Derek wakes slowly, in the kind of pleasant haze he’s enjoyed far too little of since joining the group. They’re in the sweet spot where they’re far enough away from their last case so as not to worry about law enforcement catching onto their tail and are yet to pick up a new one. He drifts peacefully as he slowly comes to total awareness, and quietly hopes they’ll have a day of laziness before moving on. With Gideon and Hotch always planning in their own room, however, he knows that’s never a guarantee.
Finally, he forces himself into an upright position, eyes automatically focusing on the other bed as they have done ever since Spencer’s short stint as a runaway and the incident with Tobias Hankel. The bed is empty and made, but before he can panic he sees the younger man sitting by the one small table the motel room provides. He’s holding two pages in his hands and staring at the one on top with an unreadable expression.
“Hey,” Derek murmurs, rubbing the sleep from one eye. “Everything alright?”
Spencer doesn’t look up from the notes and doesn’t react when there’s a knock at the door a moment later. Frowning, Derek slides out of bed and goes to answer.
Hotch is on the other side, dressed immaculately as always but looking stressed. It’s not an easy to thing to notice about the other man, unless you know him well. It had taken months before Derek had even remotely learned to read him.
“Gideon’s disappeared,” he says without preamble, and Derek tenses.
“No, he hasn’t,” says Spencer quietly. He stands up and joins them at the door. He hands the pages to Hotch as he slips between them. “He’s left.”
Hotch takes the paper and reads, frown deepening as he does. Derek watches Spencer continue across the road to the diner opposite, and looks back at Hotch. “The hell does that mean, he left?”
Hotch turns to the second page, sighing. “From the looks of it, exactly that.” He looks up at Derek, and he seems so tired. “This is a goodbye.”
Derek finds Spencer sitting in a booth, staring down at his clasped hands atop the table. A waitress is looking at him with narrowed eyes from behind the counter. He sits down opposite, feeling like he’s treading in uncharted water. “No coffee today?”
Spencer grimaces without looking up. “Left my wallet in the room.”
Ah. That would explain the waitress’ suspicious expression. He motions her over, and she turns much more genial after he orders two cappuccinos. Once she leaves, Derek focuses back on Spencer. “I’m sorry.”
Spencer shrugs, still staring at his hands. He’s pressing on his knuckles, a nervous tick. “You didn’t leave.”
“No.” Derek watches him for a long moment and sighs. He’s not sure how he feels about Gideon’s abrupt departure. A part of him thinks he should have seen it coming, thinks they all should have. The signs had been there for weeks. Another part of him – a much bigger, louder part – is just angry.
The fact that he left without warning, without saying goodbye, is enough to sting. That his only explanation was left to Spencer hurts more. But what he’s most frustrated by, Derek thinks, is that he was the one to drag Spencer into this in the first place, with promises of helping him, and that he’s given up eight months in.
And it doesn’t take a genius to know what the words in that letter has Spencer thinking.
“He didn’t leave because of you.”
Spencer stills for a moment, then continues to fidget, twists his hands back and forth with more strength than necessary. “I know.”
“Do you?” Gideon had listed plenty of excuses. The way that the job had weighed down on him, the many victims they couldn’t save tormenting him, the monsters he still saw when he closed his eyes. These are issues they all struggle with in their own ways, there’s no secret about that. But he hadn’t left the incident with Hankel out, hadn’t failed to mention his guilt and helplessness when Spencer had been taken. Hadn’t held back on his feelings on introducing Spencer to the job. It was Gideon’s roundabout way of apologising, but Derek thinks he should have known better. Spencer’s his own worst critic. He’s always blamed himself for what happened with Hankel, now surely sees his involvement in the team as a mistake.
Spencer doesn’t answer. The waitress arrives with their coffees and Derek adds four sugars to Spencer’s before shifting it over to him. He nudges it against Spencer’s knuckles, the closest he can come to offering physical comfort without setting him further on edge. “Listen. Gideon’s always had his problems. And you know better than anyone that he never learned to talk about them. This was always inevitable.”
Spencer huffs, a short, frustrated breath. He shifts his mug back and forth several times before actually drinking from it. When he finally speaks, he’s still avoiding eye contact. “Was he different? Before I joined?”
This, at least, Derek knows how to answer. “Are you kidding? Man, he was way worse.” Spencer seems surprised and finally looks up at him. Derek, encouraged, continues “you should have seen him before you came along. Any day he wasn’t being a grouchy old bastard was a win. The guy was a professional brooder.” Spencer looks sceptical, and Derek can’t blame him. Gideon really had changed after recruiting Spencer. Even the few times where his moods surfaced afterwards, they were rarely aimed in the younger man’s direction. He’d very quickly become the golden boy. Derek might have even resented him for it, if he hadn’t found himself feeling the same way. “Seriously, kid. You motivated him. In fact, I’m pretty sure without you he would have left a long time ago.”
Spencer looks back down at his coffee. Says quietly, “because of my – because of what I can do.”
And this, this is where it gets difficult. Because, if he’s completely honest with himself, Derek can’t dispute that. Gideon had cared about Spencer, that had been obvious from the beginning. But on at least some level, Gideon had seen him as a tool. And Derek knows that’s not what Spencer needs to hear.
So instead he says, “because you’re special,” and Spencer’s raised eyebrow, the sarcastic really written across his face is so very much the real man underneath that Derek’s been getting to know that he almost smiles. Instead he continues “yeah what you can do is helpful, and obviously Gideon saw that. But I guarantee you, man, any one of us could do what you can do, he never would have treated us any different. He – “Derek pauses at loved you, swallows it back down, because at times Gideon really had treated Spencer like a son, but Derek remembers moments that had made him wonder, had caused him to question if Gideon really did put the man or his abilities first. He quickly recovers. “He cared about you more than I’ve seen him care about anyone. I’m telling you – I promise you, you made him better.”
Spencer takes a moment to absorb that, gently spinning his coffee around and around. “So why didn’t he say goodbye?”
It’s spoken carefully, controlled, and Derek knows it’s from a desire to not show how hard this is affecting him. It had been Gideon and Hotch that had brought Spencer into the fold but it had been Gideon specifically that had spent the most time with him, helping him, guiding him on how to control his abilities, how to cope with the things he saw. Gideon had been the mentor Spencer had never believed he would find and as clear as Gideon had become attached to the younger man, it’s just as clear how quickly Spencer had latched onto him.
Derek doesn’t say ‘because he’s a coward’ even though it’s the first response that springs to mind. It’s unfair, knowing that he still hasn’t come to terms himself with the unofficial leader’s abrupt departure, but it’s also, again, not what Spencer needs to hear.
After a moment’s thought he settles on “because he didn’t know how.”
Spencer looks back up at him, eyes searching his face, and Derek looks back steadily. Whatever he can or can’t say, however much he’s hurting himself, he knows Spencer is hurting more, and he wants to be there. He wants to show that he’s not like Gideon. It’s only been eight months but Derek’s become increasingly attached and he has no plans on backing out.
He’s not sure what Spencer sees but when he finally looks back to his coffee there’s a smile on his face, small yet real, and Derek can’t help but feel a small bubble of pride for that.
“I’m sorry he didn’t leave a note for you,” and Derek almost rolls his eyes because of course that’s something Spencer would focus on. “I know I should be grateful for that, at least.”
“Are you kidding? Gideon writing me a letter?” he pastes on his best grin. “That would be a five page lecture and you know it. He’d probably have a whole bullet list of ways I managed to piss him off. I think I’m better off without.”
Deep down, Derek doesn’t know if he believes that, himself, but it gets a quiet laugh out of Spencer and that’s enough for him to count it as a win.