The week following Grace’s return had been horrendous. All the desperation Spencer had felt to just have her home and be in a position to get back to normal was pushed aside by his resentment …and jealousy. He knew there was no proof that Christophe was anything more than a work friend but something was niggling at him. It turned out that Christophe’s wife had left him a few weeks after Grace had taken time off before visiting Spencer in prison. Guilt had overwhelmed Spencer at first, he hadn’t known about the nearly three-week leave of absence. Grace shrugged it off.
“I just needed some time. Everything was very…chaotic” was all she said. It was a no-go conversation evidentially and Spencer’s guilt gave way to suspicion over the next few days. Grace had been going through a lot, wouldn’t someone naturally seek comfort in that situation?
A situation he had caused.
The guilt returned and Spencer thought about the one time Grace had come to see him in prison. She’d looked ill, desperate. Could he really begrudge her finding someone to take away her sadness?
“You okay kid?”
Spencer had been rolling the theory round in his head for what felt like the millionth time when Rossi wandered up to his desk. His stack of paperwork was obviously untouched.
“You want to go get a coffee?” asked Rossi. Spencer nodded.
It was his fault, all his fault. If Spencer had only been paying attention he would have realised that the other unsub was close by. He could have saved her from being hurt. He could have…
“Stop that” she said sharply. Grace winced as the EMT strapped her arm up to keep it from moving. It would need a cast. “I said stop. This wasn’t your fault and it’s just a broken arm. I’ve had much, much worse”
“I’m sorry” he said weakly “I should have-“
“Had eyes in the back of your head?” she asked dryly “You’re one of those aren’t you suiker? Carrying all the woes of the world on your shoulders”
Despite everything Spencer couldn’t supress a smile. She tilted her head slightly to look at him, really look at him.
“You should smile like that more often. It suits you much better than looking worried. Ride to the hospital with me?”
Spencer blinked. There were agents, FBI and Interpol alike, running around the how scene. The James Hurst was being led away in handcuffs, his brother being treated for his wounds by an EMT. Rossi gave Spencer thumbs up behind Grace’s back that made him blush. He only nodded, slipping into the back of one of the Interpol cars with her.
He glanced anxiously at her cradling her arm, the bruise on her cheek darkening with each moment. Grace saw him looking at her with concern and raised an eyebrow. Spencer got the distinct impression she was not the kind of woman to be challenged.
“The way you fought off Hurst was…impressive,” said Spencer. He could hear Morgan teasing him about having a kink for women beating up men twice their size but the sheer speed and ferocity of the blows Grace rained on her attacker with only one arm had been amazing to see.
Grace paused, as if deciding what to say.
“My father made sure my brother and I could take care of ourselves”
There was a story there but something told Spencer to stay away from it.
“Where did you grow up?” he asked, “Your accent is hard to place”
“It’s a mix of everything,” said Grace. There was a hint of sadness in her smile and Spencer wanted to kick himself but the nostalgia when she responded eased his guilt “We lived in South Africa, Bosnia and the UK the longest but between those we bounced around a lot. France for a year or so, Canada, India, New Zealand for around six months each but lots of other places for shorter periods of time. Japan, Switzerland, Hungary, Israel, Chile, Australia. Of course I’ve worked in the Netherlands for a long time, it’s a beautiful country”
“Sounds like an adventure” said Spencer.
“What about you? Where did you grow up?”
They sat outside despite the chill in the air. Spencer watched the other agents come and go with a morose look on his face. They sat in silence for a while. Rossi waited until Spencer was ready to talk.
“How much did you see of Grace when I was in prison?” Spencer asked. The coffee was bitter and it made Spencer wince. He was reluctantly trying to cut down the amount of sugar he was putting in his coffee.
“After the first month or so I saw her once a week. I took meals over for her and Isaac. Penelope came a few times too” Spencer looked at Rossi in surprise. The older man shrugged “JJ was checking in on your Mom everyday and everyone was taking turns visiting you but I think Grace and Isaac were…not forgotten as such but I think Grace does a good impression of someone who is coping. But after a while… It made me feel useful to be honest. Hayden came too; I think she and Grace struck up a friendship of sorts and it was good for Grace to speak to someone outside the team. We had her round my place a few times and I was the one keeping her updated about your case”
Spencer stared down at the drink, acid burning in his throat. He assumed the team had taken care of her, or both of them. He assumed that she got the same updates as everyone else, that JJ looked in on her as much as she did Diana. He’d assumed that the team had rallied around them because she was his family as much as his mother was.
Had he ever made that clear to them though?
“What’s this about Spencer?” asked Rossi.
“I’m just wondering…it’s stupid and unfair of me but I just have this feeling…”
“About?” Rossi wasn’t going to let this go.
“Could there have been someone else when I was in prison?”
Spencer sat with Grace the whole time her cut lip was being cleaned and her cast was being prepared. He told himself it was because he felt so bad that she got injured when they were partnered up.
That wasn’t entirely true though. He didn’t know why he was there, only that there was something very soothing about her soft yet raspy voice and he felt deep down inside that she could relate to feeling alone.
Grace hadn’t said or done anything that suggested that but the look in her eyes when she spoke was so non-judgemental. The way she had spoken to the victims’ family had been firm and oozing with authority but also reassuring.
“I’m not going to tell you this will all be alright. I won’t belittle your grief like that. I will tell you we’re going to fight for you. For the one you’ve lost.
She was speaking from experience obviously. Spencer thought again about the father and brother she had briefly mentioned and of the childhood spent running around the world. The front she put on for the world was steely but underneath, somewhere in those dark eyes was softness, a desire to protect broken things.
“Are you aware you stare a lot?” Grace asked.
“I’ve been told,” said Spencer “Sorry”
“Don’t be” she had been staring back at him at the same time. Grace had all the lines of his face memorised and that soft, dreamy look made her want to delve in, to draw out all his secrets. Perhaps she was being ridiculous. Spencer didn’t seem the type to invite that kind of scrutiny and to be honest she wasn’t built to relate to people on that level no matter how much she craved it.
“Could I ask you a favour?”
“Could you take me home?”
A look of confusion crossed Spencer’s face.
“Sure but wouldn’t you rather have a member of your team do it?”
“I uh may have…been a little misleading when describing the extent of my injuries,” said Grace slowly.
“You didn’t want them to worry,” said Spencer “Trust me I’ve been there. A little worrying an be good sometimes though”
“It would be more than a little,” grumbled Grace. Spencer looked at her inquisitively “I was injured…fairly badly on the job some years ago and they have a tendency to overreact,”
“I’ve been there too” said Spencer “Where do you live?”
“Are you serious?” asked Rossi. Spencer nodded mutely. Rossi sat back on the bench taking in the question. Spencer looked at him; he thought he could read judgement in Rossi’s face or maybe even disappointment.
“Maybe it’s unfair of me ask” sighed Spencer “But Grace has this work colleague and just after Grace took time off work when I was in prison his wife left him and-“
“That’s what you’re basing this on?” asked Rossi “It’s hardly bullet proof evidence of an affair Spencer. Why are you asking this now? You think something’s going on still?”
Spencer was still for a moment. He turned the paper cup round and round in his hands watching the dark coffee swirl in a vortex.
“No” he said honestly. When he laid it all out it didn’t seem likely that anything was happening now. Spencer had been turning the phone call with Christophe shouting over and over in his mind. He had been making a scene and Spencer was positive he’d heard their other colleagues there. Not exactly the sort of thing that happens on a romantic tryst. Plus there was the fact that he and Grace had been getting better, very slowly but it was happening.
“But I can’t shake the feeling that something happened while I was away”
“Spencer” Rossi hesitated, “You know how much we all care about you right? What I’m about to say I do so with complete understanding that you went through hell and came out stronger and I, and the rest of the team were so goddamn proud of you.”
Spencer shrank back into the bench, afraid of what was coming next. He could see the cogs in Rossi’s head working out the best way to proceed.
“The reason I started going over to Grace’s regularly was that for a while…she wasn’t doing well. None of use were doing well obviously but…a friend of Emily’s from Interpol that works in the same office…raised concerns”
The air felt thick round the pair of them, something similar to nausea was resting in Spencer’s belly.
“What kind of concerns?”
“She wasn’t eating properly then she wasn’t eating at all. They didn’t think she was sleeping and there were periods when she was on edge or completely shut down. The only time she seemed normal was when Isaac was around”
Spencer’s eyes were beginning to sting.
“She didn’t want him to worry” Spencer said. Rossi nodded.
“So I went round to update her and she said she was fine. She was still trying to get into see you then” he held up a hand to silence Spencer before he could launch into a wild-eyed protest “I know why you stopped her seeing you. You were wrong but I get it. After that I think Interpol told her to take some time off for health reasons.”
“She must have hated that,” said Spencer. His head dropped into his hands as he began to put himself in Grace’s shoes, feeling more and more isolated and afraid and then completely adrift when she couldn’t even work anymore.
“She told me once that after she dropped Isaac off at school one day she just sat on the sofa all day until it was time to go and get him” said Rossi softly “I’m not saying all this to make you feel guilty, I’m not even saying nothing happened with this guy at work but I am saying she went through a lot.”
“I’d forgive her anyway if she’d found someone else” sniffed Spencer. He wiped his eyes with his sleeves. “Even if she’d left for good when I was inside I’d forgive her. Why didn’t she leave? After everything I put her through?”
“Did you want her to?”
Spencer’s head snapped up at the question. The denial wouldn’t come.
Had he wanted her to leave? Maybe it would have been easier if it were Grace who had left rather than him telling her it was over. Sometimes it felt like loss was his default state, maybe he had always expected it to end eventually and it was just easier to make it fit a familiar narrative.
Except she hadn’t left. Grace was still waiting at home for him at the end of everyday.
“I love her”
“And she loves you. That’s why she stayed,” said Rossi “She’s a fighter and she’s fighting for you”
“And I screwed it up. I treated her like shit this past week because…fuck Rossi I don’t even know why”
“So apologise and try harder,” snapped Rossi “You’re a fighter too and if you fought to get out of prison you can fight for this”
“Thanks” nodded Spencer. Rossi didn’t say anything, just clapped him on the shoulder and headed back into the building.
Grace’s house was much bigger than Spencer expected. It was three storeys, a period building. She looked at him as if daring him to comment but instead he just carried her bags to the front door.
“Coffee as a thank you?”
“That would be nice” he followed Grace into a hallway that was much brighter and warmer than he expected. This woman was surprise after surprise.
“Martha?” Grace called out.
“We’re in here” a young woman appeared in the doorway of what looked to be the kitchen “What happened to your arm!?”
Before Grace could respond a blur passed through Martha’s legs and barrelled towards Grace. She caught the wriggling creature with her good arm and lifted him up to plant kisses all over his face.
“Mama!” he laughed.
“Ah I’ve missed you liefling! Have you been good for Martha?” The tranquil mask was completely missing from Grace’s face; in its place was pure unadulterated joy.
Surprise after surprise.
“This is my friend Spencer. He helped me at work. Spencer this is Isaac, my son”
“Hiya Isaac,” Spencer gave him a small wave that the toddler mimicked, laughing wildly. Grace beamed at them both before awkwardly setting Isaac down.
“Martha is going to help you get ready for bed than I’ll be up for a story okay?”
“’Kay. Bye bye!” Isaac waved again at Spencer as Martha led the little boy.
“How old is he?” Spencer asked.
“Three” said Grace “It’s hard, being away from him at this age”
“His Dad?” Spencer asked cautiously. Grace paused.
“Not around. Thank goodness,” she added with a tone that half suggested a joke and half something else.
“Agent Owens…” Spencer began “I don’t want to sound forward…I mean…or sound pushy or even-“
“Spencer” Grace cut in, amused.
“What about it?”
“Do you like it? Would you like it I mean? With me. Would you like to get a coffee with me some time?
Grace bit her lip. Most men would have never asked her out after meeting her baby. There was something about this man. He was…genuine. This could go very wrong, she thought, she wasn’t built for this.
“I’d love to”
In the Victorian language of flowers a mixture of red and white roses symbolised an apology for a transgression. Red of course meant love on it’s own and Rossi had told him that you could never go wrong with red roses. It took an hour agonising at the florist for Spencer to select a bouquet that was frankly obnoxious in size.
In addition to the roses he picked purple hyacinths, which meant asking for forgiveness and lilacs because they were Grace’s favourite. The scent was overwhelming but not as much as the anxiety coursing through Spencer the entire drive home. He went over and over what he was going to say in his head but nothing sounded right, when he pulled up though his heart sank and he realised the whole thing may not even matter.
He walked past two unfamiliar cars parked outside and headed to the back gate where he could hear the sounds of conversation and laughter. Biting his lip, Spencer backed up to see if he could sneak inside but it was too late, the gate swung open and revealed Christophe’s surprised face.