of her, at least not that Spencer is able to recognise. The only clue inside the coffin to connect these remains to the ghost that attacked Spencer last night, is the clothes. The same blue, floral dress that the apparition appeared to be clothed in last night is wrapped unfittingly around the bones that remain in the coffin.

Hotch pushes himself off his knees and then heads back into the house. It’s a few minutes later when he returns, a gas can and a tin of something else in each hand.

Spencer get’s distracted again as he watches the man emerge from the house, his leather jacket dirty and stretching in all the right places as he walks, long legs striding to join Spencer on the grass again.

He hands Spencer the tin of unidentified substance and opens the gas can, splashing the entire contents into the old wooden coffin.

He takes the tin back from Spencer, opening it and shaking the contents that Spencer now realises is salt over the gasoline.

Hotch pulls a matchbook out of his pants pocket, strikes one and then tosses it in to join the fuel and salt. It takes barely a second for the entire coffin to be engulfed in flames.

Hotch and Spencer stand and watch as the remains of the poor, wronged woman burns, until there’s nothing left of the coffin but scattered ash in the grass.

*****

With the job finally done, Spencer is eager to get out of the house and return to his normal life. He still hasn’t really processed what has opened over the last twenty-four hours and he thinks he need to shut himself in his dorm room until his brain can come to terms with this whole new, unexplainable world. He thinks it might take a few weeks.

But Hotch insists they head back into the house and make sure that the ghost of Sarah McKellen as been well and truly untethered from this place.

Which is how Spencer finds himself slipping through the library door alone, for the second time in two days.

It takes only a few minutes staring at the books to know that their efforts haven’t been successful.

It starts once more with a rapid drop in temperature, steam escaping with Spencer’s breath. And once more, his feet are uncooperative and his body heads for the door to the bedroom stairs against his will.

But this time, he has back up. And a handy iron crowbar. “Hotch! It didn’t work!” He hisses toward the door.

His body is still headed toward the door as he cranes his neck and watches Hotch slip into the library.

“Damn it.” The other man spits, looking around the room with a wild look in his eyes. “There must be something else that’s keeping her here. We just need to find it.”

Spencer’s nodding in agreement, wondering how the hell they’re going to manage that as he reaches the door and starts his descent.

“Spencer.”

Spencer cranes his head back around as his feet navigate the stairs on their own, his resistance having no effect, to look up at Hotch, alarmed at the worried tone of his voice.

“You’re going to have to try to distract her until I can find this object.”

Spencer’s eyes go wide, but he doesn’t voice what he’s thinking. How the hell will I be able to do that when she wouldn’t even let me breathe before. All he does is nod, trying to look confident. A second later, his feet have hit the bedroom floor and Hotch is out of his line of sight.

The bedroom is freezing again, no useless fire this time though. And no sign of the ghost.

His feet carry him into the middle of the room and then he stops, stuck. Waiting.

Waiting for what, he isn’t sure, but he figures he’s running out of time. He searches the room with his eyes quickly, looking for personal-looking items, something that could be tethering Mrs. McKellen to this room. And then he gets an idea.

“Mrs. McKellen?” he whispers out.

Silence is his only response.

He clears his throat and tries again.

“Sarah?” Louder this time. “Sarah, I just want to talk.”

Suddenly, the ear splitting wail pierces the air and the ghost of Sarah McKellen appears.

Spencer’s drops the crowbar instantly, hands flying to his ears, but the sound isn’t making him buckle in pain this time.

“Sarah?” He yells, trying to project his voice over the high pitched scream. “Sarah, I need you to listen to me! I’m not your husband. I didn’t betray you.”

The wail suddenly stops and there’s a screeched, “Liar!”

And there’s a sudden force in the middle of his chest and he’s flung across the room, the far wall stopping his momentum. He doesn’t slide down it though, some invisible force holding him against the brick, feet dangling and twitching like they want to continue walking until they reach the centre of the room again.

The force on his chest remains, and it feels like an elephant is seated right on his lungs. He struggles for breath, but knows he needs to keep talking.

“Sarah, you need to think. You died. A long time ago.” He pauses, gasping, but struggles to continue. “Please, you need to remember. I- I’m not your husband. Please look at me!”

He’s quickly running out of strength as it gets harder and harder to draw breath. He’s pleading and panting and the only response he get’s is another screech accusing him of lying. Time for another approach.

“Sarah? Honey?” He says softly, trying to project husbandly affection and the pressure on his chest eases instantly. “Honey, I’m sorry. I’m sorry about what happened. But you don’t need… need to do this. We… we can be happy again.” He stops, panting, as the pressure starts to increase again, and then suddenly the ghost of Sarah McKellen is right in front of his face, hovering over him, hands on the wall next to his head and she snarls into his face.

She ducks her head down near his throat, her hands moving off the wall to mimic clenching around his throat. He can’t feel the pressure of her hands, but something is definitely applying pressure to his trachea and he coughs and gasps.

But it’s as his vision is starting to fade when the ghost of Sarah twitches her head and Spencer notices the clip in her hair. It looks expensive and maybe custom made and he imagines she cherished it. Possibly a gift from her scumbag of a husband.

“Hotch!” he tries to yell, but there’s no air and no sound escapes his throat. And Spencer knows he needs to shock the apparition choking him to death, he needs to do something that will get her to back off, but it’s getting harder and harder to think, so he does the only thing he can.

He reaches a hand up off the wall and moves to caress her face, her hair and it does exactly what Spencer had hoped.

Sarah flinches hard and jumps back and the elephant suddenly stands and the pressure eases from Spencer’s chest. He gasps once, filling his lungs with sweet, sweet oxygen and then expels it all in a yell. “Hotch!”

The ghost chooses that exact moment to snap back into his face again and start up her wail, and Spencer tries to bring his hands back to his ears, but his hands are stuck, pinned to the wall with the rest of his body.

Hotch bursts into the room, and Spencer watches over Sarah’s head as he brings up the shotgun, ready to fire and then suddenly stops. Spencer can tell what he’s thinking. If he fires at the ghost, salt round or not, it’s going to go straight through the apparition that is Sarah, dispersing her energy before it continues directly through Spencer’s chest.

“Hotch!” Spencer says again but his voice doesn’t make it over the wail that’s emanating from directly in front of him.

Hotch lowers the gun and tosses it to the side, looking around quickly. His eyes catch on the fireplace a few steps next to him and he moves to it, pulling out a new fire stoker from the holder before he crosses the room in three strides, stoker ready over his shoulder, and he brings the iron down, through the opaque form hovering over Spencer, and Spencer watches as the stoker just barely escapes grazing his chest even as the ghost screams and disappears in a flash of sparks once more.

Reid drops from the wall like a sack of potatoes, landing in a heap against the wall, stunned for a moment.

“Hotch.” he pants again, remembering why he called for the man. “Her hair clip. I saw it before, upstairs in the library. It must have hair or skin cells caught in it. It’s what’s keeping her here.”

Hotch nods but makes as if to come over to Spencer. Spencer waves him away. “I’ll be ok. Go; quickly, I don’t imagine she’ll be gone for long.” Spencer nods towards the doorway

Hotch nods at him, looking concerned, and then turns and sprints back up the stairs.

Spencer was right, a moment later he’s being lifted back up the wall and Sarah reappears, screeching into his face once more, sounding even angrier than before, somehow. And then she speaks. If you can really call it that.

“You’re a liar! And a cheat!” She hisses. “Why did you do it? Why?!” She’s back to screeching now.

Spencer coughs, the pressure on his chest back. “I didn’t do it, Sarah. I’m not your husband.” He doesn’t think anything it’s going to get through to her, but he has to say something.

“Liar!” She wails again. “You deserve to die!”

And then there’s the ice cold pressure of her non-hands wrapped around his throat again, as Spencer notices the stoker Hotch dropped on his way out. It’s closer than the crowbar; but Spencer is still halfway up the wall and there’s no way he can reach it.

He racks his brain, over and over, he has to do something, but his vision is greying at the edges again and he’s all out of ideas.

And then suddenly she backs away from him and bursts into flames. There’s a horrified screech and Spencer breathes smoke and sulphur and ash all mixed together as he slips down the wall again. He watches, slumped on the ground as the ghost of Sarah McKellen screams and burns until she folds in on herself and disappears.

And then there’s silence. Silence and Spencer panting.

*****

Spencer’s still slumped and motionless against the wall, wondering how his life went from facts and numbers and science with all the fiction in his books, to fending off an insane, scorned female ghost in just a single night, when Hotch barrels through the doorway once more.

“Spence!” the other man says, frantic and slightly breathless as he rushes over to where Spencer is using the wall to keep himself seated upright. “Are you alright?” Hotch asks him softly, peering at him like he’s about to shatter.

Spencer thinks that may not be too far away from reality.

He tries to nod his head in the affirmative, but the world spins dangerously and black creeps in around the edges of his vision; so he settles on muttering, “I’m ok. A bit dizzy.”

Hotch nods in understanding and gives him a minute before he asks, “What happened? Is she gone?”

Spencer nods his head a fraction and Hotch exhales in relief, sitting back on his haunches.

“She sort of…. burst into flames. She screamed like it was painful and then she just… collapsed and disappeared.”

Hotch nods while he speaks, looking sombre but satisfied. “Good. She won’t be back.”

There’s a pause while they both breathe hard and take each other in and then Hotch speaks again.

“I can’t believe you noticed that hairclip; it took me so long to find it on the top of the shelf, I thought I was going to run out time.” Hotch stares guiltily at Spencer’s unmarred throat and his slumped body, and reaches out a hand, placing it tenderly on Spencer’s shoulder. “I’m sorry it took me so long, Spence.” he whispers gently.

Spencer shakes his head and cracks a small smile, reaching up to place his hand over Hotch’s on his shoulder, squeezing it tightly. “Thank you for saving me. That first time, last night; I would’ve died if you hadn’t come in to save me.”

Suddenly it’s like the air is sucked out of the room again and Spencer worries about the ghost being back, before he realises this is different; it’s as if time has slowed and Spencer doesn’t need to breathe anymore as Hotch stares into his eyes, an intense spark firing between them and Spencer swears Hotch starts to lean in, Spencer swears Hotch is about to kiss him and then Hotch shakes his head and air and time snap back to normal.

Spencer obviously imagined the entire thing.

Except Hotch is slightly flushed and won’t meet Spencer’s eyes again.

“You ready to get out of here?” Hotch says to the ground.

Spencer nods, eager; and this time the world stays put. Hotch leans in again, this time pulling Spencer’s arm over his own shoulders, supporting Spence as he helps him to his feet.

“Ok?” Hotch asks, once they’re standing.

Spencer wants to tell him he’s good to go, but all of Hotch’s side is pressed against Spencer's and all he can do is breathe the other man in.

Hotch must assume he's just dizzy, because he wraps his arm around Spencer's back and squeezes gently before guiding him towards the second doorway and finally, finally out of the bedroom.

*****

Part 5

They're hitting the landing at the bottom of the main staircase, leading into the large living room when the front door creaks open, seemingly all on it's own.

A moment later the door is fully open and Derek Morgan steps through it into the entryway and immediately spots Spencer and Hotch half hanging onto each other, clearly just coming from downstairs.

“Hey! Ah… What- What are you guys doing here?” Morgan stammers as his expression changes quickly and drastically, from surprised to confused.

Something must occur to Morgan immediately after the words leave his mouth though, because his eyes widen in surprise and his mouth opens and closes a few times, without a single sound escaping. But then his face collapses and he looks mildly disgusted. “Aw man, I don’t even want to know.” And then he mutters mostly to himself, “I did not see this coming.”

Spencer doesn’t have the faintest idea as to what this conversation is about. He can feel a cramp forming in his forehead, where his eyebrows have been drawn together in confusion for the past two minutes.

But Hotch must pick up something Spencer has missed, because he splutters out, “Ah Morgan, that’s not-”, but Morgan’s not finished.

Morgan’s expression morphs into something like half-pride, half-disbelief. “Good for you kid, and all this time I thought you were into JJ!”

Spencer has had enough of feeling confused. “Morgan, what are you talking about?”

And now it’s Morgan’s turn to look confused. Hotch appears to be the only one following all sides of the conversation.

“Morgan, Spencer and I have not been…”

Spencer can’t believe his eyes. Hotch is blushing. But the topic of conversation is no more clear to Spencer. What would be making Hotch blush?

“There’s a library.” Hotch gestures to the back of the house now. “With engineering textbooks. I found him in there the other night. I brought him back here so he could get a better look.”

It’s a lie. It’s such a lie and if Morgan happens to go into the Master bedroom, they’re going to immediately be found out.

But Morgan nods, grinning salaciously as he says, “Textbooks, huh. Sure, sure.” And slaps Spencer on the shoulder with something like pride.

And all of a sudden, he realises what Morgan thought he and Hotch were doing back here. The familiar curl of terror inches up Spencer’s spine. Shit, Morgan can’t know about him. Hotch either, he can’t let them know. He’s finally escaped the ridicule and social exile he faced in high school and he’s not going to let his brief time as an undergrad be the same as that. He’s put that behind him now; he’s in college and he has friends.

But Morgan’s words filter back through his mind like a video player on a loop, ‘Good for you kid’, did Morgan really assume what Spencer thinks he assumed? Surely that couldn’t be his only reaction. ‘Good for you kid.’ Spencer’s back to being confused.

“Spence.” Hotch’s voice, trying to get his attention. “Alright?” he asks when Spencer looks up at him.

And Spencer wonders if the ghost of Sarah McKellen is controlling him once again; even though he knows she’s gone he seriously questions it because all of a sudden, with no permission from his brain, his lips are smashed against Hotch’s.

Spencer has time to revel in the smooth, dry press of Hotch’s lips and the warmth where his hand comes to rest in the small of Spencer’s back, before he’s wrenching himself away, stunned.

“I- I didn’t…. Sorry.” he says to Hotch’s utterly surprised face and then runs away. He doesn’t know what came over him.

*****

He barrels through the heavy, front doors and runs down the steps to the sidewalk. It’s only now that he realises he’s stranded. The Mansion is a few miles away from the college campus and he doesn’t have a car. He pauses for a second before he decides walking is his only option; he’s not going back into that house, and so he sets off down the street.

It’s only a minute later when Morgan catches up to him. “Kid!”

Spencer doesn’t stop walking.

“Hey, Kid! Spencer, hey.”

Spencer pauses now, because Morgan’s starting to sound hurt and a little angry and Spencer can’t help himself.

Morgan jogs up and around him, until he’s standing a few paces in front of Spencer, blocking his path. “Spencer.” He says the name like it’s a scold, like he’s Spencer’s mother and he wants to tack a Reid onto the end of it. “What’s going on kid?”

Spencer stares at his shoes and doesn’t respond, just shakes his head.

“Kid. What the hell’s going on in that head of yours?” Morgan gets a hand on Spencer’s shoulder, shaking him slightly and trying to get his attention, get him to look up.

Spencer sighs and relents. He’s so tired of keeping this secret. He’s so terrified of people hating him for it, but it’s too taxing, keeping it hidden. And well, he guesses after his little display in the house, it’s not such a secret anymore.

“I’m… I’m gay, Morgan.” He says, resigned.

Morgan just nods. Nods. “Yeah I got that.” He gestures back to the house. “Why didn’t you tell me months ago! All this time I’ve been trying to get you to talk to JJ and it’s Hotch you’ve been eyeing!”

Spencer doesn’t know what to say, just stares at Morgan in pure confusion, waiting for the hateful sneers and ugly teasing.

“You don’t… you don’t…” Care?

Morgan shakes his head frustrated. “Jesus Pretty Boy, of course I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me who you’re attracted to. Now I can go for JJ myself!” And there’s this massive grin on Morgan’s face now that Spencer finds is terribly infectious.

He’s lost for a few moments, processing still having Morgan as a friend. He didn’t see this outcome coming, but he realises now that he should have. Jock though he is, Morgan is not the type to be cruel or hateful to anyone about their personality. Their talent, or lack-thereof, on the basketball court is another matter.

His memory catches on something and he grins wolfishly for a moment. “Did you know she’s Hotch’s sister?” he asks Morgan and his grin grows ridiculously large as Derek’s eyes almost bug out of his face and a slightly terrified expression settles over his face. Spencer cackles. Literally cackles. He can’t help himself.

He sobers a moment later, guilt sinking in quickly. “Um… Hotch?” He asks sheepishly and Morgan shrugs.

“He’s a little confused as to why you ran away. I managed to talk him into letting me come after you.”

Spencer’s eyebrows climb back into his hair in surprise.

“I think he’s anxious to get going though, been a big night of reading textbooks, hey?”

Morgan’s teasing, but Spencer knows it’s the friendly kind of teasing, and Spencer kind of wants to punch him in the arm. A feeling he’s never experienced before. And seeing as he’s going for all the firsts tonight, he goes for it.

Morgan just laughs at him.

“We weren’t…. doing that.” Is all Spencer can come up with, but he’s grinning ear-to-ear now too.

“Uh huh,” Morgan clearly doesn’t believe him. “Should we get back inside?” Morgan starts heading back to the house without waiting for an answer.

Spencer follows.

******

Hotch looks worried and confused when Spencer steps back into the house, and considering they’ve just banished a ghost, Spencer knows this is pretty bad.

“Ah… I’m going to get out of here. I actually just came out here to make sure everything had been cleaned up, but looks like the place is a little occupied.” He wiggles his eyebrows at Spencer before he turns and heads out the door again.

“We’ll make sure the place is spotless.” Hotch says to Morgan’s retreating back, and then, “Thanks, Morgan.” just before Derek closes the door behind himself

And then it’s just Hotch and Spencer left in the house alone. In silence.

So Spencer starts babbling. “So ghosts. I don’t understand how ghosts can be real. There’s been multitudes of debunked studies on ghosts and other supernatural creatures, proving that there’s no way these things could exist in reality and abide by the laws of physics.”

Spencer’s getting so involved in this train of thought, getting sucked into the science behind ghosts and demons, trying his hardest to forget all about kissing the man he’s been infatuated with for half a semester and outing himself in the same instance, that he doesn’t notice that Hotch has been steadily inching towards him as he speaks and now he’s right in front of him, almost plastered against his front.

“Hotch… I-” And Spencer doesn’t get to say anything more because then Hotch’s front really is plastered up against his, and Hotch’s hands are in his hair and Hotch’s lips are caressing his own and it’s magnificent and Spencer doesn’t even want to dream about talking ever again if he has to stop doing this.
After long minutes of magnificence, Hotch pulls his lips away, but doesn’t move away from Spencer. “So I take it you didn’t realise I’ve been flirting with you for the past two months. ” Hotch asks quietly.

Spencer stares up at the other man for long minutes, thinking back on all their random encounters over the semester, and now that he thinks about it... “No.” He admits.

Hotch nods and closes his eyes, tilting his head to bring their foreheads together and Hotch breathes him in for a moment.

“Do you regret what you did before you ran out of here?” he asks in a whisper, probably afraid of the answer.

Spencer shakes his head gently against Hotch’s, making sure the man can feel his response. “No. I don’t regret it.” he says, projecting as much surety into his voice as he can.

“No?” Hotch asks, one eyebrow raised, as if in disbelief.

“You have no idea how many times I've caught myself staring at you, imagining… Imagining this.” Spencer isn’t sure where the words come from, but he knows they’re true.

Hotch’s expression morphs from disbelief to pleasantly surprised. “Oh really?” He asks softly, and his gaze intensifies, a silent question gleaming behind his dark eyes and Spencer lets his own eyes answer back, tilting his chin forward and Hotch takes that as his cue, and suddenly their mouths are connected again, Hotch’s tongue lightly stroking over Spencer’s bottom lip, asking for access, to which Spencer readily grants and then Spencer just wants to drown in the feel of Hotch’s tongue, stroking over the delicate parts of him.

******

Epilogue

Spencer spends the rest of the semester studying.

Studying everything Hotch can get his hands on, about the supernatural world and the things they know in defense against it.

In just two months, Spencer becomes somewhat of a supernatural expert. But that’s hardly surprising.

What is surprising, is that when he’s not studying the supernatural or his classwork or completing extra credit coursework so he can start his first PhD next semester, he’s spending time with Hotch.

Doing dating things. Spencer still has trouble wrapping his mind around the fact that Hotch wants to date him. Willingly wants to listen to him ramble on about things.

It actually gets easier though, when Hotch finally graduates with his Master’s degree and gets a job at a small law firm and he goes to his regular nine to five job, hunts with JJ in his down time if she can twist his arm into it (Spencer usually helps), and the rest of it he spends with Spencer.

They’re busy. They’ve got so much going on in their own lives that it’s hard to find coinciding times to spend together, but they manage and usually the time happens to involve chasing after and ridding the world of some supernatural creature, but it’s more than anything Spencer has ever had with anyone else and Spencer wouldn’t trade in that time he gets with Hotch for anything in the world.

End.