“What do you mean I’m not on the list?”
“Ma'am I don’t know how else to say this. You aren’t on the list of approved visitors. If you aren’t on the list you aren’t coming in”
The guards eyes were hard and cruel, satisfaction seemed to flash across them. He was enjoying this.
Grace turned away, unable to bear it anymore. She fled from the prison and out into the sun. Only then did she let the tears fall.
The trilling of the alarm pierced through the dream, pulling Grace out of the past and into the cold light of the morning. She reached across the empty space next to her, slamming her hand down and silencing the alarm. Grace drew her hand back, pausing to rest her palm on the cool sheets. Not for the first time, she found herself longing for Spencer to be there but knew she needed to be satisfied with having him out of prison and back at home. Maybe the rest would come in time.
Maybe she should start getting up early again and go running. When Spencer was in prison she had run farther and farther each day until her lungs burnt and she couldn’t feel her legs.
After a cold shower Grace busied herself making breakfast, ready for when Isaac came crashing downstairs. Grace kissed the top of his head, ruffling his hair when he protested. Spencer still hadn’t materialised so she headed to the study-come-spare room. The sofa bed was unmade, instead Spencer was hunched over at the desk, eyes shut but a frown on his face.
Grace laid a hand as gently as she could on his shoulder, reeling back when he jerked awake violently.
“Hey it’s alright” she whispered “You’re safe”
Spencer looked at her ruefully, dragging his fingers through his hair and shaking his head to repell the sleepiness.
“What’s the time?” he mumbled.
“Just gone seven” said Grace. She kept her voice soft and low as if he was a frightened animal and she was trying to keep him from bolting. “Breakfast is ready and there’s a fresh pot of coffee”
For a moment she considered reaching out. They never broke eye contact, each feeling the magnetic pull of the other’s gaze. Like the day they both met.
Grace didn’t move, it wouldn’t have been fair on Spencer. Instead she just smiled.
“It will get cold”
“I’ll be down in a sec,” said Spencer “I promise”
Grace gave a small nod before leaving Spencer alone. He watched her go with a dull ache in his chest. It was as if he was…mourning something and that only made him feel worse.
You can only mourn what is never coming back.
Downstairs he found Isaac finishing up breakfast under Grace’s watchful gaze.
“Morning kiddo” Spencer said. He sat down next to him and Grace handed him a plate of french toast and fruit.
“Morning” the little boy chirped “Are you driving me to school today?”
“Spencer has to work liefling” said Grace. Her tone was a mixture of apologetic and warning.
“But he used to” Isaac grumbled. Spencer surpressed a wince. During his six weeks mandatory leave he had taken Isaac to school before going to the shooting range and he had picked him afterwards. Between picking him up and Grace getting out of work they had gone to the park or the library. Spencer had also taken to teaching Isaac chess and helping him with his homework.
It was the only part of the day when he had felt normal and he missed that after he was reinstated.
“Hey you know what?” asked Spencer. Issac looked up at him glumly “When I’m teaching I can take you in for a whole month straight if you like? And pick you up too if your mom doesn’t mind”
“That sounds lovely doesn’t it?” Grace prompted.
“Yeah it does” said Isaac. Even if Spencer hadn’t been a profiler he would have seen through the boy’s lie. Issac slid off the chair and headed up to finish getting ready for school. Grace and Spencer looked after him, too afraid to look at each other.
Each day was another mile. Through the rain and the biting cold Grace kept running and running. her protested but she kept going. The blood pounding in her brain drowned out the thoughts of Spencer in prison, Spencer hurt, Spencer dead.
It drowned out the guards telling her she couldn’t see him.
It drowned out the platitudes offered by his team.
It drowned out the promises they made that they were going to clear his name.
It drowned out Isaac’s tearful questions, his cries for Spencer to come home.
It drowned out Diana’s screams.
Suddenly her legs went out from underneath her and Grace was sent crashing into the mud. The rain soaked through her clothes and the cold numbed the pain somewhat but there was still a fire under her skin.
Shouts from other runners on the trail sounded distant, as did the strangers who made their way to see if she was okay. Grace did respond, all she could do was sob into the dirt, bury her face in it and block out the world.
It was Grace who broke the silence.
“He’s strong. He’ll adjust”
“I know but he shouldn’t have to” said Spencer “Breakfast was delicious, thank you”
He had hardly eaten any but Grace cleared up the plates without a word.
After a quick shower he was ready to go, pausing at the door to shout a goodbye to Isaac, wishing him a good day at school. Grace hovered at the door, a ritual silently established since the day he had moved in. They both stood with the weight of the world between them.
“Stay safe” Grace whispered.
“I will” promised Spencer.
They stood in silence for a second as they both thought about the kiss that never came.
Liefling is an Afrikaans term of endearment
Gone were the days when Spencer felt awkward talking in front of groups. That being said Rossi still had a rule about him not attempting to tell jokes to the audience.
It was a multi-agency conference on cross national approaches to law enforcement. Spencer, Rossi and Emily had all been drafted in to help. After their presentation Spencer stood to the side watching Rossi schmooze two guys from interpol while Emily was in conversation with a British detective from the NCA.
Presentations he had mastered, networking not so much.
The hair on the back of his neck stood up at the unmistakable sensation of being watched. Glancing up, Spencer locked gazes with a dark pair of eyes. The appropriate amount of time for accidental eye contact with a stranger came and went. Her mouth twitched in an almost smile before her attention was pulled back by the animated speaker who had cornered her.
Another day, another case. This one was in New York with two children missing on the anniversary of a similar abduction four years ago. A boy and a girl both times. Spencer stared at the glossy photos of the smiling faces as Penelope outlined the case.
He couldn’t pinpoint the time he had started seeing Isaac’s face in place of the pictures of missing children and he couldn’t say if it was before or after he had started seeing Grace’s eyes in lifeless crime scene photos.
“Wheels up in twenty” said Emily and everyone got up. Spencer followed suit, rushing to catch up.
“This isn’t going to be an easy one” Rossi said gravely. He hung back to walk with Spencer down to the bullpen.
“Are any of them easy?” Spencer asked. Rossi looked uncomfortable.
“No but when we see loved ones in the faces on that board it’s tough. Doubly so when it’s a child” Sometimes Spencer hated profilers. “I see Kai and Joy all the time now”
“Was it easier before?” Spencer found himself asking before he could stop the words leaving his mouth. To his relief there was no judgement on Rossi’s face.
“No” he shook his head “Because having them in my life is always better”
The eyes were matched by dark, wavy hair. There was a stillness about her, her movements were imperceptible but her gaze was penetrating. She wasn’t listening to anything the man in front of her was saying but she was taking in every minute detail of his appearance, his gestures, his posture.
She was profiling, Spencer realised, whether she was doing deliberately or not he wasn’t sure. The rigidity of her posture added to Spencer’s impression of a sleek cat pondering whether to make a move or retreat.
The man she was talking to was getting louder, more blustery and it was earning him a few eye rolls from the people nearby whose own conversations were being drowned out. The woman’s face was blank but Spencer could detect a growing discomfort. She looked at him again accompanied by another twitch of the lips.
He headed over.
“Sorry to interrupt. Dr Spencer Reid with the BAU. I couldn’t help but overhear your fascinating conversation”
“Grace Owens” she said with a small incline of her head. Did he detect gratitude in her tone? Her accent was strange, neither from one place or another. It was like a lyrical map traversing the world. He wanted to tell her how pretty her name was but he settled for an awkward half wave instead which seemed to amuse her.
“Where are you from?” Spencer asked before her companion had a chance to introduce himself. The man seemed to sense his presence wasn’t going to be acknowledged and he slunk off, leaving them alone.
The first two victims were cousins who were taken when they were playing in their grandma’s garden. The most recent two, Brandy and Parker Olson, were brother and sister and they had been walking round the corner to buy candy when someone had snatched them.
“It was a five minute walk” Mrs Olson repeated over and over again “There and back it was only five minutes”
Spencer watched her rocking herself back and forth as she repeated it like a mantra.
“We’ll do everything we can to find them I promise” said Spencer, getting to his feet.
“Do you have children?” Mr Olson asked. Spencer opened and closed his mouth.
“I…yeah sort of” he cursed himself immediately, that wasn’t an answer “A stepson, my girlfriend’s little boy.”
“How old is he?” Mr Olson asked.
“Seven, nearly eight”
“Nearly Brandy’s age” nodded Mr Olson “Please…they’re so little…please”
“We’ll do everything in our power” Spencer repeated uselessly. Outside the interview room, the air felt thinner. Rossi and Emily were looking at him sympathetically.
“Mrs Olson isn’t coping” said Spencer “She wasn’t able to give me much but her husband gave me a run down of the kid’s after school clubs, the friends they hang out with and the places they go. Our unsub must have seen them there.”
“I’ll give the list to Garcia along with the one from the first victims’ parents” said Emily, pulling out her phone and heading somewhere quiet. Spencer had his own phone in his hand, tapping it mindlessly.
“If you want to give Grace a call-” Rossi started.
“We’re too busy” Spencer cut him off.
“I’m an investigator attached to the OTP at the International Criminal Court” said Grace.
“That’s impressive” said Spencer. What he really wanted to tell her was how beautiful her voice was. God, get it together. “And it must be so interesting”
“That’s…one way of putting it” she nodded. There was that almost smile again. He wanted to see her smile properly, as inappropriate as that sounded. “It definitely has it’s challenges”
“You get to work all over the world. That must be interesting”
“I worked for Europol in France and Germany before. A colleague recommended me for a position at the ICC and I’ve been there ever since” explained Grace. Her accent wasn’t completely French or German, maybe a hint of Dutch and English and something else but Spencer couldn’t be sure and it felt invasive to ask. “You said in your talk you and your colleagues are with the BAU. Have you always been there.”
“Straight out of college” nodded Spencer. Grace rose her eyebrows.
“You occupy a very competitive position” said Grace. “You must have distinguished yourself.” She was right, usually it took years of experience to get onto the team. Was she playing with him though?
Did he care? Instead of mulling it over he gave a small shrug.
“Behaviour interests me” he said modestly “Why people do what they do. You?”
“The why doesn’t interest me” said Grace “Only the how”
“Can’t the why lead to the how?” challenged Spencer.
“Perhaps when you are dealing with deviants” nodded Grace “But In my line of work I have seen neighbours turn against each other with little warning and burn towns to the ground, soldiers claiming they were only following orders. By the time we arrive there are so many bodies that the why is irrelevant”
Their conversation was cut off by someone announcing the talks were resuming.
“I’d be interested to hear about your work” Spencer gabbled quickly. There it was! A genuine smile. A sense of triumph surged through Spencer.
“I’d like that”
Fate was against them though. They had been called away to join the team on a tricky case before the end of the conference and he hadn’t had a chance to seek Grace out again. It would be two and a half years before he saw her again, after Emily, after Maeve and after Blake . Just when he was starting to feel the pull of something, the nagging feeling that tragedy was always going to dog his footsteps, she reappeared.
Time behaved strangely during abduction cases, it was as if everything was moving twice as fast and twice as slowly at the same time. Everyone was on edge waiting for the worst but also hoping for the best. JJ and Matt had taken to sitting with Mr and Mrs Olson. They were the proper parents after all, Spencer thought bitterly.
God that was an awful thought, bile rose in his throat and he tried to drown it with the cheap tasting station coffee. He loved Isaac like his own and he had been so young when Spencer and Grace had gotten together with no experience of ever having a father. Spencer had wanted both of them so much, wanted them to all be a family, a proper family.
“We’ve got a report of a body in the river” said Rossi quietly.
“Not ID yet but…it’s a child. A water burial could explain why we never found the last two victims. Emily wants us to hold off on telling the Olsons until we confirm”
“It’s going to kill them” said Spencer “He’s destroyed their whole world”
“There’s a chance it’s not-”
“But then it’s someone else kid” Spencer cut in “Someone else’s world”
Rossi nodded. Spencer began tapping his phone again as they both looked over to the closed door of the interview room.
“Call Grace” said Rossi
“And say what?” asked Spencer
“That you want to hear her voice” said Rossi “That you want to say goodnight to Isaac. Anything to remind you why we’re here”
“I don’t have that right Rossi” said Spencer, throwing up his hands “What I did to her when I was in prison-”
“You need to forgive yourself Spencer” said Rossi “Grace has…”
Spencer shook his head, tossing the phone on the desk.
“I don’t deserve it”
The OTP is the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC. It's made up of three teams who select and provide insight on potential cases, who investigate and provide crime analysis and final who litigate and prosecute.
Liefling is an Afrikaans term of endearment
It was everyone’s worst nightmare come true. Dental records confirmed it was Brandy Olson’s body pulled from the river. Mrs Olson’s animalistic howl was heard throughout the station and Spencer felt it reverberate through every cell in his body.
A dive team was dispatched to see if the other three bodies were dumped in the river and Spencer volunteered to wait on site with tidal charts to see if they found anything. He didn’t think he could bear to be in the vicinity of the grieving parents any longer.
“I need to ask you something” Grace leaned in the doorway as Spencer divided the takeout food over two plates. “Don’t feel like you have to say yes”
“Sounds ominous” said Spencer. Grace chuckled.
“It isn’t I promise. It’s just Isaac has a showcase thing at school where you can talk to teachers, see their work and the like to celebrate the end of the school year. I was wondering if you could come with me? I always feel a little out of place at these things”
“You want me to come with you?” Spencer was dumbstruck, “Would Isaac mind?”
“I think he’d be thrilled” Grace said softly “He adores you”
“Um okay yeah!” said Spencer. He grinned from ear to ear. “I’d love to”
At the end of the second day the dive team found partial remains thought to have been in the water at least three years.
“It’s one of the first victims” Spencer told Emily over the phone “ME thinks it may be the girl, Lucy DeMarco. The unsub wrapped her in some kind of sheeting that rotted away in the water. It looks like he attempted to weigh her down”
“He’s not good at disposing the bodies then” said Emily “CSU says that the bonds tying Brandy down weren’t tight enough”
“Maybe he panics after he kills them? Or he’s so overcome by shame or guilt he loses focus?” suggested Spencer. He was begining to get a headache from studying the surface of the water and willing them not to bring up anything else. At the same time there was a desperate need to provide closure to the Olsons and the DeMarcos.
“We’ve also gone through the list Mr Olson gave you. It looks like Brandy and Parker went to a summer swim school that Lucy DeMarco and her cousin Brian attended a few years before” explained Rossi.
“Seems likely that’s where the unsub saw them. Garcia is going through a list of employees we’ll start whittling them down tomorrow” added Emily “Are the dive team finished for the day?”
“Yeah it’s too dark to work now” said Spencer thickly “You want me to head back to the station?”
“No go straight to the motel. I think we could all do with a rest”
Isaac was sitting at the bottom of the stairs, school bag packed and hair brushed when Spencer arrived to drive them all to school.
“He’s been excited all day” whispered Grace as the little guy bombed towards the car “He even sat and cleaned his shoes twice. I think he wants to impress you.”
“What, why?” Spencer frowned. Grace kissed him softly on the cheek.
“I told you, he adores you” Grace paused as if she was going to say something else but thought better. “We’ll be late. C’mon”
The elementary school was busy when the arrived and Isaac seemed to have lost some of his enthusiasm, chewing on his lip, his eyes darting around frantically. Spencer held out a hand that the boy took quickly. His mother took hold of his other hand and Isaac led them to his classroom. Various projects were laid out on tables, pictures from class trips were pinned to the walls and the teacher was animatedly talking to the parents. Isaac pulled them over to the photos of a trip to the zoo, pointing himself out in each one and reeling off facts about the animals.
The earlier anxiety seemed be forgotten, Spencer noted with relief. He couldn’t help but compare Isaac’s childhood experiences to his own. They were both boys with no father but a mother who more than made up for that. They were both sensitive and emotional though Isaac has a resilience he had inherited from Grace. Spencer envied it, he wished he’d had even half that bravery as a child.
“Mr Owens?” The teacher materialised at his elbow, all pink lipstick and rainbow sweater. It took Spencer a moment to realise she was addressing him.
“No, uh sorry it’s Reid” he turned and held up his hand in an awkward wave. Grace and Isaac had moved on and were preoccupied with looking through a work book of Isaac’s.
“Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you weren’t married” she blushed “Not that it’s a problem”
“Uh-huh” said Spencer, at a loss for what else to say “This is a lovely classroom”
“Thank you” she beamed “Isaac is one of our brightest pupils. He’s always enthusiastic, engaging with the material. He loves telling me about the books you two are reading. It makes a huge difference to his comprehension, you know a lot of parents don’t read with their children. Isaac is very lucky.”
Spencer knew he should correct her but he didn’t and we wasn’t sure why.
“I wanted to commend you as well for the way you talk to Isaac about your job” the teacher lowered her voice “Having both parents in law enforcement is obviously an immense source of pride for him, he is always telling his friends about what his father does for the FBI and how much you and his mother helps people and keeps people safe. It must take a special touch to share what you do while keeping also the horrific details from him”
Spencer knew there was no way he was getting any sleep that night. He had a stack of books with him but they held no appeal. Every time he paused all he could see were the black waters of the river and the ghost of a face below the surface.
He pulled out his phone and sent of a quick text. He hadn’t even placed the phone on his bedside table before a photo of Grace and Isaac playing on the sofa in his old apartment filmed the screen. Spencer smiled at the memory, swiping to start the video call.
“Hey” Grace looked relieved to see him and guilt gnawed at Spencer.
“Hi, I’m sorry I haven’t phone you. It’s been…” Spencer swallowed, blinking away the tears.
“I heard it was two children missing” said Grace. Spencer nodded.
“We found one but…”
“Oh darling. I’m so sorry. I know how difficult it is, how there’s nothing I can say to make it better, I wish I could.”
“I know you do” said Spencer “I know and I love you for it. I wish you were here right now” he added. When was the last time he’d told her that? It must have been before prison. Maybe the coercive control case? He’d gone to her house instead of going back to his apartment and held her as tight as he could. He had needed to be grounded and comforted before he could take care of his mother.
“You make me feel strong” he’d told her “I wish I could have you with me on every case.”
“I wish I could be there too” said Grace “I hate seeing you like this”
“Tell me about you instead” pleaded Spencer “How’s your day been? How’s Isaac?”
“Work is work” shrugged Grace “They gang we’re tracking has changed ports again. Interpol is working with local PD in eighteen different towns on the East Coast. Something has to give soon. Isaac is starting a new project at school. They’re coming up with fundraising ideas to buy a telescope for his class so they can do some stargazing.”
“He’ll be over the moon. Pun totally intended” laughed Spencer “Do you remember when we took him the science museum? ”
“And he lay down in the planetarium and we couldn’t get him to move for two hours? How could I forget.” said Grace “He came home to today and asked if we could go again”
“Tell him yes” said Spencer without hesitation “We can go one weekend when I’m on mandatory leave. I’m due to take time off again at the end of next month. We could make a day of it.”
“I’d like that” said Grace “And Isaac will too, of course”
The picture was blurry but Spencer was sure he could see a slight blush over her delicate features and he could feel his own face warming. God, he wished she was right there with him, he had an all-consuming need to reach out, his fingers brushing her cheek, to feel her.
“It’s a plan” said Spencer “I should get some sleep, it’s been a long day.”
“Of course, get some rest. I love you”
“Love you too”
Spencer waited until Isaac was asleep to broach the subject with Grace. It took a while. Isaac begged Spencer to read him a story, then another one and then he wanted Grace to sing to him. After numerous hugs and kisses he was finally asleep and Grace settled down with Spencer on the sofa.
“Thank you for coming today” said Grace, resting her head on his shoulder “I always feel kind of awkward going to those things. Inadequate.”
“You shouldn’t” Spencer kissed the top of her head “His teacher went on and on about how well Isaac is doing. That’s all down to you.”
“I worry that I’m not enough” whispered Grace. It almost hurt for her to admit it out loud, as if that made it more true.
“You are” said Spencer “Isaac is an amazing kid and you raised him that way”
“I think having you as an influence helps” smiled Grace. Spencer shifted uncomfortably in his seat, not sure how to say what was running through his head. Grace looked up at him quizzically, her hand resting gently on his as a silent encouragement.
“His teacher thought we were married” Spencer said as casually as possible “I corrected her but I think she still had the wrong idea. She was talking about how Isaac is proud he has two parents in law enforcement and…”
Grace’s face was unreadable. Spencer had always found her difficult to profile and at times like this when his own emotions were all over the place it was even harder. She reached into her bag and pulled out a schoolbook taken from Isaac’s class room and handed it Spencer, open at a page titled “My Parents’ Jobs”, covered in Isaac’s handwriting.
The first line was “My mommy works for Interpol which is a special type of police who solve crimes in more than one country. My mommy speaks lots of languages and used to work in a lot of different places round the world.”
“Read further down” prompted Grace.
Underneath it began “My Dad works for the FBI”. Spencer looked up at Grace in shock. She didn’t move and all Spencer could do was keep reading.
“My Dad works for the FBI which is like the police except he goes all over the country to help people. My Dad works for a special part of the FBI where they look at people’s brains to find out why they do bad things. He helps lots and lots of people and I am very proud.”
The rest of the page was lost in a blur but the last four words rolled over and over.
“I can speak to him” said Grace, staring down at her hands “I can explain. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable”
“No please don’t” said Spencer. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve “This is amazing. I mean, as long as you think it’s okay, I don’t want to presume.”
“As long as I think it’s okay?” Grace echoed “Spencer, it’s more than okay. We both love you so much and…” She pulled him close, kissing him fiercely because no words on earth could convey the happiness she felt that the only man she’d fallen in love with could feel so strongly about the centre of her world.
“I love you too” Spencer murmured “Both of you. I…I feel like I’ve found a family with you.”
Grace nodded, kissing him again but this time more softly.
“You will always have a family with us”
“Spencer please” Visiting time was short, Emily couldn’t believe they’d wasted so much of it having the same argument over and over.
“No” Spencer sat back, arms folded. The bruises from the beating had started to fade but the look in his eyes, that mix of resignation and despair, that was as prominent as ever.
“Grace has been calling the office asking us to talk to you about this for three weeks straight” said Emily “Please just see her once”
“Emily I don’t know how many different ways I can say this: I don’t want her coming here” said Spencer “Please can we talk about something else?
It took another week for the bodies of the remaining missing children to be recovered. Spencer stayed on the bank watching the divers the whole time. In the meantime the team was narrowing down suspects.
Alistair Mulroney worked at the pool where the Olson siblings and the DeMarco kids had attended summer school. He had a history of violent outbursts, his children had been taken away from him after her threatened to kill them to spite his ex-wife. He also owned a boat and his house had been reposessed so he had been sleeping on it, mooring it somewhere new every few days.
"He hasn’t been in work for the past week” Luke explained over the phone to Spencer “We’re having trouble tracking him down. How is the search going?”
“They’re bringing up the last body” croaked Spencer. He absently rubbed the scar on his neck, it had been feeling increasingly tight over the last week or so.
“Good. At least they’re all recovered. Emily wants you back at the station when the divers are done there. We need to see if we can narrow down the search area for Mulroney”
“Uh huh. Meet you there” Spencer said, hanging up. He tossed the phone on the seat next to him and buried his head in his hands. Everything itched, it was like being in prison again. The walls were closing and he felt like bits of him were missing.
He was desperate to hear Grace’s voice. He hadn’t called her again but he had managed to text her each day and she’d messaged him a few pictures of Isaac holding up a “miss you” card he had made.
Guilt was quickly becoming a second skin for Spencer.
“Grace, did you hear what I said?” Fiona’s eyes flicked between Grace on the sofa staring down at her hands, and Emily looking concerned on the seat opposite.
“I heard you. Spencer is refusing to do a cognitive interview. I’m not sure I can help, he’s refused to see me for months” her voice sounded so far away even to herself.
“Let me worry about that” said Fiona “I think Spencer will listen to you if he sees you. You can convince him to sit down with Dr Lewis”
“This could really help us get him out Grace” Emily leaned forward “Stephen and I think we can get Scratch declared a terror threat and kick the investigation up a gear. I’m going to the London office, I still have friends in Interpol who I can get on board”
“I can ask in the DC office” offered Grace.
“That will help to but what we really need is to convince Spencer to sit down for a cognitive. If he names Scratch as the other person in the hotel room then this has a good chance of working” Emily leaned over and took Grace’s hand “I know this has been difficult for you-”
“You have no idea” said Grace “You can’t even begin to imagine”
“Grace has something else happened?” Emily asked. Grace stared at her for a moment, pulling her hand away.
“I’ll do it. If you can get me into the prison”
“Thank you. Thank you so much”
“When’s Spencer coming home?” Isaac asked. Grace glanced up from folding laundry. Even at such a young age her son had a good instinct for what was the truth and what was meant to be a comforting lie.
“I’m not sure liefling” said Grace “He’s working a very tough case. But hopefully it won’t be too much longer.”
“Okay” the little boy sighed. Grace looked at him mournfully flicking through a book Spencer gave him. Her heart ached. As difficult as Spencer’s imprisonment had been for her the toll it had taken to reassure Isaac everything was okay had been just as hard. Grace hadn’t known the answers to any of his questions, she had been utterly alone and scared out of her mind. Since Spencer had refused to see her, her all consuming goal had been to reassure Isaac that nothing terrible would happen, it would all end up okay. As the weeks had passed she had been less and less sure of that.
Grace stopped folding the clothes and went to kneel in front of her son.
“Hey” she said gently “This is just the same as before Spencer went away okay? He always came back. I always came back when I worked away. Nothing’s changed. We always come home, back to you”
“But it has changed” mumbled Isaac. He wrapped his arms round himself, a habit that had developed while Spencer was in prison. Grace held his face in her hands, forcing him to look up at her.
“I know but what hasn’t changed is how much we love you. That is why we’ll always come back to you. Okay?”
Isaac nodded and wrapped his arms around her neck. Grace pulled him close, never wanting to let go.
It was a part of the prison Spencer hadn’t been before. Terror rose in him as the guard dragged him down the unfamiliar hallway. The possibility he wouldn’t make it out alive was growing more concrete by the day but as the turned yet another corner he realised that he hadn’t made peace with it.
They stopped in front of a heavy door and Spencer was roughly shoved into the room but he spun around straight away, a look of confusion on is face.
“You have ninety minutes. Make it count”
The door slammed in his face and Spencer turned back to see Grace sitting on the end of a rickety bed. It must be one of the rooms they used for conjugal visits, he realised. It was the first time he’s seen her since the arraignment, her face was drawn, she’d lost weight and her skin had a sickly pallor to it. She stared at him with blank eyes and made no move to stand or say anything.
Spencer knew he must look a mess too but he was the cause of her distress. He was the reason the light had gone from her eyes, the reason her strength was zapped. It had seemed like a good idea at the time to not add her to the list, to keep her away from the prison but seeing her like that it felt like the biggest mistake of his life.
“How did you get here?” he asked. Grace raised an eyebrow.
“No pleasantries then? Okay. Emily sent me. She and Fiona wanted to me to talk to you, they seem to be under the impression you’ll listen to me. I told them you wouldn’t”
That stung. Spencer looked helplessly about the room, anywhere but her face. Grace wrapped her arms round herself, biting her lip to stop the sting of tears. She would die before she cried in front of him here.
“How are you?” Spencer asked quietly “How’s Isaac?”
“I haven’t…been well” Grace’s voice was hollow “Isaac keeps asking when you can come home. He can’t sleep.”
“I’m sorry Grace”
“We have an hour and half until the guard comes back. You may as well sit down, even if we have nothing to say to each other.” said Grace.
“Do we? Have nothing to say to each other I mean.”
“That’s up to you” said Grace bitterly.
They caught Mulroney when a woman called the police saying she saw a man matching his description trying to drag two children off the street. She lived quite close to the river so it narrowed down the search area. They managed to surround the boat but Mulroney was armed and they were caught in a tense standoff.
Spencer stayed by Rossi’s side as they managed to get Mulroney on the phone. His heart was hammering in his chest as Rossi tried to win the man round. Mulroney was clearly unhinged swinging between raging about his ex wife and his mother and sobbing about how sorry it was.
“I didn’t mean to hurt them” he cried “Those poor children”
Spencer’s stomach turned at the audacity of Mulroney’s sorrow. He could still hear Mr Olson pleading with him to find his children and he could see the bodies being brought up. This time however it was Grace pleading and Isaac’s body. Spencer couldn’t listen anymore, he moved away but he wasn’t far enough to muffle the sound of gunfire that followed when Rossi couldn’t convince him to surrender.
The plane ride back was a blur as Spencer wrestled with the feelings overwhelming him. Mulroney wouldn’t stand trial, he was off the streets but there would always be more like him. Was there closure for the families? No, all there was was a gaping hole where their children used to be.
Before Spencer knew it he was sitting in the driveway. The minutes ticked by and he couldn’t will himself to go indoors. It was like being released from prison again, he was afraid of bringing the into his home and tainting his family with it.
He hadn’t treated them like his family. He’d betrayed Grace and abandoned a child that thought of him as his father. He’d pushed them away when they were hurting and all these months later he was still holding them at arms’ length.
“Spencer?” Spencer jumped at the rapping on the window. Grace was peering in, concern plastered on her face. She opened the door and slipped into the passenger seat. “You’ve been sitting out here for twenty minutes”
I’m fine, Spencer tried to say but the words wouldn’t come. Grace reached out to cup his cheek and he leaned into her touch, closing his eyes. They sat in silence for a moment, Spencer taking deep breaths and Grace’s thumb stroking his face.
“I’m sorry” he whispered after a moment.
“Spencer I told you-”
“I know I know but I thought I’d be okay by now and I’m not and it’s you and Isaac who are suffering for it”
“Love it’s going to take time. You went through something awful, you can’t expect to heal immediately”
“I lost three months of my life” cried Spencer “I can’t afford to lose any more time. I can’t afford to lose you.”
“You won’t” said Grace “I’m going to tell you what I told Isaac. Everything else may have changed but not the fact we love you. I promise we’re not going anywhere”
Grace leaned forward tentatively, fingers still gently brushing Spencer’s cheek. He gave a small nod and she pressed her lips to his softly. It was another reminder of how things had changed, her touch was cautious, almost hesitant but as her head tilted slightly Spencer deepened the kiss, an almost memory of how things were, how they could be again.
Next it was Grace’s turn to go away for work so Spencer arranged with Emily to extend his mandatory leave by a week. That way he could at least take Isaac to school and pick him up. Grace was spending a week in Canada, Interpol was liaising with the police forces up there in several coastal towns to help track a human trafficking ring.
“I’m going to call you guys everyday” Grace promised, hugging Isaac goodbye on the doorstep. The little boy was doing a poor job of keeping the tears at bay. “Spencer’s going to take you to the science museum, you’re going to have so much fun you won’t notice I’m working”
Isaac nodded, his bottom lip trembling. Grace hugged him tighter, her own eyes watery.
“It’s only a weekliefling” Grace gave him a kiss on the head and her brightest smile when she straightened up. Next, Spencer pulled her into a tight hug, burying his face in her hair.
“I’m going to miss you,” he murmured and Grace felt butterflies in her stomach. She held him tighter, enjoying the warmth and solidity of his embrace. Since the case in New York they had made some tentative strides towards confiding in each other the way they had before. There was still hesitancy between them, a kind of nervousness as if they were relearning everything about each other again. It was physical as well as emotional; they were slowly regaining the tactile elements of their relationship. A kiss every morning, holding hands as they watched TV, brushing away a stray lock of hair. Honestly sometimes Spencer felt like a teenager around Grace, or at least a typical teenager rather than revisiting his own adolescence.
“All five victims had ties to Europe” Hotch explained to the team “So I have reached out to Emily at Interpol and thanks to her we’re going to be liaising with Agents from their DC office”
Over the course of six months there had been a spate of poisonings in the DC area. All four victims were from or had worked in Europe. They were all in their forties and fifties, but worked in different industries, socialised in different places and Garcia hadn’t been able to find any crossover between them. The BAU had been called in after the third victim but all they’d been able to establish was that the victims had ingested the poison rather than inhaled it or absorbed it through the skin.
“Victim number five is Vivienne Girard,” explained Garcia “Forty two, she works as the assistant head of sales for an international pharmaceutical company.”
“Reid, you and Rossi head to the victim’s apartment. Locals have cordoned off the scene and an agent from Interpol will meet you there. Her colleague is meeting JJ and I at the command centre Metro PD have set up. Kate, you and Morgan head to the ME’s office, see if we can get anything from the body we don’t already know”
“I just wish Emily could come over to help,” said Spencer as he and Rossi climbed the stairs up to the victim’s apartment later that day “It would be nice to see her”
“Running the London office must keep her busy” said Rossi “But I wouldn’t say no to a trip to across the pond to catch up”
“I’ve never been” said Spencer “Actually there is a museum of medical history there I’ve always wanted to see. They have an exhibit on-”
Spencer stopped dead in his tracks as his eyes fell on the Interpol agent in deep conversation with a police officer. As she registered their arrival her lips twitched into a familiar half smile.
Grace too was enjoying it though she was wary of pushing too hard. Still, being apart again, even if it was just for a short time, was a frightening prospect. She gazed up at Spencer and he could see the worry there in her dark eyes. It had taken him years of staring into those eyes before he had a hope of discerning what was going on behind them.
“A week is no time at all” he whispered into her ear “And absence makes the heart grow fonder right?”
“Is that a promise?”
Spencer pressed a gentle kiss to her lips by way of an answer. One of Grace’s colleagues, a blonde man in a nice suit pulled up and waved to Grace. Spencer couldn’t remember the guy’s name, only that they’d worked together a while. Grace kissed Spencer again but they didn’t say anything else. She pulled Isaac close for one last hug then slipped into the car and drove away.
Spencer scooped up Isaac, lifting him up so they could wave until the car disappeared around the corner. The little boy looked so sad as Grace drove away; it made Spencer’s heart break.
“Hey” Spencer said in hope of a smile “How about pizza for lunch?”
“Agents” she held out a hand that Rossi, then Spencer, much to Rossi’s surprise, took “I’m Grace Owens with Interpol. Please to meet you.”
“We’ve met before” Spencer blurted out before he could stop himself “The conference on international law enforcement” Grace looked surprised.
“I didn’t think you would recognise me after all this time” she admitted “ There were so many people there and your talk made you quite popular” Rossi smirked as Spencer shifted from side to side and tried to supress the goofy grin that was spreading across his face.
“Sorry we’re meeting again under these circumstances” said Rossi “Can you walk us through the crime scene”
“Of course” said Grace, every inch the sober professional as she led the way into Vivienne Girard’s apartment.
They ended up going out for pizza; Spencer knew Isaac’s favourite place would make him smile. After that they went to an ice cream parlour a short walk from their house. Spencer had a scoop of mint chocolate chip while Isaac had strawberry with lashings of chocolate sauce. The outing seemed to have cheered him up completely and he was happily telling Spencer about the on-going fundraising for the school telescope.
“We’re doing a bake sale and a nearly new sale” said Isaac “Mom said she’s going to put a donation box in her office so people she works with might donate. Christophe said he’d get the whole amount if I came in and did their paperwork but Mom said that’s not allowed.”
“Christophe?” Spencer frowned “He works with your Mom right?”
Isaac nodded enthusiastically.
“Yeah he picked Mom up today and he’s brilliant! He promised to teach me how to snowboard one day and even though I can’t look at Mom’s paperwork because it’s secret he’s going to help with fundraising ideas”
“That’s really cool,” said Spencer as enthusiastically as he could manage. He poked at the melting green goo in the bowl, his sweet tooth having deserted him. He knew he was being stupid. Grace worked with many people and none of them made him respond in that way.
“I could get the team involved,” said Spencer “I’m sure between us we could come up with some good ideas”
“That would be amazing!” gasped Isaac, his wide eyes prompting a sense of triumph in Spencer. The colour seemed to return to the world a little bit as Spencer launched into an explanation about constellations and tried to forget all about Grace’s handsome colleague.
“You’re making it kind of obvious kid,” said Rossi, nudging Spencer’s elbow.
“You might want to move beyond gawking at the pretty Interpol agent and actually, say, ask her out?” Rossi laughed. Spencer glanced up at where Grace was in deep conversation with Hotch, doubling checking she couldn’t hear.
“I’m not gawking!” Spencer hissed.
“Uh huh sure” said Rossi “I think she’s interested by the way. Always asking you to elaborate, looking you up and down, I think after two weeks on this case she has your coffee order memorised.”
Spencer didn’t say anything, just busied himself with his papers. Grace was attractive and interesting, he did feel some primal pull towards her but he had no desire to get close to someone on that alone.
He wasn’t sure he wanted to get close to anyone full stop. Maeve’s death was a barely healed scar, with all the tenderness and phantom pain associated with that. The idea of risking that again was…
“Get out of your head kid” said Rossi, a hint of sharpness in his tone. His voice softened when Spencer looked up “I know how hard this must be, how scary it can be to move on but it’s coffee, not a proposal. You deserve to be happy.”
“I…I’m not sure-”
At that moment Hotch and Grace made their way over.
“We have another body” Hotch announced “And a possible suspect. Kate and JJ are on their way to the crime scene. The rest of us are checking out a motel on the other side of the city. Garcia will fill us in on the way. Agent Owens are you able to accompany us?”
“Absolutely” she nodded. Her eyes flicked to Spencer as they headed out to the SUV and he felt something stir inside as her lips twitched into a smile, a real smile this time.
“I’ll be glad when we catch this guy” she murmured.
“This type of unsub will just keep killing until we stop them” nodded Spencer “It’s a compulsion” Grace looked worried.
“Do you see that a lot?” she asked
“More than we’d like”
“Hey” Spencer collapsed down on the bed, switching the phone to his other ear “It feels like you’ve been away ages”
Grace’s laugh sounded odd through the phone. She also sounded drained, Spencer noted.
“It’s feels like I’ve been away much longer than a day” agreed Grace “I just want this done so I can come home,” There was a pause, Spencer heard her swallow and he knew she was suppressing tears.
“We…we found bodies in a shipping container. The youngest girl was eleven and the oldest was barely twenty. The ME thinks they were dead from dehydration and I…. fuck Spencer I’m not sure how much longer I can work this case. If feels like these guys have us beat at every turn and I just feel so…”
“Powerless?” Spencer answered softly. Grace made an affirmative noise that sounded more like a sob. Before prison he could count the number of times he had seen Grace cry on one hand and now… “I know it doesn’t make things better but I know how you feel. I know that sometimes it seems like we aren’t doing any good at all in the world but I promise you, you are. It’s just that the bad seems so overwhelming that we can’t take the time to savour our victories. That doesn’t mean they are any less important.”
Grace sniffed and for a moment the line went quiet. Spencer bit his lip, waiting.
“You’re very wise Doctor Reid” she said, finally “And you have a good heart”
“So do you,” said Spencer “You help so many people. You helped me over and over too”
“God I wish I was there” sighed Grace “I just want to sit and…just be with you, you know? The other agents all have their own ways of blowing off steam that don’t work for me. Aoife and Sam are drinking with the locals and Christophe is doing laps in the motel pool.”
“Huh” was all that Spencer could manage. He prayed Grace couldn’t detect…whatever the hell it was he was feeling…in his voice. There was a fractional pause before she spoke again.
“His wife left him” Grace said, “He isn’t taking it well. I think he finds it easier to pretend nothing is wrong”
“Avoidance is a common coping mechanism,” said Spencer “It doesn’t work though”
“No it doesn’t” said Grace. Her words seemed to be laden with something that Spencer had trouble distinguishing “It makes me realise how lucky we are to have each other”
“Yes it does,” said Spencer, a smile spreading on his face “I’m going to let you get some rest but Isaac and I will call tomorrow when you’re free okay?”
“I love you”
“I love you too. Stay safe”
Spencer answered the phone before the second ring could sound. He heard Grace make a little amused noise at the other end of the line.
“I’ve missed you so much” he said breathlessly “Sorry”
“I’ve missed you too” the tiredness in her voice is heavy and his heart ached for her “But we’re coming home finally”
“Did you get them?”
“No” said Grace “But the leads we got have gone cold and the police up here have other cases. We’re going to regroup, send out the mug shots and aliases across North America and also Europe. We think that’s where the traffickers’ supply chain starts”
For a moment Spencer considered offering the BAU’s expertise but he didn’t want to remind Grace that her return would mean he would have to go back to work. He considered reassuring her that they would get these people in the end but it felt too hollow.
“I’m so proud of you” was what he settled on. It was the truth. It would always be the truth.
“Spencer” Grace’s voice sounded thick “I-“ Spencer heard a shout in the background followed by Grace sighing. Another shout came. It was definitely a man’s voice though Spencer couldn’t make out the words despite the fact he was getting louder. Another, higher voice cut across him that Spencer thought could belong to Grace’s colleague Aoife. “Spencer I’m sorry there’s…an incident? I’ll text you when the plane takes off. Hopefully I’ll be home before dinner.”
Spencer went to respond but the line was already dead.
The sixth victim of the poisoner was also European, a Dutch man named Jan Visser. He had no connection to the other victims but Garcia found something else.
“All six victims had a close relative who worked at a think tank in Munich called the Bachmeier Institute which specialises in environmental research and policy. All the victim’s relatives occupied different positions in the Institute and worked there at different times but there was a two month overlap in early 2012, February and March to be exact” Garcia told them over speaker as Hotch, Rossi, Grace and Spencer made their way to the motel.
They had gotten a tip about a guest behaving erratically who was seen buying medical supplies. Spencer believed the poison being used was developed from a cocktail of highly specialised drugs that were strictly monitored.
“I’ve heard of it,” said Grace “Did anything of note happen during or around that two month period Agent Garcia?”
“Agent Garcia? God your accent makes that sound so cool.” Grace gave a small laugh at that as everyone else in the van exchanged amused glances “Okay well the end of 2011 they were given a grant by the EU for research into biofuels that was a big deal. In March the head of the institute announced her retirement and a successor was named and then just after…oh hello”
“What is it?” asked Hotch
“In May a former researcher at the institute killed himself while being investigated for fraud” explained Garcia “Samuel Hurst, fifty-eight, British born, worked for the Institute for twelve years. He was suspended when he was accused of taking bribes to alter the data in a climate change research project. During that investigation they found out about his dodgy financial shenanigans and informed the German police”
“So this could all be about revenge,” said Rossi
“Hey guys, Hurst had two sons. James and William. James has been studying here for two years on a student visa but William came to the US two months ago, seemingly for a vacation but disappeared. He’s a pharmacist.”
“So he could make the cocktail of drugs our killer is using,” said Grace “You are amazing Agent Garcia”
“Finally someone who appreciates my genius!”
“I have a plan,” Spencer told Isaac conspiratorially. The little boy’s eyes widened and he immediately dropped his colouring and scooted closer to Spencer. “Mom had a touch case but she’s gonna be back in a few hours. How about we make her a nice dinner and put on her favourite movie to welcome her home?”
“Can we make popcorn? And a welcome home card?”
“Absolutely!” Spencer scooped him up, earning him a squeal of delight. It was hard to tell which one was more excited about the surprise.
Spencer carried Isaac on his back around the store, piling the shopping cart high with everything to make ćufte,Grace’s favourite food. Cooking was not something Spencer had much practice in but when you broke it down it was basically chemistry right? At least that’s what he was telling himself.
Isaac asked for some boxes of microwave popcorn for when they watched the movie, which then stretched to a few bags of candy (because you need chocolate AND non-chocolate options). As Isaac hopped down to re check that they had enough candy, Spencer’s hand hovered over one of the bottles of wine at the end of the aisle.
They weren’t big drinkers but maybe after Isaac had gone to bed they could have a celebratory drink? But would Grace think that meant something? Spencer bit his lip. Things were better than they were before the case in New York but they were nowhere near back to normal. Most notably he was still sleeping on his own.
The nightmares still haunted him though it wasn’t every night anymore but he was still sleeping poorly and sometimes he spent hours either staring at the ceiling, reading and re-reading books or watching Doctor Whoreruns in an effort to drown out the thoughts running through his head.
It wasn’t the sex specifically. Spencer wanted to fall asleep next to her, to wake up in the morning and see have Grace’s face be the first thing he saw. Logic and experience both told him that he was still processing the trauma of prison and part of that processing was rediscovering and re-establishing his physical and emotional boundaries. There was so much tied together, a huge knot of feelings, desires and compulsions tangled around his fears and worries.
“Do you think Mom would like a puppy?” Isaac’s voice broke into his thoughts. Spencer glanced down into the boy’s hopeful face.
“We’re all out of the house a lot,” said Spencer “Dogs take a lot of looking after”
Isaac’s face fell. Spencer knew that this had been an on-going discussion between Isaac and Grace and that she was going backwards and forwards on the idea but kept being put off by the cost and the long hours they worked.
“There are other pets that might be more suitable” said Spencer gently “Did I tell you about the fish I used to have?”
“No, what did you have?” asked Isaac. Spencer smiled, launching into a long and detailed explanation. He pulled Isaac onto his back once more and left the wine on the shelf.
The motel was absolutely trashed when they arrived. Hotch and Rossi interviewed the distraught owner while Spencer and Grace made their way around the room. She didn’t even blink, Spencer noticed as he watched her. There was stillness to her even when she was moving, her steps were soft and silent, like she was gliding.
“Something wrong?” Grace asked innocently, her lips had quirked into that same half smile however. Spencer’s stomach flipped and he shook his head fiercely. He sipped the coffee that they had scrounged from the machine in the reception. Grace followed suit, wincing at the bitterness.
“Here” Spencer pulled a fistful of sugar packets from his coat pocket, earning a small laugh from Grace that made a warm feeling spread in his chest.
“So you are made of sugar” she chuckled. Spencer looked confused “It’s a Dutch phrase ‘Wij zijn niet van suiker’, it means-“
“I am not made of sugar?” Spencer guessed. He had picked up more than a thing or two from Alex. Grace’s eyes lit up.
“Yes!” she said, delighted “It means ‘I can go out even if the weather is bad’”
Spencer filed that away for later use as he and Grace continued inspecting the room. William had made dozens of notes on the formula for his drugs and both men had their father’s papers, newspaper articles about his death and various bits and pieces about the institute.
“They blame their father’s colleagues for his death” Spencer said, “It’s consumed them”
“Many people find themselves wrapped up in their parent’s identities as much as their own,” mused Grace.
“Yes” was all Spencer could manage. He pushed his own father from his thoughts as quickly as he had invaded them and continued sorting through the piles of stuff everywhere “There’s a few articles here about a Dr Sophie Mancini. She is currently the lead consultant on a clean water project, worked at the Bachmeier Institute for fourteen years, for eight of them she was Hurst’s direct supervisor! She could be the next target”
“We should let your team know”
The loss of Isaac’s weight from his side made Spencer jolt awake. Grace, looking tired as hell had gently lifted him into her arms, cradling him against her.
“I’m so sorry” she mouthed. Spencer shook his head. It was fine, these things happened. Right?
Spencer waited downstairs as she put Isaac to bed. The piles of washing up in the sink had been visible as she passed the kitchen. Nearly every pan was caked in food, they had tried so hard and she hadn’t been able to make it home.
Tucking Isaac in tight, Grace pressed a kiss to the little boy’s forehead. “Mama loves you so much my liefling.” Then she crept back downstairs to face Spencer.
It was gone midnight. The dinner stuff had sat there for hours already; he supposed it could wait till the morning.
“You made ćufte,” said Grace, a small smile creeping on her face as she inspected the pan “I’m sorry I wasn’t home in time to eat it”
Spencer shrugged. He’d been angry. He’d been hurt. Now he was just tired.
“There was trouble leaving the station” Grace explained, the same story from the texts she had been sending hourly as Spencer and Isaac waiting for her to come home “Then the flight was delayed, then when we landed-”
“Christophe is okay now though right?” Spencer cut in. Grace hadn’t been specific as to what was causing the delay leaving Canada and then demanded urgent attention when they landed but Spencer pieced it together from the background noise of Grace’s phone calls. Spencer tried not to sound resentful. There could be any number of things going on there. His fear was dragging his mind into the gutter.
“He’s…he’s taking some time” said Grace carefully.
“It’s good he has you,” said Spencer, not looking at her. Grace stiffened.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“What I said,” said Spencer, his voice too casual.
“In the way that it’s good that JJ or Emily or Penelope or the rest of your team have you?” Grace asked icily. Something that felt a little like guilt nipped at Spencer but he pushed it aside.
“It’s late” was all he could manage.
“Thank you…for doing all this. If I’d known I would have fought to come home earlier” said Grace “I’ve been going mad missing the two of you this week. A friend needed my help and that’s the only reason I wasn’t here.”
“Okay” said Spencer. Grace’s shoulders sagged, he still wasn’t looking at her “Maybe you should invite your team over, hang out here and have dinner or something. See if that helps?”
He had no idea why he suggested that. Was he looking for proof of something? Was it a test? Was he trying and failing to make peace. Grace didn’t respond so he mumbled a goodnight before heading to the study for another night of staring at the ceiling.
Dave and Hotch took Mancini’s home. Derek, Kate and JJ headed to her office. That just left Spencer and Grace.
“Garcia says that Dr Mancini also has a cabin about a mile from here. Hotch wants us to cover that just in case” said Spencer.
“You driving suiker?” asked Grace. The warm feeling in Spencer’s chest returned and he could feel the blush rising in his cheeks. It was teasing he knew but it felt…nice. Was this flirting? He couldn’t tell and there was no way he was going to ask Rossi or, god forbid, Morgan.
Spencer pushed it to one side, piling into the driver’s seat of one of the SUVs and tearing down the road to the cabin.
There was a quiet uneasiness as they made their way up a dirt road to the ramshackle building. Spencer pulled out his gun and headed in front.
“You’re unarmed, you should hang back”
“I will be fine suiker” Grace murmured, sending a chill down Spencer’s spine.
He pushed open the front door and did a sweep of the room. Grace put a finger to her lips and pointed to a door at the side. There were hushed voices on the other side. Grace inched forward, hand hovering on the handle, she glanced at Spencer who nodded. Grace shoved the door open and sprung back to let Spencer through.
“FBI put your hands in the air”
James Hurst had Dr Mancini in a headlock, a syringe in his free hand.
“Take another step forward and she dies,” he hissed.
Spencer’s bullet nicked his arm a second later and Dr Mancini ripped herself out of his grip with a sob and Hurst faltered, the syringe falling from his hand. Spencer took his chance and secured Hurst as Grace cradled Dr Mancini, he could hear her soothing the frightened woman.
But as he was reading Hurst his rights there was a loud thud and a cry from Mancini. Whipping round, Spencer was just in time to see Grace sprawled on the floor and William Hurst standing over her.
Kill them!” screeched James and Spencer fumbled for his gun. He wasn’t fast enough though. Grace’s foot darted out and slammed into William’s knee causing him to crumple to the ground. She righted herself and lunged forward but he countered with a blow to her head that made her see stars. Then William seized her arm and yanked fiercely. Grace’s eyes widened as her legs went out from under her.
“Let her go or I shoot” Spencer bellowed. William smirked and brought his foot down on Grace’s arm with a sickening crack.
“We are walking out of here or this bitch is dead” William spat “Now uncuff-“
The rest of the sentence never came out as a series of lighting fast blows landed on William’s stomach causing him to double over. When he was lower than Grace she aimed another blow to his jaw that sent him sprawling on his back.
“I’m fine,” she grunted, cradling her injured arm but surprising steady on her feet. After a pause she brought her foot down hard on William’s groin and he let out a pig-like squeal.
“So he doesn’t think about getting up again” she told Spencer.
Lying in bed, Spencer could hear the sounds of pans being washed and put away and then of food being reheated in the microwave. He strained to hear but he still couldn’t tell if the sound of soft crying was just in his head or not.
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.
“Oh hey Spencer” Christophe said in mild surprise while Spencer just stood there. His eyes travelled over the large bouquet that Spencer was gripping, an amused look in his face. Spencer felt his blood begin to boil, his teeth grinding while he fumbled for something, anything to say. “I’m just grabbing something from the car, the others are out back” He clapped Spencer on the shoulder and squeezed past him
Spencer took a deep breath and headed down the side of the house towards the garden. There he found Grace and her team sitting on the garden chairs chatting. Grace’s mouth fell open at the sight of the flowers. An ‘ooh’ escaped the others gathered round and Isaac who had been sitting cross legged in front of Grace, leapt up and charged forward.
“Are those for Mom?”
“Uh-huh” The anger was gone and all that was left was embarrassment. There was no way Spencer could speak with Grace with all her work colleagues there, not that he had actually managed to work out what he was going to say anyway.
“Oh they’re beautiful Grace” Spencer heard Al whisper to Grace “Lucky lady”
Spencer could feel his face growing hot and he stood there awkwardly. Al couldn’t take their eyes off the flowers but Grace’s other colleague Aoife was fixing Spencer with a decidedly unimpressed stare. It reminded him of the look Emily wore when interrogating particularly loathsome unsubs.
“They are beautiful,” said Grace, rising “Let’s get them into some water”
Slowly Spencer sank down on the prison bed next to Grace. He resisted the urge to reach out and take her hand. His refusal to see her all those months meant he didn’t have the right to draw comfort from her touch, not when he had denied her that. Obviously she hadn’t been sleeping. There were dark circles under her eyes, her skin was pale and dry and it seemed to Spencer as if she had faded since they last saw each other in his little jail cell before the arraignment. Where was the woman he loved? The woman he had kissed for the first time in a snow on a DC sidewalk, the woman he loved to see laugh at his magic tricks and corny jokes. The woman who cradled her son if he couldn’t sleep even when he was getting much too old for that, who would burn down the world if any harm came to the two of them.
He had sent her away, that’s what had happened.
“I’m so, so sorry” said Spencer quietly as he watched Grace carefully place the flowers in a vase. He kept glancing out the window, praying they wouldn’t get interrupted. Christophe had come back from his car and they all seemed preoccupied by something so hopefully he had time.
“It’s fine” Grace didn’t look up.
“It isn’t fine. I’ve been terrible to you this past week. Actually I’ve been terrible to you since I got out of prison and then things were going so well and I fucked it up”
“That’s an exaggeration,” said Grace, looking at him sideways “At least about being terrible since prison. This week though, yes, you’ve been a prick”
“I want to do better”
“Then do,” said Grace “I’m not stopping you. I’m trying my hardest” Grace’s voice wavered and she stopped. She refused to get angry or cry again. Spencer reached out hesitantly and touched her shoulder. Grace stiffened but didn’t pull away.
“I love you Grace”
“I love you too” said Grace finally, “But you need to talk to me. I can’t take much more of this.”
Spencer went white.
“This isn’t a threat” Grace added, more gently “I’m not going to leave this second but if we’re going to get through this we need to communicate” Her hand reached up to lay over Spencer’s “I want to talk about this properly okay, when we’re alone. Maybe we can set some time aside and really talk about what’s going on?”
Spencer nodded furiously but before he could say anything Al poked their head round the door.
“I’m sorry to interrupt” they said, shaggy hair cascading in front of worried eyes “But Christophe wants to know if there are any glasses”
Finally Spencer couldn’t take the silence anymore. He snuck a look sideways at Grace’s drawn face.
“Why are you here?” he asked, his voice barely louder than a whisper. Grace didn’t look at him, just stared dead ahead.
“Emily asked. She wants you to do a cognitive with Tara”
Anger swelled in Spencer. He had told them he wanted to be left alone. He deserved to be in prison.
“It’s the only way you’re getting out of here and you’re refusing” said Grace “I’ve been rolling it over and over in my head but I can’t get the pieces to fit. Is it guilt? It is self-loathing? Is it pride? You need to be the one to find a way out of this.”
Grace still stared straight at the wall as if she could drag answers from the stone.
“You think I’m that arrogant?” Spencer snapped. The anger that had been bubbling below the surface was threatening to burst through. He didn’t want to get angry with Grace, she didn’t deserve that but he was finding it harder and harder to control his emotions.
“No but I think you’re that selfish” Grace’s gaze dropped to her hands “There are people out there running themselves into the ground for you and you’re taking all that work and pain and anguish and…. belittling it!”
Grace turned to Spencer with red eyes, tears streaming. Her hands were clenched into fists, the knuckles white as she shook with fury.
“How dare you? Who the fuck do you think you are?” Grace hissed. Spencer sat there, slack-jawed. His anger had given way to a cold wave of discomfort. He felt like she was stripping his skin away, exposing the raw nerves and rotten flesh beneath. “Dr Spencer Reid thinks his guilt, his hurt, is more than everyone else’s”
“It is true” Grace cut across him “It is because you won’t let them help. You’ve pushed them all away because punishing yourself for whatever it is is more important. Who gave you the right to take it all, all that pain and fear, and deny the rest of us our feelings?”
‘I’m protecting you. All of you” said Spencer, weakly. Grace shot up from the bed, turning on him in a mass of wild eyes and hair, her voice like a crack of lighting.
“Do I look protected to you? Do I look safe? Comforted?”
His gaze dropped to the floor as she began to cry in a way he’d never heard before. It was noisy, wavering sobs that reverberated through her body so fiercely she slumped back down onto the bed. When Spencer reached out a hand she pulled away at first but he managed to pull her close and smother some of it with his embrace.
His own tears were silent
“Why?” Grace asked. Al bit their lip. A look that Spencer couldn’t decipher passed between the two of them.
“He found some of that vodka from the Golubev case in his car” said Al slowly
“Lucky us” Grace deadpanned. There was a pause and Spencer could see Al playing with the sleeves of their sweater. “We have glasses,” said Grace with a sigh “How many do you need?”
“Aoife’s having some too, so is Sam. I’m fine with tea.”
“One of them will need to drive home,” said Grace.
“I…I already volunteered” said Al in a small voice. Grace raised an eyebrow.
“You’re too good” she said, handing them three small tumblers.
Al gave a small shrug and headed back out. Spencer frowned.
“Everything okay?” he asked, wary he may be treading on dangerous territory. Grace looked at him; there was something in her eyes. Hurt maybe? Or desperation? Spencer couldn’t work it out but gently pulled her into a hug. On contact her body seemed to relax into his.
Grace felt like the world’s biggest fucking hypocrite. Not even ten minutes after urging Spencer to communicate, she couldn’t bring herself to talk about what was bothering her. But then again there was a world of difference between spilling her own secrets and someone else’s.
“I need to get back out there and keep an eye on them” Grace said, pulling back “Do you want to join us?”
“For a little bit” said Spencer “Are they staying for dinner?”
“Who knows?” grumbled Grace.
Grace felt so strange and hollow, she’d sobbed for half an hour straight and afterwards she was just numb and empty. Spencer still held onto her, she couldn’t bear to move because it might be the last time he would every hold her and she couldn’t look at him because Grace had no idea how she felt in that moment. Was she angry? Did she hate him? Was she afraid? Yes to all of that but also no. The only sensation she could grab hold of was a heavy fatigue that seemed to push her down.
Sometime after the crying had stopped Spencer hand begun to stroke her hair the way he had before all this happened. If Grace ignored the feel of the rough sheets beneath her and the strange smell of Spencer’s prison clothes she could almost pretend they were somewhere else.
“I’ll do the cognitive” Spencer said eventually. It felt like a lifetime had passed.
Grace nodded, still not daring to let go.
“Maybe…” Spencer voice was quiet “Maybe…you could…come back?”
Grace finally pushed herself out of his embrace though his hand remained on her arms. He was profiling her; she could tell by the way his eyes scanned her face. How the hell was she supposed to respond to that?
“I need you to come home” Grace’s words came out thickly, her throat raw from the crying.
“I’ll do the cognitive” Spencer nodded “The team will do everything the can and I’ll come home. We can do all the things we talked about…before”
Spencer didn’t dare kiss her on the mouth but he gently pressed his lips to her forehead in a silent promise.
The pounding on the door made them both jump.
“Time’s up” Wilkins bellowed. Grace buried her face in Spencer’s chest, a small ‘no’ echoing into his heart.
“I promise I’ll come back to you” he murmured “I promise”
Spencer got the impression that it had only meant to be coffee and a catch up but Christophe could drink like a fish and they were still out there as night fell. Spencer put Isaac to bed slightly later than usual so he could listen to some (heavily edited) stories about Grace’s Interpol adventures. Grace didn’t drink and Al sat next to her, knees pulled up under their chin, sipping tea the whole night. Sam, a tall, stoic man that reminded Spencer of Hotch sat opposite them. He only had a couple of drinks and watched everyone closely, even Spencer found himself shrinking under his gaze once or twice.
There was a strange tension in the group Spencer noticed. He hung back, he didn’t really know any of the well enough to join in the conversation which mostly revolved around work. Al was the technical analyst of the team, he knew that and he found them the friendliest of the group. Aoife had joined Interpol around the same time as Grace so they had a lot of shared experiences, possibly even a friendly rivalry. Christophe was the second most senior member after their unit chief Sam and the two men had been avoiding each other’s gaze the entire time Spencer had been watching them. Every so often Sam would shoot Grace a pointed look whenever Christophe spoke. Grace’s face remained blank and she would immediately turn to Al or Aoife and make some casual attempt at conversation.
“It’s late” Al said for the fifth time that night after the sun set.
“Al’s right” said Sam, standing up “We’re on call this weekend”
“No rest for the wicked” added Grace with a half smile. Christophe scoffed, setting down his glass with a clatter. Al winced.
“Slave driver” said Aoife. Christophe mumbled something else that made the woman suppress a smirk and Grace looked at them both disapprovingly.
“What was that?” asked Sam. Everyone went quiet. Christophe stood up, swaying slightly. He leaned forward towards Sam, fists clenched and before he could open his mouth Grace stood up between them.
“It’s been a long night,” she said smoothly “And a long week. I think we could all do with a good night’s sleep, just in case anything does come up tomorrow”
The air was thick with tension but no one seemed willing to push it any further. Christophe leaned on Aoife as they stumbled round the side of the house towards Al’s car. Christophe stopped and retched a few times but managed to make it the whole way.
Spencer began to clear up so Grace could say goodbye to Sam, he caught the end of their whispered conversation by the back gate.
“This was a nice idea Grace but I’m not sure how much longer it can go on"
“I know,” said Grace “But you know this is only temporary. When things sort themselves out-”
“Actually Grace I don’t know that” Sam cut her off “It’s been months and months of this and it’s getting worse. If things don’t change soon then I’m going to have to take drastic measures”
Grace made her way back to the garden as they sound of the car pulling away was heard in the distance. She sank down in a chair, head in her hands. Spencer settled down beside her and paused, trying to work out how to say what he wanted. Grace looked up at him.
“What did you profile?” she asked tiredly. Spencer hesitated.
“Sam wants to fire Christophe but doesn’t have cause because his drinking problem hasn’t affected his work yet. I don’t think he has proof that Christophe and Aoife are having an affair either so he can’t fire him for fraternization”
“Sam wanted to fire Christophe long before he had a drinking problem” said Grace “And I’m not sure affair is the right world for whatever the hell they are doing”. She laid her head on Spencer’s shoulder and he pulled her close.
“They’re family” said Spencer “And you want to help them but you don’t know how”
“Story of my life” said Grace before scolding herself “I didn’t mean it like that”
“It’s true though,” said Spencer. He paused. “You could have told me there were problems at work,” he added quietly. Grace didn’t look at him but she made no move to leave.
“They weren’t my secrets to tell” she said “And we have problems of our own to work through.
Spencer didn’t know what to say to that. They sat outside for a few more hours in silence, as the night grew colder.
“I want to invite Max over for Christmas and New Year,” said Grace, one morning over breakfast. It had been a few weeks since the tense drinks with her team. Halloween was the next day and the house was dripping in fake cobwebs, plastic skulls and rubber bats.
“That’ll be nice,” said Spencer. He tried to muster up as much enthusiasm as possible at the thought of spending the entire holiday season with Grace’s disapproving brother. Isaac’s eyes lit up and he paused in drawing eyes on his pumpkin.
“Uncle Max is coming over?”
“If he isn’t working,” Grace said “And if he promises not to much around with knives again”
“He was showing me how to defend myself,” protested Isaac. Grace rolled her eyes. “You know when he was working in Turkey one time he had to fight off three guys with just his little Swiss army knife?”
Spencer’s eyes widened and Grace sighed.
“Max likes to exaggerate,” she said. The look on her face told Spencer there was at least a kernel of truth in that story. Max had a tendency to attract trouble.
Spencer wished he could think of something more eloquent to say than “You’re beautiful” as he kissed Grace’s neck. Each time she would smile, a shy genuine smile, and distract him with another feverish kiss. It was as if she didn’t know what to say in response.
The soft little gasps she made as she leaned into his touch reassured him but he could feel her suppressing her reactions. This aspect of their relationship had progressed so slowly over the past few months. Spencer adored spending time with Grace. Once she began to open up she was easy to talk too, she never berated or teased him for rambling. In fact she would ask questions, like she was genuinely interested in what he had to say.
Grace sensed he wanted to take things slow. It had never been something that had come up in her prior relationships but then again they had all been almost purely physical. This was different. It made her nervous to a certain extent and even a little frustrated. More than one date had been followed by a very long, very cold shower.
The sensation of his tongue flicking at her pulse point was sending her mad, her heart pounding in her chest. Grace bit her lip; her hands moving slowly up his arms, across his shoulders. Finally her fingers came to rest over the buttons at his neck and suddenly Spencer, tensed.
“What’s wrong?” Grace whispered. She moved her hands back to his shoulders. Spencer shook his head.
“Nothing” he lied and he moved forward to kiss her. Gently, with the softest look in her eyes, Grace moved to stop him.
“Where is Max working now?” asked Spencer. Isaac had finished drawing on the pumpkins and Spencer was carving them. They were somewhat lopsided and Isaac had wanted them to look happy rather than scary and Spencer had obliged. Isaac meanwhile had run off to put the finishing touches to his costume.
“He was in Egypt,” said Grace. She set a mug of coffee down in front of him and took a seat opposite “Then the military contractor he’s freelancing with offered him an assignment in Tehran I think? He moves around so much it’s hard to keep track.” Spencer merely nodded. Grace watched him work deftly, long fingers tight on the knife.
“I know he can be difficult to get along with,” Grace said “Believe me I do. And I know he has given you a hard time in the past but-“
“He’s your brother,” said Spencer “And you haven’t seen him in person for over a year. He should come over. I’ll make him feel welcome.”
“I’ll make him behave himself,” said Grace, sharply “I don’t want him to make you feel…” she gestured, unable to find the right word. Spencer felt a pang of pity. Mediating between work colleagues day in and day out was a strain and from what Grace had told him it had only gotten worse after they had come over. The last thing she needed was to do the same thing at home. He dropped the knife and went around the table to hold her from behind, careful not to get pumpkin goop on her.
“We all deserve a nice Christmas, especially you” said Spencer. He kissed the top of her head, breathing in her scent. “I’ll make sure that happens”
It wasn’t how Spencer expected the night to go. He thought it was finally time to take their relationship to the next logical level. He was a behavioural expert, he knew how things were supposed to go and yet… Grace had been so patient with him and for once Spencer just wanted to be normal and yet the idea of her undoing his shirt had sent a pang of fear right to his guts.
“Did I do something wrong? I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable Spencer”
“You didn’t! I mean you don’t. It’s me, it’s all me” he slumped back in the sofa dejectedly. He knew the signs of arousal and Grace was displaying all of them, she wanted him just as much as he wanted her and yet it was like there was this noose around his neck and every time she moved to touch him a certain way he felt it tighten.
“If you don’t want to do this-“ Grace began.
“No that’s just it I do! And I know you do too” Grace raised an eyebrow and Spencer flushed. “Your pupils are blown, your pulse is racing and you keep making…these noises,” Spencer added sheepishly. Grace let out a small laugh.
“Always the profiler” she said, “So what’s wrong? If you want this and I want this then what is it?” Her hand came up to caress his cheek. “Tell me what you need”
“I don’t…” Spencer paused; he couldn’t find the words he needed without them sounding stupid in his head “I don’t think I can…my shirt…I don’t want to take my shirt off.” He couldn’t look at her then, he knew she must think he was a complete freak.
“If that’s all it is then there are plenty of things we can do with your shirt on” said Grace easily. Spencer looked at her, bemused. “Is there anything else you don’t want to take off?”
“I…um…why are you fine with this?”
“Because I want you to feel comfortable,” said Grace like it was the most obvious thing in the world “If it isn’t comfortable it isn’t fun and if it isn’t fun for both of us what’s the point?” Grace tilted her head to one side, her eyes searching his face. He still looked troubled. “Is there something else? Or something you want to tell me?”
“I don’t like being looked at” Spencer mumbled, “I mean, I don’t really get looked at inthatway and I’m just…”
“I think you’d be surprised at the number of people looking at you in that way” said Grace “You are, to put it mildly, very attractive. But it’s hard to see yourself in that way if you never have. Can I ask why you feel that way?” Spencer’s gut reaction was to scream no but Grace’s hand moved over his. He felt safe with her and he began to think maybe he should tell her why.
“So…when I was a kid there was this girl. She was the prettiest girl in school and one day I was in the library…”
Grace tilted her head up and kissed him on the lips.
“You’re a good man Spencer”
“I’m not really” he said, “But I want to be” Truthfully, he still retained some of the guilt around suspecting Grace of cheating and some of the resentment directed, not at her, but at the universe. They hadn’t deserved what Cat had put them through and yet beating that bitch (hopefully once and for all) hadn’t provided all the closure they had needed.
“You are” insisted Grace “Good doesn’t have to be perfect”. She kissed him again, more firmly this time. Her lips parted and his tongue slipped into her mouth as her hand reached up to stroke his face.
“Gross” Isaac’s voice made them both jump, breaking apart.
“It isn’t gross to show people you love them!” said Grace, her cheeks flushed “How’s the costume coming along?”
Grace frowned and Spencer felt slightly ill. She didn’t say anything for a moment after Spencer finished his story. He had managed to recite the whole thing with getting upset but he was terrified when he couldn’t read her reaction.
“That’s…awful” she said, “What happened to them?”
“The other children? Were they thrown out of the school?”
“What? No, they just…everyone laughed about it for months afterwards. Then it was summer and when everyone came back I was in different classes to all of them so they kind of just…forgot about it I guess”
“But what did the teachers do?” And your mother?”
“My mother was having an episode and the teachers didn’t find out. I mean I think they heard something had happened but they didn’t do anything.”
Grace looked at him in horror, mouth hanging open.
“That’s just…” Her fists were clenched in her lap. Spencer hadn’t expected her to get so angry on his behalf. He’d expected pity and perhaps some embarrassed teasing but Grace looked ready to smack someone. “I don’t understand how they could have just done nothing”
“Clearly you went to a nicer school than I did” he said, desperate to change the subject.
“I didn’t go to school,” said Grace. Now it was Spencer’s turn to look confused.
“Not at all, in any of the places you grew up?”
“No. I suppose technically my father home schooled my brother and I” Grace shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Now it was Spencer’s turn to lay his hand on hers.
“You don’t have to tell me about it of you don’t want to” he said softly “This wasn’t supposed to turn into a confession”
“It’s fine. It must have been very hard for you to tell me all of that,” said Grace, “I’m sorry for what you went through”
“I guess it made me stronger in a way” said Spencer. He didn’t believe it for a second despite telling himself for years.
“Children aren’t supposed to be strong,” said Grace fiercely “They should be safe. Were you…were you not happy as a child?”
Spencer could decipher the look she was giving him. She looked sad but not for him. It wasn’t pity. Perhaps she was seeking acknowledgement that the world was not so terrible. Or at least American schools weren’t. Isaac would be old enough to go soon and Spencer’s story probably hadn’t inspired Grace with confidence in the school system.
“It was hard,” Spencer, said finally “My mother was ill but she was wonderful and even when it was just the two of us I never wanted anyone else. School was a nightmare but I loved learning and I worked hard so I got to leave when I was twelve. There was happiness,” Spencer wasn’t sure of it was the answer Grace wanted or needed, cautiously he shifted so he could draw her close. “Were you happy?” he asked quietly.
“I was strong,” she answered.
“Can we go trick or treating tomorrow or do we have to go straight to the party?” asked Isaac. He did a spin in the living room so Grace and Spencer could admire his Captain America costume.
“There’s always time for trick or treating” Spencer reassured him, “We’re meeting JJ and her kids and going out together before heading to Rossi’s. It’s going to be amazing”
“What’s your costume gonna be?”
“That’s top secret,” grinned Spencer, “You’ll see tomorrow”
“Get changed its time for lunch” said Grace. Isaac scampered off, leaving them alone. “I never celebrated Halloween before I moved here and I’ve never dressed up before.”
“You’ll love it I promise,” said Spencer, “It’s an amazing holiday, uniquely American and Rossi throws the best parties.” Grace nodded but didn’t say anything. “Don’t be nervous” Spencer added softly, “I’ll be by your side the whole night if you need me”
“I’m not…I mean I guess I am a little nervous” Grace dropped her voice “I haven’t seen most of your team since…since Stephen’s funeral. What with that and the fallout from Scratch and prison, I’m not sure why but I’m just concerned about seeing them again.” Spencer hooked his fingers under Grace’s chin and tilted her face up to look at him.
“Do you know what my favourite thing about Halloween is?”
“No” frowned Grace
“It’s that you can be whoever you want to be just for one night. Everything that’s happened before doesn’t matter. It’s something I wish happened more in everyday life” said Spencer, “Tomorrow we’ll go to Rossi’s and pretend the last ten months never happened or they happened to someone else or something. I don’t mean pretending everything’s okay. I just mean putting a little distance between it and us. Sound good?”
“Sounds perfect” said Grace.
“What do you want to do?” asked Grace, sitting up.
“More kissing would be nice,” said Spencer, earning him a chuckle from Grace. She pressed her lips softly to his, her tongue darting out teasingly as she stroked his jawline. Her anger had cooled but the resentment that anyone could have made him feel that way lingered. “Is it enough? For you I mean” asked Spencer, as they broke apart. Grace peppered his cheek with butterfly kisses.
“You are a very good kisser” she smirked and the heat rose in Spencer’s cheeks.
“I’m okay” he mumbled, “I just have a hard time letting myself feel vulnerable physically. Well in any way actually.” Grace looked at him a moment, studying him closely.
“What if you weren’t the vulnerable one?” she asked. Spencer tilted his head, trying to work out what she was saying. “I trust you implicitly,” Grace said, only realising that was true the moment the words left her mouth. She stood up and slowly, agonisingly slowly it seemed to Spencer, pulled her top over her head and revealed a sheer black bra with intricate embroidery.
She was toned and pale underneath, peppered with dark moles and a few silvery scars. Spencer swallowed, trying not to leer but unable to look away. Grace held out her hand for him to take and gently tugged him to his feet. Spencer tried his best to keep his eyes on her face. Grace’s cheeks were flushed and her hair slightly mussed from removing her top but if anything it just heightened his desire.
“Give me your hands” Grace instructed. When he did so she placed them on her waist. Her skin was cool under Spencer’s touch and for a moment he was worried he would feel clammy in comparison.
“Touch me however you want” Grace stood on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear “Your clothes stay on and if you want to stop, we stop”
Spencer didn’t want to stop at all but he doubted his ability to form a coherent sentence in that moment so he answered by pulling her close, his fingers tracing the line of her spine and her mouth kissing and sucking at her exposed shoulder. Grace gasped in delight, her fingers digging into his arm. As Spencer continued, warming up her cool skin, she reached behind her and unclasped the bra, letting it fall to the ground.
Rossi’s house was a hive of chaos. It was decorated from top to bottom, plates of food covered every surface and the kids were running around, squealing with joy. Grace hung back slightly watching Isaac and Henry bobbing for apples on Rossi’s patio. Spencer was somewhere inside showing off his Ghostbuster costume to Penelope.
“Drink?” Rossi materialised next to her, two glasses of lurid blue liquid in each hand.
“Thanks” It tasted fruity and nowhere near as alcoholic as Grace would have liked. She got on with Spencer’s work colleagues but she couldn’t help but feel a little out of place when socialising with them. Rossi was the exception. His kindness when Spencer had been in prison had probably saved Grace and Isaac.
“I’m getting the impression this is not your scene,” grinned Rossi as Grace took another gulp of drink.
“No one does Halloween like the Americans” said Grace, feeling a little guilty “I’m not used to these kind of parties. Truthfully. I wasn’t sure it would be your thing either”
“Oh it’s not,” said Rossi “But after the year we’ve had I thought we could all use some fun, particularly Spencer and Halloween is his favourite holiday so…” Rossi lifted up his arms, spreading his Dracula cape wide. Grace laughed.
“Mom I got one!” Isaac yelled happily, holding the apple aloft, his costume soaking wet.
“Cake for the victors!” Rossi declared and the kids rushed past them into the house “Coming Grace?”
“Absolutely I…hang on a sec” Grace frowned as her phone began to buzz in her pocket. She pulled it out “It’s my brother. I’ll be inside in a moment”
“I’ll save you a piece,” said Rossi with a wink.
“Hey Max” Grace said, moving over to a quiet spot in the garden “I was going to call you about coming over for Christmas”
“Grace we have a problem”
“Your sister is improving well but it will take time. Her motor functions are increasing day by day, she is responding well to verbal and visual stimuli and her pregnancy is progressing, as we would expect. Grace is fighter but there is a long road ahead”
Grace couldn’t hear Max’s response and the exhaustion brought on by straining to stay awake and listen in was overtaking her. The white hospital room swam before her eyes and she screwed them shut, desperate to concentrate of something else, anything else. Her stomach felt strange, the baby wasn’t big enough to kick yet, more likely it was a psychosomatic response to the betrayals she felt her body had inflicted. Her skull hadn’t stopped the bullet meant for someone else but her uterus had protected the child she hadn’t known she was carrying. The doctors called it a miracle. Max had shouted at them for that. He sounded almost like their father when he raged and ranted but without the self -control. Max’s anger had always run hot and blinding while their father’s was cold and piercing. Grace only barely recalled the outburst, it had been a few weeks after the shooting and she had been non-verbal, locked in her body like a prison, unable to move more than her eyes.
She didn’t know how to feel about impending motherhood. It wasn’t that she didn’t want a child, or even that she didn’t want his child in particular. It was that she had never given the prospect a second thought because it had never been a choice she thought she would have to make. The choice had been taken from her now. Doctors had refused to carry out a termination while Grace couldn’t consent, no matter what Max had insisted. They weren’t even sure now whether Grace understood what was happening. They spoke to her like an infant, poked and prodded her when all she wanted was to be left alone, to sleep.
“Rossi have you seen Grace?” Spencer asked. He’d had to discard the proton pack earlier in the evening as the wiring and batteries he’d assembled to make the lights flash, added to the candy he had stuffed inside from trick or treating was making his shoulders ache.
“She got a phone call from her brother,” said Rossi “Though that was a while ago come to think of it”
“She’s inviting Max over for Christmas. It takes a lot to sync schedules,” said Spencer with a shrug.
“Ah a family Christmas” said Rossi, his voice heavy with implication.
“Max is…protective over Grace” said Spencer. He looked around to check no one was listening. Rossi frowned. “They didn’t have the easiest childhood, they were each other’s entire support system for better and for worse. It’ll make Grace happy to have him there. Anything is worth that to be honest.”
“So things are better between you guys?” Rossi asked. Spencer nodded.
“Still a little weird but it’s only been five months since I got out. Everything’s a little weird, a little raw you know?”
“It’ll take time,” said Rossi, “Now how about you go and get that girl of yours and bring her in for some cake?”
Spencer found Grace outside, leaning against a tree with her hand gripping her phone.
“Grace?” Despite the soft tone his voice made her jump. “What’s wrong?”
“Isaac’s father was released from prison yesterday”
Some time later Max was sitting beside her bed. It was dark outside now but the clock wasn’t in Grace line of sight. Her arms felt like lead but slowly and surely she shifted until she could knock Max’s hand. He looked up in surprise, a small smile creeping on his face.
“Hey bug” he croaked out, “Good to see you’re awake” Grace tapped his hand, blinking in slow motion. Since she’d been hospitalised they had painstakingly come up with a system of communication while Grace struggled to regain her voice, instantly Max knew what she wanted. “It’s 9pm, it’s Thursday and you’ve been in here just under three months. Two months and twenty-six days to be exact”
Grace closed her eyes. Three whole months since the shooting. She was getting stronger, she knew that but it was an agonisingly slow process. She fixed Max with the strongest stare she could muster.I am going to survive this. He laid his hand on hers and gripped it tight.
“Doc was right, you’re a fighter bug” he said softly “I’m going to be right here beside your every step of the way. I got you something for the room by the way”
He pulled a photo frame out of his bag, holding it up for her to see. It was old, the edges of the picture had yellowed and there were spots of water damage but Grace managed a lopsided smile. A woman stood smiling broadly with a baby on her hip and three boys grinning in front of her.
“Dad must have taken the photo” said Max, quietly, “I don’t remember where this was but I only look about three there. You can’t be more than a year old.” Grace didn’t bother trying to nod. Her fingers brushed the glass over the faces of the two older boys. The tallest had an arm around their mother’s waist and was holding Max’s hand. The other was pulling a face at the camera, the picture every so slightly blurry as he shook from laughter.
“Now they can be with us too bug” whispered Max.
With that reassurance and her brother still holding her hand, Grace was able to sleep safely.
“There’s no way he’ll be able to get into the US with his rap sheet” said Spencer. Grace nodded but it did nothing to quiet the raging fear working it’s way through her chest. Spencer’s fingers brushed her chin, tilting her face up to look at him.
“I swear to you” he said solemnly “I am going to make sure absolutely nothing happens to you or Isaac. We have been through too much for me to let that happen okay?”
Grace nodded and Spencer pulled her close, holding her tightly against him and pressing kisses into her hair. With each kiss the pounding of her heart eased but her grip on him remained firm.
“Interpol are watching him” Grace managed finally, face still buried in Spencer’s jumpsuit, “So are Europol and…some of Max’s friends. His crimes were too high profile and his face too well known for him to risk coming here. I’m just concerned he’ll try contacting us another way. I’ve never really explained to Isaac what happened. I know one he’s going to ask and I don’t want to lie to him but…”
“But finding out your birth father is a corrupt Europol agent is tough for anyone to handle, let alone a seven-year-old boy” finished Spencer. Grace looked up at him.
“I don’t know how best to protect him,” she whispered. Looking at the desperation on her face, something cracked inside Spencer’s chest
“We’ll do that together,” he said.
Spencer stayed by Grace’s side for the rest of Rossi’s party. He suspected their host knew the phone call hadn’t gone well but as the night wore on Grace began to relax. Lars Vestergaard was possibly one of the most watched men in Europe right now. There was a veritable army standing between him and Isaac. Grace watched her son running around manically with a rubber spider, Penelope and Rossi falling over in mock terror. Spencer pressed a light kiss to her temple.
“It’s all going to be fine,” he whispered and Grace believed him whole-heartedly.
The lurid blue cocktails helped too and by the time she and Spencer tucked a sleeping Isaac into bed at home, just gone midnight, she was feeling a little tipsy.
“Thank you” Grace paused in the hallway between the bedroom and the study.
“For what?” Grace had a sudden urge to kiss Spencer until the crease in his brow disappeared, cute though it was when he got confused.
What had been in that blue stuff?
“For tonight, talking me down off the ledge about Isaac’s father” said Grace “But also for…everything. For being you.” Spencer shifted his weight from side to side and he fought down a bashful smile.
Grace stood on her toes and kissed him. It wasn’t their normal goodnight kiss, it was full of heat, a rush of parted lips and darting tongue. Her whole body curved into his, her hands running up his arms. It was far less restrained than the way Grace had made sure to kiss Spencer since his release. She was always gentle, chaste even, but this was the way she had kissed him before. Her mind abruptly caught up with her body and she pulled back.
“Sorry. Goodnight” she turned and darted into the bedroom, not even looking at Spencer who was standing there dazed, breathing heavily. He heard the shower start in the en-suite and dragged his hands through his hair, willing his brain to focus.
Spencer headed into the lobby of Interpol’s building feeling wildly out of place. He was supposed to meet Grace at her home and then drive to the restaurant but she had called him saying she’d been stuck in a meeting, would he mind meeting her at the office? Spencer had been nervous enough as it was, only a month in to their relationship and it was their first conventional date in a really fancy restaurant that Derek had insisted they try.
“Honestly you’ll thank me,” he had said with a wink. Spencer thought that should have been a clue. Firstly Spencer had no idea what to wear to such a nice place and he’d made the mistake of mentioning that in front of Rossi who had spent an hour talking about different kinds of suits with Spencer before Garcia had gotten involved and bullied him into going shopping with her. That was before Garcia had found out that the suit was for a date. After that all hell broke loose and Spencer had been bombarded with advice from the entire team and he’d wanted to explode. He had been halfway through texting Grace to cancel when Hotch had taken him to one side.
“Wear something suitable for work” he’d said “That’s smart enough for the restaurant. If she comments on how you dress she isn’t worth it”
“I don’t think she’d do that,” Spencer had mumbled, earning him a rare smile from Hotch.
“Then I doubt she’ll care what you're wearing,” said Hotch.
It hadn’t mattered in the end since Grace wouldn’t be going home to change. Spencer’s heart was still hammering in his chest though as he approached the front desk.
“Dr Spencer Reid for Agent Owens?” he said. The woman raised an eyebrow and looked Spencer up and down.
“I’m afraid the office is closed for the day, what case is this regarding?”
“Oh no it’s not…I’m not…it’s not a case” said Spencer. He rubbed his hands together, willing them to be less clammy. The woman’s eyebrow rose even higher.
“I’ll ring upstairs” she said with a smirk that made something squirm in Spencer’s belly.
The woman slipped out of her chair and headed into the office behind the desk. Spencer heard a mumbled comment he couldn’t make out and then the woman’s scoffed response.
“Oh some fed is here for the ice queen,” she snorted “Not a case!” The unmistakeable sound of suppressed giggles followed and the squirming sensation grew hot.
The knock on the door made Grace jump. She was never drinking ever again. It wasn’t that she was drunk but she resented the edge being taken off of her faculties, Grace worked better when she was hyper alert. Pulling the towel tighter around her she opened the bedroom door.
“Your lips are blue” Spencer frowned. He stepped into the room, the door closing softly behind him.
“Cold showers are good for circulation” said Grace “And…refocusing the mind”
They stood in awkward silence for a moment. Spencer was drumming his fingers against his leg; Grace could see the cogs in his head going full tilt as he struggled to find something to say.
“I shouldn’t have kissed you like that,” mumbled Grace, staring at the carpet. Her face was burning. “I’m sorry”
“Don’t be sorry” Spencer moved closer to her “It’s just…I want things to be like how they were before but I’m scared that…that I’m not” Grace slowly raised her head. Spencer bit his lip. He felt like he was trying to dam a river with his bare hands.
“Prison made me feel…dirty and…rough and that’s not how I want to be with you Grace” he said, “And I can’t even sleep next to you because I have these nightmares and…”
“I don’t care,” said Grace “About the nightmares. I want to know how you’re feeling, what’s playing on your mind. I want you to feel safe and comforted. I want to feel that way too. The sex doesn’t matter but I miss waking up beside you.”
“I don’t want to keep you up all night with stuff that I should have put behind me months ago” said Spencer. He clenched his fists so hard that his nails bit into the flesh of his palms. Why was he so weak?
“There’s no timeline for dealing with what you went through” said Grace “And I want to sit up all night with you, I want to face them with you” She took a step closer. “This is what I meant when I said we needed to talk more. I need to know what’s bothering you and how I can help”
“It’s so…ugly Grace” Spencer shook his head “I feel tainted by what happened.” Grace’s hand went to his cheek.
“You aren’t I promise” she whispered, “You are stronger than what happened to you. We just need to draw a line under it somehow.”
“By living” said Grace “By moving on and showing that we can be happy, we can thrive no matter what happened in prison, no matter what that woman did.”
“Living” Spencer echoed “By living” His face was inches away now and he tilted his head to kiss Grace on the lips. It started out gentle until he pulled her closer, towel slipping off of her and landing on the floor with a soft thud.
“When I imagined this” said Spencer “I wanted it to be perfect. Exactly the way it was before, no awkwardness. I definitely didn’t see myself in costume either” Grace snorted. She cradled Spencer’s face in her hands as he caressed her sides, her back. His touch made her shiver.
“Get out of your head” she said, “It can be awkward and clumsy and over in thirty seconds-“
“-If that’s what you need. All I need is you. In any way” she finished, kissing him again. In a swift movement he scooped her up and over to the bed.
“The costume is cute just for the record,” Grace added as she helped him shed it.
“Spencer” Grace appeared out of the elevator with that same small half smile she always wore. Spencer clambered awkwardly up from his seat to greet her. He caught the woman behind the desk staring at them, her face half smirk and half bewilderment. Spencer scowled before he could stop himself as Grace glanced back. The woman dropped her gaze abruptly and busied herself with her papers. Grace turned back with an unreadable expression on her face.
“You’ve met Meg then?” Spencer had no idea what to say to that so he mumbled about needing to get to the restaurant. They drove in awkward silence and as they pulled up Grace turned to him.
“Is something wrong?”
“No!” Spencer said quickly “I just…I’m…nervous?”
That little half smile of hers was going to be the death of him, Spencer knew.
“Am I making you nervous?” Grace asked. Her tone was playful but Spencer could pick up on a thread of something else beneath the surface, like she was testing him.
“No you make me feel good” Spencer was sure pretty much anything else he could have said would have sounded less stupid than that but Grace just cocked her head to one side, like she was working out if he was being serious.
“We should go in,” he said, his face burning.
The restaurant was far fancier than any Spencer had been in before. If he had chosen he would have taken Grace to his favourite Indian restaurant near his house where they did that great tandoori chicken. Grace paused at the entrance, eyes wide as she glanced up but as Spencer held the door open her face settled into a familiar, calm mask. It was intriguing how unreadable she was and yet he could sense all this energy bubbling away, just out of his reach. He wanted to see Grace unguarded, the way she had been with her son.
“You’re staring,” she said quietly as they waited for their food. The half smile had gone and Spencer noticed her looking around the restaurant when she though he didn’t see.
“I’m sorry,” said Spencer “Bad habit. I tend to get intense when I’m trying to figure things out. Not that I’m trying to figure you out! Well I mean in the social, getting-to-know-each-other way I guess I am but saying it like that sounds like an interrogation. I’m not interrogating you”
“Good to know” said Grace but Spencer noticed some of the tension leave her shoulders “Do you come here a lot?”
“No’ said Spencer quickly, though he wasn’t sure why “I’ve never been here before. Derek – Agent Morgan - swore it was the best place in town and I really wanted to take you somewhere nice though I don’t fit in to places like this.”
He had no idea why he told her all that but there was a slight pink tinge to Grace’s cheeks when he mentioned wanting to go somewhere nice.
“I don’t…go out on dates a lot,” said Spencer.
“This is my first one,” said Grace. She tapped the base of her wine glass softly before looking directly at him “I…haven’t actually been asked out before. I am…not the kind of woman you bring to places like this”
It hit Spencer like a tonne of bricks. Grace was just as nervous as he was, maybe even more so. Underneath that cool exterior she felt just as out of place as he did.
“You know people at work call me the ice queen,” said Grace, not meeting Spencer’s eyes. She tapped the base of the glass more quickly now.
“They shouldn’t” said Spencer.
“I’m not…good with people. Outside of work I mean,” said Grace “I know I come across cold and abrupt”
“Not to me” before he could stop himself Spencer reached for her hand. There was a moment of brief surprise and then Grace took his hand in her own.
“Thank you” she mumbled “That’s…nice to hear”
They had to let go when the waiter came with their food: a small cube of chicken, two thin slices of carrot and a green smear. Spencer and Grace looked at each other before trying to suppress a laugh and earning them dirty looks from the other diners.
“There’s a great Italian place not far from here,” whispered Spencer “They do an amazing four cheese pizza. You wanna head there after this?” Grace’s face split into a genuine smile for the first time that evening.
“I’d love to”
The lay in a drowsy, tangled mess of limbs with Spencer falling quickly asleep as Grace traced the angles of his face with a feather light touch. She smiled as he made a small, sleepy noise of pleasure. Grace had always marvelled at how tactile he was for someone who didn’t like to be touched. He cupped her face when he kissed her, absently mindedly reached for her hand when they walked down the street or sat side by side on the sofa and in bed they had always ended up entwined, Spencer’s fingers running through her hair, stroking her arms or caressing the nape of her neck. In the beginning it had bemused her, in a nice way of course but Grace hadn’t really…gotten it. She had never really been a touchy-feely person. Isaac had changed that to certain extent but that was different, he was her child and they’d stayed in the hospital the first month or so of his life. Grace had been terrified of letting him out of her arms.
With Spencer it was different. It had been one of the things their relationship had changed about Grace, one of many. Grace frowned; she was an entirely different person to the woman who had worked that case with Spencer. For the most part that was a good thing right? Falling in love, imagining a future and having someone to share life with were things that should be celebrated. However she was keenly aware that there was a hole in her armour now, a sliver where she was vulnerable. If there was one thing Grace hated more than anything else it was feeling vulnerable or weak. Physically she could deal with it, she hadn’t had much choice over that but emotionally? It didn’t bear thinking about.
Grace was shaken from her thoughts by Spencer jerking under her touch, his face creased in despair.
“Luis?” he mumbled “Luis!” Spencer thrashed from side to side as he fought off invisible attackers. Grace laid a hand gently on his cheek to still him.
“I’ve got you, I’m here,” she whispered over and over again like a mantra. Grace stroked his face until he stopped moving and turned to curl into her embrace.
When he woke in the morning they were still in that position and a determined look painted Grace’s sleeping features as she held him close.
Eidetic memory or not, Spencer was sure that after reading Lars Vestergaard’s file over and over again for the past two hours he’d never forget a single word. It was the photo that kept capturing attention though. His annoyance that Lars was traditionally handsome, with dark hair and a haughty look about him, paled in comparison to the realisation that he and Isaac looked more alike than Spencer had realised. It was the piercing green eyes that did it but also the shape of their mouths. Spencer had always seen Grace in Isaac’s smile.
“Hey boy wonder” Spencer closed the file as Penelope approached his desk. “I heard you were in need of my expertise”
“Not-so-newbie told me my puppy buying skills could be called on for Isaac’s Christmas present”
“No hey! I never said that” Luke quickly cut in “I just mentioned you’d asked for my advice Reid”
“I have this friend whose Labradoodle has just had a litter of the cutest balls of fluff you’ve ever seen” said Penelope “They’d be perfect!”
“Grace and I were hoping for something…sturdier? More like Roxy” said Spencer. Truth be told he was looking for a guard dog. He had broached the subject with Grace a few nights previously. Spencer had woken from another nightmare and had struggled to fall back asleep. Grace had insisted on sitting up with him, taking away his coffee and giving him herbal tea instead. The two of them had curled up on the sofa and almost inevitably the subject of Lars had come up.
“I’m worried about Isaac” Grace had said “In general I mean though…this doesn’t help. Every time he isn’t within sight I just feel…”
“I know” Spencer had whispered back. All the promises in the world couldn’t relieve that fear. Instead he had brought up the idea of a dog, both for companionship and protection.
“Grace was thinking of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier actually,” Spencer told the pair.
“Are the cuddly?” asked Penelope
“They’re really good with kids,” said Luke “And super loyal. I know a couple of people who might be able to put you in touch with a reputable breeder”
“Puppy cuddling research!” Penelope declared happily
“Anderson is going to take you to a safe house” JJ told Spencer. His mother was still clinging to him. She was having trouble comprehending everything that had happened to her in the last twenty-four hours and Spencer was the only thing that felt real to her. The look on JJ’s face broke Spencer’s heart. If he weren’t so exhausted he would have protested. He wanted to go home badly but it wasn’t home anymore. Instead it was a crime scene and the place his mother had been kidnapped by a psychopath.
“Thank you” was all he could manage. What else was there to say?
“Also Emily asked Grace and Isaac to be moved there already. They’ll be waiting for you”
“How…how are they?”
“Stephen went and got them earlier. He sad Grace is a little shaken, she keeps asking about what’s going on”
“He didn’t tell her did he?”
“She knows about your Mom and that Cat Adams was behind everything but we figured it was best if the details came from you” said JJ “We let her know you’re both safe. She wanted to see you when you got released but…”
“It would have been too much” Spencer finished the sentence for her. He wished he felt something but he was so numb it was hard to stand. It was if the last three months had exposed every nerve in him and then the showdown with Cat had sent them into overload. It was all white noise.
“Are we going home?” Diana asked sleepily. He voice was muffled by Spencer’s shirt and he rubbed her back soothingly.
“Yeah, we’re going home Mom”
“Can I ask why the sudden interest in getting a dog?” Luke sat opposite Spencer as he ate his lunch “I mean, you don’t really strike me as an animal person”
“Studies have shown that there are numerous health benefits to owning a dog” said Spencer, avoiding eye contact “There’s the obvious exercise and being outdoors that comes from walking a dog but also dog owners get sick less often and are more resistant to allergies”
“They’re also good for your mental health,” added Luke.
“Reid is everything okay?”
Spencer looked up hesitantly.
“Yes. It’s just a piece of mind thing,” said Spencer. He knew the dangers of keeping things from his team but he didn’t want to go into specifics for Grace’s sake “Plus Grace thinks it will teach Isaac responsibility and it would be nice for him after everything that happened this year”
Realisation dawned on Luke’s face and he nodded.
“Kid’s been through a lot” he said “But Isaac’s tough. So are you and Grace.”
“I know,” said Spencer “I just think that we’re all waiting for something to go wrong again. Is that normal?”
“After what you’ve been through? Hell yes” said Luke “I know you’re talking to someone at the bureau but what about as a family?”
“Grace talks to someone at Interpol” said Spencer “She sorted something out for Isaac too and the school counsellor knows…everything” Spencer felt a flash of shame and struggled to swallow.
“I mean something you guys can go to together,” said Luke. He paused for a moment and played with his salad as he thought.
“You know it isn’t your fault right? Cat Adams targeted you but by doing that she also targeted Grace and Isaac and even the team. It’s all on her not on you”
“Most of it’s on her but the way I handled some things are on me. Grace and I are talking about it” Spencer said “I’m trying to get better at not letting the guilt stop me from moving on”
“That’s good” smiled Luke “That’s growth” Spencer snorted, making them both laugh.
“Honestly I think I’d give anything to have what you have” said Luke wistfully “Someone to come home too, to share the good and the bad with”
“It makes things easier” admitted Spencer. He didn’t think a guy like Luke would have a hard time finding someone but then you never knew the deepest parts of a person’s heart.
“My pal Phil wants to set me up with his physical therapist” said Luke, pulling a face “He keeps going on and on about how great and beautiful she is”
“And that’s a bad thing?”
“No, no…it’s just…”
“This seat taken?” asked Penelope, plopping down next to Spencer without waiting for an answer “What are we talking about?”
“Nothing, how are you doing today?” Luke cut in before Spencer could answer. He looked between the two of them, suppressing a small smile at Luke’s blush.
“Do you want to visit the breeder with me and Luke next week?” asked Spencer “I need help picking out a dog for Isaac”
Penelope’s squeal of delight and Luke’s look of relief was the only answer he needed.
The FBI safe house was as bland as could be. Inside someone had tried to make it look comfortable but security had won out in the end. Anderson took over from another FBI agent and began to show them round.
“Three bedrooms upstairs and two bathroom” Anderson pointed up the stairs in the hallway “Kitchen is here on the left and through there is the living room. Hey guys we’re back!”
Isaac poked his head out of the doorway, his smile turning into a look of shock. Grace appeared behind him making Spencer’s heart skip a beat. She looked a lot better than when she had visited him in prison but she was still pale and tired. The five of them stood in silence, Anderson trying to shrink back into the wall, Diana struggling to remember where she knew these people from and Grace and Spencer just staring at each other. Finally Isaac darted forward, throwing his arms round Spencer’s waist and everyone let out a collective sigh as subtly as they could.
“Are you coming home?” Isaac gazed up at Spencer hopefully. Spencer nodded, biting back tears. He looked at Grace who stood with a blank face and folded arms.
“We made up a bed for you Diana” she said softly “I got Agent Anderson to go and get you a few things to make you comfortable. He’s also a great cook”
“I wasn’t sure if you guys would want to sleep or eat first so it’s ready to reheat whenever,” said Anderson with a proud smile. “There’s a bath in the en-suite too.”
Diana’s eyes flicked between them all and Spencer felt her grip on his arm tighten. He put an arm protectively around her.
“That’s very kind thank you” she said, “I think I want to sleep first”
It was relatively quick and painless to get his mother settled and Spencer found himself wishing it took longer so he could delay confronting Grace. Finally though he made his way downstairs, hovering outside the kitchen as he listened to Anderson regaling Isaac with a story about his travels.
“You went on a real safari?”
“Not really. I went and volunteered in an elephant sanctuary in Kenya for a few weeks when I took time off from the bureau” explained Anderson.
“Did you ride one?”
“No but I gave a baby elephant a bath. Did you know when they’re little elephants don’t know how to use their trunks so they just splash them around the water because that’s what they see their mothers do? It’s pretty funny to watch”
“Wow! Have you been to Kenya Mom?”
“Briefly, many years ago” said Grace “Your Grandfather was working there so we couldn’t do anything as fun as that but its beautiful country”
“Could we go now Spencer is home?”
“Perhaps one day” Grace’s voice was laced with sadness and Spencer turned around to head back upstairs. There was no way he could look her in the eye. Unfortunately as he turned the floorboard under his foot made the loudest creak possible.
There was loud, unrestrained laughter coming from the living room as Spencer got home later that night.
“Isaac has friends over?” Spencer asked Grace as he headed into the kitchen.
“Not quite” she said and before she would elaborate she drew Spencer close for a kiss.
“Do it again Uncle Max!” Isaac yelled. Ah so that was the noise. It took every ounce of Spencer’s willpower not to let his shoulders sag. The wry smile on Grace’s face told him he hadn’t managed it.
“He arrived this morning,” she said, gently tracing her fingers along Spencer’s jaw.
“Huh that’s cool,” said Spencer “Three whole weeks before Christmas”
“I think the Lars situation has him on edge a little” said Grace with a sigh “I’ve warned him to behave”
I’m sure that will make everything okay, Spencer wanted to say but he couldn’t. He knew having her brother here would make Grace feel safe.
Safer than you could make her feel, a voice in the back of his head sneered.
“Where have you gone?” Grace whispered, kissing him again on the cheek.
“Sorry it’s just…things you know?”
Grace nodded and laid her head against his chest as he wrapped his arms tighter around her.
“I spoke to Luke about the you-know-what today. We’re going to visit a dog breeder next week and see what she has. Penelope is coming too”
“That will be interesting” snickered Grace.
“Spencer!” Isaac charged into the kitchen “Uncle Max is here!”
“Yeah you’re mom said” Spencer put on a big smile “You guys having fun?”
“Tonnes” Max drawled from the doorway.
Spencer wondered how two people who looked so alike could wear their features so different. There was an inch between them in height and rigid posture as if they were ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. They had the same thick, brown hair and pale skin but whereas Grace had dark brown eyes, Max’s were blue. Both had a similar look about them though, a spark that was kind of unreadable. Whereas Grace had intrigued Spencer from the moment he had first seen her, Max made him feel wary like he could never turn his back on him.
“Good flight?” asked Spencer. Max shrugged; he hid that spark under a veneer of charm in place of Grace’s impassive mask.
“Fine, fine. How’s life at the FBI?” Max drew out the words like he was humouring Spencer.
It was going to be a very long few weeks.
“I don’t want to interrupt,” Spencer shifted his weight from side to side as he stood before the kitchen table.
“You aren’t” said Grace, quickly and gestured to an empty chair “You want something to eat?”
“It’s Thai Green Curry” Anderson explained “I did chicken and veggie options, I wasn’t sure what people would prefer.”
“You didn’t have to go to all that trouble Anderson,” mumbled Spencer.
“Take out food is the worst part of staying in a safe house trust me. I’ll leave you guys to eat. I’m going to check in with Agent Prentiss and then do a perimeter sweep. Holler if you need me”
“Thanks Grant” said Grace.
Grant? A twinge of something Spencer had no right to feel flickered and died as Grace tidied up Isaac’s plate in silence. The little boy was watching them both closely.
“Is your mom okay?” he asked Spencer quietly as Grace reheated some of the curry for Spencer. He saw her stiffen but not turn. For a moment Spencer wondered if he should lie and pretend everything was okay.
“She’s very confused” Spencer said slowly “I don’t think she really understood what was happening to her which in a way is good but it will take her a while to feel safe again”
“Is it going to be safe again?”
“Of course” Grace cut in before Spencer could answer.
“It’s all over for good, I swear” nodded Spencer.
“Promise?” Isaac looked between the two of them with far more fear than should haunt anyone so small and vulnerable.
“I promise,” said Spencer. He looked Isaac dead in the eye when he said it and the boy nodded, smothering a sniffle. Spencer got up and pulled him into a hug.
“I promise,” he said again but this time he looked at Grace. Her eyes were wet with tears and she looked like she wanted to scream. For a moment Spencer wondered if he had lost her, if this was it.
Then she crossed the kitchen and joined the embrace, one arm cradling Isaac close and the other gripped tightly round Spencer.
“I promise,” he whispered once more, just for Grace to hear this time.
I miss Anderson but apparently he's coming back for the season 14 premiere! I had to put him in the story in that case.
Spencer wasn’t a fan of Christmas in general. The emphasis on family and the increased commercialisation and overall expense meant that the holidays had always made him anxious as a child. Even as an adult Christmas didn’t provide the escapism and wonder that Halloween did. Instead of allowing someone to be anyone they wanted, it made them more of themselves.
When JJ had Henry it had been a little different. He wasn’t alone in enjoying having a child around to spoil. After Henry’s first Christmas JJ had gently pulled him and Penelope aside and explained although she and Will greatly appreciated how enthusiastic they were as godparents, twenty gifts was far too many for a baby. Penelope had bought fifteen of those and for the following years Spencer had reined it in, acutely aware of encroaching on another family’s celebrations
This was going to be Spencer’s first year living with Grace and Isaac and celebrating Christmas as a family. He had spent Christmas with them before but it was different living under the same roof as them. Now he could help decorate, sing along with Christmas music with Isaac at the breakfast table, watch awful TV movies with Grace and do all the little things that made the holiday.
Plus Spencer found that his chemistry and engineering skills came in useful for things like Christmas baking and building gingerbread houses.
“Can we make a gingerbread family too?” Isaac asked as the pair of them glued the house together with caramel. More was over their hands and clothes than the house but at least it was stable.
“Someone has to live in the house,” said Spencer “I think that’s going to hold. We’ll leave it to set while we mix the icing.”
“Impressive work” Grace appeared in the doorway laden with shopping bag while Max trailed after her. It was a week before Christmas and Grace had wanted to get in a few last minute items. Spencer suspected that Max was enlisted to keep him out of Spencer way.
“We have tasting samples” Isaac held up some wonky bits of cookie that hadn’t made the cut.
“To make sure it’s up to standard,” added Spencer with a grin, holding out a piece. Grace leaned forward and took it between her teeth, lips brushing fingers.
“That’s amazing” she sighed, “I’ve never had a gingerbread house before”
“We never really had Christmas much before” said Max, taking another piece. He looked disappointed for a moment and then grabbed another.
“We’re making up for that now,” said Grace. She placed a reassuring hand on the small of Spencer’s back and lent towards him slightly. Max’s digs had lessened after the first week. Spencer suspected that it was due to repeated shin kicking from Grace under the dinner table and at least one heated exchange. After that Max had exactly become warmer towards Spencer but neither was he outwardly hostile.
Spencer supposed it was the best he could hope for.
“Your home is lovely,” said Spencer taking in the living room as Grace hung up his coat. Their first few dates had been pleasant enough though it had just been talking over coffee. This was the first time she had invited him back to her place since he had dropped her home with her injured arm.
“Thank you” said Grace “Wine? It will give you a chance to profile me through my house”
“Yes please but I wasn’t going to do that” Grace raised an eyebrow but said nothing. She returned a few moments later with a glass of white wine in each hand.
“You aren’t studying this room at all and wondering what it says about me?” she asked, head cocked slightly to the side.
“Maybe your bookshelf” admitted Spencer “Lots of politics and history books and books in a number of different languages. That makes sense since you’re so well travelled and your work is so influenced by current affairs” Spencer turned back to the bookshelf that stood beside the doorway and after a small ‘go ahead’ gesture from Grace he moved closer. “Other than that the only other books are Isaac’s. Though it looks like some of these are yours from when you were a kid?”
Treasure Island and The Scarlet Pimpernel sat side by side, their covers worn and spines cracked. The latter appeared to be in Afrikaans while the former was an English edition.
“South Africa was one of the countries you lived in for a while as a kid” said Spencer, recalling their earlier conversation “This book brings back good memories?” Grace’s smile faltered.
“My mother would read to my brothers and I. That was a favourite. Treasure Island was a gift from a librarian when we moved to the UK for a little while. I suppose they both remind me of being looked after. I don’t have any other books from when I was young” Grace paused “I don’t have much full stop”
“Just the photos” said Spencer softly. He knew he was getting into personal waters, they took up an entire shelf on their own though there were only four of them. “These are special”
“Yes they are” Grace held his gaze for a moment and Spencer felt exposed, like he was being judged. Grace pointed to the first photograph. From the clothing it appeared to be a young couple in the late 70s/early 80s. The man had bright blue eyes and neat fair hair, his smile was slight and his arm was around a young woman, his eyes fixed on her as she gazed into the camera. She had dark hair and darker eyes but her face was open, stretched into a smile like she was laughing. The resemblance to Grace was striking.
“My parents” she said softly. The next photo was just of Grace’s mother. She was perched on a wall, hair scraped up in a messy ponytail and a sweatshirt tied loosely around her waist. In her hands she held a camera, half raised as though she was going to take a picture of whoever was photographing her. “She was a journalist. She got the chance to work abroad when she was in college and that’s where she met my father”
“You look alike,” said Spencer “What was her name?”
“Zlata” Grace smiled “It’s a Slavic name, it means golden. She was the only girl in a family of five boys”
The next photo showed Zlata with three little boys in front of her and a baby on her hip. The photo was more worn than the others; there was slight water damage and creasing.
“I’m about a year old there,” said Grace “The oldest is Isaac, he’s the closest to Mama and Max is holding his hand. Then the other one pulling the face is Joshua” Grace stopped and Spencer fought the urge to reach out and put a hand on her shoulder. She was looking at the photo with such intensity he felt he shouldn’t. “They died a few years after this was taken” Grace explained, looking away “Just me, Max and my father left”.
Finally it was Christmas Eve. Sometimes it seemed like the actual day would never come. Spencer had managed to get his mandatory leave to line up with the holidays and since Isaac had been off school they had spent their days making Christmas cards, watching old movies and baking. Max had joined in too somewhat and the uneasy truce between the two of them held though there were times Spencer caught Max studying him out of the corner of his eye.
Max went into the city to visit some old friends and Isaac ending up going to bed early ‘to make Santa come quicker’, leaving Grace and Spencer snuggled up on the couch watching It’s A Wonderful Life with a couple of glasses of mulled wine. The movie ended but neither made an attempt to move.
“This is nice,” murmured Grace sleepily “I could stay like this forever”
“And miss the look on Isaac’s face when he sees his gift tomorrow?” chuckled Spencer.
“Hmmm, true. He will be over the moon at that. Still I could delay it for a few more hours of this” She tilted her head up for a kiss.
“Actually I wanted to give you one of your gifts early” said Spencer. Grace frowned as Spencer scrambled out of the room and returned a few moments later with a small box. It was bigger than a ring box, Grace thought and then chastised herself for even entertaining that idea.
“Open it,” prompted Spencer. Silently Grace eased the box open. There was a pendant inside, a small oval ruby with a strange starburst in the centre hanging on a delicate silver chain. Grace stared down at the box, utterly speechless.
“It’s a star ruby,” Spencer shifted his weight from side to side “The effect is caused by needle like crystals that form inside cavities within the stone. In India they call rubies the lord of gemstones and generally they represent passion and love and-“ The next part of the explanation was lost in the firm, hot kiss that Grace pulled him into, her hands cradling his face.
“It’s beautiful,” she murmured as they broke apart.
“You like it?”
“Of course” said Grace. It was almost too much, too expensive, too…special? Even as she thought it, it sounded stupid. “Help me put it on?”
Spencer moved behind her, slipping the chain easily round her neck and pressing a quick kiss at her nape as Grace reverently touched the stone.
“I’ve never been given jewellery before”
Spencer had never made a gift of jewellery before either. Truthfully he had agonised over the purchase for over a month and had roped both Rossi and Garcia into helping his choose. Then he had phoned Morgan and Hotch and all the conflicting opinions and suggestions had made his head spin. Finally he had come back to that piece, it had drawn his eye first.
“You look beautiful,” said Spencer “Merry Christmas”
“Merry Christmas” Grace said, throwing her arms round him.
“You and Max must be close though” Spencer gestured at the final photo: a teenage boy and girl, arms crossed with a gloomy landscape stretching out behind them. They were dressed in thick coats and each wore a slight frown on their faces. It was strange seeing Grace so young.
“We are” Grace looked up at him, the intensity gone “Though he drives me mad”
“I always wished I had a brother or sister,” said Spencer wistfully as he looked at the photo. Perhaps it was family holiday and they were bored? Or they were sulking over a squabble from earlier? There was something so strong about the looks on their faces, like they would challenge anyone over anything. It was the exact opposite of how Spencer had been as a child.
“It’s nice to always have someone on your side” said Grace. After that the conversation turned easily back to discussion about the non-fiction books on the shelves. Spencer was wary of over profiling and pushing Grace away though he found himself studying the photos several times that night.
A few weeks later, after another date Spencer returned the favour and invited Grace back to his apartment for a coffee.
“My turn to profile you now” she grinned as she stepped through the door and turned around.
“Yeah it’s…” Spencer gestured around the dark living space.
“That’s a nice way of putting it?” laughed Spencer “Sorry about the mess” There were books and papers on every available space and several mismatched bookshelves in corners that were piled high with books and knick knacks. Spencer watched Grace study them all. Had she felt that exposed when he had done the same. No wonder people hated profilers.
“I’m sensing organisation isn’t your strong suit,” said Grace “And you obviously read a lot.”
“How’d you guess that?” Grace laughed and Spencer’s stomach did a little flip. “Can I get you a drink?”
When Spencer came back he found Grace looking at the bookshelf by the window.
“Your mother?” Grace pointed to a photo of him and Diana when he was small. He was sitting on her lap as she read to him, completely engrossed.
“Yeah” Spencer smiled “She was a professor of medieval literature before she got sick” he paused “She has schizophrenia. She’s brilliant but she needs help managing her condition”
“That must have been difficult as a child. Your father?”
“Left” said Spencer simply. His throat was feeling peculiarly tight “It wasn’t a great loss. Mom and I did fine.”
“She must be very proud of you. Going from place to place helping people like a knight of the round table,” grinned Grace.
“Actually that’s exactly how she’s described my work at the BAU” said Spencer.
“Your tastes lean more towards the Victorian,” said Grace “There is an abundance of Arthur Conan Doyle here”
“Is that disapproval I hear?”
“Surprise” corrected Grace.
“Doyle was a man of science. So is Sherlock Holmes,” said Spencer with a shrug “I guess that always appealed to me as a kid” He could see Grace was biting back a response. “What?”
“He was a man of science,” conceded Grace “But he also believed in fairies and ghosts. And British Imperialism” she added after a moment.
“True” Spencer said, drawing out the word “But he was also a firm believer in justice and he campaigned for a number of people who were falsely accused of crimes”
“Another crusading knight” said Grace “Perhaps there is a pattern here” Grace scanned the titles, her fingers brushing the spines of the books. As she did she brushed against a photograph slipped between two of them. Not on display, Grace noted silently as she eased it out.
“Who is this?” she asked quietly. Spencer’s face had fallen slightly. “She’s pretty”
“Maeve. Her name was Maeve”
If they had all been hoping for a lie-in Christmas morning they were sorely disappointed. Isaac clambered onto the bed at 7am on the dot. It turned out he had been awake since 5.30, prodding presents and finally waking up Max at 6 who had bribed him with chocolate chip pancakes to leave waking up Spencer and Grace for at least another hour.
They gathered around the tree and watched Isaac open his presents first. There were books of course, new pyjamas, some dinosaurs, a model making kit and then it was time for the big reveal.
“This is Rosie,” said Spencer, returning from the back room, usually reserved for storage with a grey staffie trotting behind him. The dog sniffed Isaac excitedly and the little boy’s eyes were as big as saucers. He threw his arms around the dog who licked his face enthusiastically.
“It’s your responsibility to walk her and feed her,” said Grace sternly, reaching forward to scratch behind her ears.
“I promise,” breathed Isaac “Hi Rosie. She’s a good girl. Can she do tricks?”
“They’re very obedient dogs, very loyal” said Grace with a smile “You may be able to teach her a few things”
“My turn now” Spencer produced a bag for Max and a box for Grace.
“No I already got my present!” said Grace “You shouldn’t have”
“You need something to unwrap Christmas morning,” protested Spencer. Truthfully he had wanted to give the necklace to Grace when they were alone, he was still having trouble saying everything he wanted to and he hadn’t wanted to struggle in front of Max and Isaac. Max meanwhile produced a large bottle of very expensive whiskey, recommended by Rossi. It gave Spencer immense satisfaction to see the genuine surprise on his face.
“Thanks Spencer” said Max. He glanced at Grace and shrunk slightly under the smug look she shot him.
“Mommy what did you get?”
“I got…oh wow” It was a shoebox containing a pair of running shoes.
“They don’t match the necklace I’m afraid” Spencer joked. He pulled Isaac onto his lap as Grace pulled out the shoes, Rosie sniffing around the three of them. There was a flash of something on Grace’s face. “You said you wanted to start running again and your sneakers are kind of old”. Grace smiled up at him.
“I did. Thank you so much” She kissed him on the cheek, and set aside the shoes to produce her own boxes. Max was scowling and Grace wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“These are for you” Grace handed a small pile of packages to Spencer and then handed a thick package to Max “And for you. Be careful, they’re delicate.”
Max’s gift was scans of all of Grace’s family photos, set into a large album. There were one or two that Spencer had never seen before, apparently sourced from an aunt in Srebrenica. Grace had her own copies of those made too to go up after Christmas.
“It’s not fair I should have them all,” said Grace, going over to hug her brother. Max didn’t respond, just squeezing a little tighter and mumbling something about opening the whiskey now.
Spencer’s gift was a special hardback edition of A Study in Scarlet with beautiful illustrations, a thick plum coloured sweater and a tie in the same shade, and a beautiful vintage watch with a thick leather strap. The back of the watch was engraved with a message: All my love, Grace
“I know you love wearing one and since your last one was broken I thought you should have something nice”
“It’s beautiful,” said Spencer slipping it on. His stomach lurched when thinking about his old watch. It sat in an upstairs drawer, working just as well as it had the day he’s ripped it from Cat Adams “This one is much better” A look passed between the two of them that neither could quite decipher, a look of reassurance tinged with something not totally unlike sadness.
“Merry Christmas” yelled Isaac happily, breaking the spell as he pulled Rosie into another hug. A veil of sorts lifted, even if the feelings hadn’t totally gone.
“You said ‘was” said Grace, stepping back from the bookshelf, the photo slipped back between the books “I didn’t mean to pry”
“No it’s okay,” said Spencer and he found to his surprise it was the truth, “I asked about your family before. A few years ago I was unwell and Maeve was a geneticist I went to for help. And…”
“One thing led to another?”
“Not like that” said Spencer quickly “I mean we talked on the phone and we wrote letters but we couldn’t be together. I didn’t actually see her until the day she died. She was important to me though” Spencer hated describing his and Maeve’s relationship to people. No one understood the intensity of how he had felt about a woman he had only set eyes one once and how deeply he had loved her despite the unusual nature of their relationship. Grace laid a hand on his shoulder.
“She must have been very special,” said Grace evenly “I’m sorry you lost her”
“Thank you” said Spencer “A lot of people…don’t get it. It wasn’t a typical romance.”
“But it meant a lot to you” said Grace “Some people go their whole lives without experiencing that”
“Have you?” Spencer asked, “No don’t answer that. I shouldn’t have asked” Grace cocked her head to one side before answering.
“No I haven’t” said Grace. Spencer bit his lip and she knew that he was thinking about Isaac.
“Do you want to?” God damn it why couldn’t he think before he spoke?
“I never really thought about it” admitted Grace “Then Isaac was born and… I don’t know. I am not a strong believer in traditional families being the only right way to raise a child.”
It would be nice to not be alone though, a small voice in the back of her mind said, to have someone to face the world with.
To face the world with you?
“Before Maeve I never thought it would be something I would have” said Spencer “Then I had a taste of that and now…”
“I understand,” said Grace.
“Even the most introverted human beings long for connection,” said Spencer.
“And it’s not something you can force” smiled Grace. Spencer nodded. “Things get very personal very quickly when I’m around you”
“I’m not doing it on purpose I swear!”
“I know” Grace laughed “But you’re very easy to talk to”
“Thanks” said Spencer, his face feeling hot.
He wanted to tell her how glad he was she was there with him.
Christmas lunch came and went in a flurry of rich food, corny cracker jokes and cheesy Christmas music playing on the radio. Spencer took Isaac out to walk Rosie while Max and Grace cleared up. An hour or so later they returned and Isaac and the dog bounded upstairs. Grace and Max must not have heard them arrive as Spencer could hear a heated discussion through the kitchen door. Against his better judgement he paused, leaning in.
“I can’t believe you” Max scoffed “You’re willing to lie down and take anything aren’t you?”
“I’m done having the same argument over and over. Why do you want to start a fight over this?”
“Because after everything he put you and Isaac through I would have thought you’d realise you could do better”
Spencer’s stomach lurched. He knew he should make his presence known but he was frozen in place.
“He went through a lot too” said Grace quietly “And we’re working through it as a family” Max snorted “You can’t give up on someone when it’s gets hard. That isn’t what love is”
“That’s what he did to you!” hissed Max “Does he know how bad it got? Does he know about what happened?”
“No and he isn’t going to” Grace banged a plate down on the counter “I am not going to jeopardise how far we have come in the past few months”
“So you’re just going to pretend everything is okay?” sneered Max “Like he didn’t push you away when you were at your lowest”
“Max I swear to god if you don’t drop this you can leave right now”
There was a heavy silence for a few moments and Spencer wished he could see the looks on their faces.
“Buying you jewellery and shoes isn’t going to make everything magically okay” Max said in a low voice “I’ll drop it for now but when you change your mind call me. I’ll help you however I can”
After that the only sounds were the clink of cutlery being washed and dried. Spencer tiptoed back out to the door and called out they were home. Ten seconds later Grace appeared with a bright smile.
If the rest of the day felt subdued than the morning no one commented. Before bed there was a tussle over Isaac having Rosie in his room but finally they convinced him she would be more comfortable in her basket downstairs and the evening was spent in front of the TV before they headed to bed.
“I think this was probably the best Christmas we’ve ever had” Grace settled behind Spencer on the bed and slipped her arms round his shoulders; she pressed a few lazy kisses to the back of his neck, her fingers dancing at the hem of his shirt. It took everything in him not to tense. She was keeping something from him, something she had told Max, something that had nearly broken her. Spencer’s stomach churned.
“Definitely the most exhausting,” said Spencer, unable to think of anything else. He was desperate to flick off the lights and crawl into bed, hoping that sleep would somehow erase the memory of the conversation.
Grace pressed another soft kiss to his cheek, her smile unwavering.
“True, we can make up for it by doing as little as possible tomorrow”
They crawled into bed and Grace shifted close to him, arm across his chest.
“Merry Christmas my love”
The first few weeks after Christmas flew by. Originally Spencer had planned go back to Vegas between Christmas and New Year but the night before he was due to leave her doctor had called him.
“Okay thanks for letting me know” he said, his shoulders sagging. Grace was standing by the kitchen window watching Isaac try and train Rosie to sit and stay. She turned to Spencer, the smile on her face fading.
“She isn’t doing well” he said thickly “Her doctor thinks it would be better to put off visit her until she more stable”
“How about after New Year, before Isaac goes back to school we all go?” suggested Grace “You may find it easier if you aren’t alone” Spencer had mumbled something about not wanting to overwhelm Diana and had avoided the subject from then on. After Rossi’s party his Spencer’s mind was constantly swinging back and forth between his mother’s health and trying to work out how to talk to Grace.
The cowardly part of him pushed to put off the conversation until he had spoken to his mother; she was after all the priority. He knew he was being weak and that until he spoke to Grace his mind would keep coming up with more and more scenarios that were far worse than reality could possibly be but at the same time it wasn’t real until it was spoken aloud. Whatever it was anyway.
Rossi held a massive New Years’ Eve party that the whole team and their families were invited to. Spencer plastered on a fake smile as JJ, Tara, and Penelope cooed over Grace’s Christmas present. She found the attention slightly overwhelming, reaching for Spencer’s hand as she repeated the same stories about how they spent Christmas over and over. Spencer found himself studying her face in those moments. The joy was real. The way she looked at him now was the same as before he had gone to prison, but if anything it made Spencer feel worse. What had he done that was so terrible? If it was terrible then why had she forgiven him? More importantly why hadn’t she told him?
At midnight they all counted down, glasses raised and their arms around loved ones. Spencer was barely paying attention when Grace kissed him, starting in surprise at the soft heat of her lips.
“I love you,” she whispered against his mouth and for a moment the doubt vanished, or at least it seemed insignificant in the face of everything they had.
“I love you too,” he whispered back before tilting his head to deepen the kiss. He meant it, of course he meant it, but as the moment ended and the room erupted in cheers and hugs that doubt and worry crawled back inside him.
“Holy fuck” Tara and Emily had been right next to them and Tara’s gasping hadn’t been as quiet as she had intended. Both Spencer and Grace followed her gaze to Penelope charging out of the room leaving a bemused Luke standing to one side with a smudge of lipstick at the corner of his mouth that definitely wasn’t his colour.
“Ooh wow that’s a thing” nodded Emily “I should probably…unit chief that shit right?”
“They hate each other,” said Spencer, confused. Grace snorted and pressed another kiss to his cheek.
“Oh suiker they really don’t” she said, amused “They just don’t know how to act around each other”
He had to say something, he realised. Not right here as Tara was loudly whispering her theories about Penelope and Luke to a chuckling Grace, but soon he had to confront her. Whatever it was they could handle it right?
Spencer watched Derek go back inside his house to help Savannah deal with Penelope. He didn’t envy them that, though the thought of the three of them together warmed his heart. After being sequestered in Quantico, afraid for her life, Penelope deserved to have her best friend by her side and as much fun as she could handle.
There was a chill in the air as he headed away from the house. Part of him wanted to be alone, to clear his mind so that the encroaching fears about his mother’s condition could be dealt with in a rational, efficient way. This was a problem like any other, all he had to do was apply logic, do some research, and a solution would present itself.
Another part of him wanted to scream until his throat was raw. How much pain could one person take? Diana had lost so much of her life, her husband and her career to one disease of the mind; it was pure cruelty that she would lose her son and her memory to another.
In that moment Spencer knew where he needed to be. He stopped short in the street and turned to head in the opposite direction. It wasn’t far, within thirty minutes he was outside Grace’s house. The upstairs windows were dark but the porch light was on and Spencer could hear faint music. The gate to the back yard was unlocked so he tentatively headed round.
Grace was curled up on a chair, a blanket across her legs as she stared up at the stars. Her face was half in shadow, the dim light from inside catching minute details like the soft curve of her lip, a stray lock of hair and the softness of her lashes. Spencer wanted to remember that image forever. Or at least as long as he was able to, he realised with a pang.
It was then that Grace turned to him in surprise, a small, almost hesitant half smile on her face.
“You’re back” she switched the music off and looked at him with an expression Spencer couldn’t read.
“Yeah, I wanted to call but as soon as I landed we had a case,” said Spencer “We…we caught the people who were after Garcia. The hit men. She’s safe now”
“Thank goodness,” said Grace “That’s good right? She can go home?”
“Then why do you look so sad?”
In the weeks following New Year Spencer’s change in mood hadn’t gone unnoticed. To Grace it was as if they had taken a massive step backwards. Spencer wasn’t openly affectionate anymore, he was quiet and withdrawn and there were nights when he would get out of bed in the early hours of the morning and shut himself away in his office before disappearing to work without more than a passing goodbye.
The running shoes lay unused in their box at the bottom of the cupboard. A nagging voice in the back of her head told her she should make use of them. Not just because they were a gift but also because running had brought her solace when she’d needed an outlet. Until it hadn’t.
“We should go out this weekend” Grace announced later that night at dinner “There’s a hiking trail in the woods. I could run it while you guys take Rosie out and then there’s a diner off the main road out of town we could grab lunch at. We went there once, they did those burgers you liked Spencer”
Spencer frowned, trying to grasp the memory from his foggy brain.
“Rosie would like that,” said Isaac. He pulled small piece of chicken from the bone and subtle eased it away from his plate.
“That’s human food not dog food” warned Grace before adding “She’d like the woods. There’s a lot to explore. They used to have a nature trail too. I just think we should go out and do something as a family”
The last part was directed at Spencer with a pleading look in her eyes. He poked at his food and nodded.
“Yeah we should do that”
Miraculously the next day Diana’s doctor phoned and she was well enough to accept visitors. Spencer booked a single ticket and was gone that afternoon.
The whole story about discovering the identities of the Dirty Dozen and confronting Cat Adams in the restaurant unfolded. Grace watched him intently every now and again there would be a flicker of something across her face but she remained silent and calm until Spencer reached the part where he bundled Cat into the police van and her final words to him.
In thirty years I’ll remember you but you won’t remember me.
“It wasn’t all a ruse?” asked Grace softly “Your mother really has Alzheimer’s?”
Spencer nodded, his head falling forward into his hands. Grace laid a soft hand on his shoulder and then a moment later, curled her body round his in an embrace.
“I am so sorry darling,” she whispered. A sense of hopelessness overcame her. Grace could deal with death and with loss but this was new and unfamiliar, there was nothing she could say and not comfort she could give.
Spencer wiped his eyes and sat up straight, still with Grace’s arms around him. Doubt began to creep over Grace as Spencer took a deep breath.
“We need to…I mean I need to…shit”
“Take your time,” said Grace. Her eyes had become glassy, the light reflected from inside the house blooming within them. It looked to Spencer like the moon was caught in her gaze and it gave him a sense of peace. He knew what he had to do but the idea of actually doing it made his heart ache.
“If you’re thinking that your mother needs to be your sole focus now and you don’t have room in your life for anything else I…I understand that but…” Grace paused. Don’t leave me, she wanted to say, please don’t throw this away. Let me help you, let me stay by your side. The words wouldn’t come.
“That wasn’t what I was going to say,” said Spencer, his voice wavering “I just…I had started to think that maybe…maybe we had a future together, a long term future together but there’s a distinct chance that not only will I not get there but before I do I wouldn’t remember any of the time we had together. I can’t do that to you or Isaac. I’m seeing it start to take my Mom and it’s heart breaking and I love you too much to put you through that”
Grace let out a small gasp at the tears cascaded down her cheeks. He had never said that to her before. Before going to his mother he had plans to celebrate nearly a year together and make some kind of declaration then. Never in a million years had he imagined it going this way when he could feel his plans and hopes for their future slipping away from him.
“You have a strange sense of timing Spencer Reid” Grace wiped her eyes “And an even stranger sense of logic.”
“I don’t know-“
“I love you too. More than I thought possible and that’s why I’m not letting you do this alone”
Going home to see his mother had always been a bittersweet ordeal for Spencer. Now with the Alzheimer’s the bitter outweighed the sweet. His first day there she thought he was a doctor brought into to examine her and there was a heated argument which led to Spencer leaving the sanatorium in tears before lunch. When he returned a few hours later Diana was groggy and confused. She still didn’t recognise him and sat there with a tired, suspicious look in her eyes while he told her about the holidays, the new dog and how work was going. When Spencer left she didn’t even say goodbye. There were a few texts from Grace and a couple from the team but he threw his phone in his bag and collapsed into bed as soon as e got back to the motel. He ended up sleeping until past noon the next day but when he saw his mother she seemed a little better, still confused but happier.
The next few days were an improvement. Diana’s face lit up on the third day when Spencer arrived that morning.
“It’s so good to see you baby” she said, pulling him into a hug “You don’t visit enough”
“I know” he mumbled, “I’m sorry”
“And why are you alone? Where’s that pretty girl of yours and her little boy?” demanded Diana “Are you ashamed of me?”
“God Mom no!” Spencer protested, “No, you know I’m not-“
“I know, I know. I’m just teasing you” Diana waved a hand as she settled back down “You’re too good to me. And I know she’s very busy. She…” Diana frowned “They both…”
“Grace is working” Spencer lied, his stomach twisting into an unpleasant knot “And Isaac is at school” Diana looked at him, really looked at him. It was the look she used to give him when he said he’d had a good day at school or that he was late home because he’d been with friends.
“What aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing! I swear”
“Don’t lie to your mother Spencer. Is it finished, did you two break up?”
“No we didn’t. It’s just…complicated”
Diana raised an eyebrow.
“Complicated” she repeated slowly “What does that even mean?”
“Things are…difficult” Spencer really didn’t want to remind his mother of prison when she was having a good day. He also didn’t really have a way of expressing the strange limbo he was in right now. It felt so messy.
“She always looks so sad,” said Diana, softly “It’s heart breaking to see such a pretty girl looking so sad. Not when her boy is around though, not when he can see. A mother never wants her child to see her sad. It’s there still though, under the surface”
“Grace? You mean Grace always looks sad?”
“In a quiet way yes” said Diana. She started picking at a loose thread on the arm of a chair, her voice sounding dreamy and far away. “It was there when my son brought her for the first time. Isaac was just a baby then. They visited for the weekend” Diana smiled “I think she was nervous about meeting me. Spencer never brought a lot of girls to see me. Actually he never brought any. He told me about the woman who wrote him letters, the one who died. That was sad, but Grace was the first girl he introduced to me”
Inwardly, Spencer sighed. She was gone again, stuck somewhere in time where he couldn’t quite reach. At least she wasn’t upset or angry and she was talkative which was always a good sign.
“You liked her?” Spencer prompted.
“Oh yes! Very bright, very honest and she made Spencer happy. What more can we ask from the people our children love? But then later she looked sad. There was that day with nurse when Spencer was at the beach.”
Diana shivered and Spencer’s heart sank. He knew she was thinking of when she was in prison.
“Grace went to see Cassie?”
“A few times. I think she came to see me but I get confused and I was so used to Jennifer and her boys coming to see me that I got mixed up. Oh but she was so kind about it, she made me tea and said she hoped I felt better soon. Such a kind girl. It was difficult on her; she didn’t get to visit Spencer you see? Jennifer did and some of his other friends but not Grace”
“That must have been hard” Spencer stared at his hands, his voice cracking.
“Yes I think it was. That other nurse turned her away the last time. The bad one”
Diana thought for a moment.
“Karen? Carol! Yes, Carol. Grace came by one morning, she looked terrible. She was sobbing her heart out; she looked like she hadn’t slept. Carol sent her away, said Cassie was ill. She was a liar, and an awful, awful woman. She did…”
“Hey it’s okay, it’s okay. Carol is gone. Grace is fine, I’m fine, you’re fine” Spencer leaned forward and took her hand. Diana’s gaze snapped up, her eyes were wide with fear “It’s okay” he whispered again. Diana’s eyes soften and she squeezed his hand tightly.
“It’s okay” she echoed, “You’re all okay”
“Yeah we’re all okay”
“I’m so glad you’re here” Diana said, her throat tight “It means so much to know you’re okay. That Grace is okay and that boy of yours is okay too. What do we have if we don’t have family?”
“Nothing” said Spencer but the sentiment felt hollow.
“Grace please” This was hard enough for Spencer already. He wasn’t sure he had the resolve to stand up to her on this.
“Every time you go out into the field there is a chance that I’ll get a call from Hotch saying you’re hurt or worse” said Grace firmly “You’ve been shot on the job twice, tortured even and your team mates have endured kidnapping and unsubs coming after them and their families. Any day could be your last. If I was too afraid of losing you to love you we would have been over long before now”
There was a fierce determination in Grace’s eyes, and a flicker of hope sputtered to life in Spencer’s chest. Cold logic still reigned however. He shook his head.
“No Grace, this is different”
“For one thing it will be a long process, for another if I got killed in the field then at least I would remember you”
“Are you certain you’ll develop the same condition?” Her tone told Spencer she already knew the answer.
“I got Savannah to run some tests”
“I’m too young to get conclusive results,” said Spencer reluctantly “But-“
“Is this an excuse?” asked Grace “If you don’t want to be together any more then that’s one thing but you said you love me”
“Then make a choice” Grace said “I’m choosing to hope for the best. I’m not naïve, I know that any number of terrible things could happen to us but I think all the good that comes from us being together outweighs that so I’m choosing to fight for this. What do you choose?”
Was it really that simple? He didn’t want to be alone, loneliness had dogged him for too long but it had always felt like the easier option. There was so much less chance of being hurt that way.
Grace reached up to touch his face, hope and anguish and pleading warring in the intense gaze she fixed on him.
“You make it sound so easy,” said Spencer weakly.
“It’s not. It’s so difficult,” said Grace “But if we can both do it then maybe it will be a little easier” Spencer turned slightly, laying his own hand over Grace’s and pressing a soft kiss to her palm “Love is supposed to make you stronger”
Spencer nodded, unable to find the right words. He had never been so scared in his whole life, not even with Hankel or when Gideon had left or left than a year or so before when he’d though he was going to die from a bullet in the neck.
“I’m choosing to try,” he whispered.
When Spencer rang home it was Isaac who picked up the phone not Grace. Alarm bells immediately rang as he mumbled a hello with a hoarse voice and a sniffle.
“Isaac what’s wrong”
“Mom fell over” Isaac’s voice wavered “Dave and Joy and Kai came over and we all went out to that trail and Mom and Joy went for a run and then she started shouting and Mom looked all funny and she couldn’t breathe and…” the rest of the story was lost in sobs and bile rose in Spencer’s throat.
“Isaac where is she now? Is she okay? Isaac?” His questions went unanswered as Isaac’s sobs grew louder and there was the sound of movement and voices. A woman’s voice in particular cut through the sobs and Isaac grew quieter.
“Rossi? What’s going on? What’s happening?”
Spencer forced down his frustration as he heard yet more movement and a door closing.
“Everything’s fine now” said Rossi “Grace is resting and Joy has Isaac. I think he’s more shaken than anything”
“He said Grace went for a run and then she couldn’t breathe. Did you call an ambulance? What was it?” Every single respiratory and cardiac condition raced through Spencer’s head, swiftly followed by every other condition where shortness of breath was a symptom.
“Spencer…it was panic attack” said Rossi slowly.
“What, but why-“
“We don’t know. Grace was fine on the way there, maybe a little quieter than usual. She and Joy went off and when they were about a third of the way round, everything changed. We asked why but I don’t think she’s ready to talk to us.” There was a paused before Rossi added, with disapproval “You haven’t called them since you left have you?”
“My mom… was having a bad time” Even as the words came out he felt wretched for using that as an excuse, for using his own mother as an excuse.
“When are you due back?”
“I’ll catch a flight first thing,” said Spencer.
“I’ll tell Grace when she wakes- oh hey!” Rossi stopped midsentence and Spencer could here something quiet in the background. Then there came the sound of a door closing softly.
“Hi Spencer” Her voice sounded distant. He thought of what his mother had said earlier. She always looks so sad.
“Oh my God, Grace are you okay?”
“It’s a huge fuss over nothing I swear” said Grace. The strain in her voice was obvious.
“Grace…it’s obviously not nothing”
“How’s your Mom?”
“Don’t change the subject”
“It’s bad isn’t it? That’s why you haven’t called”
Spencer swallowed. He pulled the phone away from his ear and took a breath to steady himself before he spoke next.
“She got angry and upset the first night. Just upset the second. Today she was a little better but then halfway through talking to me she forgot who I was”
“She asked about you,” said Spencer. The room was blurry and his cheeks were wet. “Wanted to know how ‘that pretty girl of mine’ was doing”
There was a quiet noise, almost like a cry being swallowed.
“That’s nice of her”
“I should have called” No response. “I’m coming home tomorrow. First thing and then…we should talk…”
“There’s honestly nothing wrong with me” Grace whispered.
“I…” he had no idea what to say, “This is my fault”
“No” Grace’s crying was clear now “No, it isn’t I swear. This is all on me and I’m so sorry”
“It’s going to be okay. I promise,” said Spencer.
He had never been less sure of anything in his life.
Apologies for the delay. I have the next chapter written and the chapter after that started so I'm hoping to get them up soon!
Suiker is Dutch for Sugar
After a brief and sad goodbye to Diana, Spencer caught the plane back to DC and spent the whole flight going over every single possibility as to what happened when he was in prison. Between agonising over increasingly desperate scenarios Spencer was also worrying about Grace’s fall. Had she injured herself? What if she had another panic attack? Was Isaac all right? The entire plane journey and then in the cab from the station, Spencer’s whole body hummed like it was flooded with electricity and he was being overloaded. He stood on the doorstep for a good five minutes until he made his way inside.
The normality of the house took him aback, almost like he was expecting a physical change in the place or signs of a struggle.
Grace looked normal too to his surprise. Clearly tired and pale but not grievously injured or sick looking. She got up from the sofa hesitantly as Spencer entered and he pulled her close, his bag dropping to the floor with a thud, earning a small sound of surprise from Grace. The smell of her hair, the feel of her skin, and the pressure of her body against his were comforting and frightening at the same time. It was a reminder of everything he stood to lose.
“Are you okay?” he asked as they broke apart “Are you hurt? Where’s Isaac?”
“Joy took him out with Kai today” said Grace “I’m okay, honestly. I was more embarrassed than anything else. I think there’s a scratch on my knee and that’s it.” Spencer cradled her face in his hands, studying her intently. “You’re profiling me”
“Yeah I am” said Spencer softly as he stroked her cheek with his thumb “I know there’s more to what happened and I know that you sent Isaac out with Joy so we could talk about it alone” he hesitated a moment “I overheard you and Max at Christmas” His hands fell uselessly to his side as Grace took a step back. A thousand emotions crossed her face at once.
“What did you overhear?”
“Something happened when I was in prison. Max thinks it’s unforgivable whatever it is but you…you don’t want to tell me and…I don’t know why”
The crack in his voice frustrated him, his own weakness and failure frustrated him and him want to run out the house and never look back or fall at Grace’s feet and never move. He wasn’t sure which. All he knew was that he was afraid.
They stared at each other for a moment.
“That was…it wasn’t anything you did” Grace said “So there was nothing to forgive”
“But something happened Grace” insisted Spencer “Remember what you said about needing to communicate to make things work?”
“This is different” Grace shook her head “Oh god” She sank back down on the sofa and Spencer took her hand.
“Whatever it is I can deal with it,” said Spencer as Grace began to cry, “We’ve been through too much”
“Is there anyone we can call for you? A husband or boyfriend?”
For a split second Grace almost started reeling off Spencer’s phone number before a flash of cold realisation seared through the fogginess of his brain. Spencer was locked up; he couldn’t help her now so Grace was completely alone. Her lip began to tremble and she bit down hard to keep the tears at bit.
“Hey now” the nurse, Marissa, reached for her hand “I know this is hard”
“It’s not fair” God how childish that sounded. It was true though, all the shit they had been through in the past couple of months and now this? Perhaps they were cursed?
“I know” Marissa said softly, “I know it isn’t”
“It’s all my fault”
“No it isn’t” said Marissa “There are many reasons that these things happen. Sometimes, as hard as it is, we just don’t know why”
No, this was her fault. Grace was certain of that. She had let her grief overwhelm her, blocking out all the signs and ignoring the warnings and now she was a killer.
The blood was on her hands.
Grace took a deep, steadying breath. Spencer took her hand and tried to still the drumming in his chest. This was it.
“I went running a lot when you were in prison” she began “They were really flexible with my time at work so even after you stopped me from seeing you I would still be able to leave the office and go running. It made me feel better.”
“Okay” said Spencer “Something happened when you went running right? That’s what caused the panic attack today?”
“Yeah. I would go out and just run and run until it was time to go back. I was pushing harder and harder each time” Grace wiped the tears from her eyes but more kept flowing “Sam suggested I take a week off work so I went out everyday and I ran for hours and hours without a break until it hurt to stand, to move. But that was okay because if I concentrated on that then I didn’t think about you or prison or anything like that”
The thought of Grace hurting herself as a distraction cut deep. Spencer’s one thought when he’d refused to see her had been for her safety and wellbeing but in the end it hadn’t made any difference.
“Don’t please. That was my choice. That was how I chose to cope, not anyone else, me”
“I put you in that position!”
Grace shook her head, unable to speak.
“I went out one morning, ran as usual and then I felt this sharp pain and next thing I knew I was on the ground, two other runners were standing over me and then I passed out. I woke up in the hospital.”
Spencer moved to pull her close but Grace brushed him off.
“No, you have to let me finish, please.”
They were on a precipice; Spencer could feel it, that looming dread just before the fall. His mind was whirring, all his profiling skills trying to connect the while the emotional part of his brain was trying to drown it out. He didn’t want to know, whatever it was he wanted to remain ignorant. Grace stopped for a moment, resolute or resigned, it wasn’t clear. She looked straight ahead, hands clasped in her lap.
“They told me I was bleeding heavily. That they were sorry but there was nothing they could do. It was confusing because the doctor thought I knew”
Knew what? It took a second for Spencer to realise he hadn’t managed to speak. The words were caught in his throat because he suspected the answer.
“I didn’t know. Otherwise I would have done things differently,” her face snapped towards Spencer, “I swear to you. I had stopped…noticing”
“You didn’t realise you were pregnant” It was weird how calm he sounded, like someone else had taken over his body while he screamed at the back of his own skull.
“I did that”
The doctor was an older woman with greying hair and a severe look. When she spoke however, her voice was soft and lilting. It was jarring and Grace couldn’t concentrate. She wanted Spencer here. No…she didn’t. He couldn’t know that she’d lost their baby, not when the world was falling apart around them. The bile rose in Grace’s throat and she retched. Marissa grabbed a bowl, narrowly preventing a mess. She rubbed Grace’s back in a motherly way, exacerbating the shame.
“I can’t do this”
“You didn’t know you were pregnant?” Dr Carrington asked softly. Grace shook her head. “We don’t think you were too far along. Maybe ten weeks at most so that’s not very unusual. When was your last period?”
“I…I don’t know. I was on the pill but…I haven’t been…”
There was a quick look between Dr Carrington and Marissa and Grace wanted to curl up into a ball.
“Ms Owens you have nothing be sorry for”
“I killed my baby. If I had been paying attention then I would have known I was pregnant, I wouldn’t have been so stupid, I, I-“
There was no air in the room. Grace was choking, scrabbling for breath. She needed to get out, to leave.
“Grace you’re having a panic attack. Can you lean forward, put your head between your knees?”
There was flurry of activity. Grace wasn’t sure what happened next except that another doctor was called, tests were mentioned and she was pressed for an emergency contact.
“My friend Hayden” Grace croaked suddenly “Where’s my phone? I can call her”
“Okay that’s good,” said Marissa “You should have someone here with you”
“Ms Owens we’re going to run a few tests and then my colleague Dr Morton is going to have a quick chat with you”
“We need to make sure you’re okay”
Okay? Of course she wasn’t okay. Grace wasn’t sure of she would ever be okay again. She slumped back on the pillows; eyes closed while they took some blood samples and carried on speaking in those soothing voices. They were all being so kind, so gentle with her despite knowing what she had done. It might have been easier if they shouted and berated her.
Grace was awake. Groggily she sat up and Hayden jolted out of the plastic seat by the bed.
“Oh my God Grace!” Grace frowned, what was she doing here. Then she remembered.
“Oh darling for what?”
“What…what did they tell you?”
“You had a fall while running,” said Hayden, taking her hand “They wouldn’t go into more details. They only said they were running a few tests”
“I was pregnant,” mumbled Grace “I was pregnant…but now…”
It was startling how much you could miss something that you never realise was a possibility, especially now it would never come to be. They could have had a baby. Isaac could have had a little brother or sister. It was never something that had come up explicitly in conversation but Grace knew Spencer wanted children but after Diana was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Grace wondered if that would change his mind. The possibility of Schizophrenia, slim or not, was another worry for him and Grace had never wanted to stir up any pain by broaching the subject. Lying in that hospital though with the calm doctor and the sympathetic looking nurses, all Grace had wanted was her baby back.
Spencer stood up slowly and ran his hands through his hair. Don’t’ cry, Grace told herself. Her cheeks felt stiff and sore from the previous bout of crying as the tears had dried.
“Please say something”
Spencer turned, pale and drawn, hurt and confusion plastered all over his face.
“Were you ever going to tell me?”
“No” Grace looked down “When was I supposed to?”
“When I got out of prison! ”
“You mean I should have phoned you or something while you were talking with Cat Adams?”
“When you were terrified your mother was going to be killed? Or after that when you found her and she was scared out of her mind and confused? Or in the FBI safe house where Isaac was crying himself to sleep and he wouldn’t stay in his own bed because he was sure someone was going to take one of us away?”
There it was, the anger that had remained buried and hidden for so long, mixed with guilt and fear. Grace was angry at herself, angry at Spencer, at Cat Adams, at the Bureau, at God, at the universe and for months that anger had been smothered by grief but here and now it was coming out.
“What about after that? When things got better?” Spencer asked.
“I couldn’t risk it!” Grace shouted, getting to her feet “There was never a good time. It would have broken you to know”
“Would it really?” Spencer snapped, “How weak do you think I am?”
“That’s not fair, you know I don’t think that”
It was a step too far Spencer knew. He looked at Grace, really looked at her and for the first time wondered if this was it, the end of them.
“You were so hurt and carrying around so much guilt that I thought…I don’t know…” as quickly as it had risen up, the anger dissipated and grief overwhelmed Grace again “I couldn’t bear to add anything else to that” She began to cry once more, she didn’t have the energy to hold back the tears.
“But you carried all that alone’ said Spencer “For months and months and you would have kept it forever?”
“I deserve it,” sobbed Grace ‘It was my fault”
“I didn’t take care of myself…I was stupid. If I hadn’t gone out that day we would have him now. He would have been here for Christmas but I did that. I killed him.”
No, she didn’t, he thought. Grace was only in that state because of his recklessness and selfishness. If he had told her the truth about his trips, if he had followed bureau protocol, if he hadn’t tried to solve everything on his own then he wouldn’t have been arrested, Grace would have been alone and then…
Hayden had told them about Spencer. Grace didn’t resent that, mostly because she was too exhausted to and at least it gave them a better understanding she supposed.
“You’re clearly under tremendous strain,” said Dr Carrington “You’re dehydrated and it’s clear you haven’t been eating or sleeping properly. It makes sense that you wouldn’t know that you were pregnant”
“It’s no excuse,” said Grace. Hayden leaned forward and took her hand.
“You can’t punish yourself like that Grace,” she said “Things like this are more common than you think. It isn’t your fault”
“She’s right Ms Owens,” said Dr Carrington “I’d like you to speak to my colleague Dr Morton, she’s an expert in maternal mental health”
“I don’t want anyone psychoanalysing me or judging me” said Grace “I have a son to take care of. We’re working at getting Spencer out, I can’t jeopardise that” If they took Isaac away because they thought she couldn’t cope Grace wasn’t sure she would make it.
“That’s not what would happen,” said Dr Carrington “We need to work out the best way to support you. You’re a strong woman and you are clearly a caring and competent mother and no one doubts that”
Grace relaxed slightly but she was still on edge. They moved on to a discussion about diet, sleep and working out a routine. They suggested calling Sam so she could take a little bit more time off of work and Hayden was going to set Rossi to work making some hearty Italian meals.
“Please don’t tell him,” begged Grace “He’ll tell they team and they’ll want to tell Spencer and I can’t, not right now”
Hayden hesitated. Dr Carrington’s face remained blank and Hayden couldn’t withstand the pleading look from Grace.
“Okay but you can’t keep doing this alone okay? I want to see you and Isaac round ours at least once a week”
“Okay, I can do that,” said Grace. She gave Hayden’s hand a little squeeze and her heart lifted slight as the other woman gave her a small, hopeful smile.
“You said he” said Spencer, softly “It was boy?” We had a son?
“I…they couldn’t tell” Grace sat back down. Her limbs felt like lead and her head was pounding “But I…it helps me, I think. To think of him that way. Maybe it’s not healthy, I don’t know”
Make a choice. I’m choosing to hope for the best. I’m not naïve, I know that any number of terrible things could happen to us but I think all the good that comes from us being together outweighs that so I’m choosing to fight for this.
Spencer settled down next to her hesitantly.
“Did you name him?”
“Joshua. I wanted to give him a family name and I didn’t think you’d want to name him after your father. I wanted him to feel like he’s part of us. God that sounds so stupid.”
“No” said Spencer firmly. He cupped her cheek, tilting Grace’s face up to stare directly into her eyes. “That’s not stupid Grace, it’s beautiful. It’s a good name, it’s perfect. Joshua Reid-Owens. Our son”
He was choosing to stay, to try and take all the bad things that had happened to them as a family and turn it into something hopeful. He was choosing to forgive and love and cherish and protect. Spencer pulled Grace close so she buried her face in his neck, muffling the loud sobs that were shaking her whole body.
“I’ve got you,” he whispered, stroking her hair softly. His mind went back to the day she visited him in prison. It must have been after the miscarriage, when she was still hurt and recovering. He wanted to kick himself for not seeing it.
They stayed that way for hours, crying and holding each other until they were both too drained to move.
“Thank you for telling me” Spencer whispered “I know this was hard for you. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that alone”
“I was sure you’d hate me when you found out” said Grace.
“I could never hate you”
“It was my fault”
“It was mine”
They looked at each other for a moment, neither was quite sure what to say.
“It changes things” said Grace slowly “Things can’t ever go back to the way they were”
“We can make a new life,” said Spencer, a waver of hope in his voice
“It will be hard”
“Look at everything we’ve gone through already. All of it was hard. The question is: do you want this? Us? A family?”
There was a heavy pause.
“Me too” said Spencer “So we work at it. No more secrets, no more bottling things up. We get help, we move forward”
“Okay. Yes, we can do that, right?”
“Yeah we can,” said Spencer. He leaned down to brush her lips with the lightest of kisses. For the first time in a long time he felt hopeful.
Spencer carried Grace to their bed, sitting with her for a little while until she drifted deeper into sleep, her furrowed brow easing and the tears mostly dried. Then he crept to the study, making sure the door was closed and sank to the floor, knees drawn to his chest, his arms muffling his sobs.
Spencer had no idea how long he was there trying to get his head around the revelation that they had come so close to having a child, that he, like so many other things had been ripped away from them. When his tears eased he was left with a throbbing headache and a hollow feeling in his chest. Not for the first time in his life, Spencer wondered why everything had to be so fucking hard. Why couldn’t they have one thing go right for them? Just one thing, was that too much to ask?
There was a small whimper outside the door followed by some scratching. Rosie was on the other side looking forlorn, almost like she could sense the palpable sadness hanging over their house.
“Come on” mumbled Spencer as he scratched behind her ears “Back to bed” Rosie couldn’t be persuaded however, weaving in and out of Spencer legs and pawing at him.
“You miss Isaac huh? Don’t worry I’m bringing him home” That seemed to placate her as she skittered down the hall, parking herself outside Isaac’s bedroom door in anticipation of her young master’s return.
Spencer crept back to the bedroom where Grace was curled up in the foetal position. If he left now she would understand and that broke his heart. As Spencer settled down on the bed next to her he thought about his father, overwhelmed by everything that happened to the their little family who saw running away as the only option. He thought about Gideon who had done the same thing though it was only now that Spencer could feel the root of what had driven both men to flee their responsibilities. It was inadequacy or at least a perception of being inadequate. An inadequate father and an inadequate mentor though it had taken Spencer far longer to recognise the latter. Hating his father had been easy because of the pain his leaving had caused Diana and because of how much Spencer had struggled with being the parent, as she had gotten more and more sick. Hating Gideon had been harder because in the end the man hadn’t really had any obligation to him or the rest of team, and all of them had been affected by Gideon leaving. Only Spencer had been left wondering if it was his fault that Gideon left, if he hadn’t done enough to help him through Sarah’s death and the Frank Breitkopf case.
That was ridiculous of course and looking back it now that was obvious but at the time it felt to Spencer like he had let down that person who he owed all of his success to. Gideon had recommended he apply to join the FBI, he’d stepped in when the physical tests had been too difficult, he had nurtured his natural talents and pushed him to succeed so of course Spencer felt like he owed Gideon the world. But he didn’t, that isn’t how caring for another person works. With the benefit of hindsight and experience Spencer could see Gideon for the man he was: hardened, selfish, brilliant yes but completely lacking the emotional capacity to deal with the things he saw, and holding his team to an un-realistic standard. He wasn’t Jason Gideon. He wasn’t his father either. Spencer was a fighter, as unrealistic as that had once seemed. He was built to endure, to struggle on, and to keep going. So that’s what he was going to do.
He leaned down and pressed a feather light kiss to Grace’s temple. He would do it for them.
“I’m taking Isaac out to the park this Saturday. You could join us if you want?” Grace didn’t move from her position, her head resting on Spencer’s chest and their legs entangled. The room was warm and dark and Spencer couldn’t make out her features though her tone was casual.
A lock of her hair was curled around his fingers, the silkiness feeling like water. It was calming just to lay there, their breathing and heartbeats the only sounds.
“That would be really nice,” said Spencer.
Grace shifted and Spencer could feel her hovering over him, her breathy laugh sending shiver down his spine. His hands reached up to cradle her face as she moved closer to him. He was acutely aware of every point of skin-to-skin contact. Grace was cool and soft against him and Spencer was loath to fall asleep and bring the morning, and their inevitable parting, closer. Their lips touched, softly at first, and gradually firmer and deeper, eliciting soft moans and contented sighs. This felt safe and right.
A trilling broke through the quiet causing Grace to start in surprise, the kiss broken. Spencer groaned at the familiar sound.
“It’s work” Grace rolled onto her side as Spencer scrambled in the dark for his phone.
“Penelope?” Spencer frowned. Penelope’s voice was hoarse, like she’d been crying, “What’s wrong?”
“Something…. oh my god Spencer…something awful has happened. I…Hotch is already there with Rossi and I…Derek and I are leaving now but you need to get there…I…oh god”
“Penelope calm down. Take a deep breath and tell me what’s wrong,” said Spencer. His heart was hammering and he didn’t know why. Grace had pushed herself up into a sitting position, her hand on his back. It was the only part of his body that wasn’t covered in goose bumps in that moment and it kept him connected to that room, that feeling of safety and warmth that Spencer instinctively knew was about to be yanked away.
“It’s Gideon” Penelope sobbed and before she finished the sentence he knew “He’s dead Spencer”
“You look terrible,” said Rossi upon opening the door.
“Thanks” said Spencer “How’s Isaac?”
“I think Joy and Kai managed to distract him for the day” Rossi said, stepping aside. Outside the January air was crisp and biting but the Rossi mansion was warm and homely. Hayden had the two boys curled up against her on the couch, Joy sitting on the arm. Isaac shifted a little, fast asleep. He looked so peaceful, so unlike a boy who had probably gotten the shock of his life earlier that day. Grace had been emphatic about not telling him about the baby but they were going to have to tell him something, the question was what.
“Is Grace okay?”
“I…yes” he said eventually, “She’s going to be fine”
Spencer followed Rossi into the kitchen where, to his surprise, Luke was sitting morosely at the table, nursing a beer that didn’t look to be his first.
“While Isaac kept Joy and Kai company, Luke and I have been…hanging out,” said Rossi. Spencer wondered at what point Rossi had taken upon it himself to turn his home into a haven for the waifs and strays of the BAU or if that had even been a conscious decision.
“He means he’s been talking me down about that…thing with Penelope at the New Years Eve party” There was a slight slur to Luke’s voice. Looking at Rossi in what he hoped was tempered desperation; Spencer struggled for something to say.
“You can stay the night if you want” Rossi told Luke, giving him a pat on the shoulder. The younger man nodded morosely.
“How are things with you Reid?”
Ignoring the relief he felt that Rossi had seemingly kept Grace’s fall to himself, Spencer shrugged.
“Same old, same old” he said, earning a raised eyebrow from Rossi that he pointedly ignored “I don’t want to seem rude but I should probably get Isaac home” Luke waved him off.
“No, no. That’s not rude. Take him home to that beautiful girl of yours. You guys are so great together you know?”
“I know,” said Spencer with a genuine smile “Don’t worry about the Penelope thing okay. Just talk to her”
“That’s what I’ve been telling him,” sighed Rossi as they headed back out “He’s so stubborn though”
“So is Penelope,” said Spencer
Rossi opened his mouth to speak but Hayden cut in, carrying Isaac and handing him over to Spencer.
“He’s a little shaken” she warned “But I think he’s going to be okay”
“Thank you so much. Not just for this but…for everything you’ve done for them”
“I’m so sorry” she said, simply.
“It’s going to be okay” Isaac shifted in Spencer’s arms. There was a frown on his little face for a moment before he settled back to sleep. “It’s all going to be okay now”
Hayden didn’t look like she quite believed that but she said nothing. A few more pleasantries were exchanged about Joy and Kai returning to California, an offer of dinner was made and then Spencer carried Isaac out to the car, Rossi at his heels.
“I don’t know what’s going on, Hayden won’t tell me, but if you two need anything at all you let me know okay kid?”
“I will” promised Spencer “I meant it when I said everything was going to be okay”
Grace was at the door, expression blank and hugging herself. The weight of every ignored text message since he had gone to Gideon’s cabin came crashing down on Spencer’s head. Over a week and he hadn’t called her or texted her to say he was okay.
Without a word she reached out and wiped away the tears on his cheeks with the pad of her thumb and brushed back the stray strand of hair that had fallen in front of his eyes. Then she waited, still and calm before Spencer stepped aside to allow her in. It was better than when Maeve had died but grief still hung heavily in the air. The coffee table and desk were piled high with chess books and three boards were dotted around the room with different games going on. Suddenly, Spencer felt incredibly self-conscious and he couldn’t lift his gaze above her shoes.
“I was worried about you” Grace said softly and it hurt all the much more for the lack of judgement in her voice.
“I…I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to worry you I just…”
Spencer sank down on the sofa.
“I don’t deal with things like this well,” he explained, finally making eye contact.
“Losing the man who was like a father to you, you mean?” Grace settled on the arm of the sofa “Spencer, no one deals well with that and they shouldn’t”
“I hadn’t spoken to him in nearly ten years” said Spencer “He wrote that letter and just…left and I never got to ask him about it. I hate having this great, unresolved thing hanging over me. I want to know why he left? Why he wrote to me and no one else? Was I supposed to be touched by that? Because I wasn’t Grace, I really wasn’t. It hurt. It hurt that he put all of that on me and no one else. It was too much and the others needed to hear from them to and I know that they looked at me and figured ‘Spencer must know why, he got the letter’ but the thing is I don’t know why. He was selfish and I’m so mad at him and I’m never going to have the chance to not be mad at him because I’ll never speak to him again because he’s dead. How do I deal with that? I can’t hate him because he died and I can’t forgive him either so I’m just stuck and confused and I feel like my heart is breaking and…”
His hands were balled into fists, teeth grinding and hot tears spilling down his face again. Spencer felt stupid and weak, it was embarrassing not only to lose control like that but to have someone witness it. A cool hand cradled his face, tilting him towards Grace. She didn’t speak, just pressed her lips gently to the tears, kissing them away, fingers tips brushing his skin in a soft, gentle rhythm until his breathing returned to normal and the hot anger had cooled a little. The embarrassment also subsided as Grace’s fingers threaded through his hair and he pulled her gently off the arm of the sofa and onto his lap.
They were quiet for a long time but it didn’t feel heavy or strained. The weight of Grace on him and their shared heat was comforting and natural. Spencer found himself nuzzled into the crook of her neck, running his finger along her jawline, comforted by the rise and fall of her chest against him.
“Can you stay?” he whispered eventually
“Isaac is with a sitter and I have a late start tomorrow” said Grace “I can stay all night if you need”
“I don’t mean-“
“You need to sleep,” said Grace and the sternness in her voice made Spencer smile “Have you been playing chess all night without a break?” he glanced up at her.
“No” he said “I’ve also been reading about chess all night when I’m not playing”
Grace kissed him chastely and the look she gave him was so tender that Spencer felt a flash of something, not quite fear but more like shame, unworthiness.
“I’m making tea” Grace declared “I’m sure you can list off a dozen reasons why sleep is important emotionally and psychologically so I’m not going to lecture you”
“Can we stay like this a little bit first?” Spencer pleaded, tightening his embrace “I just…this is nice”
“Anything you need,” promised Grace.
The house was still and silent when Spencer returned. He crept up the stairs as quietly as possible and lay Isaac down gently. Rosie had darted into the room and plonked herself firmly at the foot of the bed. At least she’d stay on the floor and Isaac could use a familiar presence after the turmoil of the day.
“Don’t get used to this” Spencer mouthed. He was halfway out the door when the little boy stirred.
“Is my Mom okay?”
Spencer paused. How the hell was he supposed to answer that? He sat down on the edge of the bed. Isaac wrapped his arms around himself, a look of fear painted on his features.
“She will be” said Spencer, finally “I know that must have been really scary for you” Isaac shrugged.
“Are you going away again?”
“What? No, of course not?”
“That lady isn’t coming back? The nurse?”
“You mean Carol? Who looked after my Mom?” asked Spencer “Did she come here when I was away?”
“No we went to see Diana,” said Isaac “Carol said she was sleeping and she was covering because Cassie was sick. Mom said we’d come back later but then…”
But then they had been picked up by the FBI, told Diana had been kidnapped and he was sitting down with the woman who framed him, and then shoved in an FBI safe house with no idea of when they could go home.
“Mom was sick then too” said Isaac miserably. His lip began to quiver and fat teardrops rolled down his cheeks.
“Hey” said Spencer “Hey it’s okay. I promise that nothing like that is ever going to happen again okay? No one is ever gonna hurt me, your mom or you. Not when I’m around to stop it”
“But you were here before” sobbed Isaac “It didn’t matter”
Spencer had no idea how to respond to that so instead he pulled the little boy into a hug until the tears subsided, his brain scrambling for something to magically make him feel better.
“That woman, and her partner, are both going to be locked up forever” said Spencer, firmly “They are watched night and day to make sure they don’t try anything. The FBI knows now what they tried to do to me so they’re extra careful. I am so sorry that you and your Mom were scared and that I wasn’t here to protect you but the thing about going through terrible things is that after they’re over you’re a little bit stronger okay? We’re all a little bit stronger. You were so brave taking care of your Mom and your Mom is really brave for taking care of me.”
“So what we’re going to do now is take all that extra strength we’ve built up and we’re going to use it to take care of each other and to keep going. Because the best way we can defeat the people who tried to hurt us is to be happy and healthy and live life better than before okay. Because they wanted us to be scared and to hurt but because we love each other and we’re all together now they lost. We won. You understand?”
The little boy nodded. Spencer could see that he did get it, in his childlike way. He knew from experience that telling someone, even a child, or especially a child, not to worry was like telling the sun not to shine or the wind not to blow.
“I love you and I’ve got a surprise for tomorrow” said Spencer as Isaac settled back down.
“A nice surprise?”
“A really nice surprise”
If the team thought it was odd that Spencer invited Grace to Gideon’s funeral then none of them said anything. Perhaps they all understood the importance of needing comfort at a time like this. The team sat together at the front of the service with Stephen, Gideon’s son. Behind them was a number of FBI officials, retired agents, and some academic types. Grace was at the back with Savannah, Sam, and Will. They had arrived later than the others so Grace has slipped in at the end; given Spencer’s hand a reassuring squeeze before he had hurried to the front to sit next to Rossi.
“Is that Agent Owens?”
“…Yeah. I just…she’s here for support”
Rossi smiled, glancing back at Grace who seemed to be greeting Will. He was about to say something when another figure hurried down the aisle, under the disapproving gaze of the preacher before half falling down next to Spencer.
“My taxi got stuck in traffic,” Emily whispered, pulling Spencer into a one-armed hug “Gideon would not approve”
“Probably not” said Spencer, thickly, “I’m so glad you’re here”
“We all are” said Rossi.
The service was short and bizarrely impersonal. Rossi got up to speak, so did Agent Cruz, the deputy director and finally Stephen. Rossi told the story of Gideon racing a kid down a snowy mountain after a case; about the hours they spent setting up the BAU, and about Gideon’s love of birds. Cruz and the deputy director waxed lyrical about Gideon’s years of service and his devotion to justice, truth, and developing the discipline of behavioural analysis. Stephen thanked everyone for coming and then promptly sat down again. Spencer found himself studying the young man throughout the whole service. In many ways they were similar, in many more different and their experiences with Gideon were complex, toxic in some ways but undoubtedly formative. They had both, for better or worse, been shaped by Gideon.
Spencer tried to make his way over when the ceremony was finished, though he had no idea what to say to Stephen or even what he wanted to hear from him. The crowds surged though and the other man was lost, leaving Spencer staring across the cemetery uselessly.
“I know it’s wrong to speak ill of the dead,” said Emily “But it must have been some experience having Jason Gideon as his father”
“I know,” she said, resting a hand on his shoulder “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you”
“Not just me” it came out harsher than Spencer intended “I’m not the only one who lost him”
Emily’s hand dropped from his shoulder and Spencer sagged a little.
“I’m sorry Emily”
“Don’t be. We all grieve in different ways. Let’s go back to the team. Maybe you can tell me why you brought Grace Owens today?”
“You know her?”
It made sense since they were both Interpol; it wasn’t unreasonable their paths would have crossed. Still it was odd to think of two such influential women in wildly different aspects of his life knowing each other.
“I know of her” Emily looked over to where Grace was standing a little awkwardly next to Sam. Savannah and Will had re-joined the team but the pair of them had remained separate. There was a funny feeling in the pit of Spencer’s stomach when he noticed that. “She has an impressive reputation at Interpol which isn’t surprising”
“When you’re shot by a corrupt cop during a sting operation but you mange to survive people tend to notice”
“You didn’t know? Well I guess that doesn’t come up on dates. You are dating right? You totally are! Spencer that’s great”
“I haven’t actually told the team though I guess it’s obvious now. It’s only been about four months” He knew four months was a big deal, especially for him but he didn’t want it to be a big deal for anyone else. If anyone would get it Emily would.
“It says a lot that you asked her to be here,” said Emily “She must make you happy”
“She does” Spencer smiled “So happy. I like to think I make her happy too”
As if on cue Grace seemed to register she was being watched and went she locked eyes on Spencer her face lit up.
“I get that impression,” grinned Emily.
When Grace stirred the first thing she was aware of was the empty space beside her in the bed. It felt like she’s been hit by a car and for a moment she couldn’t process Spencer’s absence or the crack of cold, morning light splayed across the floor. Then her heart began to hammer. Sure that he was gone, she hurried down stairs, only to find Spencer and Isaac at the kitchen table, the countertops smeared with pancake batter and squashed blueberries. Rosie was weaving in and out of their legs, greedily licking up any spare splashes of food despite Spencer’s protests.
“Mommy!” Isaac careered into her arms, wrapping his limbs around her like a monkey “Are you feeling better?”
“I am liefling,” she said, kissing the top of his head. Her voice was still a little raw and she was groggy from sleep. With shock she noticed the clock was reading 11.30am.
“Spencer called up my school and told them we were all sick,” said Isaac in awe.
“I also rang Sam and Emily and told them the same thing,” said Spencer with a small smile “I figured we all needed to take a day”
Grace set Isaac back down and followed him to the table where there were fruit, pancakes, and breakfast pastries waiting, along with a large pot of coffee. Spencer pressed a small kiss to her cheek as he filled her mug up and Isaac enthusiastically piled her plate high with food. Even Rosie came and rested her head on Grace’s knee, tail wagging happily.
“It’s a self care day” Isaac explained excitedly “We’re taking care of ourselves”
“Are we? What does that involve aside from pancakes?”
“And movies and cuddling on the sofa!”
Grace glanced at Spencer who was watching her carefully. Was he nervous? Or afraid?
“That sounds lovely” she said in what she hoped was an earnest way. If the past twenty-four hours had told her anything it was that she couldn’t fathom their lives with out him and what’s more she didn’t want to.
The tension left his body and the rest of their meal was eaten in a pleasant silence. Everything was quickly cleared up and after showers the three of them up on the sofa, wrapped in a quilt. Isaac sat on Grace’s lap while she leaned against Spencer. Rosie curled up in her basket in the corner, snoring away softly a few moments later.
“Is this okay?” he asked softly as he wrapped his arm around her. It broke her heart a little that he thought he had to ask but there was an uncertainty between them now, like a raw wound had been dressed but the pain still lingered. They had to be delicate with each other for a little while still.
“More than okay” said Grace, settling back into his embrace.
“No kissing,” warned Isaac. Grace raised an eyebrow and pressed a wet kiss to his cheek causing him to squeal and Spencer to burst out laughing. “Yuk!”
The normality of it all was strangely comforting. Isaac settled down quickly, the movie was an old favourite and Grace in particular found her mind drifting back and forth between that day in the hospital and the previous night. Every decision she had made and every time she had concealed the truth she had done so out of fear for her family’s wellbeing. Spencer had been traumatised after his release from prison and Isaac, always a sensitive child, had been exposed to things that had forced him to mature far faster than someone his age should. Yet keeping secrets had still hurt them both and Grace knew she should have realised that was the case. Spencer’s secrets had gotten him arrested. Deep down Grace had been afraid of so many things. If she was completely honest she was still afraid.
Grace Owens of the ICC wouldn’t have been afraid. Grace Owens who was shot in the head while on special assignment wouldn’t have been afraid. Grace Owens who was dragged from country to country as a child and as a teenager wouldn’t have been afraid.
“What now?” Isaac asked, stirring Grace from her thoughts. The credits were rolling already.
“Get dressed” Spencer said, “We’re going out”
“It’s a surprise. Go go go!”
Isaac charged off leaving Grace dazed on the sofa.
“Where are you?” asked Spencer softly.
“I’m not sure. I just feel…I don’t know. Not myself?”
It sounded stupid when she said it like that. If there were any tears left to shed she would be crying now but none came. Grace was hollow, dry inside.
Hesitantly, Spencer brushed a stray strand of hair out of her eyes, starting a little at the warmth of her skin. Usually she was cooler to touch than he was.
“Before you got up I was researching couple and family therapists” said Spencer “I think we should talk to someone together”
“But there are people at the Bureau and at Interpol-“
“I know,” said Spencer “But I think it might help us talk more”
Grace said nothing; there was no argument she could think of to counter that.
“I don’t want to feel this way anymore” she said. Spencer kissed Grace’s forehead.
“Neither do I and one day we won’t. We just have to get there”
Whatever feelings Grace had about Jason Gideon she pushed them right down as she watched his funeral unfold from the back row. Her heart ached for Spencer. Despite all of Grace’s issues with her own father, she at least understood their relationship. Spencer was grieving someone who varied between father and teacher and boss and whose encouragement, affection and instruction had changed accordingly. Grace got the impression that Spencer was not the only one in turmoil though he may have been the least adept at hiding it. She heard Will whisper to Savannah that he wasn’t even sure why they were there and though Savannah’s response was lost to the preacher’s words, Grace at least picked up an agreeing tone.
The words about Gideon’s life and work meant very little to her so instead Grace focused on the movements of those around her. Hotch had his arm around Penelope, the only member of the team Grace hadn’t set eyes on when they worked together. The stoic man was rubbing her shaking shoulders gently, keeping her well supplied with tissues. On her other side sat JJ, head tilted to one side. Every so often she would turn and whisper something to the other woman and perhaps share a concerned look with Hotch. Once or twice Grace noticed them looking over at Spencer in concern but he just remained with his eyes firmly fixed to the front apart from the brief moment he and Rossi had turned round to look at Grace. She wondered if that would be an awkward topic of conversation later and squirmed in her seat at the thought of facing Spencer’s team on a day when they were grappling with confusing feelings about their dead co-worker.
“It’s intense but they’re all nice people,” said Sam as the service ended. Grace was busy scanning the crowd for Spencer.
“I…yes” she said uselessly. Sam gave her a reassuring smile before heading towards the cars. Will and Savannah had long since joined the team leaving Grace feeling exposed and out of place.
It was an oddly beautiful day, she thought. The trees were still bare but the air was crisp and the sky was cloudless. It seemed appropriately sparse for a man who had been so distant to those who cared about him. They could imprint whatever they wanted on both the day and his memory.
“Hey” Spencer emerged from the crowd.
“How are you holding up?” asked Grace, taking his hand, her thumb brushing against his knuckles. Spencer gave a small shrug, smiling tiredly.
“I’m okay,” he said, squeezing her hand “Thank you for coming”
“Of course” said Grace. If her mouth would permit it she may have added ‘anything for you’ but it was far too saccharine a sentiment to feel honest on her tongue. Despite that she hoped Spencer knew how she felt. He was a profiler after all.
As the three of them approached the planetarium Isaac’s eyes lit up.
“Yep” grinned Spencer “Then after we’re getting pizza and ice cream” The entire way round Isaac talked non-stop about the exhibits and asked dozens and dozens of questions. The tour guide, a physics student named Maya, cooed over him, answering all his questions and even taking a small piece of asteroid out of a display case for them to see up close.
“He’s so adorable” Maya gushed to Grace as Spencer hoisted him on his shoulders for a better look at some hanging models of the ISS “It’s so great to see kids interested in science”
“A lot of it is my partner’s influence,” said Grace with a smile “Birds of a feather”
“My Dad got me interested in space too” said Maya “I was lucky like that”
Luck. Grace mused on that as she watched the pair of them examining the model. It was luck that she had ended up going to that talk all those years ago and luck that she had been put on the case they worked with the BAU. It was luck that they had both found themselves at the point in their lives when they decided to take a risk on a relationship. Of all the billions of people on earth, this was the man she found and fell in love with. What was that if it wasn’t luck?
“There’s a show starting in ten minutes in our cinema,” said Maya brightly as Spencer and Isaac made their way back over “It’s a new one about black holes and supernova. It’s way cool”
Isaac was already running ahead, leaving Spencer and Grace to thank Maya sheepishly before following him. Grace slipped her hand into Spencer’s, giving it a reassuring squeeze.
“I’ll go to therapy with you” she said quietly.
“Really? That’s great Grace…I really want to make this work. The idea of not being with you two is unbearable” Spencer stopped and Grace slipped her arms around his waist, wanting to be as close as possible.
“I feel the same and I know I should have told you about…Joshua” saying his name out loud still felt alien to Grace and that broke her heart even more.
“You have nothing to feel guilty over,” said Spencer “We were both going through something unimaginably hard. Punishing each other and ourselves isn’t going to help either of us. I…if it’s not too painful though…I think I’d like to talk about him. From time to time I mean. If that’s okay?”
Grace bit her lip.
“I can try,” she whispered. He belonged to both them, she reasoned and if she was honest her grief had been something of a comfort blanket when she had struggled to reach Spencer.
For a moment they stood there, foreheads pressed together, on the threshold of something new and hopefully better, before heading inside.
“Can I introduce you to someone?” asked Spencer “I mean she knows you already but I’m not sure if-“
“Agent Emily Prentiss” Grace’s eyes widened as the woman herself appeared beside them, as if summoned.
“You do know her then?”
Emily looked embarrassed, holding out her hand for Grace to shake, which she did. They made their way out of the cemetery, trailing a way behind the rest of the team.
“I…have followed your work yes” said Grace “I mean, who hasn’t? Faking your death and bringing down a notorious arms dealer twice will put you on most people’s radar. That case was…astounding. The London Office has completely turned around since you took charge too.”
“Are you famous in Interpol Emily?” Spencer asked
“Oh god” said Emily “No”
“A little” countered Grace.
“You have an impressive resume yourself,” grinned Emily “Part of the ICC’s investigating teams in Libya and Côte d'Ivoire before joining Interpol. You’ve done some amazing work. The Veretsova investigation was triumph”
Spencer wasn’t sure he had seen Grace blush so fiercely before as they caught up with the team.
“I think we should all head back to mine” declared Rossi “A drink in Gideon’s honour” There was murmur of agreement and they all clambered into their cars.
“I can catch the Metro home” said Grace softly “Go be with them”
“You aren’t coming?” Spencer’s face fell. Truth be told Grace had assumed that the invitation didn’t extend to her.
“I don’t want to intrude” Grace bit her lip
“You aren’t” said Emily, firmly “If you’re with Spencer you’re with us”
Emily gave her a pat on the arm before climbing into Penelope’s car.
“I understand if it’s too much,” said Spencer softly “But…I want them to know that this is a proper relationship”
That must be what people meant when they talked about butterflies in the stomach, Grace thought as she gazed up at the man she may very well be in love with.
“I would like that too”
Sprawled across the back seat, Isaac was out like a light, a smear of ice cream still on his cheek.
“I think today really helped him,” Grace whispered as they pulled into the driveway “Yesterday...he was terrified Spencer. God, I did that to him”
“No you didn’t” said Spencer firmly “Everything you’ve done was to protect him and I think he understands that even if he doesn’t understand the rest of it”
Grace didn’t know how to respond to that. She carried Isaac in doors and up to bed, pressing a kiss to his forehead.
Grace hovered on the landing as Spencer made his way up the stairs. For the first time that day he looked unsure. Tentatively he held his arms out for Grace to step into. It was a tighter embrace than usual, almost like he wanted to stop her from leaving.
“Everything feels different” Grace mumbled “And…I hate that Spencer. I feel so out of control and vulnerable”
“I know” he sighed. No you don’t, Grace wanted to shout back, you have no idea how I feel. It’s not the same as what happened to you. It wouldn’t come though, either because she was too tired or because she couldn’t bear to drive another wedge between them. There was a sneaking suspicion at the back of Grace’s mind that at some point in the heat of some argument Spencer would bring out the fact that Grace had kept the miscarriage from him, use it at the point when it would do the most damage. One constant despite the prison ordeal was that passive-aggression was still Spencer’s preferred method of dealing with situations he felt uncomfortable but that only worked for so long until it all burst forth.
Further at the back of Grace’s mind was the fear that when that finally happened there would be no coming back from it.
“I think I need to go to bed” Grace mumbled.
“You coming or are you going to sit up for a bit?” she asked.
An odd expression crossed Spencer’s face.
“I…wasn’t sure if you needed space or…”
“What? No. I’m not kicking you out of our bed” said Grace “Unless…would it be uncomfortable for you to sleep together after…”
“No” said Spencer firmly “It wouldn’t”
He kissed her on the forehead, holding her against him still for a few moments.
“I do love you, you know?”
“I know” Grace whispered back “I love you too”
Grace watched Spencer in deep conversation with JJ and Garcia on the other side of Rossi’s patio. The technical analyst was still clearly distressed and Grace watched as Spencer held her hand in both of his, talking soothingly to her. She was too far away to hear what he was saying but she knew the exact tone of voice he was using. It would be thick with emotion, soft and quiet and wavering from the feelings he would be trying to hold back. Grace couldn’t help but smile.
“He’s always been protector” said Emily, handing her a glass of wine “It’s not obvious when you first meet him but it’s there”
“Like a vein of copper running through the earth” said Grace “He keeps it hidden but if you can tap into it…”
“Exactly, though it sounds exploitative to put it that way now I think about it” Grace paused “I’m not good with words”
“I feel you there” said Emily “But I’m sure Spencer more than makes up for that”
“I become strangely articulate when he’s around. A veritable poet”
“You certainly seem to have an effect on him” said Emily “I think things would be very different if you weren’t here”
“He has the team”
“But that’s not the same” said Emily “He’s the most content I’ve seen him in a long time”
Grace blinked, looking back over at Spencer. Garcia was resting her head on his shoulder now.
“It’s nice to see him so happy” continued Emily and there was something in her voice that took a minute to place “I think, after all he’s been through it’s important to the team that Spencer has someone who cares about him, who values him for who he is”
“Oh!” said Grace, eyes widening “This is that talk?” The ‘if you hurt him I’ll make you pay talk’?” Smiling probably wasn’t the appropriate response to that.
“Um…kind of” Emily wavered “I mean, yeah okay. It is that talk. Don’t you dare hurt Spencer or you’ll be sorry”
“I’d rather die,” said Grace “Honestly it’s says a lot that his friends feel we’ve reached that point” Plus being threatened by the Emily Prentiss was…an experience.
“No offense Grace but you’re kind of weird” laughed Emily “I think you and Spencer are going to be just fine”
“I hope so” smiled Grace. She looked over at him again. She wanted to say, “This is it. This is what I want for the rest of my life” but the words wouldn’t quite come.
Apologies for the delay. Hopefully the next chapter will be quicker!
All the discomfort Grace was feeling in that moment was only offset by the sense that Spencer was feeling exactly the same way. There was a small, resentful part of her that wanted to say “I told you so” as Spencer squirmed under Dr Terrence’s soft but unblinking gaze.
Reluctantly, Grace had gone through the list of therapists Spencer had found and together they had dismissed those they felt couldn’t understand their specific circumstances. PTSD, family history of mental illness, past traumas, sexuality would all come up and be exposed like raw nerves. They also needed someone Isaac would feel comfortable with and so they had settled on Dr Emmanuelle Terrence. After a short, efficient phone call they had settled on two sessions a week, one with all three of them and one like today where it was just Spencer and Grace.
The subject of their current conversation was Diana. Spencer answered all of Dr Terrence’s questions flatly, eyes focused on the patterned carpet as Grace sat by his side, hands pressed together between her knees. As Spencer had explained about the progression of Diana’s illness Grace had been fighting the urge to reach out and touch him, place a reassuring hand on his arm or shoulder. There was the possibility that he would feel like that made him look weak though and they were still in the early stages of this process. It was their fourth solo session. After the ones with Isaac he wasn’t too bad. The three of them came out feeling drained but they went home, collapsed in a heap on the sofa, and watched a movie with snacks, making sure the hugs before bedtime were extra tight. Grace knew it was for Isaac’s benefit, when they drove home after their first solo appointment Spencer was quiet, withdrawn and they had barely spoken to each other before climbing into bed with a sizeable space between them. The last thing Grace wanted was to lose touch with him completely so she kept her hands to herself.
“Grace do you have anything to add?” Dr Terrence asked. The question took her by surprise.
“I…no” she mumbled, “Spencer knows all the details about his mother’s condition. Far more than me”
Spencer shifted next to her and an awkward silence hung in the air.
The awkward silence stretched out. There was heavy feeling in Grace’s chest and all she wanted to do was leave and never come back. Dr Terrence shuffled the papers on her lap.
“You’re reluctant to talk about your mother aren’t you Spencer?”
“No, never…It’s just…I guess I didn’t think she would be a focus here” Spencer bit his lip “I thought we’d be talking about Joshua”
Grace looked away.
“Have you spoken about him much outside of sessions?”
“No” Was that resentment in his voice?
“I…I am trying”
“I know” murmured Spencer “I know it’s hard but…”
“There was so much more going on” Grace’s eyes began to prickle “And for the longest time…I had a way of dealing with it on my own and...”
“You don’t want to share that with me? To share him with me?”
“No it’s not that” Grace sniffed “I just don’t know how. He is so clear in my head, so…real. Except that he isn’t because he never got a chance to be that way. If I had found out I was pregnant, if things had been different…”
“Then what?” asked Spencer. He twisted to face Grace who still couldn’t bring herself to look at him.
In her view it seemed like Spencer had swapped one prison cell for another except she, Isaac and Diana were locked up too. As soon as the thought blossomed in her head she regretted it. Here he was safe, here he had his family around him. If they still counted as family.
Grace rubbed her eyes. Her head felt like it was full of grit. Despite being pretty sure it was morning now, the lack of windows in the FBI safe house meant that they were enveloped in a perpetual, stagnating darkness. How long had it been since Spencer and Diana arrived? Diana was still asleep, Spencer had checked on her a couple of times and after more tears Grace had gotten Isaac settled though he wouldn’t let her leave until he had fallen asleep. She hovered outside the door for an hour afterwards, the prospect of leaving him too much.
“How is he?” The sound of Spencer’s voice made her jump despite the words coming out in a hoarse whisper.
“Tired” said Grace, we all are “How is your mother?”
“Confused. Terrified. Exhausted. I’m not sure how much she comprehends about what happened to her at any given moment”
Perhaps that was a blessing, though Grace didn’t dare voice that thought.
“She’ll heal from this” Grace looked away “We all will” Spencer reached out, catching a stray strand of hair between his fingertips but just as quickly he pulled back. The silence was heavy and awkward between them.
“You should sleep”
“Probably” nodded Grace “I don’t think I can though. Anyway it must be morning already, someone from the Bureau should be coming by right?” Grace wasn’t sure how much linger she could stay in this place.
As if summoned, they heard the heavy door downstairs opening and hushed voices.
“Please say we can go home” Grace breathed, heading down. Spencer paused for a moment and then hurried after her. In place of the expected JJ or Emily stood another familiar face, a sight for sore eyes.
“There are a lot of ‘what ifs’” said Dr Terrence “The truth is you can’t know what would have happened if you had known about the pregnancy, if you had both made different choices. What you need to decide now is whether you can move past everything that has happened?”
“We have” Spencer insisted.
“Have you?” asked Dr Terrence “You are both fixated on what happened when you were in prison. Grace is dealing with her feelings over the miscarriage and from the separation. You are still dealing with the guilt over not letting her see you and I suspect other things that happened in prison too-”
In a swift movement Spencer was up and out of the door, leaving Grace and the other woman in stunned silence.
“Perhaps I overstepped” Dr Terrence said “This was never going to be an easy process for the pair of you. Have you spoken much about Spencer’s prison experience?”
“No” said Grace slowly “But…I know why he doesn’t want to talk about it”
More fucking secrets, Grace thought, except this time they weren’t hers and by rights she shouldn’t have known.
“Can I go get him?”
“Of course. We still have half a session left. Take as long as you need”
Without another word Grace headed out of the office. The receptionist nodded towards the door and Grace kept running, down the hall, down the stairs and into the street. Eventually she found Spencer around the corner, leaning against the wall and breathing heavily.
“Don’t be” said Grace, her hand half raised before falling limply to her side.
“I keep putting you through all this shit and you deserve so much better,” said Spencer “Maybe we should just-“
“Don’t. Please don’t,” said Grace “This wasn’t you. You didn’t choose to get framed for murder. All you did was survive the best way you knew how and I will never blame you for that”
“Grace you have no idea-“
Her hand came up to cradle his face, a look of fierce determination in her eyes
“Actually I do” she said thickly “I know exactly what happened. Both in prison and then afterwards with Cat Adams when you were interrogating her”
Any attempt to keep tears a bay was feeble on the part of all three of them. There were hugs, murmurs of gratitude that people were (finally) safe and healthy and here of all places. Then came the gentle admonishment about secret keeping and Grace took a step back, making coffee as the two old friends spoke quietly.
“I’m not going to ask why you didn’t tell me,” said Derek “I already know why. I’m just so glad you’re okay”
“How did you find out?”
“I’ve just come from Quantico. I got a weird text that seemed to be from Garcia and…anyway it doesn’t matter. They’re dealing with it”
“Is it Cat Adams again?”
Grace turned at the same moment that Spencer rose from his chair.
“Hey, hey, it’s fine. The team have got this. You’re only job now is to be with your family and eat these delicious, home made breakfast muffins”
Spencer sank down slowly as Grace passed round the mugs of coffee. A few months ago Spencer wouldn’t have let Derek’s words stop him, he would have been out of the door in a shot. The thought brought tears to her eyes, something that didn’t go unnoticed by Derek.
“I promise my baking skills aren’t that bad” he said, leaning over and giving her hand a squeeze “At least they’re better than Savannah’s…not that that’s saying much”
Grace couldn’t help but laugh and something lifted around them all, albeit fractionally.
“Aren’t that bad” was an understatement, the muffins were soft and sweet, filled with juicy blueberries and raspberries that almost melted on Grace’s tongue.
“Oh my god”
“Hey don’t sound so surprised pretty boy, I’m a man of many talents”
“Thank you” he said thickly “For all of this, for coming to see me”
“Anything for you guys” Derek’s smile was wide “And that counts double going forward. You need anything at all you call me okay?”
“Who told you?”
“Come back inside-“
“No” Spencer seized her hands, pushing them away roughly “I want to know who told you and when”
Grace backed away, frowning. Immediately Spencer let her hands go and for a moment the pair of them just stood there.
“A package arrived at the safe house while you were with the team looking for Scratch”
A million questions raced through Spencer’s mind and none of them would come out.
“It was a DVD recording of you interrogating Cat” Grace explained softly “I…watched it”
Spencer turned around, leaning against the wall.
“I needed a few of the gaps filled in but I know that you were threatened, I know that a friend of your died and I know that you poisoned the people who were going to hurt you”
“You also heard what…what Cat said about her baby?”
“Yes” Grace sobbed, “I heard that. I heard what she said Lindsey did in Mexico. What she said about Maeve”
“Then you saw what I did to her” When Spencer turned round his face was drained of all colour “Why are you still here?”
“Because I love you!” Grace rubbed her eyes “You’re infuriating but I love you. I don’t care what you did in prison and as awful as it makes me sound I don’t care what you did to Cat. If I had been there instead of JJ I wouldn’t have pulled you off her”
Spencer sagged against the wall. Tentatively, Grace took a step forward.
“I should have told you but I was afraid… just like I was afraid to tell you about Joshua”
“You were afraid?” Spencer looked up at her in confusion “What do you have to be afraid of? You had every right to leave after what I did. Why would you want me around you, around Isaac, after that?”
“You did it to survive. None of that changes how I feel about you, I was just so desperate to get you home and to have you be safe finally”
“I scared myself in there” said Spencer “I never thought I was capable of any of that. It made me feel…like I deserved to be in prison. Even though I didn’t kill anyone…now I feel capable of it and that disgusts me”
Without another word Grace pulled him close, partly because she had no way to answer that and partly because it seemed the best way to show him she wasn’t scared or repulsed by him.
“It’s probably selfish of me but all I cared about, all I still care about, is you being okay”
After an hour or so Isaac stumbled downstairs to join them and Spencer went to wake his mother. There was plenty of food to go around and they all sat, sometimes in silence and sometimes making quiet but safe conversation.
Diana was still groggy, no real idea of where she was and gripping Spencer’s hand for dear life. Sometimes, she would lay a hand on Grace’s arm too, never looking directly at her but giving her a small, reassuring squeeze.
Isaac sat between Derek and Spencer, eyes glued firmly to his plate and knees brought up to his chest. Spencer kept glancing down at him and it always looked like he was about to say something but the words would never come.
“I’m not sure how we can fix this”
Spencer took Diana back up to bed and Anderson was occupying Isaac with a video on his phone. Grace was speaking more to herself thnt Derek but he crossed the room and slung an arm around her shoulders. Finally the tears were free to fall, despite the fact that she wasn’t sure she had any left.
“I know it feels that way now” said Derek “But this is darkest point. Everything from here onwards is light okay?”
“We’re strangers” Grace sobbed, “We haven’t spoken properly since he got out”
“It’s a raw wound right now but I promise you, you will heal”
“Dr Terrence is right, we do need to make a choice about whether we want to move on,” sighed Grace. Spencer’s arms were wrapped tightly around her and there was a small wet patch on his shirt from her tears. Strangely though it was the lightest she had felt in a long time. “I think I’m a little scared by how much I care about you”
Spencer pressed a kiss to the top of her head.
“I understand, believe me” he half-whispered to her “If it’s too much I…I understand that too”
Grace looked up at him.
“I choose to leave it all behind” she said, shakily “I choose to move forward with you, no more secrets”
He kissed her fiercely.
“Okay! Okay, I can do that. I choose that too”
“Can we go back in?”
“Yeah we can and I will talk about prison as much as we need to and about my Mom and Joshua and anything else” he paused “Can you?”
“I can,” said Grace and she was a little surprised to find it was the truth.
“There is one thing I don’t understand though. Who dropped the DVD off at the safe house?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. Once I knew what it was I told Anderson and then he headed in to Quantico but I guess in all the confusion with Scratch it fell by the wayside. I went and saw Emily a little while later and she told me it was dealt with”
“She never said anything!”
“I think she felt it might hurt your re-instatement” said Grace softly “It was all done out of love”
“I know that but…” he would still have to talk to her about it when he saw Emily next.
“I’m so proud of you, you know?” said Grace as they headed back inside.
“You are so strong and resilient and you care so much” said Grace “If you were as similar to Cat as she wanted you to think, then you wouldn’t feel any remorse, you wouldn’t worry about me or Isaac”
“I guess so,” said Spencer, slowly.
“I know so” smiled Grace “You ready?”
They paused outside of Dr Terrence’s door and Spencer took a deep breath.
“Can we talk?” Spencer hovered in the doorway of Emily’s office “It’s really important”
“Not really. I’ve been meaning to ask you about this for a while but I didn’t know how” Spencer made sure the door was shut before sitting down “Grace told me about the DVD that was sent to the safe house”
Emily leaned back in her chair, hands spread in front of her as she considered her next words.
“No” said Spencer “I’m not, really. I think I get why you would keep that from me. I get why Grace didn’t say anything. You were both concerned for me and you were right. When I first got out things were…complicated. But I would like to know now”
“I can do that” Emily nodded “We wondered how Cat knew some of the things she used against you in your interrogation. Things Wilkins couldn’t have told her. We determined that she must have gotten the information from someone in the bureau”
“It wasn’t immediately obvious. Then Scratch’s ambush happened so we didn’t get a chance to look into it straight away. A few days afterwards Grace came to me with the DVD and I figured it had be the same person who gave Cat your confidential bureau file”
Spencer looked at her expectantly.
“C’mon Emily, you must have gotten a name”
“I went to Cruz and he told us in no uncertain terms that no-one on the team could look into it”
“Considering everything you and the team had gone through…” Emily held up her hands “Anderson looked into it”
It came out more incredulously than Spencer intended. It wasn’t that Anderson was a bad agent or anything. He was just…Anderson.
“Within six weeks he had found the mole though” said Emily “He went through prison logs, emails, phone records, and was able to tie Cat to an Agent Mary Meadows in ViCAP”
“Who?” the name meant absolutely nothing to Spencer
Emily rummaged in her drawer for her tablet and showed Spencer a photo. He frowned.
“She looks…I don’t know…kind of familiar. Maybe I’ve seen her round the building? I-“
“You’ve seen her somewhere else,” said Emily “We both have. She was one of the cult members at Benjamin Cyrus’ Liberty Ranch
If Spencer was inclined he could probably work out exactly how many days it had been since they had met, how much time had been given over to telling each other everything and then how much was spent exploring each other physically. He could probably work out with frightening accuracy how many hours if took for him to feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable with her, how long before he got over his fear of rejection. He insisted on the lights being off as she undid the buttons of his shirt, he wasn’t quite that brave yet. Grace didn’t seem to mind, in fact she seemed happy to move as slow as he needed to, taking a step back when it all became too much and taking the plunge when it wasn’t.
Was it supposed to be that easy? It felt like cheating sometimes. He watched her sleep, curled up against his chest, hair splayed out over the pillow. Grace overall was a light sleeper and for a while Spencer was almost certain that she never slept when he was in bed with her. Sure Grace closed her eyes but her breathing betrayed an alertness that she was trying to hide. He wasn’t the only one testing boundaries he realised. Now though, for possibly the first time she was properly asleep, not dozing or on guard against anything.
It was trust, Spencer realised, implicit and genuine trust that he would keep her safe, that he wouldn’t harm her or the child sleeping down the hall.
“I haven’t told you I love you yet” Spencer murmured into the dark “It’s barely been a year…I will though…when it’s time”
There was a slight crease in Grace’s brow before she relaxed again, her sleep unbroken by his confession. Saying though words felt like reaching the peak of a mountain, he was almost there but there was still some way to go. It made him think of Maeve in those moments and there was still a lingering guilt about betraying her memory. It was irrational and for the most part it had dwindled but in the dark everything is exposed.
His lips brushed her forehead and a sigh escaped from her lips as she snuggled closer into his embrace.
For the last ten minutes Spencer had been pacing Emily’s office, trying to wrap his head around the bombshell Emily had dropped.
“How the hell did she and Cat cross paths?”
“Lindsey. She and Meadows were both in Witsec and somehow Cat found out and then approached Meadows after she was in prison. They both hated the BAU so I’m sure it didn’t take much to convince Meadows to slip her your file and then deliver a DVD”
“Why the hell did Meadows join the FBI?” asked Spencer. The whole thing was getting more and more ridiculous.
“A complete separate revenge case that Anderson has been working since” said Emily “You didn’t notice he hasn’t been around much?”
“I…” Now Spencer felt really shitty. Anderson had gone out of his way to help him, to help his family and Spencer hadn’t known. He had barely registered Anderson’s presence. “I should thank him”
“I think he’d say he was just doing his job” smiled Emily “But I will tell Cruz to let him know”
“I feel like I’ve been going round with blinkers on since I got out,” said Spencer. He sat back down, head in his hands “I…missed a lot of things happening. I was so focused on myself”
“You were in prison” said Emily gently “That’s a lot to deal with”
“Grace…Grace had a miscarriage”
A small gasp escaped Emily’s lips.
“Spencer I am so sorry”
“She didn’t tell anyone, I only found out about three months ago” Spencer swallowed. His gaze remained fixed on the floor. “She would have kept it a secret indefinitely because she thought it would hurt me too much.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“No” Spencer finally looked up at her “We’re seeing a family therapist, we’re talking, and things are better. I’m still…grieving I guess. Still healing, but for the first time in a long time I think we’re going to be okay”
“That’s good” Emily came out from her desk and pulled Spencer to his feet so she could hug him “The pair of you deserve all that and more”
“I was starting to think about proposing before I brought my Mom to live with me,” Spencer said. Emily almost squealed in delight. “I was supposed to move in but then that didn’t happen until after prison but it wasn’t the same. Now we’re living together and things are improving I’ve started to think about it again but…”
“You don’t want to rush” Emily finished. Spencer nodded. “Then don’t. Talk to her about what she wants for the future, tell her you love her and want to be with her and then see how the healing process goes. There’s no urgency. Nothing’s going to happen”
“True” Spencer smiled “My rational brain knows that but after everything that’s happened I can’t help but worry what’s going to happen next” He saw the look on Emily’s face “The therapist is helping me with that too though”
“Glad to hear it”
“Could we keep all of that to ourselves?” Spencer asked, suddenly serious “Grace and I aren’t ready to tell everyone about the baby”
“Of course” said Emily “I can keep your proposal plans secret too otherwise the team will take over”
“Garcia would explode,” laughed Spencer.
“With love” said Emily “As would the rest of us”
“What do you want?”
It was almost a year after that night when he had promised to tell her he loved her one-day. Spencer kept his word, albeit not in the way he had intended. He had sobbed them out sitting in Grace’s garden, the full weight of his mother’s illness crashing down on both of them. He visited her often, not as much as he liked but Grace and Isaac came too. It seemed to lift her spirits
“Right now?” Grace’s head was in his lap, her feet propped up on the arm of the sofa. Music was playing. Spencer had found his thoughts wandering from the book he was reading. It was a Saturday morning and Isaac was spending the weekend with a friend so Grace stayed over.
Grace closed her eyes, considering his question.
“Security” she answered after a moment “Safety”
“Yeah but…where do you see us in say five years time?” Grace opened her eyes again, Spencer could feel her studying him and he squirmed a little “I don’t want to put you on the spot or make you feel uncomfortable. It’s just that I think we both love each other-“
“That’s true” A half-smile crept onto Grace’s face and Spencer relaxed a little.
“We want to stay together”
“I have no plans to bail out. I mean what I said that night”
“Me too! Which is why I’m asking”
“Are you unhappy with how things are?”
“No! No, I love this and us and everything it’s just…is there a next step?”
Grace sat up, twisting around so she could kiss him gently.
“What would you think about coming to live with me and Isaac?” she asked, “Your lease on this apartment is up soon, half your things are already there anyway”
“You’d like that?”
“I think we would have to talk about you leaving books in odd places-“
“I like to read when I’m waiting for things!”
“I found War and Peaceon top of the fridge suiker, but that’s not the point. The point is yes, I would like to live with you. Go to sleep every night and wake up every morning with you”
“For the rest of our lives?”
“For the rest of our lives”
“No matter how short”
“No matter how long or short or whatever happens to us” Grace’s face had taken on a solemn expression “Come what may”
“Okay” Spencer grinned, giddy with excitement “Okay, that’s a plan then!”
He kissed her fiercely, a laugh escaping from one of them though neither was sure whom. It felt momentous and familiar at the same time.
It felt good though really they both should have known better. Man plans and God laughs.
It was with anguish in his voice that Spencer would later explain that he was bringing Diana to live with him and he was afraid Grace’s house would be too unfamiliar. Really though it was because he felt he needed to shoulder the burden alone. When he finally did move in it wasn’t the grand threshold crossing moment they both expected. They headed back to the house after Stephen Walker’s funeral; JJ had his belongings moved from his apartment.
It felt alien to him as he stood at the foot of the stairs, unsure where to go.
“Welcome home” Grace materialised behind him. Spencer turned and couldn’t find the words to encapsulate all the raging, contradicting emotions inside him.
“Welcome home” Grace whispered again, taking his hands in hers and squeezing them “I promise, everything is going to be okay”
Grace was just as astonished as he was. They sat, legs entwined on the sofa as Spencer explained everything and twice she got him to repeat bits.
“That’s…wow” she settled back on the cushions.
“It’s insane” nodded Spencer “I don’t even know how to begin thanking him”
“When he’s done with this case it sounds like he could use some time off. You think we could lend Grant and his wife the use of the cabin for a week or two?”
“That would be great!” Spencer’s face lit up. The cabin was a joint purchase with Derek after he left the BAU, inspired by Jason Gideon’s love of nature. It was big enough for both families and nestled in the forest with hiking trails and lake nearby.
“Maybe we could take Isaac there at some point soon too” said Grace softly “Just the three of us?”
“I would love that,” Spencer answered, leaning forward and kissing her “But for now we need to plan what we want to do when we have the house to ourselves”
“I have a long list of ideas” Grace whispered as she pulled him close.
Hours later, curled up in bed, Spencer woke and crept out to walk Rosie one last time that night. The neighbourhood was still and quiet, the only sound was the path crunching under Spencer’s feet as they headed out onto the road. Suddenly Rosie jerked forward on the leash, almost yanking Spencer’s arm out of his socket.
“Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay” Spencer frowned. He scanned the darkness for whatever was distressing her. A little way ahead a car started up did a three-point turn and headed down the road. The car was small and red; it looked like there was a couple in the front. Rosie pulled at the leash again but seemed satisfied when they drove off.
“They were probably just lost,” said Spencer, scratching her behind the ears. Something in him made him take note of the licence plate however and once they got back from the walk he double-checked all the locks in the house.
Two sick children was a struggle but at least it wasn’t four and at least it wasn’t four sick children and two sick parents. Zlata had woken that morning with a tickle in her throat but was determined through sheer force of will to stay healthy enough to nurse her sick babies. Isaac and Joshua were bundled up together on the couch looking thoroughly miserable, quarantined from the rest of the family as their fevers died down.
“I think the worst of it is over” she sighed, trying to get Max to sit still long enough to eat his breakfast, “They’re still a little weak and tired though”
“You look like you could do with a rest too my liefde” Gabriel said as he shot the boy a look that stilled him “If these two are good I’ll take them out this morning. I have a few errands to run”
“I’m good,” piped up Grace
“I’m good too” pouted Max
Gabriel raised an eyebrow but said nothing and as soon as they were done with breakfast they scurried off to get ready.
“Sometimes I think being reporter was easier than being a parent,” Zlata laughed.
Gabriel pressed a kiss to her temple.
“You do both so well”
“You okay?” Spencer asked.
“I didn’t sleep very well last night,” she said, finishing packing Isaac’s lunch “Bad dreams”
“You want to talk about it?”
“No it’s an old one” she said, “It comes around every so often”
“Don’t worry about me” she stood on her tiptoes to kiss him “Have you spoken to Derek about the cabin?”
“I want it noted that I see that swift change of subject and I know you’re avoiding talking about your nightmares” said Spencer, “But yes I spoke to Derek and he agrees that it’s a nice idea to let Anderson and his family stay there. I’ve asked Emily to let me know when he’s finished his assignment. Whatever it is.”
“Good, I want him to know how grateful I am,” said Grace. Spencer wrapped his arms around her, pressing feather light kisses into her hair. It was a nice feeling.
“You make me feel safe,” she said softly.
“I will always try and make you feel that way,” Spencer promised. Neither of them said anything but there had been an underlying anxiety since Spencer told her about the car outside their house. Three weeks later and the car nor the couple inside had been seen since but Spencer had still noted down every license plate and Grace still double-checked every door at night.
“Blegh” Isaac wandered in, nose scrunched as he grabbed his lunch. Grace jumped but didn’t move from Spencer’s embrace.
“Spencer is taking you to school on his way to work but I will pick you up after soccer practice finishes at 4.30 okay?”
“Love you Mom!” he chirped, holding his arms out.
“I love you too” said Grace, hugging him and kissing his cheek. This elicited another disgusted sound.
“I’m too big for this! I’m eight!”
“You’re never too old to tell your Mom you love her,” said Spencer
Isaac rolled his eyes and ran to the car.
“See you tonight unless we have a case” said Spencer, “It’s been quiet so hopefully-“
“Don’t jinx it!’ said Grace before planting one final kiss on him. She couldn’t shift the feeling that she wanted to drag out this goodbye as long as possible.
The old 4x4 rattled along the uneven road sending the children in the back into a fit of giggles as they were bounced around.
“Hold on to your sister” Gabriel warned
As if to demonstrate the car went over a particularly large bump and Grace ended up on Max’s lap. Perhaps he should invest in seatbelts.
“How far is it Pappa?”
“Half an hour give or take” Gabriel pulled off his watch and handed it back to Grace “Can you tell me what the watch will look like then?”
“Yes!” yelled Max “The big hand will be on the 4 and the little hand will be on the 10”
“Why’s it so far?”
Because I can control our surroundings much better in a rural landscape, thought Gabriel, because the town is small and we can know instantly if there are strangers there. Particularly strangers from my past who wish my family or myself harm. Because I can defend the farmhouse better if there is nothing else around. Gabriel gripped the steering wheel tightly.
“Because that’s just where they built it,” he said. In the rear view mirror he caught a glimpse of the little girl nodding sagely at his words.
Even at work the strange feeling continued. Grace struggled to listen as Al went through the transcripts and data that had been harvested from a dark web server.
“This is too jargon-y isn’t it?” Al bit their lip.
“Sorry I’m not all here today” Grace shook her head.
“Oh” Al’s face fell “You want to talk about it?”
“No, it’s not really anything in particular” Grace shrugged, “Things are good at home, they’re finally getting back to normal here. Perhaps it’s all just caught up with me now it isn’t front and centre”
“I get that,” said Al, casting their gaze over the two empty desks next to them. Christophe was on a year long sabbatical after Sam had finally had enough. He wasn’t fired, he was training law enforcement in some of Interpol’s evidence gathering techniques, and more crucially he was in an outpatient rehab programme.
“Do you talk to either of them much?” Grace asked, “Christophe is usually too busy and…I think Aoife is mad at us”
“We didn’t do anything,” said Grace “It’s no one’s fault that Christophe is trying to work things out with his wife”
“No but” Al hesitated “Things feel different and that’s hard”
“I know, believe me I do but you can’t go back and sometimes things need to change so people can get better”
Al nodded and they turned back to their paperwork. It took the rest of the day to organise everything and send it to the right people to collate the data.
“I have to run and get Isaac from school” said Grace, “You got this?”
Al gave a mock salute and followed her out of the office
“I’ll drop these off at the SCIF then I’ll debrief Sam.”
“You’re a saint”
She was already running late, Grace was meant to leave the office half an hour earlier. Perhaps I should have called Spencer, he hasn’t texted to say he’s on a case.
The uneasy feeling was back as she climbed into her car, trying to dial the soccer coach’s number.
Arno Coetzee ran the hardware store in town. Grizzled and ill tempered, he had run the store since his father passed who had in turn run it with his father and so on and so on since his family had made the Great Trek from Port Elizabeth.
“Those screws you ordered are in” said Arno, dumping a bag on the counter, “The other stuff will take longer. Issues at the ports, workers on strike, the usual”
“You don’t seem bothered”
“What can we do about it,” Arno shrugged “Everyone forgets about us out here”
“I don’t forget us,” Grace piped up. She rolled the wrapped sweet between her hands, enjoying the rustle of the paper. If Gabriel thought Arno was capable of it he would have said the man smiled. Gabriel did not; the downside of squirreling his family away in the middle of nowhere was small town politics and the toxic attitudes of the people who lived there.
Arno waved his hand away as he punched the numbers into the old cash register.
“This place is dying and good riddance to it. Things are changing. Mandela is free, the ban on the ANC is lifted and they’re talking about ending apartheid. It’s a new world”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing”
Arno looked at him sideways, his mouth twisted.
“I’ve seen what happens when one group of people treat another like they’re less than human” Gabriel looked over to where his children were playing “Where my wife is from it happens all the time. One day it’s going to boil over and all hell will break loose. It’s happened before and it will happen again”
Arno said nothing as Gabriel handed over the money for the screws. Grace held on to her father’s free hand. It was unlikely she had really understood anything in that conversation but she could probably pick up the tension. Outside Gabriel swept Grace up and onto his shoulders so she squealed in delight.
“Enjoy it while you can” he said, “Soon you’ll be too big for this”
“I’m too big,” said Max and it sound half boastful, half regretful. Gabriel grabbed his hand as they headed back to the car.
“Come on, your mother will be worrying about us”
She knew something was wrong as soon as she saw the coach’s confused face as she ran across the field, apologising for her lateness. Even as she tried to explain about work, a pang in chest intensified with the man’s frown.
“Ms Owens…your au pair already picked Isaac up”
“No, we don’t have an au pair”
The world began to spin. There was something about a form with Grace’s signature; the woman had been so polite and so official. Isaac had known her.
“No, no, no” Grace shook her head. Her throat burnt “Where’s my son?”
Everything moved at once. Someone caught Grace as her knees buckled and a crowd of teachers, the school councillor, and even the Principal materialised from nowhere. Then there was a police officer and Grace’s next thought was Spencer, Spencer would know what to do. He dealt with missing person’s all the time.
Isaac was missing.
Her baby was missing.
The hairs on the back of Gabriel’s neck were standing up and he didn’t know why. He drove silently back through the countryside, the sounds of Max and Grace chatting in the backseat barely noticeable. The air felt thick, like there was a storm on the horizon.
Then he saw it, emerging from the horizon ahead was a shiny black van. It tore past them and Gabriel had to swerve to avoid hitting it. The windows were tinted, no hint as to who was in side. Gabriel slammed his foot on the break, heart pounding.
He had too choices, turn around and follow the van. Who knew how many men were inside but there was a handgun in the glove box and a sawn off shotgun in the trunk, not to mention the knife strapped to his leg.
“Pappa? Pappa why have we stopped?”
No. Icy fear gripped Gabriel. There was only one choice; he had to get home straight away. The car jerked forward as he pushed down on the accelerator and flew down the road. The children cried in the back as they were thrown around but Gabriel couldn’t hear them. Eventually they stopped crying, Max wrapped one arm around Grace and used the other to cling on to the seat to stop them falling. His hand cramped and his knuckles turned white.
Please be okay, please be okay. I will do anything God but please let them be okay.
The car screeched to a halt outside their house. The sky was thick with grey clouds and a wind was banging the open door against the frame. Each blow felt like another knife in his heart.
“Do not move,” he told the children without turning round and before they could protest he had run inside.
Grace and Max held their breaths though neither was really sure why. Max didn’t let go of the seat and his arm tightened around Grace’s shoulders. Unable to look at their house anymore (why didn’t it feel like their house) she buried her face in his t-shirt and began to whimper.
“It’s okay,” said Max and it felt like a lie.
A howling sound from inside the house made them both jump.
“Dino?” Grace called, because only their dog could have made a noise like that. She went to climb out of the car but Max stopped her, jerking her back into the seat.
Grace began to cry harder, about her sore arm, about her father and about the fact that even in that moment she knew something was horribly wrong.
“You’ve already met Isaac,” said Grace
“But not as your…boyfriend” The word still felt slightly unwieldy to Spencer. Thankfully Grace didn’t laugh at him. Instead she slipped her arms around his waist.
“If I didn’t think you could handle it I wouldn’t ask”
“I want to make a good impression”
“I know and I can’t tell you how much that means to me”
Spencer raced through Metro PD, ignoring the cops and almost forgetting JJ and Emily sprinting after him.
“Hey!” Will waved him over to a desk piled high with files “She’s in one of the interview rooms with a uniform.” He reached out for JJ’s hand as they caught up, fear hanging heavy in the air.
“What happened?” demanded Emily
“A woman, early to mid-sixties pretended to be your au pair and got the school to realise Isaac into her custody”
“How the hell did she manage that?” demanded Spencer “Grace and I are the only ones who can do take Isaac out”
“The girl on reception was new, the form she provided had Grace’s signature, faked obviously. Uniforms are interviewing everyone at the school and canvassing the local area. We’ve put out an amber alert and I’ve got a team of people going through CCTV and traffic cams”
“Garcia is ready to help. She’s also running checks on any recently released unsubs to see if this is revenge,” said Emily
“Interpol is doing the same” a voice interrupted them “Sam Williams, Grace’s boss. Our technical analyst is linking up with yours. Our resources are your resources”
“We’re going to find him Spencer” smiled JJ “Everyone is looking for him”
“I need to see Grace”
“She’s kind of distressed,” said Will, leading them all out of the bullpen “One of the officers is going through a timeline of the past few days just to calm her down”
“Her child is missing, its no time to be calm” Spencer brushed past him. Inside the room Grace was pacing like a wild animal, whipping around as soon as Spencer entered.
“It’s Lars,” she said immediately “I know it. It has to be him”
“Who’s Lars?” asked Emily
“Lars Vestergaard. He’s an ex-Interpol agent. He was imprisoned seven years ago for drugs and weapons charges and conspiracy to commit murder”
“He’s Isaac’s biological father,” said Grace sending the room into a dead silence.
“He was released from prison last year” explained Spencer “I thought he was being watched”
“He is. There is no way he could have made it to the US” said Sam.
“Then he sent someone else” Grace ran her fingers through his hair “This woman must be an accomplice”
“Could it be Cat Adams again?” Spencer asked quietly.
Emily, JJ, and Grace had all spoken at once. Spencer looked between them confused, a confusion increased as they regarded each other with varying degrees of surprise.
“Cat Adams is watched closely,” said Emily, “More closely than I realised apparently” JJ gave a small shrug.
“This is a conversation for later. Right now we need to find Isaac. I have some contacts at the DOJ who might be able to help us with any of Vestergaard’s US associates”
“I’m having Interpol agents in France pick up Vestergaard for questioning” said Sam.
Spencer pulled Grace close, feeling her shake against him. This was too much, after everything they had all been through.
“We’re going to link up the team at Metro PD with your guys to make sure we can communicate as fast as possible” said Will, “Footage is already being analysed. We may be able to get a facial rec on the woman”
“We’ll work on a profile,” said Emily, “Grace would you mind? We need to know everything about Lars Vestergaard but also everything about Isaac”
“We always start with the…” Spencer trailed off. We always start with the victim.“Isaac was the target. This woman knew where to find him and when. She may have been watching all of us”
“The red car!”
“What red car?” asked JJ
“I think whoever did this has been watching us for weeks” said Spencer.
This was definitely scarier than facing down an unsub. Grace had insisted that there was no need to bring a present with him. It was just a nice afternoon in the park, no big deal. Except of course it was a huge deal, the hugest of deals.
“We call it the Reid effect. It happens with children too” Hotch had been joking but not having grown up with brothers or sisters or even much in the way of friends Reid was wary around children. Henry was pretty much the exception but only because Spencer had known him since he was a baby.
Sitting on the bench, wringing his hands and bouncing his knee, Spencer ran through all the ways the next few hours could go wrong until he spotted Grace pushing the stroller towards him. Isaac was waving his chubby little arms and talking animatedly about something that was making Grace smile. Some of the tension left as Spencer saw how free and unguarded she looked like that.
“Have you been waiting long?”
“No” Spencer lied, “Just arrived”
“Uh-huh” said Grace, “Isaac do you remember my friend Spencer from work?”
“Nope” the little boy said happily.
“It’s nice to meet you. Your Mom talks about you a lot. You like robots right?”
Isaac nodded, eyes the size of saucers at the mere mention of his current obsession. Maybe this wouldn’t be so hard after all.
“I don’t think I can keep anything down right now,” said Grace. Spencer settled down next to her. He wished more than anything that he knew what to say but he had no idea. It was so different being on the other side of things.
The BAU had arrived and everyone was given a task to do either with the police or with Grace’s team. Everything happened in such a flurry that Spencer wasn’t sure where everyone was right that moment.
Emily had taken down everything about Isaac’s routine, their own routines and was currently compiling a timeline with Will and Matt. In the interview room the silence was oppressive.
“Hey” Rossi poked his head round the door “So I just spoke to one of the cops. The woman avoids showing her face to the camera the whole time she’s in the school” Grace let out a groan, head falling into her hands.
“So we have no idea who she is?”
“The woman on reception mentioned she had an accent and Garcia was able to work out height and weight with one of her fancy programs. She’s running that against people who entered the country in the last three months.”
“That’s still a huge list Rossi,” said Spencer
“It is, so I want to come at this from the other end” Rossi sat down opposite them “Can you tell me about Lars Grace?”
“He was…driven. Meticulous. Self-confident. Everything had to be done his way”
Rossi’s gaze flicked between both of them.
“Something…something must have drawn you to him in the first place”
Something unpleasant twisted in Spencer’s stomach and he wanted to turn away. The look of utter defeat on Grace’s face was the only thing stopping him.
“I’m not here to judge you Grace,” said Rossi, softly “I know this is difficult”
“He was attractive” Grace sighed, “I know that’s shallow, but that’s all it was. I didn’t want a relationship with him beyond the physical”
“Okay. Did he feel the same way?”
“You don’t sound sure”
“I made it very clear from the start that I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. I was working all the time, I didn’t do…feelings. I just wanted to decompress. We were friends, kind of. At least we were before we started sleeping together”
“Let’s focus on that then for a moment” Rossi pulled out his pen and notepad “When did you first meet?”
“People smuggling case. A gang was corralling migrants and asylum seekers into agricultural work for barely any money. They were trapped but the gang kept moving. Lars and I were part of a team that were carrying out surveillance on farms and factories across the Balkans to work out where they would be moved to next”
“You spent a lot of time together”
“Yeah he led the team that I was assigned to and we were paired up a lot. Stake-outs, interviews”
“You got on?”
“Once you got past the massive ego and sense of entitlement…he could be charismatic. At the time I figured he had something to prove”
“Prove to who?” Spencer cut in.
“Everyone I guess. His father is wealthy, really wealthy. He owns a bunch of manufacturing businesses in Denmark and Sweden. Lars hated anyone thinking that his father bought his way into Interpol”
“So he’s insecure” Rossi sat back in his seat “How was he as a leader?”
“He got pissed at anyone who disagreed with him,” said Grace “He liked an argument, especially in public”
“A show of dominance” said Rossi “Maybe that’s why he took Isaac. He wants his son, what he thinks he’s entitled to”
Grace opened her mouth to respond but was cut off by the door flinging open.
“He’s here,” said Emily “Lars Vestergaard is here”
“In the US?”
“In the building”
The sun grew hotter and hotter and eventually the three of them had to take shelter under one of the huge oak trees, as Isaac grew sleepier.
“Can I have a story mommy?”
“I didn’t bring one with me liefling,” said Grace. She held the little boy against her and stroked his hot forehead.
“I know a story,” said Spencer, shifting slightly “My godson Henry loves Bedtime for Baby Star. You know it?”
Isaac shook it head and wriggled slightly in Grace’s arms as Spencer cleared his throat and began reciting.
Grace’s expression went from surprised to delighted as the story wore on, complete with different voices for each character. Isaac’s eyes grew heavier and heavier until a small snore escaped him just when Spencer finished.
“You memorised a whole children’s book off by heart?” Grace whispered.
“I have an eidetic memory. I remember everything I read”
“You are extraordinary you know that?”
“I can do it with a lot of things. It’s no big deal”
“Really? That makes it more extraordinary. You chose to memorise a book that your Godson adores, it shows you have a big heart”
“I, uh, thanks. I just wanted to help. Isaac’s a really good kid”
“Thank you” Grace looked down at her sleeping son with an adoration that he had only seen from Diana. It was like she had the entire universe in her arms. If he could, Spencer wanted to keep it that way forever, he realised.
“Interpol” said Sam. The man looked like he wanted to put holes in the wall of the interrogation room. Spencer felt like joining him.“Some fucking idiot thought it would be a good idea to fly him over here and question him about a decade old case run with the FBI’s New York office”
“They got in contact with Garcia to let us know and they flew him down straight away” said Emily. Her nails looked freshly bitten.
“He’s here. Right now” Grace’s voice was faint “Isaac?”
“He claims he has no idea” Sam said “And now he’ll only talk to you”
“Spencer!” Emily shot him a warning look.
“As the resident expert on going toe-toe with a psychopath in an interrogation room, No!”
“Do you want to find Isaac?” demanded Sam
“How dare you?”
Emily stepped between the pair of them.
“That is enough”
“You can’t put Grace through that” pleaded Spencer.
“You survived” Grace said softly “I’ve faced worse criminals than Lars”
“I’m not fragile. He’s the one who’s afraid not me. You’ll be outside the whole time”
“We don’t give the unsub what he wants”
“Then what am I supposed to do?” Grace threw up her hands “What is the play here? What will get our son back to us?”
“Spencer” said Rossi
“What?” Everyone turned to him in disbelief.
“We’ll let the guy sweat for a while but then Spencer should go in first. You said Lars had a sense of entitlement right? You just called Isaac ‘our son’ not ‘my son’. It’s really going to push his buttons if the man you love goes in to interrogate him, the man who is raising his child. We need him on edge”
“I can do that” Spencer took Grace’s hands in his own “You trust me with this?”
Grace looked up at him, eyes shining.
There was a weight pressing down on Grace. It was warm and not entirely unpleasant, shifting slightly as she was roused from sleep. It was still dark and a protesting voice at the back of her mind clashed with the trilling of the alarm clock. A groan came from the weight.
“Show time” mumbled Grace, pushing herself up. An arm tightened around her waist pulling her against a solid body. Hot kisses were pressed against the nape of her neck and fingertips glided up Grace’s inner thigh.
“Really?” Grace sighed, “Right now?”
“Yes, really” Grace squirmed slightly under his touch, “We have time”
“You might” Grace sprang from the bed. She was buzzing, everything in her was tense and ready for action. “Peeters wants me in her office before the briefing to go over some last minute details”
Lars settled back against the pillows, dejected. Poor baby didn’t hear ‘no’ half as much as he should have.
“So this is it. Once the raid is successful you’re heading back to Lyon or-“ Grace shrugged as she hunted around for her discarded clothes. Lars looked annoyed for an instant when she glanced up but then it was gone.
“I’m not sure,” said Grace. This whole conversation was in danger of becoming very uncomfortable very quickly. She began pulling on her clothes faster “I heard there was an opening at the ICC in the Prosecutor’s Office and I’m thinking of applying” Lars’ face fell. Fuck.
“There’s an opening at the Copenhagen office too. Team leader. You’d be great there”
“Lars I’ve said it before, I’m not interested in staying in one place too long. I won’t be tied down for anything”
“I know but it wouldn’t be forever. Just long enough to kick things up a gear. Show them what you can do. It’s a great place to live too”
Grace rolled her eyes.
“I’ll see you in a few hours”
“No kiss goodbye?”
“Lars” He shrugged and shuffled back down.
“Guess I’ll see you at work”
Grace was allowed to watch the interview from another room with Rossi and Emily either side of her like they were afraid she was going to faint from the pressure of it all. Or they thought she would burst into the interrogation room and beat Lars until he told her where Isaac was. Both felt like very real possibilities then and there.
The first thing that struck Grace was how much Lars had changed. He looked older, as if it was far more than nine years that separated them. His thick hair was shot through with grey, his mouth was heavily lined, and his eyes were rimmed with dark circles.
“Prison changes people in a lot of ways, physical and mental,” Rossi explained like he could read her mind, “At the same time though it leads to a kind of arrested development. When we’re profiling imprisonment can throw off the age of the unsub”
“What does that mean for Isaac?”
“According to prison records Lars spent the first six months of his imprisonment getting into fights. Since then though he’s been a model prisoner. He’s taken anger management classes and been studying” said Emily. Grace snorted. “It didn’t stop them putting very strict conditions on his parole. Several governments with law enforcement agencies caught up in Lars’ crimes made sure of that.”
“But he still behaved” said Rossi, “He has a job in the local soup kitchen and continued seeing his therapist after his release from prison.”
“He did get around those restrictions though,” exclaimed Grace, “Hhe got Interpol and the FBI to let him help them”
“He’s meticulous and patient” said Emily, “But he’s been trapped in a cage for a long time and he thinks he’s smarter than us. That will work in Spencer’s favour” Grace didn’t speak, she just turned to the one-way glass as Spencer entered the room and sat in front of Lars.
“I asked for Agent Owens” God Lars’ voice even sounded older, ragged like the growl of a wild animal.
“Grace has other matters that require her attention” Spencer didn’t look up from the file “You have to make do with me”
“That wasn’t part of our deal”
“You didn’t make a deal. You’re here because a child is missing and in danger and we aren’t going to compromise Isaac’s safety by playing games with you. Now I need to know everything you know about Isaac Owen’s whereabouts and I need to know now”
Grace liked Peeters. The other woman knew her shit, didn’t suffer fools gladly and cut through the politics of the job like a knife through butter. She was also kind of a badass though Grace would never say that to her face.
This raid was six months in the planning. Four agencies across three sovereign states had worked for around two years to narrow down a network that trafficked drugs, weapons and humans across Europe and now they were here. There were actually several raids going ahead but this was the biggest and most important. They were striking right at the heart of these fuckers once and for all. For too long these people had been two steps ahead of the authorities. Every plan, whether for an arrest or a raid or even just bringing someone in for questioning had been anticipated. It was like the bastards knew. The plan for that night had been kept top secret in response.
“You ready?” Peeters asked.
“Born ready” said Grace “Let’s get these guys”
There was electricity in the air as they addressed the assembled officers and outlined the plan. They were storming a warehouse on the outskirts of the city. Very little chance for collateral damage. There would be three strike teams closing in on the building at once to prevent anyone escaping. It should have been easy.
It wouldn’t be though would it…
“Marcus is sick. He was supposed to be running the second strike team” Peeters groaned, pounding her fist onto the console in the surveillance van. The techs flinched.
“I’ll go in his place. I’m trained with weapons, I know the plan like the back of my hand” said Grace, “You have others here to take my place on comms. We’re too close now”
Peeters hesitated. The electricity crackled and a collective breath was held.
“Okay, okay if you can then do it,” said Peeters.
“Oh I can do it” Grace grinned “And this way I get to see the look on their faces in person”
“Who are you?” Lars demanded, “Which agency are you from?”
“SSA Dr Spencer Reid, I’m with the FBI’s-“
“Behavioural Analysis Unit” Lars growled, “I know who you are”
“And we’re in” whispered Rossi. Grace wasn’t so sure. Her body felt like it was on fire and she clasped her arms around herself so tight that her nails began to bite into flesh. He knew who Spencer was, meaning he knew about their relationship.
Spencer gave a small nod.
“Okay that’s good. It saves time. The first twenty-four hours after abduction are the most critical. Now, where is Isaac?”
“You’re way to close too this to be working this case” sneered Lars, “And I thought the parents were always the first suspects? Is that where Grace is now, are they interrogating her?”
“No. A woman in her sixties, white, medium height, slim build came to Isaac’s school and fooled the staff into letting her take him. Does that sound like anyone you know?”
“Grace never was the maternal type”
A sob escaped Grace’s throat.
“You don’t have to watch this,” said Emily.
“He’s right though,” Grace whispered, “I never used to be…”
“Grace would die for Isaac. He’s her whole world. Is that why you took him? You want revenge for going to prison? Is this your way of punishing her?”
Lars paused, his head tilted to the side.
“He wasn’t expecting that” frowned Rossi.
“I didn’t take the boy,” said Lars, “I didn’t get anyone else to take the boy. You’re wasting your time”
“So it’s not revenge,” said Spencer. He leaned back in his chair almost casually. Grace wanted to break the door down then and there, scream at them both that this macho posturing wasn’t going to help Isaac. Emily placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Spencer knows what he’s doing”
“I know” Grace said, “I know, but every minute Lars doesn’t talk is another minute Isaac is out there”
“You don’t want to get back at Grace for getting you arrested?” Spencer asked. Lars scoffed and mimicked Spencer’s movement, lolling back in the plastic chair so it squeaked.
“She didn’t arrest me” shrugged Lars “Agent Peeters was the one running the operation and Agent Horvat ran the investigation after the shooting. He arrested me.”
“After Grace gave a statement that she recognised her shooter as an acquaintance of yours” Spencer cut in, “That’s what made them suspect you. The shooter wasn’t thorough enough”
“Grace wasn’t supposed to be there,” Lars snapped. He leaned forward, face pulled into a snarl “She was supposed be outside the perimeter with Peeters on comms. She was never supposed to get caught. Some idiot agent couldn’t hack it and she had to take his place. I never meant for Grace to be injured”
The silence was like lead pressing down on them all. Grace could feel her heartbeat, her ragged breaths.
“Of course, now it makes sense” he said, more to himself than to Lars, “You loved her. You’re still in love with her”
Every sound was amplified right from the soft scratch of the gravel under her boot. Even Grace’s heartbeat sounded like a waterfall in her ears. She gripped her weapon and signalled for the team to follow her. The second in command was a beefy guy whose name she couldn’t recall but Grace knew he had a good decade’s experience. His slipped ahead of her, followed by three more guys as she was left to bring up the rear.
It shouldn’t have felt so exciting, so thrilling to be in the thick of things. Perhaps there was a loose wire in her brain? Perhaps some mark left from her childhood. No that was too distracting to dwell on right then and there. Grace steeled herself and moved forward. Somewhere in the distance there were low voices. All of Grace’s concentration and perception honed in on that sound like a laser. This was it.
Everything from that point on was fuzzy and later Grace would have to fill in the gaps from her murky recollection with second hand accounts, trial transcripts, and what information Max had used his connections to get.
The sound was what she remembered most and later on the heat. It was like the fires of hell all around them. They were prepared to blow everything up at risk to their own lives if it meant a chance at getting away with everything. Thank God there hadn’t been any hostages. Grace remembered yelling to the others, getting a headcount and then pushing forward to assess the situation. Stupid. Arrogant and stupid. The fire was fairly far ahead of them and it would turn out that the explosion wasn’t as effective as the gang members had hoped.
A figure appeared in the distance and a bullet whistled past her head. Grace and the others returned fire. Two of them headed around them to cut off the shooter. It was getting harder to see as smoke built up. Grace moved forward and like a mirror image the shooter moved forward too. A spark of recognition was set off. An interrogation room a few months back. Grace dove for cover as she racked her brains. Why? Why did she know him?
“My CI Claude. Dumb as a bag of bricks but knows everything about the flow of drugs in the city. Right Claude?”
Lars. He was Lars’ CI. But that made no sense. Grace leapt up and fire four shots in rapid succession. The different parts weren’t meshing in her brain. As she ducked back down Grace was seized by a coughing fit. She needed to get out.
The shooter was gone when she stood up and headed in the direction of the exit. With a brief glance she could make out all the members of the strike team. There was a small flicker of hope in Grace that was extinguished by what felt like a punch to the side of her head.
Grace frowned. She hadn’t been close enough to anyone for them to hit her. Someone screamed her name and she turned to chastise them for being so loud she crumpled to the ground.
She was going to die. Would Max be mad?
“I’m right aren’t I? You’re in love with Grace”
Lars didn’t say anything, he just seemed to curl into himself, his body taut and compact as he hunched over the table. Grace felt a wave of nausea sweep over her. More than ever she felt exposed, naked as if Lars was putting her on display. It would be unbearable if there wasn’t a chance it could help Isaac.
“She told us that it wasn’t a serious relationship, you were just sleeping together” Spencer continued, “But it wasn’t like that for you was it?”
“Grace never wanted to be tied down” Lars said, “I respected that. I would never have hurt her”
“Except you did” there was an edge of steel in Spencer’s voice “Your greed nearly killed her and now you’ve taken Isaac”
“No. I swear to you on my life. I haven’t done anything to her son, I wouldn’t”
Either side of Grace, she felt Rossi and Emily shift slightly. Her son. Not our son.
“If Lars loves you after all this time then Isaac would represent everything he wants” said Rossi.
“Has Lars ever asked to see Isaac or asked for pictures or updates on how he’s doing?” asked Emily.
“He was prohibited from contacting me,” said Grace, “I assumed that’s why. But…”
“Once I got a letter via his lawyer asking if I would go and see him. Isaac was about two at the time but the letter only mentioned me”
“Grace… is it possible-“ Rossi began but was cut off when Spencer spoke.
“Her son?” he echoed. Lars grit his teeth.
“Your son then. Either way I wouldn’t hurt him”
“He doesn’t know” Grace breathed, “He doesn’t know Isaac is his”
“How is that possible?” asked Rossi.
“I didn’t know I was pregnant,” Grace said, shaking, “I was in hospital for over a year after being shot but it was under a false name, only a few people knew I was there. I never had to testify because Lars took a plea deal.”
“Your name probably wasn’t in the press,” said Emily, “It may never have gotten back to him that you were pregnant”
“That means he doesn’t have a motive,” said Rossi. Spencer slipped through the door and without a word pulled Grace into his arms.
“You guys heard that?”
“Yeah we did” said Emily, “So what now?”
Spencer pulled away from Grace, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear and brushing away a stray tear that she hadn’t realised had fallen.
“It should be your call” he said softly, “We can hand him back over to be sent back to Europe, he’ll never know about Isaac being his or I can tell him and see if whoever took Isaac is connected to him. Either way it’s your choice”
“I…” her head was spinning.
“It’s not a coincidence that Isaac’s abduction coincides with Lars being in the States,” said Emily.
“Tell him” Grace nodded, “He’ll help once he know. I’m sure of it”
“Grace” Rossi hesitated; it might be better coming from you.
“No” said Spencer sharply, “If Grace is in there Lars might try and control the situation”
“Or it might placate him and make him more co-operative” argued Rossi “Grace?”
“I’ll do it” she held up a hand to stop Spencer’s protest, “You’ll come in with me. We’ll do it together okay?”
Everyone’s faces were painted with uncertainty but right now it was all they had.
“Let’s do this”
The look of shock on Lars’ face did nothing to Grace, nor did his gaze sweeping almost intrusively over her and hovering on Spencer’s arm around her waist. There was nothing left to hide, nothing left to protect except Isaac.
They sat down in front of him and before Lars could open his mouth to speak Grace laid her phone in front of him.
“That’s Isaac at his eighth birthday in November. We took him to the Science Museum because he’s obsessed with space and then we took him out for pizza. Spencer and I bought him some books on star gazing, and a board game and new soccer boots. He plays for the school’s team and even though they aren’t good he tries really, really hard and they made him captain because he always makes sure to tell the other kids how good they’re doing and he was at practice today when someone came and took him and you know who that could be. He is sensitive and he feels things very keenly and he is out there somewhere right now, waiting for his family to come and find him. You can bring him home”
Spencer’s arm was still around her, he didn’t dare speak as Lars’ face screwed up in confusion his fingers brushing the screen.
“He’s…eight. Eight years old? You’ve not been with him-“
“He’s yours” Grace cut him off, “I thought you knew. I thought that’s why you took him” This wasn’t the time or place for these feelings or this conversation. Frankly she never wanted to have that talk. Hell she never wanted to see that man ever again; the thought of him only summoned fear or revulsion and sometimes shame. It was an undeserved shame, logically Grace knew that, but it was there all the same.
“You hid this from me”
“I was in an induced coma” Grace said, voice shaking with rage now, “I was dying in a hospital bed because your friend put a bullet in my skull. They found out I was pregnant sometime between my third and fourth surgeries so excuse me if my first thought wasn’t for you”
“Does he know about me?”
“You can’t keep a boy from his father”
“He has a father,” said Grace, “He has a home and a family and I wasn’t going to hurt him by explaining that a there is a glorified sperm donor in jail for shooting his mother”
“I never meant-“
“I don’t care” Grace hissed, “If you cared about me at all you would help me find who took him”
Right then and there Grace wished she were a profiler so she could decipher the myriad of emotions flickering across Lars’ face. Hot tears began to spill down her cheeks and she cursed her weakness.
“Please” she sobbed, “Please help me find my baby”
When Lars spoke his voice was barely more than a whisper.
Grace tried to move her arms and legs but they wouldn’t obey her. Everything was quiet and loud at the same time. The man – Lars’ CI – faded back into the smoke. There was shouting and more gunshots in the distance but it slowly faded away. Was this it?
Some time later, or maybe no time at all, it was dark and cold. The face that came unbidden into her mind wasn’t Max’s which surprised her. It wasn’t even her mother or Isaac or Joshua. It was her father. The last time Grace had spoken to him had been about four months previously. Max always talked to him more. Grace didn’t even think about him that much if she was honest with herself but here he was, in possibly her final moments in this world. Never had she wanted something so desperately as she wanted her father to be there now. Grace was filled with the overwhelming sensation that if her father was there then she wouldn’t be afraid, she could face anything.
“Is she awake?” A beam of light burned Grace’s eyes.
“She’s out of it and she’s fading fast. Eta is five minutes but that may not be fast enough”
“I need to call her next of kin…”
“If she’s awake this may be our only chance to question her”
“Fuck you. Her skull was blown apart. If she was in any fit state to speak I wouldn’t let you question her”
“Pappa?” None of it made any sense. Grace didn’t want to die alone. After a lifetime of suppressing all fears and pushing everyone away that was what was cutting straight to her core. She didn’t want to die alone.
“We only have the image of the back of her head” Rossi explained, placing the printouts of CCTV in front of Lars. They had moved him to the conference room to look at the evidence boards. Sam and Will had protested but as Lars had snidely reminded them, he was former law enforcement and things would go quicker if he knew what they had.
“We estimate her height at-“
“5’4” with those heels” said Lars
“You know her,” Grace breathed. A lead, finally. “Well who is she?”
Lars hesitated and the collective frustration in the room climbed.
“I swear to God if you play us and something happens to Isaac” Spencer growled.
“It’s my mother,” said Lars, “Ebba Vestergaard”
“So you were involved,” said Rossi. Subconsciously or not everyone shifted forwards.
“No, I swear. I haven’t spoken to my mother since my trial. My father forbade her to contact me”
“Prison logs confirm Ebba Vestergaard has never visited, phoned or written to him,” said Al, “And…according to our friends in Copenhagen she hasn’t left Denmark in three years”
“Well she has now” said Spencer, “The question is why”
“She must have found out about Isaac” said Grace, “Will she hurt him?”
“No” said Lars, “My mother is the gentlest woman who ever lived. If anything she would be so protective over her grandchild”
“Perhaps that’s her motivation then,” said Rossi, “She can’t see her son so she kidnaps her grandson?”
Grace spun around to face Lars, his gaze fixed firmly on the floor.
“What is it?”
“She…she had always been melancholy. Very emotional. I think it would have been extremely difficult for her not to be able to see me. You can’t argue with my father though. She never could”
“Okay, now we who we’re looking for” said Emily, “We’ll put out another amber alert with Ebba Vestergaard’s details and I’ll get onto Interpol Copenhagen to get them to liaise with the locals”
“I’m going to call the Washington office,” said Sam, “We need to find out how she got into the country and when she got here”
“It’s been at least three weeks,” said Spencer, “That car was watching our house. I think for some reason she came here looking for Grace and found out about Isaac. Given his age it wouldn’t be a great leap. I assume she knew about your relationship?”
“I spoke about you a lot,” Lars said to Grace in a low voice. She turned away, pushed her way out of the crowded room muttering about needing some air.
“Go” Rossi nodded and Spencer hurried off after her leaving the rest of them to all spring into action.
There was no concept of time or even space beyond the parameters of her own body. It was like being suspended in an infinite white void. It wasn’t death. Grace knew that based on the limited sensations that broke through the emptiness. There was a suggestion of pain but it felt like someone else was experiencing it.
It must be some kind of coping mechanism she realised, the mind or her body or a combination of the two shutting off any unpleasant realisations or sensations.
No she didn’t want this. This was torture. This was hell. Grace wanted to scream, to run, to cry, to be anywhere but here but there was nothing she could do.
Every so often something would break through the nothingness. First she heard Max arguing with someone. Then she smelt chemicals. Once or twice she glimpsed a room through blurry eyes and the face of a kind stranger trying to talk to her.
Then something else broke through.
“The doctor says you are able to hear what’s going on. Max doesn’t believe that. He says if you could then you would wake up. He’s angry. Not with you but at everything. They’ve made arrests; they caught the man who hired the shooter. You worked with him, Max said you’re…friends?”
Grace would have laughed if she could.
“You’re not going to die Liefling”
Yes I am, I can’t do this Pappa
“You’re a survivor”
A hand, callused and rough found hers and with all the energy Grace could muster she opened her eyes.
Grace was outside when Spencer found her. She was hunched over on a bench, wringing her hands. He hovered by her, hand outstretched like he couldn’t decide how to comfort her. Was this how she felt when I was in prison?
“Joshua would be over a year old now”
The words hit Spencer like a gut punch. Whatever he had been expecting that wasn’t it.
“In my head he has your eyes and his nose does that little twitch that yours does. Even as a baby. I imagine that when I put him down to sleep or sing to him he does it.”
“I can’t lose Isaac”
“You won’t” Spencer knelt down and took both her hands in his, “You heard what Lars said, Ebba won’t hurt him. She’ll be easy to find and we’ll bring him home and then all of this will be a horrible dream we can move on from”
“Like prison? Like losing Joshua? Like Scratch? Like Hankel? Like-“ For the life of him Spencer didn’t know how to answer as Grace’s frantic cries dissolved into sobs. She was right. She was so fucking right. This was yet another trauma, another violent episode that threatened to tear them apart. Soon they would be nothing but scar tissue.
“I know it seems hopeless,” Spencer pleaded. His voice sounded so weak, so pathetic to his own ears but he pushed all that down and focused on Grace. “We’re fighters. We’re survivors and we protect our family okay? We always have” He wiped her tears, cradling Grace’s cheek in his hand while the other stayed entwined with hers.
“When I was in hospital after being shot I wanted to die. That’s the first thing I said to Max when I woke up” Grace sniffed, “I begged him to let me die. This…I feel a hundred times worse than I did then”
“That’s the fear talking,” said Spencer.
“I’ve never been so frightened in my life”
Spencer shifted to sit next to her on the bench and pulled Grace close. There wasn’t anything left to say. There were no words he could summon up so instead he just held her. He had to believe they would find Isaac; he had to believe they would all be okay but what happened after that?
Gabriel blinked. Grace blinked back. She tried to speak but only a wheeze came out. While she was trying to work out whether it was because she hadn’t tried in a while or because something had been damaged a nurse came rushing in.
“I’ll fetch the doctor”
“I saw him heading to the cafeteria”
“I-“ Gabriel looked back down at Grace. Words were out of the question but she could manage a scowl.
“Max has been worried sick”
I bet he has, Grace thought, don’t you dare try and make me feel guilty.
“So have I”
Grace quirked an eyebrow, hoping her father would get the gist of the question she wanted to ask. Have I incurred a debt?
“Lars Vestergaard was arrested for conspiracy charges, a bunch of other things. I don’t know. He’s locked up. You’re safe?”
Grace frowned again. That hadn’t been what she was afraid of at all. She tried to move her hand, it jerked but would not obey her. Instead she settled for curling her fingers so she was pointing at Gabriel, the same questioning look on her face.
“I did nothing. Max…talked me out of it”
Grace didn’t know how to feel about that.
“He said your people could deal with it” Truth. “He said it would upset you” Truth?
Gabriel sat back in the chair. He looked so much older than the last time she had seen him in person, which must have three years ago. Since then it had just been the odd phone call. His hair was completely white and his face was lined. He had always looked roughened and worn since that day they had returned home to find their house soaked in blood but now he was an old man.
“Max said the paramedics told him you asked for me”
Pappa, pappa, pappa.
She had asked for him. When Grace thought she was in throes of her final moments on earth she had called out for him and no one else. She blinked slowly in place of a nod. Gabriel swallowed and turned away. In a normal family Grace supposed that would have hurt but they were not normal. She brushed her fingers against his hand, now prone on the bed beside her. Gabriel nodded.
“Rest now, I will get Max”
“He wants to see you”
Grace knew that. She also knew her father wouldn’t stay around for too long and she didn’t hate him for that. In that moment however, despite everything that had passed between them, she wanted him by her side a little longer.
It was Luke and Garcia who came and found them, still huddled together on that bench. Garcia’s eyes were red and puffy and Grace felt a pang that would have been gratitude or something like it if she didn’t feel so utterly wretched.
“We’ve had a break through,” said Luke
Spencer and Grace actually overtook them in their sprint back to the conference room. Lars leapt to his feet as Grace flew past him, ready to say something but she ignored him and stopped in front of the evidence board.
“So Ebba has been in the States for a while”
“Two months” confirmed Garcia. She and Al had gathered several laptops and a tablet from god knows where. “She travelled in on a fake passport. And has been moving around the DC area”
“And she hasn’t been alone” chimed in Al, “On her flight she was accompanied by a man named Felix Olavsson. It’s an alias used by one Felix Magnusson. He used to be employed by Vestergaard Inc as the CFO until he was fired for embezzlement”
“I remember that” frowned Lars, “My mother stayed in contact?”
“Yes she lent him money and the services of her attorney,” said Sam “In exchange we believe he did under the table work for her, including tracking down Grace”
“Where is he now?” asked Spencer.
“Under armed guard in the ER of a hospital two blocks away from the New York field office” said Emily, “He and an accomplice were arrested when they tried to storm the lower floor. The accomplice was shot by agents and died on the scene but Magnusson was shot in the leg and should be fine.”
“They were trying to spring Lars from custody” said Grace, “Ebba wants her family back together”
“She’s lost her accomplices so she’s working alone now” said Spencer “Is Magnusson talking?”
“Matt and JJ are going up there now” said Emily “But in the mean time New York is sending over the GPS data from the rental car they’ve used while in the city”
“Magnusson also had a burner phone on him” said Al “He only called one number”
“Ebba’s” said Grace, “Can you tell where she is?”
Everyone held their breath as Garcia and Al hammered away at their keys. Grace felt like she was vibrating, her heart was beating so fast. The feel of Spencer’s hand slipping into her own grounded her; bring her surroundings into sharp focus.
“It’s going to be okay,” Spencer whispered to her. Grace ignored Lars’ sharp look over at them.
“They’re in DC” said Garcia “They’re at a motel downtown”
“We’ll get unit there ASAP. You two can’t go” Emily stood in front of Spencer and Grace, “You’re victims here”
“Emily there’s no way in hell either of us are staying here,” said Spencer,
“He’s our son, we’re going,” added Grace. Behind them she could almost feel Lars burning a whole through her with his gaze. There was a small flicker at the back of her mind that realised this particular genie wouldn’t go back in the bottle when Isaac was safe with her again. That was a problem for the future though; right then and there Isaac was the only thing she could focus on.
“We probably have to arrest the pair of them to get them stay” said Sam, “I’m happy to have them with my guys while the BAU takes point”
Sensing she was fighting a losing battle Emily agreed, everyone began to scramble. Just before leaving grace turned back to where Lars was being guided back to the interrogation room by one of the Metro PD officers.
“Thank you,” she said and before he could respond she was gone. Instead Lars locked eyes with Spencer.
“Get them both back safe, please”
Spencer gave a curt nod before following Grace out. He would try his hardest.