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December 2006: Absence Makes the Heart Grow Something-Something

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Friday, December 1st, 2006:

One month. One long, agonizing month of missed phone calls, short and sweet voicemails and cancelled plans had Spencer on his last nerve.

He knew that with their jobs, it would be difficult for him and Sam to get together. Sam was wrapping up the end of his internship, and between working and studying, he was also moonlighting at a free clinic in downtown Washington, so he had very little free time and even less energy. Spencer, for his part, had been either on non-stop, consecutive cases or the subsequent paperwork, only managing to sleep in his bed one or two nights a week, if he was lucky.

They’d not been able to make it to their standing morning coffee dates either, save for one Monday two weeks ago. Spencer had dragged himself to the coffee shop, managing to see Sam for only ten minutes before being called in by JJ, and he’d been holding on to those ten minutes of rushed conversation and hurried kisses since. And while they’d been trying to talk on the phone, Sam was constantly shifting schedules, and Spencer was hopping across time zones, making it nearly impossible to catch each other at a good time.

All Spencer had for the past month was a single voicemail message and their brief meeting at the Red Brick, and it was putting him through the ringer. He was moodier and more morose than normal, burying himself in his work in hopes that he could distract himself from how badly he was missing Sam, but even that wasn’t the worst of it.

The worst was that everyone noticed.

From Morgan constantly asking him who died whenever he came into work in a foul mood, to Emily hovering by his desk trying to force conversation so she could suss out what was wrong, every single person on his team had picked up on his bad mood. It didn’t necessarily surprise him, they were all profilers after all, and he hadn’t exactly been subtle about his frustrations, but combined with the complete radio silence from Sam and his own overactive brain, it was wearing Spencer thin.

JJ was the only one who’d tried to broach the subject, and she was met with almost-tears and then stony silence. When Spencer got into work the day after she’d met Sam, he was petrified of what she might say. He caught her eye across the jet, bracing for some kind of embarrassing interaction. Maybe she’d announce to the whole team that he was seeing another man, or maybe she’d make some crude joke alluding to the fact he’d spent the better part of the past day having sex with said man. All he knew was he was trembling in his converse sneakers, jittering his leg up and down at the speed of a hummingbird’s wing as he waited for her to do something.

But, in true JJ form, all she’d done was wink at him when no one else was looking, placing her finger over her lips with a knowing smile, before looking back down at her case file.

He felt silly then. It was JJ, of course she wouldn’t tell anyone without his express permission.

That didn’t stop her from trying to talk to him about it, however.

Over the following weeks she’d begun to rail him with questions whenever they were alone: where did Sam work? What did he specialize in? Where did he grow up? Did he have any family? How long had they been seeing each other? And so on, ad nauseum.

He’d tried to answer her to the best of his ability. Really, he did. He kept his answers short and to the point, but as the days went on with no phone calls and no messages from Sam to speak of, it got harder to indulge her. Every time she brought Sam up, it felt like she was jabbing a knife between his ribs and twisting, bringing memories of their short time together to the surface that were once fond, but he now had under the microscope.

If Sam hadn’t tried to contact him in weeks, what did that mean?

Had Spencer read too much into the time they spent together?

Sam had told him he cared for him, that he wanted to date him, but what if he was lying?

What if he was just saying all the right things, telling Spencer what he wanted to hear just so he would sleep with him?

What if he’d just been playing Spencer that whole time, and like an idiot, Spencer had believed him?

It wouldn’t be the first time Spencer had been made a fool of by listening to his heart over his mind.

With this storm cloud of doubt whirling endlessly in his skull, when JJ sidled up to his desk one day and asked, “So, are you going to see you-know-who tonight?” Spencer just couldn’t take it anymore. He’d looked up at her suddenly, face contorted in grief and tears already prickling at the corners of his eyes, biting his bottom lip to stifle any of the words of confusion and insecurity that begged to tumble out. She’d stared back, just as surprised and her brow pinched when she realized just how upset he was, reaching out with a comforting hand that he immediately ducked out of the way of, excusing himself as he all but ran to the bathroom.

He’d locked himself in the men’s room till it was time to leave, trying and failing to compose himself as he realized he might have been dumped without even noticing.

How else was he supposed to take this radio silence? He’d received a total of four missed calls and a single voicemail in a month, and he’d not heard a thing from Sam in weeks. Was this Sam’s way of telling him he didn’t want to see him again? Had he decided Spencer was more trouble than he was worth? And if so, how could he be so cowardly?

On the other hand, maybe Spencer was just overthinking things, exacerbating a problem that wasn’t there?

Whatever the answer, it was the not knowing that was killing him.

When he finally skulked out of the bathroom that night, JJ was waiting for him. She stood up from her seat against the wall and he watched, stunned as she crossed the narrow hallway and pulled him into a tight hug. “I won’t mention him again Spence,” she said to him, finally relinquishing her hold so she could look him in the eye, “I promise.”

After that, things had tapered off, his teammates having learned the hard way to keep their distance from Spencer and his personal problems, but that didn’t mean he was suddenly a joy to work with. He began making mistakes, was getting more and more distracted, and eventually, Gideon called him into his office under the guise of “playing a couple rounds of chess.”

Loosely translated from Gideon-speak, that meant they were going to have a “talk.”

So, there he sat on the opposite end of Gideon’s large desk, a chess board separating the two of them as Gideon studied his queen, and Spencer waited for the shoe to drop. They’d been in there for thirty minutes already, and Gideon had not said more than three words, quickly diving into their game and letting Spencer stew in silence, winding himself up the longer they sat unspeaking.

With a measured hand, Gideon reached across the table, making a seemingly inconsequential move that would box in Spencer’s king in four rounds, and finally asked, “What’s been going on with you lately?”

“Nothing,” Spencer said, capturing a knight with his rook, barely paying attention to the board as he began to sweat under Gideon’s appraisal, “Nothing’s going on, why? Why do you think something’s going on?”

“Because in the years I’ve known you, you’ve never been so absentminded,” Gideon replied, sliding his rook forward, his free hand tapping on the surface of his desk, “and I’ve never seen you lose a game so quickly. Checkmate.”

Blinking down at the board, Spencer stared, stunned. He was right; he was completely cornered, with no hope of redeeming himself. He’d completely miscalculated his last two moves, making amateurish mistakes one after the other and he’s lost without even noticing. “I-I,” he stammered, tilting his head as he tried to make sense of what had just happened, how he’d messed up so badly, “I don’t know- I just—”

“You’re distracted,” Gideon said, finishing his sentence for him and Spencer nodded sullenly, “and I get it. Life happens, things get in the way and you just… lose focus. I was young once too, you know.”

Spencer smiled at that, and Gideon chuckled, glad to see him relaxing for the first time in weeks.

“I’m trying not to get stuck in my head,” Spencer said, picking at his shirtsleeves and looking stalwartly down at the floor, “but its been difficult.”

Gideon shifted in his seat, the leather squeaking under his legs as he said tentatively, “Maybe you need to take some time—”

“No!” Spencer shook his head, pinning Gideon to his chair with a narrow-eyed stare, “No, I don’t need to take time off, I’m fine.”

“Reid,” Gideon started, before closing his eyes and correcting himself, “Spencer, you had a witness in tears three days ago because you couldn’t manage a little bit of tact when talking to her about her dead husband. You’ve been late every day this week. You’ve been snapping at Prentiss every time she tries to talk to you! That’s not fine, and it needs to change, now.”

“So what, you’re going to force me to go on sabbatical?”

“If you can’t sort yourself out on your own? Yes.”

Spencer snapped his mouth shut.

“I don’t want to do that,” Gideon explained, leaning across the desk on his elbows, “and I don’t think you need to, either. I think you can work through whatever’s eating you without needing to take time off, you just need to try. You needed to be made aware, and that’s what we’re discussing here. If you can’t manage it, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but for now? Consider this your first warning.”

Taking a deep breath, Spencer swallowed his indignation. He hated feeling like a petulant child getting a talking-to when he was a grown man, who was perfectly capable of handling himself. Only he wasn’t, was he? If he was, he wouldn’t have been called into Gideon’s office in the first place, forced to sit through a lecture about his work ethic as he squirmed uncomfortably, knowing every single word that came out of Gideon’s mouth was the absolute truth.

So, instead of getting his back up, he nodded reluctantly and asked, “Can I go back to my desk, sir?”

Gideon let him go without a fight, but the look on his face when Spencer stood to leave was conflicted. He looked as though he were torn between yelling at him, or trying to hug him, and either action would have been so completely uncomfortable that Spencer wouldn’t have known how to react. He was glad then that Gideon let him leave his office without another word. 

He needed to snap out of it. Gideon was right, he was acting childish and he needed to sort his shit out, one way or another. If he couldn’t see or talk to Sam, and Sam was making no effort to meet him half-way, then he needed to just move on. Whether or not Sam meant to play him, dump him or lead him along, this nonsense was officially affecting his career, and not in a good way. He couldn’t keep agonizing over what Sam meant or didn’t mean, what he did or didn’t want from him… he needed to let this thing go, and if Sam ever got back to him, he’d deal with it then.

It figured, once he’d finally come to this decision, that he’d walk in on JJ laying a gift box down on top of his desk.

“What’s that?” he asked, frowning down at the nondescript cardboard box.

“I don’t know,” she replied, smiling coyly as she tapped the shipping label, “it just came in the mail, no return address or sender, but look—”

Underneath her long, manicured fingernail was the initials S.C.

You have got to be kidding me.

Wasting no time, Spencer sat down in his chair and tore open the box with all of the decorum of a five-year-old on Christmas morning, much to JJ’s amusement. “It’s not going anywhere,” she said softly, taking a seat on the edge of his desk as he reached into the box and pulled out, with a curious frown, a copy of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. “He sent you a used book?” JJ asked, raising an eyebrow.

Spencer laughed breathily, his heart beating faster in his chest as a wave of relief poured over him, the tension he’d just felt washing away so suddenly he was left floundering and giddy. “Apparently, I’m not a ‘flowers’ kind of guy,” he replied.

Cracking open the front cover, Spencer was immediately hit with the old, musty smell of a well-loved book, the yellowed pages curling upwards at the corners, arching with the bend in its spine. He flipped through it, the pages fanning the hair from his face when he noticed something: dark, looping handwriting scratched onto the nearly empty title page, writing that was almost illegible and immediately recognizable as Sam’s.  

“You pierce my soul, Spencer Reid,” it read, and Spencer’s breath caught in his throat, “I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever.”

“Oh, you two are just peas in a pod, aren’t you?” JJ asked, nudging Spencer with her shoulder when he flushed an even brighter red, “You must be the only person on the planet that would rather get a used, highlighted book over flowers.” When Spencer looked up at her with a curious expression on his face, she reached down and flipped a couple pages, showing him what he’d missed: several lines every couple pages that had been highlighted in yellow.

"My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company,” read one passage.

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach,” said another.

“There could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison,” read more still.

Each passage, every highlighted word was picked out for him. Sam had read through this novel with Spencer in mind, choosing passages that hearkened how he felt, ones that made him think of Spencer whenever he had a quiet moment alone. And suddenly, Spencer felt foolish for ever doubting him in the first place. He felt childish, and yet longed for as he ran his fingers lovingly over the worn pages of the book, smiling softly.

“I’m sorry JJ,” Spencer said, looking up from the book and meeting her eye, “for acting like such a self-absorbed jerk, I—”

But JJ shook her head, interrupting him mid sentence with a gentle squeeze to his shoulder and said, “You have nothing to apologize for. I know what its like to be head over heels for someone, so I’m here if ever you wanted to talk...” she trailed off, reaching down and tapping the book again, “He seems to really like you, Spence.”  

“I’m starting to see that,” Spencer smiled down at the book in his hands, before telling JJ, “Thank you.”

With a pat on his shoulder, she walked away and Spencer sat back in his seat, flipping through familiar pages and feeling gladder to be wrong than he ever had in his life.

Monday, December 10th, 2006:

“Spill it, mama.”

JJ looked up at Garcia with a curious frown, “What?”

She stuck her finger out, pointing past JJ’s shoulder, across the break area towards the bullpen. Turning slightly, JJ saw that it was Spencer she was asking about, who was sitting at his desk unboxing another book, a giddy little smile plastered on his face.

“I don’t know,” JJ fibbed seamlessly, shrugging her shoulders at Garcia’s incredulous huff, “Honestly, I don’t.”

“Yeah, I don’t believe that for a hot second!” Shuffling JJ backwards with her hands on her shoulders, Pen ducked in close, glancing at Spencer over her shoulder and looking incredibly conspicuous, “That’s the third book he’s gotten this week, and every time he gets one he holes up with it at his desk, grinning like a kid in a candy story. So, what gives? Who’s sending them?”

JJ paused, fumbling as she tried to think of what to say and pausing just a second too long, giving herself away. Garcia looked back at her sharply, her eyes wide and JJ pleaded, “I’m not supposed to tell anyone.”

“Oh my god,” Garcia said, the words jumbling together in her haste to get them out, “is he dating someone? Are those supposed to like, romantic gifts? Love books? Who is this mystery person who thinks books are sexy secret gifts?”

“Seriously Garcia, I can’t say anything, I promised.”

“So he is seeing someone!”

“Stop,” JJ shrugged her hands off, “I honestly can’t tell you anything.”

“But can you at least tell me if I’m right?”

Looking hastily over at Spencer, JJ bit her lip before nodding once.

Garcia clapped her hands together with an elated giggle, JJ hurrying to shush her. She held her breath and scanned the room, thankful that while Garcia’s outburst had drawn the attention of numerous agents in the bullpen, the one they were most worried about was still nose deep in his book, deaf to whatever was going on around him. “Come on,” JJ said, weighing the positives and negatives of getting Garcia involved, and deciding she was certainly more dangerous if left to her own devices.

The walk back to Garcia’s office was silent, but the second they were inside and the door clicked shut, JJ turned to her with a warning, “What I am about to tell you cannot leave this room. Got it? No one can know about this.”

Garcia nodded excitedly.

“His name is Sam Campbell,” JJ said, holding a hand up to stop Garcia from going on a giddy tirade, “and that’s honestly all that I know. I met him about a month ago, when Hotch got us that random weekday off? I stopped by Spencer’s to see if he wanted to grab dinner, and this absolute giant of a man answered the door instead.”

Instead of being all up in her business, Garcia was sitting at one of her monitors, her fingernails clacking off the keys. “Love me some tall, dark and handsome,” she said with a grin, “how long have they been seeing each other?”

“I don’t know,” JJ answered, and when Garcia glared at her disbelievingly, her fingers pausing over her keyboard, she added, “I’m telling the truth this time. We only spoke for two seconds before Spence showed up and kind of… shooed him away.”

“Like he was embarrassed of him?”

“No, more like he’s never mentioned being interested in men, and got self-conscious about having a guy answer the door who had clearly spent the night.”

“Spent the night!?” Garcia’s eyebrows shot up to her hairline, her voice damn near breaking the sound barrier, “My innocent little Junior-G-Man! Are you sure?”

“Positive.” JJ grabbed a seat, kicking back and crossing her arms over her chest, “His shirt was wrinkled, hair was a mess and his neck was just covered in hickies.”

“Oh, no way!”

JJ nodded with a sly grin, “Spence was worse.”

Garcia dropped her head into her hands and squealed, peeking at JJ from between her fingers. “Good for him,” she said with a sigh, smiling ear to ear as she turned back to her computer, typing lightening fast, “Now, lets see here…” On one of her monitors a contract with Bethesda Hospital popped up, along with a staff ID bearing Sam’s picture. “He’s a doctor,” Garcia murmured, lines of text reflecting off her glasses from her screen as she opened a slew of new windows, scanning through her illicitly garnered information at breakneck speed, “of the medical sort. Just started too, is finishing up his internship… graduated from Georgetown, Stanford before that… oh, he’s young! Only twenty-seven. Born May 2nd, so he’s a Taurus. A nice earth sign to go with our little Libra muffin—”

“Pen!” JJ smacked her arm, and Garcia yelped, rubbing at her wounded bicep and looking affronted.

“What?” Garcia said, putting on an innocent façade as she continued to type, “Don’t you want to know who’s been spending time with our littlest agent?”

“Yes, but Spencer will tell us when he’s ready. What you’re doing is an egregious misuse of governmental resources, for one. And two, it’s a huge breach of both Spencer and Sam’s privacy.”

“I’m looking up his birthday and what he does for a living,” Garcia said, waving JJ off, “its not like I’m digging for gold here, I’m not gonna find anything…” Suddenly, she tapered off, squinting closer to one of her screens and shoving her glasses up her nose, “Oh no.”

“What is it?” JJ asked, sliding her chair closer.

Garcia just shook her head, her mouth agape as she tried to comprehend what she was reading. “I don’t know,” she said, the concern in her tone doing nothing to assuage JJ’s nerves, “I can’t get in to check, but it’s a sealed record.”

“A juvenile record, maybe?”

“No,” Penelope breathed, pointing to it on the screen and drawing JJ’s eye to the photocopied document, ages old and stamped highly classified, “a record with the FBI, and another—” she clacked a few more keys, drawing up another document that read redacted and sealed, “with the ATF.”

“Geez, Penelope!" JJ huffed, running a hand over her eyes, “See, this is exactly what I was worried about!”

“You’re right,” Garcia said with brow-beaten frown, “I’m just gonna close this box of no-good nothings and we can pretend we didn’t just—”

“Stop!”

Garcia jumped at her outburst. Completely at a loss, she glanced back and forth between JJ and her monitors, holding her hands out to her sides as she waited for some kind of instruction. JJ slumped down, her elbows hitting the edge of the desk and she rested her chin in her hands, staring at the two reports on screen like they would somehow give her the answer.

“What do we do?” Garcia asked.

“What if he’s dangerous?”

“What if he’s not?”

“Why else would he have a sealed record with both the ATF and the FBI?”

“I can’t speak on the ATF report—” reaching out, Penelope tapped the dates on both reports, “which was filed only three years ago, but the FBI one was sealed when Sam turned sixteen. And outside of that, he’s got no juvenile records, expunged or otherwise and has been a fine, upstanding citizen his entire adult life. No drunk and dis-orderlies, no B and E's, not even a parking ticket.”

“Do you think Spencer knows?” JJ asked, but Garcia just shrugged.

“Maybe,” she replied, snapping up a stuffed cat from her desk and toying with its fluffy paws, “How serious are they? If they just started dating, then maybe not. But I do know that—” she clacked a few more keys, a small smile returning to her face, “Sam has a thing for foreign arthouse films, as his membership at the Pantages Theatre implies. He drinks more coffee than any living person should, he lives in a tiny apartment with another doctor, a nurse, and a teenager, and he—holy cow, look at his work schedule!”

JJ leaned forwards and winced, “Oh my god, no wonder Spencer has been so moody lately. Sam hasn’t had a day off in almost a month.”

“Poor guy,” Penelope said, nudging JJ with her elbow as she added, “But he’s thoughtful. He’s sent Reid at least three books this week, and those seem to be making him happy.”

“They are. I haven’t seen him this smiley in…” JJ blew out her cheeks and looked upwards, grinning, “never. I’ve never seen him so giddy.”

“He seems so young.”

“He seems his age,” JJ corrected, patting Penelope on the knee, “He can’t know that you know, alright?”

Garcia rolled her eyes playfully, before pressing her lips in tight line and miming locking them up, before throwing away the imaginary key. JJ smiled at her, and was about to thank her when something flashed on Garcia’s screen, just for a second before all of Sam’s information from Bethesda General vanished. “What the hell?” she murmured, and Penelope cursed, her fingers clacking on her keyboard as she grumbled under her breath.

“I can’t get it back,” she said, and after a few more seconds of typing, lines of code flying across her screen, she scoffed incredulously, “I can’t get into the hospital servers at all, what—”

Suddenly, a small window popped up on each of her monitors, right in the very center of every screen. It was a simple command window, with only a white cursor flashing inconspicuously until whoever was on the other end began to type:

“Try harder, bitches!”

“Oh, hell no,” Penelope groused, pulling up close to her monitors, JJ’s presence all but forgotten, “I’m not about to be outdone by some dime-a-dozen, hospital IT goon. No freaking way.”

“Is everything alright?” JJ asked, but Garcia just waved her aside.

“It will be, once I box this monster in.” Like a woman on the warpath, Penelope was laser focused, boxes rising and falling on her monitor, text flying faster than lightening, and JJ was sorely dismissed. “Oh no you don’t,” she said, hunched over her desk with her back to JJ, “you sneaky little—”

“I’m gonna head out,” JJ backed away towards the door, gesturing with her thumb, but Penelope either didn’t hear her, or couldn’t be bothered. Forgoing a goodbye (she figured it would fall on deaf ears anyways), JJ slipped out into the hall, her stomach in knots as she compartmentalized what she’d just learned.

Sam was only twenty-seven years old, but already had a sealed record with the FBI and the ATF…

Who was this guy?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2006:

Sam was floating through his procedures in a daze, his head heavy with lack of sleep as he went through the motions of Mrs. Davies therapeutic paracentesis. This was his twenty-seventh hour on the floor, his umpteenth procedure that day, and now that he was fast approaching the end of his internship, it was hard not to rely on muscle memory for the simpler ones, letting himself doze off and setting his body on auto-pilot.

That apparently didn't fly when Kevin was in the room, however.

“Dude!” Kevin snapped his fingers in front of Sam’s face, his shrill voice cutting through Sam’s comfortably haze, “Pay attention! You’re going to perforate her bowel!”

Mrs. Davies dropped the magazine she was reading onto her chest, scowling as he looked between the two of them, “Is there a problem?”

“No problem, ma’am,” Sam said sunnily, unscrewing the syringe and connecting the tubing to the vacuum bottle, “You’re all set. Just lie back, relax and I’ll have nurse Kline in to keep an eye on you shortly.”

Mrs. Davies grunted, and went back to her magazine, unaware of the death glare Sam shot Kevin across her prone body on the bed. Snapping his gloves off and dumping them on the sterile tray, Sam grabbed Kevin by the crook of the arm and dragged him from the room, calling across the hall to the nurse’s station, “Cas! I need you to look in on Mrs. Davies!”

His sharp tone rattled every nurse at the station, their shoulders all stiffening in unison as they glanced warily at the doctor who’d dared to bellow at Castiel Kline. Even Kevin tensed at his side, yanking his arm out of Sam’s grasp and backing away as Cas stood up behind the counter, drawling “Sir, yes sir,” and giving Sam a mock salute before slowly meandering towards Mrs. Davies’ room.

Sam’s eye twitched as Cas took his sweet time crossing the negligible hallway, seemingly moving slower than normal just to get on Sam’s nerves, and it was working. His temper flared, and he curled his hands into fists, his nails biting into his palms as he attempted to reign himself in. Cas did this to everyone, even senior doctors (not excluding the chief of medicine). He was good at his job and he was perpetually helpful, but he had one hell of an attitude problem, and everyone knew when he was being bitchy to just stay out of his way. He was usually only teasing, not meaning anything by it, but if you snapped back, or tried to give him shit for it, well… when you poke the bear, you get the claws.

He really should have heeded Kevin’s warning when he whispered, “Sam, chill,” but he didn’t. He knew he shouldn’t be getting mad at Kevin for pointing out that he should be paying attention to his procedures. He knew he shouldn’t be snapping at Cas just because he was embarrassed by his own lack of focus. He knew he should just walk away and cool off… but knowing and doing were two different things, and the latter was the one he went with, right or not.

So, instead of being logical, Sam glared across the ward at Cas and snapped, “Today would be nice!”

An icy chill fell over the hall, with everyone from doctors to patients holding their breath. The nurses at the station pressed up against the counter, watching in abject fascination as Castiel froze mid-step, his hackles raising like an angry cat even though his expression was schooled and calm. “What was that?” he asked, turning his head without moving his body, regarding Sam with a cold, calculating expression, his chilly blue eyes narrowed as though he were puzzling out a math problem, “Are you trying to give me attitude, Bullwinkle?”

One foot in the grave, Sam knew he should apologize. Cas was his friend, he’d done nothing wrong, but he was suddenly, irrationally furious with him. “No, I’m not trying to give you attitude,” Sam bit out harshly, not giving Cas a moment to respond before adding, “I’m trying to get you to do your job. And my name isn’t Bullwinkle, nurse, it’s Doctor Campbell. I’d appreciate you learning to use it.”

“Oh-ho shit,” Meg chuckled as she hopped up on the counter, only to be shuffled to the side by Missouri when she blocked her view. She sipped her tea, her eyes glimmering dangerously over the rim of her mug as she said, “Sam, do you have a death wish?”

Missouri chuckled, and Meg went to jibe at him again when Cas held up a hand and stopped everyone in their tracks. One wave of his palm, and every doctor, nurse and orderly who had begun to chat amongst themselves shut right up, all of their attention and energy zeroed in on Cas, and what he was going to do.

“I know how to do my job, doctor,” Cas said, and the way he spat out the word doctor, like it left a nasty taste on his tongue, sent a stab of guilt right through Sam’s chest, “I’ve been doing this job long before you got here, and I was doing my job before you attempted to needlessly humiliate me in front of my colleagues, so let me ask you this—”

He strode across the hallway, dumping Mrs. Davies charts in the arms of a poor, confused orderly on the way over to Sam, stopping only when they stood toe to toe. He crossed his arms over his chest, squared his shoulders and tipped his chin up in defiance, his jaw set as he looked ready to attack, but Sam could see the hurt brimming in his big, blue eyes despite his stalwart expression. And that made it all the more poignant when Cas looked him in the eye and asked, “Did you honestly think I wasn’t going to do what you asked, or are you just yelling at me to make yourself feel better?”

Cas was good. He knew how to find the scab and where to put the salt, and Sam inhaled sharply, ducking his chin to his chest as he tried to apologize. “Cas, listen, I—” but Cas was having none of it, and with a wave of his hand and a curt “Save it,” he snatched the chart back from the orderly and stomped off into Mrs. Davies room, slamming the door behind him.

With Cas gone, the rattling bang of the slammed door still echoing in the silent hall, Sam flushed hotly as he felt every single set of eyes on him. Every person in the hall was watching him, from Meg sipping her tea, to Missouri shaking her head at him. Even Kevin was staring, his expression indiscernible, and Sam ran a hand through his hair, staring resolutely at the floor and murmuring some nonsense excuse as he walked (no, retreated) into the stairwell. And as the door slid shut behind him, he heard Meg ask incredulously, “What the hell was that?”

The hell was that, indeed.

He didn’t need turn around to know the person who’d followed him into the stairwell was Kevin. He just strode down the stairs, taking a seat at the foot of the staircase as he waited for Kevin to join him. True to form, Kevin stomped down the stairs, coming to a stop in front of Sam as he echoed Meg’s question in his own shrill voice, “Care to tell me what the hell that was!?”

Sam scoffed, “I think I could ask you the same thing.”

“Bullshit,” Kevin said, dropping down into a squat so they could speak eye to eye, “I caught you zoning out during a procedure and called you on it. That’s justified in my book. But what you did to Cas? That was just mean!”

“You made me look incompetent in front of my patient!” Sam shouted, gesturing wildly up the stairs with an open palm, “You completely discredited me. And Cas, he— he called me Bullwinkle!”

Kevin blanched, “He always calls you Bullwinkle! He has stupid nicknames for everyone, he’s been calling me Short Stop since the day we met! And your patient didn’t hear anything. Besides, she’s cirrhotic… this isn’t her first paracentesis, she knows the risks are negligible.”

“You still shouldn’t have called me out in front of the patient.”

“Okay, maybe you’re right,” Kevin admitted, before pointing his finger and poking it in the center of Sam’s chest, “But you should have been paying attention.”

“I’ve successfully performed that procedure a million times.”

“And all it takes is one slip up to ruin that streak.”

“I’m not going to slip up.”

“Those are some famous last words if I’ve ever heard them.”

“What do you want from me!?”

“To talk!”

“About what!?”

“This!” Kevin shouted, standing up waving at Sam with both palms, “About you being a little bitch! About your shitty mood, your lack of focus and this horrible, god damned apathy!” Sensing he was spiraling into hysterics Kevin clapped a hand over his mouth, taking a moment to close his eyes before saying, “You were the intern that came in here without delusions of grandeur or blind ambitions. You only wanted to help people. And seeing you defend your lack of investment in a patient’s well being just because you’ve done the procedure a bunch is incredibly concerning.”

“I still care about my patients, like I always have,” Sam bristled, gritting his teeth as he stood up from the step, standing at his full height as he asked, “So instead of worrying about me, maybe you should hop down off your high-horse and start worrying about yourself!”

“What do I have to worry about?” Kevin asked, jutting his chin out.

“Things have been less than stellar for you, too,” Sam said, watching intently as Kevin paled and looked down at his shoes, “I know you nicked your appendectomy patients colon last week, and you’ve been hiding out on the roof every time they page a code. You came into this hospital as the superstar student, who’s goal was to be the chief of medicine by thirty-five. And now you’re hiding from the nurses when they need you to make executive decisions, and you’re being assigned clean up on all your operations, so what’s going on with you, Kevin?”

Opening his mouth to respond, and finding he had nothing to say, Kevin snapped his jaw shut and shoved his hands in the pockets of his lab coat. Sam deflated, slouching sideways and leaning against the wall as his will to fight left him, draining out of him along with the last of his energy. They stood in silence, both of them at an impasse, and neither one knowing how to proceed.

And as usual, Sam was the one to break the silence.

“I’m just tired,” he said softly, suddenly feeling his exhaustion deep in his bones, the kind of tired that had stuck with him for weeks and never really left, always just hovering under the surface, waiting for him to drop his guard before it reared its ugly head again, “I’m so fucking tired. If I’m not here, I’m doing paper work, or studying, or at the clinic. I’m not sleeping because I’m hardly ever home, and you know I can’t sleep in the on-call room. I can barely find a second to breathe, much less eat or shower, and I haven’t been able to see or even hear from Spencer in almost a month now. I’m burnt out, Kevin. I’m spent.”

“I know,” Kevin said, nodding solemnly and leaning back against the wall, sliding down until he was sitting on the floor, “I am, too. I keep messing up, and I don’t know why. I’ve never been one to make mistakes, you know? My mom drilled that into my head at a young age: only the underqualified make mistakes. But I keep doing it! Did you know I administered 100 units of insulin to Mr. Hurdon last night? Thankfully Cas caught it in time, but he still went into a diabetic seizure.”

“I accidently performed an esophageal intubation on a patient yesterday,” Sam told him, taking a seat beside him on the floor and groaning as his stiff joints popped, “I was blowing up his stomach like a balloon and I didn’t even notice until Cas pointed it out.”

“Thank god for Cas, huh?”

“Yeah,” Sam said, biting his lower lip and tipping his head back, feeling worse by the second, “I shouldn’t have been such a dick to him.”

“No, you shouldn’t’ve,” Kevin agreed, “but you’ll apologize, he’ll give you a hard time for a while, and then it’ll all blow over.” Picking at his fingernails, Kevin asked, “Do you think this is going to get easier? Or is it always going to be this hard?”

Shrugging his shoulders, Sam just shook his head. “It must,” he said, though he didn’t sound convinced, “If it didn’t, I think there’d be a lot fewer doctors in this place.”

Kevin chuckled, rubbing at his tired eyes with the heels of his hands. He tried to stand, leaning back against the wall, but his legs just couldn’t get him there, and he fell back in his rear with a grunt. Slumping backwards, he laughed a little harder, resting his forehead in his palm as his face contorted with the frenetic kind of mirth only borne out of bone-aching exhaustion. “God, this is the longest I’ve sat down all day,” he said, and Sam nodded along.

“Same here.” Sam groaned as he pulled himself to his feet, stretching out his long limbs before reaching down and hauling Kevin to his feet. Glancing at his watch, he grinned dourly, “Only ten more hours to go.”

“Hallelujah,” Kevin drawled, looking down at his pager as it started to beep, “and that would be my whipple.” He frowned, and looked up at Sam curiously, “Do you ever find yourself wrist deep in a person’s abdomen and think, ‘this can't be legal?’”

“All the time,” Sam laughed, patting Kevin on the shoulder, “but with central lines.”

Ducking out of the way of his palm, Kevin waved goodbye, tossing an “Adios, muchacho,” over his shoulder on his way down the stairs, his pager going off again before he’d made it down a single landing. His feet hammered off the steps, and Sam was about to head back up to his floor when he heard Kevin pause, “Hey Sam?”

Bending over the railing, Sam saw Kevin hovering at the foot of the next staircase looking up at him, and answered, “What’s up?”

“I’m sorry I embarrassed you in front of your patient,” he said, his voice echoing in the empty stairwell, “I just know how much it sucks to mess up, and I was worried for you. You’re a good doctor.”

“I’m sorry I got mad at you,” Sam called down, “I know you were just trying to help. You’re a good doctor, too.”

Kevin smiled up at him, about to respond when his pager beeped again, ringing in counterpoint with Sam’s own. “Shit,” they said in unison, “I gotta go.”

Both took off in opposite directions, their feet pounding off the cement stairs.

Ignoring Meg’s snide remarks as he sprinted down the hall, Sam burst through the open door of Mrs. Davies room, finding Cas already adjusting her IV. His back was turned, but Sam could tell he was still mad by his posture alone, and the sharp way the flicked at the drip chamber. “You paged me?” he asked, keeping his voice low so as not to wake Mrs. Davies, who was passed out with her gossip magazine half covering her face.

“I’ve removed the line and her vitals look good,” Cas said, plucking the chart from the foot of Mrs. Davies bed and handing it over to Sam, “but I need you to sign off of 200mls of albumin and a colloid fluid challenge in a few hours.”

“Oh shit,” Sam murmured, flipping through the chart and noting Castiel’s neat printing where his own looping, illegible scrawl should have been, “I forgot to order—”

“It’s okay, Bullw—Doctor Campbell,” Cas corrected himself in a clipped tone, still not looking up at Sam as he went back to cleaning up from the procedure, “It wasn’t anything urgent, just remember for next time.”

Hearing Cas call him Doctor Campbell was like a slap in the face that only he was responsible for, and suddenly Sam felt lower than the dirt on his shoes. “Cas,” he said, walking up behind the other man and wincing when Cas turned again so he wouldn’t need to look at him, “I am so sorry. I should never have talked to you like that, and you don’t need to call me Doctor, I was just being a jerk.”

“Yes, you were,” he said, and after he wrapped up the mess on the tray Cas sighed heavily, snapping his gloves off and finally turning to look at Sam, “but thank you for apologizing. I know you’re under a lot of stress right now.”

“That’s not an excuse,” Sam said, his heart wrenching in two when he finally got a good look at Cas’ face, at his eyes red rimmed and his nose rubbed raw, “You’re my friend, but you’re also the reason I still have a job here. Shit like this—” he waved the chart, “You’ve been saving my bacon since day one. I don’t know why I can’t get my head in the game lately, but you’re always there and you always have my back. I don’t think I’ve ever told you how much I appreciate it.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” Cas murmured, walking across the room and sitting on the edge of the other, vacant bed, “You know the attendings pile the work on at the end of your internship, right?”

“I figured as much.”

“They do it for a reason.” Cas looked up at him through the gloomy darkness of the room, the bedside lamp and the monitors the only source of light, “In a few more weeks you’re going to be a resident, and that comes with a whole slew of new responsibilities. Before that happens, they want to push you to the limits of what you can handle.”

“To see who can cut it, and who can’t.”

Cas shook his head, “No. If you couldn’t hack it as a doctor, you wouldn’t have made it this far to begin with.” He sighed, and patted the bed neck to him, giving Sam the same look he gave to Jack whenever he was about to have a ‘real’ talk. Smiling softly, Sam sat down next to him, leaning on his knees and watching the light shifting over Cas’ face as he spoke, “While you still have your safety net, they want to force you to take a good, long look at your priorities, so you can decide for yourself whether you really want to be a doctor at all.”

“That’s ridiculous," Sam said with a scoff, "of course I want to be a doctor. I wouldn’t have gone through eight years of school and racked up a hundred thousand dollars in debt otherwise.”

“But now that you’ve seen how stressful it can be, can you honestly say you haven’t thought of…” Cas shrugged, and gestured helplessly in front of himself with upturned palms, “I don’t know, doing something else? There’s plenty of other careers you can get with a medical degree that don’t involve working at the hospital. Somewhere with normal, structured days and nine-to-five hours. It’s going to be another three years before your workload evens out, Sam. Can you handle that?”

“On my own?” Sam shook his head, “No. I’m so swamped that I was referring to Mrs. Davies here as Ascites Lady before I got my hands on her chart. And the man in 173? I was calling him Mister Uremia all day long. I got into medicine to help people, to make the worst days of their life a little easier, and I’ve been so busy I couldn’t even remember their names. I’ve been floating through all of my procedures, barely keeping my head above water, and if I had to do it all alone, I might seriously consider quitting, but I’m not.” Reaching out and squeezing Cas’s knee, he said, “I’ve got you looking out for me. Kevin, too. And I think the most important thing I’ve learned during my time here is that you can’t survive in this place on your own. Sometimes you need to lean on the people around you, and that’s okay. It makes it tolerable, even if you lose sight of how much those people do for you every now and again.”

“You really hurt me,” Cas murmured, and Sam squeezed his knee reassuringly, “not because you’re a doctor on a power trip, but because you—did you honestly think I wouldn’t help you? That I wouldn’t be there, by your side, any time you asked?” He huffed, wiping his nose roughly with the back of his wrist, “I always come when you call.”

“I know,” Sam said softly, tugging Cas closer by his upper arm and guiding him in to rest his head on Sam’s shoulder, “You were right. I was just mad at myself for losing focus, for letting my stress distract me from doing the best job I could, and I took it out on you. I’m so sorry Castiel, and I promise that’ll never happen again.”

“It better not.” Pushing himself up and away, he jabbed Sam in the arm with one long, pointed finger, “And don’t call me that. I hate that name.” Sniffling slightly, checking that Mrs. Davies was still fast asleep before he said, “It’s normal, you know.”

“What is?”

“Losing focus. Paying more attention to stats and vitals, to names on a chart over the person in the bed.” When Sam shrugged dismissively, Cas glared at him, his sharp gaze undercut by his still glistening eyes, “It happens to everyone. There’s too much on your plate, the hospital is a stressful place and at the end of the day, what’s on the chart is what’s going to keep a person alive, not your friendship. But soon you’ll get used to the workload, and you’ll be able to connect with your patients again. You just need to give yourself time. You’re not the first doctor to struggle with this. You’re not that special.”

He said it with a straight face and a smile in his voice, and Sam couldn’t help but laugh, loudly. Castiel tried to shush him, holding a finger to his lips and waving at him to shut up, but it was too late. Mrs. Davies jerked awake, snorting herself back into consciousness and sitting up sharply, demanding to know, “Who the hell’s in here!?”

“Sorry Mrs. Davies,” Cas said in his sweet-as-pie voice, the one he only reserved for Jack’s teachers and his patients, as he hurried to her side, “Doctor Campbell was just signing off on your chart so I could go get your medicine, we didn’t mean to wake you.”

“My apologies, ma’am,” Sam said, picking up her chart and scribbling the required dosages in their correct places, “We’ll be getting out of your hair now, so please, don’t let us bother you.”

“A little late for that,” she groused, picking up her magazine and aimlessly flipping through it. But before Cas and Sam were even out of the room, she was already asleep, the magazine rustling with each breath she took as it slumped over her face.

“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Cas walked over to the nurse’s station and pulled a pile of charts from behind the counter, placing each one in Sam’s hands as he rattled off, “Room 117 needs an a-line, Room 135 needs reintubation, and Mr. Green in Room 238 is spiraling a bit; his pulmonary edema seems to be secondary to acute mitral regurgitation, and the nurse on duty needs to know if you want to call a surgical consult.”

Sam buckled under the weight of the charts and raised his eyebrow quizzically at Cas. “Is this payback for being a dick?”

“No,” Cas said with a smile, “this is for being on your last week as an intern. Payback will come later, probably at home. Or it’ll have something to do with your car, I haven’t made up my mind yet.”

“Can’t wait for you to figure it out,” Sam rolled his eyes, heading off towards his first patient.

He didn't make it far before Cas called after him, and when he turned he expected Cas to have another patient for him. Instead, he saw Cas standing there with a small brown box in his hand, as he told him, “A courier dropped this off for you a few minutes ago.” Taking the box from Cas, he weighed it in his grip, looking all over for a sender but only finding the initials S.R. “Who’s it from?” Cas asked.

“Spencer,” he replied, tearing into the cardboard and pulling out a worn old copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, of all things. With a small, barely contained grin he flipped it open to the front page, where he found Spencer’s unique printing, all capitals of all different sizes crammed together into little groups, coming together to form a sentence: “so I wait for you like a lonely house, till you will see me again and live in me. Till then my windows ache.”

As he thumbed through the novel, he found that, starting at the very first page, certain words were circled, and as he worked his way through the book, they strung together scattered sentences, some borrowed and some from Spencer himself. It was a letter in pieces and adapted words, as Spencer spoke to him through a book he’d probably read a hundred times, and Sam’s heart clenched in his chest, the desperate longing that threatened to spill over every time he thought of Spencer filling him to the brim.

“He really likes you, doesn’t he?” Cas asked, sidling up next to him.

“God, I wish I could see him,” Sam sighed, running his fingers over the words as though he could reach through them to the man who sent them.

“Just one more week,” Cas said, patting him on the back and shoving the charts back in his hands, “you just need to get through one more week.”

Friday, December 14th, 2006 @ 8pm:

Sam was sitting in the on-call room, waiting to start his shift and thumbing through Jane Eyre when he heard his name paged over the intercom. He frowned, staring up at the speaker like he’d heard wrong; being on call meant he wasn’t supposed to be there until eleven, but he’d not been able to sleep later than two in the afternoon and decided to come in earlier. He couldn’t get any reading done at home, not when both Jack and Cas were having their weekly Friday junk-food-and-bad-movie-night, so he’d sought refuge in the on-call room, working his way through some Charlotte Bronte as his next present for Spencer. No one should be paging him, because no one should know he was there.

But when his name was paged again, out of curiosity more than anything else, Sam picked up his backpack, squirrelled his book away and headed down to security.

“Hey, Charlie,” Sam said as he walked into the security room, greeting the nighttime security guard who was currently sitting with her feet up on the counter, tapping away at her Gameboy. With her headphones looped over her ears she didn’t hear him, didn’t even notice he was there until he tapped her politely on the shoulder.

“Holy crap!” Crying out and flailing, Charlie’s chair creaked dangerously, rocking backwards a little too far and balancing on its hind legs. Waving her arms, she desperately tried to right herself, but she couldn’t get her feet off the counter fast enough, the chair slipping as she fell backwards. Were it not for Sam grabbing the back of her chair and steadying her, she would have toppled into the mainframe behind her. “Sam!” she admonished, standing up from her seat and pulling her headphones down, “Warn a girl, would you?”

“Sorry,” he said, and Charlie kicked her chair back, setting her headphones and Gameboy down on the counter, in front of her multiple monitors, “I said hi, but I don’t think you heard me.”

“No duh,” she said, running her hands over her eyes, “You scared the bejesus out of me.”

With a short laugh, Sam shuffled in his spot, his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans as he asked, “You paged me?”

“Yeah, actually. I didn’t know if you were here but it was worth a shot.” Charlie pulled up another chair and patted it, a suggestion for him to sit down as she leaned over her keyboard, her manicured fingernails clicking off the keys, “Did I tell you someone has been trying to hack into the hospital’s mainframe for almost a week now?”

Sam froze, halfway between sitting and standing, “No, you didn’t! Jesus, Charlie, does Doctor MacLeod know?”

She waved him off, her eyes darting back and forth across her screens as she pulled up information at speeds Sam could hardly comprehend. “They’re basically harmless,” she said, before pressing the tip of her tongue to the corner of her mouth, pausing a fraction of a second and then adding, “Kind of. They’re good, I can tell you that much. They’re giving me a run for my money, and they have some top of the line resources to boot. It’s taking all of my energy just to fend them off.”

“They don’t sound harmless.”

“What Crowley doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” she shrugged, barely paying attention to him as she worked, “besides, they’re not after patient records or insurance information, sweet pea. They’ve been lookin’ for dirt on you.”

Sam’s stomach dropped so fast he could have sworn he heard it hit the floor. “Excuse me?” he stammered, his voice barely above a whisper, hardly audible over the hum of ventilation fans and the clacking of Charlies fingers on the keys.

Someone with major resources was attempting to hack into the hospital’s mainframe for information on him, and that could only mean one thing. He leaned forwards, dropping his head into his hands, his breath coming faster on each inhale and his blood roaring in his ears as he swelled with panic. The last time the ATF had been rooting around in his life, Jessica had died suddenly in a housefire, and they’d not gotten any closer to finding his brother or his dad.

Think, he had to think… when was the last time he’d heard from Dean? It had to have been months ago, right? Bobby hadn’t mentioned him stopping by the scrapyard, and Sam hadn’t received any texts from random numbers asking for money, so that meant Dean was doing fine on his own. Usually he’d call him from a burner if he was bored, but he’d not even done that, so whatever Dean was up to, he was probably just busy. And busy meant he was staying out of trouble.

Was is his dad? The last time Sam saw his dad was in a courtroom when he was seventeen, before he’d given the last of his condemning testimony on the stand and the judge had pronounced John guilty on all charges. Sam had never once visited him in prison (not that he was allowed to, anyways), never wrote him or called him. And even when his dad managed to escape his prison transport (which Sam was still hazy on the details of, but he’d been trying so hard to forget his father had even existed at that point, that he’d hardly believed it was real when the police had come to question him on it), the ATF had kept their noses out of it, deferring to the FBI and their jurisdiction. That was it, that was where Sam’s connection with John Winchester had died.

So, what the hell did they want from him now?

“This person is looking for your personal information,” Charlie reiterated, and suddenly stopped tapping at her keyboard, “But nothing major, either. They’re not looking for the usual stuff, like morbidity and mortality rulings, patient deaths or payroll info, they’re just looking for your cell phone number.”

Sam frowned, looking up at Charlie from over top his fingers.

She nodded animatedly, “Weird, right? Well, it gets weirder.”

“How?” Sam asked, fearing the answer.

“They tried one last time about an hour ago to get in and grab your cell number,” Charlie said, and Sam followed along with her finger as she pointed to a spot on her screen, a little black window with a single line of text on it, “and when I blocked them, they sent a message for you.”

Leaning forward, Sam squinted his eyes against the unnatural brightness of Charlie’s monitor, his breath catching in his throat as he read aloud:

“Please, for the love of all that is bright and fluffy, tell Sam to call Spencer, now.”

“Who’s Spencer?” Charlie asked, but Sam was already on his feet and out the door.

Friday, December 14th @ 10pm:

Spencer’s phone was ringing, but he was too busy washing Nathan Harris’ blood off his hands to care.

Spencer’s phone had been ringing repeatedly since he got home, but all he could think about was how it felt to have Nathan life slipping through his fingers as he desperately tried to save him.

Spencer's phone cut off, his apartment blissfully silent for only a few minutes until it started to ring again, but all he could hear was Nathan’s voice in his ear as he begged Spencer to let him die.

It wasn’t coming off, he thought distantly as he stared down at his red, raw hands. His fingernails were stained through and Spencer cursed loudly when his phone wouldn’t quiet down, covering his ears with his soapy palms until he’d had enough. Turning around, he grasped the phone cord with one wet hand and ripped it from the wall, killing the noise and immersing himself in the quiet of his home, leaving only the running faucet and the clock on the wall to beat a steady rhythm.

He was going to need to cut them, Spencer thought distantly, his brain like a fog as he groped for the faucet, cutting off the flow of water into his kitchen sink despite his hands still being caked in drying soap. He was going to need to cut his nails, and push back his cuticles, both things he always forgot to do, if he was going to get Nathan’s blood out once and for all.

His sweater sleeves had been soaked, and the second he’d crossed the threshold into his apartment he’d shrugged it off, leaving it forgotten on the floor where it fell with a wet 'plop'. He didn’t want to think about it right now, didn’t want to see… he just wanted to get Nathan off his hands, to assuage this awful, sinking feeling of guilt. To quiet the voice in his head that couldn’t decide if he’d done the right thing, or if the world would really have been better off had he just let Nathan die.

Reaching up into the cabinet above the sink, Spencer pulled down a single glass and a half empty bottle of red wine. He couldn't say for certain how long it had been up there, but it had to have been a while as the vinegary smell that assaulted his nostrils when he uncorked it made him gag. Sniffing it again, this time not taken by surprise by the acrid scent, he looked between the wine and the glass before placing the glass back on the shelf and taking a large swig straight from the bottle.

It was atrocious, and Spencer coughed to clear the sediment that had pooled at the back of his throat, grimacing at the taste of sour wine. Instead of drinking the rest of it, he placed his hand in the sink and poured the wine over his stained fingers, repeating the action with his other hand, going back and forth until his fingers were dripping with the pungent purple drink, until the wine seeped in over the soap and obscured the muddy brown redness on his skin.

At least now he could pretend it wasn’t blood as he obsessively washed his hands.

On his way to the bathroom, he reached into his fridge and snagged a bottle of tequila (left over from last years Halloween party) and took a gulp out of it. It burned on the way down, tickling the back of his throat but it washed away the lingering taste of stale wine on his tongue, and it pooled comforting and warm in his belly. Spencer wasn’t normally a drinker, but he figured if there was ever a day it could be justified, this one was it.

As he sat down on his bathroom floor, pulling out his nail clippers and a bottle of isopropyl alcohol, he dimly heard his cell phone ringing, but it wasn’t loud enough to annoy him in the safety of his bathroom, behind the closed door. Instead, it was nothing more than a distant humming, a counterpoint to the clicking of the clippers as he cut his nails down to the quick. He hissed as he nicked the skin of his middle finger, tears brimming in his eyes as he almost brought it between his lips to quell the bleeding, remembering at the last second why he was cutting his nails to begin with. Blinking quickly, hot tears hanging from his eyelashes before rolling down his cheeks, the dumped a healthy amount of alcohol on his hurt finger, whimpering through a sob as it burned painfully. Still, he scrubbed at it, at all of his stained fingers with an alcohol soaked towel, pretending it was his injured finger and the fumes from the antiseptic that were making him cry.

Halfway through scouring at his fingers with alcohol, and after taking a few more generous shots of tequila, Spencer heard his front door open. He froze, pressed up against the shower door, his brain struggling to catch up to the fact that someone was in his home. He knew he hadn’t locked the door behind him, he’d been in such a hurry to change and get cleaned up that he’d not thought to do so. He still had his sidearm on his hip, but he didn’t want to draw it until he knew he was really in trouble. What if it was JJ or Gideon coming to check up on him? What if it was his landlord wondering why he’d made such a racket on the way up the stairs?

It wasn’t either of those though, and Spencer’s heart skipped a beat when he heard Sam’s voice calling through the bathroom door, following a tentative knock, “Spencer? Are you in there?”

“Yes,” Spencer croaked, holding tightly to the blood and alcohol-soaked towel, before repeating, louder, “Yes, I’m here. The door isn’t locked.”

This would be the first time in weeks that he’d seen Sam, his helpful brain supplied him. The first time since they’d ran into each other at the coffee shop, since they’d started sending each other novels littered with love poems and secret messages. The first time they’d been in the privacy of his home since the last time Sam was here, and Spencer was distinctly aware of the fact he was currently half in the bag, silently crying on the floor of his bathroom, covered in snot and tears and someone else’s blood. In a moment of sheer panic, he almost flew towards the door, wanting to slam it shut and lock it, keeping Sam at bay until he could compose himself, but he hesitated just a second too long and in the blink of an eye, Sam was standing in the doorway, sweaty, out of breath and wearing scrubs.

Sam’s expression fell the second he saw him, his brows pinching together in worry as he breathed, “Oh, Spence.” There was no pity in his voice, no condemnation, just sorrowful understanding and as he strode through the open door, Spencer couldn’t contain his cry of relief. It bubbled past his lips before he could stop it, and with it fresh, fat tears tracked down his cheeks, his eyes burning as he stared pitifuly at Sam from his spot on the floor.

Falling to his knees in front of him, Sam reached out and grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling him into his chest and Spencer went along without resistance, all but crumpling into Sam’s large, warm body. His shoulders shook, his smaller frame wracked with sobs as he wailed, embarrassingly loud, and his tears stained into the sweat soaked fabric of Sam’s dark blue scrubs. Sam shushed him gently, running soothing circles across his shoulders with his palms, holding him as tightly as he could, sweet words of comfort tumbling from his mouth that only made Spencer cry harder, out of relief and a heartache he couldn’t yet put into words.

Time passed slow as molasses in his dreary, exhausted state, and when he’d cried all that he could, his sobs tapering into sniffles and whispers, Sam tugged him to his feet, walking him out of the bathroom and setting him down on the couch. “I’m sorry,” Spencer muttered, his eyes downcast as he accepted the tissues Sam handed to him, “I was hoping to be less of a mess the next time I saw you—”

But Sam hushed him gently, cupping his cheek and running his thumb across his jaw in a way that was so familiar, so incredibly missed. “You’re not a mess,” Sam said, letting his hand drop to Spencers lap where he twined their fingers together, “I’m just happy you’re alright.”

“How are you here right now?” Spencer asked, “How did you know?”

“I didn’t, not really,” Sam answered, shrugging sheepishly, “I don’t know what happened. But while I was at work someone hacked into the hospital mainframe. They sent me a message telling me to call you right away, and when you didn’t answer your phone, I just—I left. I told my attending it was a family emergency and I left.”

“Someone hacked…” his eyes widening in understanding, Spencer groaned and clapped a hand to his forehead, “God damn it, Garcia. Sam, you didn’t need to come, really I’m okay—” he looked up sharply, frowning, “Why are you soaked?”

To his surprise, Sam flushed bright red and looked away, scratching at the back of his neck with one hand. “I was going to take the bus, but it was rerouted because of an accident on the highway, and when you weren’t answering either of your phones, and after that cryptic message, I was starting to get scared so,” he chuckled, grinning lopsidedly and clearly embarrassed, “I ran here.”

Spencer stared, quickly doing the math before stating, “That’s six miles.”

But Sam just waved him off, “I run five miles every morning.”

“That's because you're insane,” Spencer told him playfully, smiling despite himself and Sam was glad to see it, raising their linked hands up to his lips and kissing Spencer’s knuckles affectionately, “but thank you.”

“You never need to thank me,” Sam murmured, and Spencer couldn’t help but shuffle forwards, twisting on the couch until his head was resting against Sam’s chest, his arms wrapped around his waist. Sam welcomed him in his embrace, looping one strong arm around Spencer’s shoulders and ducking to kiss the crown of his head, “God, Spencer I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too,” Spencer said, closing his eyes as the rhythmic beating of Sam’s heart calmed him, “I’m so happy you’re here, tonight was just—” he squeezed Sam a little tighter, “It was rough.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No,” Spencer answered out of habit, used to brushing things off and dealing with them on his own. But as he lay there, his head pillowed on Sam’s chest as they reclined on his couch, every breath Sam took reminded him he was there because he cared for him, because he was worried about him. And he found that, for once, he felt comfortable enough to change his mind, “Yes.”

He told Sam all about Nathan Harris, the high school sophomore (junior) who was afraid of his own mind. The kid who had sought him, Spencer Reid, out because he though he might help to protect him from himself. He was worried he would hurt someone, and more than anything he just wanted to be good, to not cause any more harm than he must. The kid who was being institutionalized, who tried to kill himself because he felt so helpless, who had laid dying in Spencer’s arms, begging to die.

Spencer was picking at his cuticles the whole way through his story, but as he finished Sam reached over, plying his hands apart and forcing him to stop. “I’m so sorry,” he said, and when Spencer looked up at him he was met with those sad, upturned eyes he adored so much, that soft and caring smile he’d missed so terribly, “but Spencer, none of that was your fault. You tried to help him, and you did, you saved his life. You went above and beyond the call of duty for this kid… there’s no need to keep beating yourself up over it.”

“I know,” Spencer murmured, “I just can’t help but feel sorry for him. I know what its like, to be afraid of your own mind.”

He regretted the words the moment they were out of his mouth, but it was too late to take them back then. Sam didn’t question why, but Spencer could see it in his face that it wasn’t because he wasn’t curious. It was because he already knew the answer.

“The chances of you inheriting your mother’s schizophrenia is incredibly low,” Sam told him in a gentle voice, his brow furrowed with concern and Spencer could easily imagine that this was the Sam his patients got to see, “genetics don’t equal destiny, you know that. At most, you’re looking a fifteen percent chance and there are steps you can take to lower that risk if you were seriously worried about it.” Spencer shot him a baleful look, and Sam sighed, “Which you clearly are.”

“I have been my whole life,” Spencer said, curling his legs and hugging his knees to his chest, “Since my dad left us when I was ten, I’ve worried about it. My mom had me at least, and even though I wasn’t much of a nurse, I loved her and wanted to care for her. She wasn’t alone, but me, I...”

He trailed off, not knowing how to finish that sentence without making himself look desperately needy, and Sam shifted closer, frowning deeply, “Wait a minute, he left you alone? Like, alone-alone? She didn’t have a nurse? A therapist? A family member who wasn’t ten years old to help her?”

“No, just me.” Shrugging his shoulders, Spencer dropped his chin to his knees, “She had tenure at her university, and she got a good pension. Disability covered the rest, so even though we were poor, I never had to work. She had her good days, and it was always a struggle to get her to take care of herself but sometimes she’d go into full schizophrenic breaks, ones where she’d go catatonic for days at a time. During those she needed constant care.”

“Wait, he didn’t even pay alimony? Child support? Nothing?”

“No,” Spencer replied, “he just left.”

“What a piece of shit.” Sam hadn’t intended to say that out loud. Clapping his hand over his mouth the second he realized what he’d done, he stared at Spencer wide eyed, the guilty look on his face both endearing and completely unnecessary.

Spencer hummed in agreement, “He most certainly was.”

A thousand words went unsaid between them, neither one able to put a voice behind them but brimming with the desire to do so. Sam was vibrating with the need to say something, and he was biting his lip furiously as he glanced around the room, struggling to find the courage to spit it out. For his part, Spencer was relaxed, the stress of the day he’d just had finally catching up to him, and the warmth of tequila in his veins made his head feel heavy and lax. He wanted to say that he was scared to be left alone, scared to be abandoned once he finally snapped, even more than he was afraid of losing the thing that mattered most, that he defined himself by: his mind.

Because, though she was ill, his mother was a brilliant woman. No amount of paranoid delusions and an inability to organize her thoughts had robbed her of her intelligence, and in her lucid moments she was still as wonderfully eloquent and engaging as she’d ever been. But then he would remember his father, a man who had loved her once, who’d maybe even loved him, and who had left all the same just because he couldn’t handle his wife’s illness. If someone who had taken a vow to stay with someone else, through sickness and health, couldn’t hack it, how could Spencer ever expect anyone to do so for him? How could he not assume, should he inherit her sickness, that he would be left alone, abandoned by friends and loved ones just like his mom had been?

“I’m just afraid,” Spencer said, finally breaking the silence, “that everything I’ve ever worked for could be taken from me in an instant, and there’s nothing I could do about it. All that I’ve accomplished, all the friendships I’ve made, erased—” he snapped his fingers, “just like that.”

“It’s not a death sentence, Spence,” Sam told him, leaning back into the couch, his legs cracking as he stretched them out with a groan, “Like I said, the chances of you developing schizophrenia are slim, even with a hereditary linkage. Sure, its greater than the general population, but it’s not like you have a twin with the illness, or that both of your parents suffer from it. And even if you did develop schizophrenia, I—” with a heavy sigh, Sam reached out his arm along the back of the couch, brushing Spencer’s hair away from his face, “You wouldn’t lose anything. You’d still be just as brilliant, charming and funny as you are now. You’d still be gorgeous and thoughtful and kind. You’d still have the people who love you supporting you. Not everyone is like your father, and honestly I think he’s the exception to the rule. Because I don’t think I've ever known someone so heinous as to abandon their wife and child just because of a mental illness outside of their control.”

“I know that,” Spencer murmured, leaning into Sam’s palm as he tucked his hair behind his ear, “but this isn’t logical. I can remind myself repeatedly that I’m not my mom, that the people I care about aren’t my father, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m still afraid.”

Spencer’s voice wavered, his eyes prickling again with the threat of new tears, and he buried his face in his hands just before they fell. The couch creaked under his weight as Sam pressed himself to Spencer’s side, cradling him as he cried, no longer the agonizing, body shaking sobs from before but a quiet, pitiful whimpering. He was exhausted, deep down in his bones and suddenly it felt as though the month of non-stop cases, taxing custodial interviews and social isolation came crashing down on him all at once. He could barely find the energy to wipe his eyes, but he certainly managed to hug Sam tightly, whispering, “Thank you for being here,” against his scrubs.

“No need to thank me,” Sam said, kissing Spencer on the forehead, “where else would I be?”

Monday, December 17th, 2006:

“Spence!”

Looking up from his desk, coffee in hand, Spencer didn’t have a second to set down his bag or remove his coat before JJ was on him. She looked ready to hug him, but seemed to think better of it, smoothing her hands down the front of her skirt and fretting from a distance instead. “Good morning,” he said, shrugging his bag onto his desk, “How was your weekend?”

JJ ignored his attempt to steer the conversation. “What are you doing here?” she asked, glancing over her shoulder at Gideon’s office. The blinds were closed as per usual, but she spotted him moving behind them, “didn’t Gideon give you some time off?”

“He did,” Spencer said, sitting down with a sigh and unbuttoning his jacket, wiggling his arms out of his sleeves and letting it gather in the space between his back and the chair, “But I was going stir crazy. Sam left on Sunday and my apartment was just too quiet. I’m glad to be back, if for nothing other than the change of scenery.”

“Oh,” JJ’s expression changed at the mention of Sam’s name, her guard going up immediately as she asked, “You saw Sam? That’s good.”

“Yeah, he showed up at my apartment Friday night,” sipping at his coffee, Spencer leaned back in his chair, watching with amusement as JJ started to sweat, “It was the strangest thing. He got a message sent to him through the hospital’s mainframe, but I didn’t send it. Instead of going to the trouble, I would have just called.”

Watching JJ shuffle nervously in place, Spencer decided that while he could go on, dragging this out until she cracked and admitted she’d told Garcia about Sam, he wasn’t sadistic. Sure, he was a little peeved that she’d told someone else after explicitly saying she wouldn’t, but he knew Garcia was tenacious. If she caught wind that JJ had an inkling of who was sending Spencer gifts, then she probably gave JJ one hell of an interrogation. So, instead of torturing JJ further, he leaned forward on his desk and he said, “I know that Garcia knows JJ. And it’s alright, I’m not mad.”

“I’m so sorry!” She said, pulling up an empty chair from a nearby desk and sitting next to him, “She just wouldn’t let up, and she was starting to cause a scene. I thought telling her would amount to damage control at that point, I never knew she was going to cyber stalk him.” She sighed, “Though in retrospect, I probably should have.”

“Seriously, it’s okay,” Spencer said, smiling fondly down at his desk as he remembered the Saturday that just passed, spending the day in bed with Sam before seeing him off that night, “I’m glad that you did. I was embarrassed at first, but I don’t think I realized how badly I needed to see him until he was there.”

JJ chuckled, grinning playfully, “I’m glad you had a good weekend.”

“Stop,” he muttered, blushing furiously though completely unable to keep the silly little smile off his face. Taking another sip of his coffee, he noticed a small pile of mail on the corner of his desk, and immediately he snatched up the inconspicuous little brown box that was hiding underneath some envelopes.

He recognized the packaging by now, and with a giddy thrill he unwrapped it, ripping at the tape and pulling out a copy of Jane Eyre. He flipped through the pages, frowning when he noticed no notes in the margins, and a distinct lack of highlighted words, until he spotted it. A single highlighted passage on a single page:

"Every atom of your flesh is as dear to me as my own: in pain and sickness it would still be dear. Your mind is my treasure, and if it were broken, it would be my treasure still: if you raved, my arms should confine you, and not a strait waistcoat--your grasp, even in fury, would have a charm for me: if you flew at me wildly… I should receive you in an embrace, at least as fond as it would be restrictive. I should not shrink from you with disgust… in your quiet moments you should have no watcher and no nurse but me; and I could hang over you with untiring tenderness, though you gave me no smile in return; and never weary of gazing into your eyes, though they had no longer a ray of recognition for me."

He couldn’t breathe.

JJ asked if it was from him, and he nodded, rising to his feet and striding off down the hallway without another word, the book held open in his hand.

Dodging agents and office workers, Spencer broke into a sprint when he reached the stairway, hiking up the stairs as fast as he dared, making his way to the roof. His heart was pounding wildly in his chest, and his stomach clenched uncomfortably with a feeling he couldn’t name, a warm spring of affection bursting within him in a way he’d never felt before. And as he took the stairs two at a time, he went over the passage again and again, one he’d had locked away in the recesses of his memory since the first time he’d read, but which held so much more power now that it had come from him, right now, after—

He scanned his ID on the pad by the door, and shoved his way out onto the roof when the lock clicked open. A blast of frigid December air hit him like a wall to the face as he stepped outside, and he shivered, curling his arms around himself to retain body heat. And even though his fingers were already going numb from the cold, lightly falling snow melting on his face and hands upon contact, he shakily pulled his cell from his pocket and dialed.

It rang twice, before Sam picked up and asked nervously, “Did you get it?”

Answering his question with a question, Spencer demanded, “Did you mean it?”

He could hear his pulse beating under the howling of the wind, and Spencer had to listen to hear as Sam answered, “Every word.”

Slumping back against the door, Spencer sighed in relief, throat tightening with that same feeling that was slowly becoming less indiscernible, and even more terrifying. “Thank you,” he said, his voice cracking as he slid down the door, sitting on snow spattered gravel as he realized he was quickly falling completely, hopelessly, irredeemably in love with Sam Campbell.