They step up onto the front porch and Hotch turns to Gideon before knocking on the door. “You sure about this?”
Gideon shrugs in that frustratingly blasé air he carries with him. “As sure as I can be.”
Hotch suppresses a sigh and raps his knuckles against the wood in three short bursts. “If you’re right about him, we could be doing more harm than good. This isn’t the kind of life most people can handle.”
“He’s already in the life,” Gideon argues calmly. “He just doesn’t know it yet.”
The door cracks open before Hotch can reply. A gaunt, pale, young man peeks warily out at them. “Can I help you?”
The man – a kid, really, barely past his 20th birthday if Gideon is to be believed – tenses at his name and looks between them with open distrust. His eyes flicker past Gideon’s shoulder for barely a second before he focuses back on them. “Who’s asking?”
Hotch relaxes his shoulders and smiles gently at him, trying to make himself seem as nonthreatening as possible. “My name’s Aaron Hotchner and this is Jason Gideon. We were hoping to talk to you.”
“About the things you can see, Spencer,” says Gideon, and Hotch has to work to not turn and glare at him. So much for easing him into it.
If possible, Spencer tenses up even more, and he’s already shutting the door as he says “not interested.”
“We want to help,” Hotch says quickly. The door pauses in its motion.
“Everyone wants to help,” Spencer says bitterly, now barely visible through the crack.
“We can help,” assures Gideon. “We know we can, Spencer.”
There’s no reply and Hotch jumps on the moment of indecision. “Five minutes. Please, just give us five minutes. You can kick us out at any time.”
Another pause, then Spencer’s opening the door again, wider than before. He looks tired. Defeated.
All the curtains are drawn inside and Spencer makes no move to turn on any lights as they follow him to the living room. Spencer sits in the loveseat nearest the door, so Hotch and Gideon take the lounge opposite. It’s soft but covered in a thin layer of dust.
It’s cold in the house, far colder than the spring day outside. Spencer appears to be wearing multiple sweaters, all large and baggy on his skinny frame. “So,” he says once they’re all seated, “you can help me.” It’s not phrased as a question and the irony in his voice makes it clear how much he believes them.
Gideon is undeterred, leaning forward and nodding. “Yes.”
“Help me with what, exactly?” Spencer asks, a hint of annoyance in his tone. “What is it that you think I see?”
“People,” Gideon says softly. “People that shouldn’t be there. Things that shouldn’t exist. Things that frighten you.” He has Spencer’s full attention now, the kid’s eyes widening as he talks. “I think you see things that go against every bit of logic you understand. You know they can’t be real, you know they shouldn’t be real, and I think what frightens you the most is that you believe they are anyway.”
“They’re not,” Spencer denies, his voice cracking. “They’re not real,” and Hotch can imagine him saying it to himself over and over, can hear it in his head like a mantra that the boy’s been telling himself for years. He shifts, just slightly, to draw Spencer’s eyes to him. He tries to keep his expression open.
“That’s why we’re here, Spencer. They are real. And we want to help you beat them.”
“Ghosts,” Spencer croaks, looking between them as if waiting for the punchline. “You think I see ghosts.”
“Among other things,” Gideon says gently.
Spencer’s curled up in his chair, had moved into that position quite possibly without even noticing as they talked. “Right. Monsters, too.” Hotch winces. “I see ghosts and monsters. Because those are real things.”
Gideon nods seriously, ignoring the derision on Spencer’s face. “Yes. They are.”
“Right.” Spencer looks down at his knees for a moment, and when he looks back up his face is set in hard lines. “I need you to leave.”
“Spencer – “
“I’m an idiot,” he laughs wetly, standing in one fluid motion. “I really thought – but you’re both as crazy as me.” He glares at them. “I’m not playing into your delusions. I’ve got enough of my own.” He gestures to the hall. “You should both get help.”
“They’re cold when they touch you,” Gideon says softly, not even standing from the couch. Spencer freezes and Hotch realises he’s holding his breath. “The people. Sometimes they get too close and you can feel it when they touch you, and it’s freezing.”
Spencer’s staring at Gideon again, but the derision’s gone. Only shock, and a little fear.
“How – “
“Because we’ve felt them too, Spencer. Not like you have, but we’ve all had our run ins with them. We know they’re real, because we’ve all experienced them too.”
Spencer’s eyes dart between the two men. “All?”
Hotch takes the lead. “There’s a group of us. It’s what we do. We go searching for these things, try to eradicate them. It’s why we’re here,” he repeats, and leans forward, wanting Spencer to see the sincerity in his gaze. “We want to help you with yours.”
Spencer’s looking at him with something like hope, and something like fear. “You can… get rid of them?”
“Not entirely,” Gideon says. “You have something special, and I don’t believe it’s something you can turn off. But we believe, with enough work, you can control it. Understand it. Learn how to block it out, move around it.” He fans his hands out in front of him. “Live with it.”
Spencer takes a deep, shuddering breath, runs a shaky hand down his face. Finally, he lowers himself back into the loveseat. “Say I believe you,” he says, still so obviously wary, “what do you get out of this? Why are you doing it? Helping me?”
“We think you can help us in return,” Gideon tells him, straight to the point. Hotch grimaces, because he’s still not entirely sure of this part. “Like Aaron said, we hunt the things you see. The creatures, the ghosts. We think – I think you could make a difference.”
“You want me to help you… hunt them?”
“It’s not an ultimatum,” Hotch says with a cutting look to Gideon, because whatever the kid decides, he does need their help, at least their guidance if it’s all they can give him, and he’s determined to give him that. “And it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s constant travelling, and it’s dangerous, and at times it’s horrifying.” Spencer flinches at that but Hotch won’t let him walk into this blind. “It’s also not something you need to decide right now. Right now, all you have to decide is whether or not you’ll let us try. Let us try to get rid of some of your demons.”
Spencer’s silent for a long time before he turns back to Gideon, his gaze settling just past the older man’s shoulder. “You really think you can make them go away?”
Gideon nods, everything about him determined. “Yes. I do.”
“Okay.” Spencer focuses on Gideon’s face. “There’s one right behind you. It’s been latched onto you from the moment I saw you.” There’s a challenge in his voice, daring them to laugh, to brush him off, or perhaps just asking them to prove themselves. “How do I make it go away?”
Gideon’s tense like he wasn’t before. Surprised. It takes a lot to surprise Jason Gideon and he never enjoys the feeling. Hotch knows the same shock is on his own face. How long has he had a shadow?
Visibly relaxing himself, Gideon asks quietly, “what does it look like?”
Spencer looks uncomfortable, and watches Gideon carefully before looking past him again. “A girl. A woman. Around 25, maybe. Brown hair. She…” he swallows. “She’s been stabbed. I think. In the stomach. It’s… a large wound.”
Hotch stares at Gideon, who glances briefly back at him before looking away. Anna Rourke had been the last victim of their case from six weeks ago, a witch sacrificing young women to a Hoiggat demon. They’d been minutes from the house when Anna was killed.
“She, um,” Spencer hesitates at the obvious shift of tension in the room and Hotch forces himself to focus back on the kid, nods encouragingly. “She seems… sad.”
“Why?” asks Gideon, his voice hoarse.
Spencer looks at where Anna is presumably standing for a long time. Finally, he says, “you blame yourself. For… how she died.”
“Does she?” asks Gideon, and for the first time in a long time, he sounds small. Unsure. “Does she blame me?”
Spencer shakes his head, never looking away from the space behind him. “No. I think… I think she’s sad because you haven’t let it go. Haven’t… haven’t let her go.”
Despite the emotional turmoil involved, Hotch can’t help but be a little in awe, listening to Spencer. It’s incredible how much he’s able to get from the shadow without even trying. He wonders if these are things he can sense about her, or if she’s actually talking to him.
Suddenly Spencer’s focus snaps back to them, as if just remembering where he is, and folds further in on himself, arms wrapping around his knees. He looks as if he’s surprised himself.
They’re all quiet for a moment. Hotch is suddenly very unsure about where to go from here. They hadn’t prepared for this outcome.
Finally, Gideon clears his throat. “Spencer. I’ll make you a deal.” Spencer looks wary but doesn’t interrupt. “Give us one week. We come back in one week, and if the girl is gone, then you give us a chance. If she’s still… if she’s still here, then we’ll leave you alone, and you’ll never hear from us again. You have my word.”
Spencer picks at a loose thread on his sleeve, appearing to mull it over. He sits in silence for a long time, and Hotch doesn’t dare break it. This is the tipping point.
“Okay.” It comes out as barely more than a breath and Spencer clears his throat before trying again. “Okay. Deal.”
Gideon’s smile is gentle and relieved. “Wonderful.” He stands, Hotch and Spencer following suit. “Thank you, Spencer. Thank you for hearing us out.”
Spencer nods, looking wan. Hotch steps forward and offers his hand. “We’re going to do everything we can.” The kid nods again, but smiles apologetically at Hotch’s hand and makes no move to take it. Hotch lowers it, giving what he hopes is a reassuring smile of his own.
Exactly one week later the two men find themselves standing outside the same front door. This time, however, Gideon appears to be the unsure one.
“Do you think she’s gone?” Hotch asks quietly as they wait for Spencer to answer. Gideon grimaces.
“Won’t know for sure until the kid says so.”
It’s been an odd week. The rest of the team have been growing restless spending so long in one place with no actual case to work on, Morgan especially. What hasn’t made it easier is Gideon’s distance, the long times he’s spent silent or just not there. Hotch doesn’t know where he’s been going, but he can only hope it’s been to work on moving on from his guilt over Anna. No one had felt right about how close they’d come to saving her, but it had been Gideon that had found her. Gideon that had held her hand as she’d taken her last breath. She’d been wearing a necklace at the time, a simple silver pendant, but it had been missing by the time they left and Hotch had quietly suspected Gideon had kept it. He wonders if Gideon still has it now.
Hotch is brought back to the present by his friend’s restless shifting and frowns at the door, knocks again. Spencer’s taking a much longer time to answer than he had the week before.
“He knew we were coming,” Gideon says. He sounds worried.
“He might have changed his mind.”
Gideon shakes his head. “He’s not a coward. He’d tell us. Face to face.”
Still the door doesn’t open and Hotch can’t help but feel some of his own worry pool into the pit of his stomach. Making a decision he desperately hopes doesn’t backfire, he calls out “Spencer. We’re coming in.”
The lock is simple to pick and the door slides open with ease. The two men cautiously step over the threshold, Hotch’s hand creeping to the butt of his gun.
It’s as silent and cold inside as it been the first time.
They creep down the hallway, Gideon checking the living room and confirming no one’s in there with a shake of his head. Hotch pauses as a sound reaches his ears.
A dull, rhythmic thudding.
Reaching the end of the hall where a set of stairs lead up to the second story, Hotch finds the source of the noise and curses, rushing forward.
Spencer’s sitting on the bottom step, hugging his knees as he bangs his head, over and over against the wall. There’s a small red smear where his head makes contact. Hotch crouches in front of him and, despite the kid’s obvious aversion to touch, brings his hand up, putting it between his head and the wall. His hair is greasy and Hotch can feel where he’s started to bleed.
His touch startles Spencer, who seems to notice them for the first time. His eyes are glazed and red when they settle on Hotch.
“Spencer,” Hotch breathes.
“He was so angry,” whispers Spencer. “He was so angry. And he looked – he looked so much like – “ His voice cracks and tears begin to fall and Hotch doesn’t even think, pulls him forward into a hug while barely realising he’s doing it.
“You’re okay,” he soothes helplessly, bring his other hand up to stroke his back. “It’s okay. We’re going to help. We’re going to help you.”
Spencer’s head shifts on Hotch’s shoulder as he looks up at Gideon. Hotch can only imagine the expression on his face.
“She’s gone,” he mutters. “You were right, she’s gone.” And he breaks down all over again, crying into Hotch’s shoulder. “Oh my god, she’s gone.” Hotch holds him through it, stroking his back with as much calm as he can project, and makes a solid, silent vow to himself.