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'L' Is For Love Letters

Chapter Text

Reid purred distractedly, twisting his fingers into Langly's hair. He hadn't even been awake ten minutes, but this was an excellent start to the morning: Langly already lying between his bare legs, in nothing but a shirt, lapping contentedly at his nipple. The night before echoed through his head in flashes at every spark of pleasure, and he swore he still felt wet, even though he was sure that was impossible. 

And speaking of the day before, he had questions to ask, answers he probably needed to provide. He tugged absently at Langly's hair. "Hey, you remember the message I left the first day? What did I say?"

Langly froze, tongue still pressed to Reid's chest as he looked up like a panicked rabbit, wondering if just bolting would be at all effective while he wasn't wearing pants.

Reid noticed the look, the sudden tension in Langly's back. "What are you worried about? I'm the one who said it."

Langly sat up, slowly, distrust writ large across his face as he reached for his bag. "I'm not telling you. You're telling you. I saved the message, because you need to hear this exactly the way I heard this. I'm... I think you'll pick up pretty quick why I was a little flipped out." He dropped the phone on Reid's chest.

Looking entirely confused, Reid picked up the phone and played back the message, the colour draining from his face. He looked up at Langly, panicked and confused. "I'm so sorry. I ... I wasn't in my right mind. I wasn't--"

"So, you didn't mean that?" Langly asked, surprisingly non-judgementally for someone who might just have been informed his boyfriend didn't love him.

"What's relevant here is that it wasn't what I meant to say!" Reid argued, still stunned and pale. Had he meant it? Did he mean it, now? "It's not the sort of thing I just ... say in passing! It's... not the sort of thing I say very much at all. The last time I said it, someone died."

"Oh, shit." The memory of that conversation put a whole other concern on Langly's face. "And you were looking at--"

"Yeah." Reid nodded, thinking of the corpse in the alley, the one he'd irrationally thought might be Langly, for one split second.

"So, flashback?" Langly slipped a hand into Reid's.

"Probably?" Reid squeezed his eyes shut, regret hanging heavy over him. "I'm so sorry."

Langly stretched out along Reid's side. "Look at me, Reid." He waited until Reid's eyes opened, heavy with dread. "I was just afraid something happened to you. That's not like you at all, and I know that. You scared the shit out of me, and that you can be sorry for. Don't you dare apologise to me for having a flashback."

"I'm sorry I told you I loved you, without forethought. Without being absolutely sure it was the truth. Without even knowing I'd said it. It wasn't fair, and it wasn't reasonable. I swear, I thought I asked you to call me." The fear sat just below Reid's skin, like a cold void, reminding him how badly he'd lost control, reminding him it could happen again, it would happen again.

"Wouldn't know what to do with it, if you were serious," Langly teased, rubbing his thumb across Reid's knuckles. "You're my boyfriend. We don't have to be in love. Whatever this is, it's good enough. I like it. I like you."

Reid studied Langly's face, looking for any sign he was being bullshitted, but finding nothing out of the ordinary in Langly's eyes, in his face. He tossed the phone back toward Langly's bag, pulled his other hand out of Langly's grip, and wrapped his whole body around Langly, as his breathing stuttered and his eyes watered, the ache of panic still twisting like a fist in his chest.

"It's going to be all right," Langly promised, kissing Reid's shoulder and running a hand down his back. "As long as you don't drip snot in my hair, everything's going to be just fine."

Reid snorted. "Might be too late." He laughed weakly.

Langly stared over Reid's shoulder, lips tight with mild annoyance. "You're lucky I like you."

"I am," Reid agreed. "And I think about that every day."

"I wonder every day how I got so lucky that you wanted to kiss me, that you still want to kiss me."

"I was feeling extremely reckless and a little turned on. And then I was a lot turned on. Doesn't happen often, and then I'm back to reckless. You looked like you might be interested. I didn't think it would really go anywhere -- these things never do -- but ..."

"'Might be interested', by which you mean 'had a raging boner'." Langly laughed.

"The majority of my attention was on your face, when I made that decision."

"Kissing you the first time was kind of an accident. My brain just misfired when everyone walked out alive. Knocking us both over? Definitely an accident and I'm hanging that entirely on you sitting on that chair like a damn gargoyle." Langly cleared his throat and cocked his head. "But, then you were laying on me, and my god, I wanted you between my legs, and I was just trying to stay cool. Trying to convince myself I was just having a reaction because the closest I'd been to another person in fifteen years was Byers crying on my shoulder about Susanne."

"I'm just going to gloss over the part where somewhere in there I realised I liked the way you smell." Reid shifted his leg up over Langly's hip and kissed the top of his head. "And that was uncomfortable. And then you asked me to stay, and all I really wanted to do was put that out of my mind and get back to somewhere I knew, but the case was still hanging over us, and I knew Garcia needed to handle other parts of it, and the work needed to be done fast, and if nothing else you were absolutely smart and dedicated, and I had no doubt the two of us could find whatever we'd missed."

"Oh, we definitely found what we were missing." Langly laughed against Reid's shoulder. "Wait, wait. You liked the way I smelled on the floor? God, I hope that was before I moved to get the chair off you."

Reid cleared his throat. "You mean before you nearly mashed your crotch into my face?"

Langly squeezed his eyes shut. "I really should have gone for a different angle."

"I'm going to avoid providing an opinion about that."

Langly tried to lean back, but ran into Reid's arm, which held him just a little closer. "Wait, wait, are you telling me you got turned on sniffing my crotch?"

"I didn't say that," Reid huffed.

"You implied that."

"You inferred that." After a tense pause, Reid wound his leg back around Langly's, tucking his ankle between Langly's shins. "The point is I like the smell of you. I've said that before. I'll probably say it again, but never anywhere anyone else is going to hear it, because that is exactly the kind of thing I will never hear the end of. That's not the way people think of me. That's not the way I think of me."

"You said you were changing," Langly reminded him.

"I am." Reid shifted down, leg bending higher as he brought himself back even with Langly. "And most of it, I like. Some things, I'm still not sure about, but there's nothing here I don't like. I mean, if you don't like something, don't do it twice, right?"

"But, you still don't want anyone else to see it." Langly stole a quick kiss.

"I'm a very private person. That's really most of what anyone knows for sure. There have been a few landmark revelations, a handful of stories that were relevant at the time, but I keep my personal life to myself, for the most part. People came to their own conclusions about what that meant about me. Most of the time, I just don't correct them, until my experiences are actually relevant. They can think whatever they want."

Langly tipped his head down and laughed. "You're as bad as I am."

"Maybe that's why this works so well."

"Or maybe it's just because you're hot and your vision sucks," Langly teased.

"Hey, I see better than you do. If anyone's perceptions should be questioned, here, I'm pretty sure they're not mine."

"Yeah, but I had my glasses on, when we met."

"My first look at you, I thought you were pretentious, if intentionally attempting to be terrifying. A few hours later I was questioning my sexuality."

"... You were already bisexual."

"Less 'what do I prefer' and more 'oh, I have one of those, don't I'," Reid admitted, with a tired laugh at himself. "I really don't bother, a lot of the time."

"You really are just as bad as I am."

"Only in interpretations where any of this is bad, and I remain unconvinced that's the case, here." Reid flexed his leg and rolled his hips. "I think we've managed something pretty good, and I don't think it would've worked if we were too much different than we are."

Langly's hand slid down Reid's side, coming to rest under the curve of Reid's ass. "When you put it like that, maybe it's not so bad. I'm definitely enjoying you, even if I'm a little touchy about being so close to the FBI again."

Reid shifted uncomfortably as the thought of the other thing he meant to tell Langly crossed his mind again. Later. He'd take care of that, today, but not right now.

"You all right?" Langly's voice raised Reid from his contemplations. 

"Sorry. Yeah. I just... my arm's asleep." Reid rolled back onto his back, pulling Langly on top of him and wrapping both legs around Langly's waist, ankles crossed at his tailbone. He stretched his arm and wiggled his fingers, noting that his hand actually had gone mostly numb, and he was now suffering the stabbing sensations of the return of blood to his extremities. And his other extremities, he thought, as Langly ground down against him.

"So, where were we, before we stopped so you could tell me you didn't love me?" Langly teased, dragging his hair across Reid's face.

Reid sputtered and swatted Langly's hair aside. "I didn't-- I'm not-- I'm still sorry, and I will never stop being sorry about that."

Langly looked up, suddenly serious. "Reid, stop. It really doesn't matter. I'm just giving you shit. I'm not asking for it. I'm not expecting it. If it happens, tell me, and we'll figure out what  to do with that."

"I'm really not okay with the fact that happened. At all," Reid admitted, stretching a hand across his eyes like he did when he had a headache, which, he reflected, this entire line of discussion was likely to give him.

"Look on the bright side." A wry smile turned Langly's lips. "At least it was me and not somebody you could actually offend."

Reid tried to swallow the laugh. It shouldn't have been funny. It shouldn't have been, but it was, because he could hear the amusement in Langly's voice. Trying to keep his lips closed, he choked on the laugh. "I'm pretty sure I could offend you, but I'd have to want to, which I don't."

"Frohike's been trying for years," Langly murmured, as he put his mouth to better use against Reid's collarbone.

"Frohike seems to be rather successful," Reid argued, winding Langly's hair around his fingers.

"He's got the benefit of thirty years of being a pain in my ass. Less offence, more reflex." Langly nipped at Reid's neck. "Quick, change the subject. Talking about Frohike is the opposite of giving me a boner." He paused. "Assuming that was something you meant to do."

"It wasn't." Reid stretched the hand that had been over his eyes back until he cracked his knuckles against the leg of his desk. "But, I could come to appreciate it, if it happened. Maybe I should actually start trying."

"You're an ass."

"There's a lot more to me than just the ass, thank you." A poorly-contained smile quirked Reid's lips. "That's not even the part of me you get the most use out of."

"I get a lot more use out of your brain. The rest of you is just icing on the cake." Langly returned his attentions to where all of this had started, flicking his tongue against Reid's nipple. "Smart, fun, funny, reckless, and then gorgeous, too. I should envy you, but I just want you."

"You stopped just short of the tagline for Spy magazine, and I'll thank you for that. Reckless, I'll admit to. Fearless, I wouldn't." Any further commentary was cut short as Reid's mind refused to process anything but the feel of Langly's teeth against his nipple.

"Nobody's fearless," Langly pointed out, as he pressed a kiss to Reid's chest. "If they look like it, you're not aiming properly."

And somehow, that observation surprised Reid more than it should have. Of course Langly would know that, with the kind of work he'd been doing, all those years ago. Everything has a weak point. There is nothing that can't be taken down. But, the little hints that Langly was much better at people than he let on caught in Reid's mind, even as he arched against Langly's lips, the distraction of teeth and tongue against his skin not quite enough for him to misplace another piece of that puzzle. It made sense, he supposed. Langly was good at reading people, not interacting with them. Except him. Langly was very good at interacting with him, and the warmth between his hips was solid proof of the point.

A solid point of proof. A solid pointing proof. A solid point, for certain, and Langly stretched against it, skin on skin, as Reid's heel pressed insistently on his tailbone.

"You know how I said I wasn't trying?" Reid managed, closing his hand in Langly's hair, just enough to pull Langly away from his nipple long enough to string words together. "Changed my mind. Definitely trying."

Chapter Text

Morning was still soft behind the curtains, but the light still had to make it past the back of the sofa before it could backlight Langly. Not as good as the afternoon light from the side, in the chair, Reid decided, but still an excellent view. He reached up and tucked Langly's hair behind his ear.

"Finally decided to move so I can reach you?" Reid teased, ankles still crossed over Langly's narrow ass.

"Finally decided to ask how you want me."

"Just like this." Reid stretched until his hand found where the lube had rolled to, the night before, and he held it between them. "Just like last night."

"You really want to do that again?" Langly didn't look entirely convinced.

"I mean, if you don't want to..." Reid shrugged. "I understand that's a completely disgusting proposition, and I'm not going to take any offence if you tell me no. But, I really enjoyed it."

"Twelve seconds just dropped to six seconds," Langly warned, plucking the bottle of lube out of Reid's hand. "You'll be lucky if I even get it in."

"You are so incredible, and I am so lucky." Reid smiled warmly as Langly's fingers traced slick lines along his skin.

"You are the only lunatic in the known world who thinks six seconds is hot," Langly scoffed.

"You're the only lunatic in the known world so turned on by my body that you only last six seconds," Reid retorted, smile sliding sideways into something a little sharper, if aimed at himself. "What can I say? It's flattering. It's incredibly appealing."

Langly rolled his eyes, shaking his head in disbelief, even as his fingers continued to tease. Even after this long -- which hadn't been that long measured against the scale of things he'd lived and feared, but was far longer than he thought he'd had any right to expect -- Reid's willingness to have him just as he was sat uneasy with him. Nothing was ever that easy. Somewhere, something was going to break, and when it did it would be brutal. He hoped he could hold on to his doubt and his dignity well enough to walk away intact and appropriately offended, because if he slipped, if he really started to believe, it would be devastating.

But, for right now, he'd take what he was offered. He'd enjoy this as long as he could have it, being with someone who thought just as fast as he did, but at a different angle. Being with someone who welcomed his touch, wanted his body, tolerated his entirely justified paranoia. Being with Reid, who had a first name he'd never use, because they weren't like that, for some reason. Not that he'd ever been like that. That was a word that belonged on someone else's lips. His own lips belonged back on Reid's chest, crushed against his teeth as Reid writhed on his fingers, clutching at his hair.

He wanted so much to believe. Maybe Reid was right. Maybe there was something to be said for forever, if it looked like this. But, that was sloppy sentimentality talking. He'd always been a little sentimental, he supposed, just never like he was supposed to be. But, that was for later. Right now, he could just let the sounds of Reid's alternating panting and tight-lipped pleasure wash over him. Right now, he could just let himself be swept away by desire.

"Still want me?" Langly teased, flicking his tongue across Reid's nipple.

Reid's eyelids fluttered as he tried to find himself in a reality in which that question made sense. "I think there are very few circumstances that look like this in which the answer to that question is going to be 'no'."

"Just making sure this isn't one of them." Langly shrugged, casually, flipping the lube open with his free hand.

The expression slid off Reid's face entirely, for a split second. "Thank you," he said, quietly; then, "I want you."

Langly took a deep breath and slowly drew his fingers out, pressing himself against, but not into, the space left behind. "Say it again."

"I want you." Louder, this time. Reid dug his heels in, trying to pull Langly down. "I want you in ways I'm not going to talk about, because then I'll have to think of them as more than sensation, and the absolutely last thing I need right now is to gross myself out of doing this." He paused. "Words don't go together like that, but that's not the point. The point is--"

Langly rocked his hips forward, getting just far enough that 'in' might be a reasonable judgement, before Reid arched and clenched around him. He squeezed his eyes shut, thin lips tight in his teeth. A few more deep breaths, and he found words. "Reid? Don't move. Just for a minute."

As Langly's eyes opened, Reid offered a wicked smile and flexed exactly the muscles Langly had been afraid he might. A few quick squeezes and Langly was dazed and shivering, futilely trying to hold onto the last shreds of his self control. As he felt the first telling pulse inside him, Reid stretched and licked his lips.

"I think that was more than six seconds," he said, trying to get his elbows under him and roll Langly over, surprised when Langly put a weight-bearing hand on his hip, instead.

"Not this time." Langly slid out as he shifted his weight, and under him, Reid flinched. "You all right?"

"Concerned, but yes."

"I don't feel like crying before breakfast. New plan. Stop me if you hate it, but remember you took a shower before we went to sleep."

"What--?" Reid almost didn't finish the word, before Langly's fingers were inside him again, three instead of two, teasing the wetness out of him. The pleasure raced through him like electricity, skipping off his fingers, his nipples, his toes, pooling against his palms and the backs of his knees. The sensation struck him as decadent and utterly filthy, and he wasn't quite sure if he wanted to climb out of his skin or beg for more of it. Either way, that definitely wasn't a 'hate it'.

He could feel Langly shifting down between his legs, which he pulled up and hooked over Langly's shoulders instead. And then everything stuttered and skipped, his heart, his breath, his connection to anything outside himself. This time, he did push himself up on his elbows, staring down at where Langly licked another slow line along the side of his penis. "I thought we didn't do this."

"You took a shower and I'm staying away from the part I probably don't want in my mouth." Langly stilled his fingers and looked up at Reid. "You want me to stop?"

"No! ... Maybe..." Reid closed his eyes and tipped his head back. "Are you enjoying this?"

"I've got a handful of my own spooge and I can feel your pulse in my tongue. It's not somewhere I ever thought I'd be, but I could get used to this." Langly shrugged and Reid's legs moved with him. "I don't think I've been doing it long enough to enjoy it, but I don't have any complaints, aside from the part where I might actually prefer you a little less well-washed, because you taste like soap."

Reid continued to let his head hang back, taking one long breath after another. "Okay, I'm just going to stop watching, stop thinking about this. We'll see where this goes. If it stops working for either of us, I can think of at least five other things that would achieve the same ends with less, ah... questionable choices."

"Chalk it up to curiosity. You took a chance; I'll take a chance. Maybe we'll get something good out of it." Langly lowered his face back to Reid's crotch, curling his fingers as he rubbed his cheek along Reid's length, pressed his face against the less-coarse-than-expected curls at the base. Little things he'd never really considered stood out, this close. He supposed he'd known -- a dick was a dick, after all, and he had one -- but he'd never really stopped to think about the path of the veins he now traced with his tongue or the few hairs that were in places he now considered entirely annoying. Still, he parted his lips, taking just the base into his mouth, sucking and licking a bit uncertainly. This was either going to work fantastically, or he was going to gag on a hair and throw up in Reid's lap, and he wasn't sure which yet. Possibly both, given the sounds Reid was no longer quite able to contain. That settled him a bit. He'd be a little less horrified if he could at least get Reid off before or during the throwing up part... which he was still hoping to avoid.

Reid tried to separate himself from everything but the sensations. There was nothing to be gained by considering what Langly had to be doing to produce that completely incredible ripple of sparkling warmth that seemed to originate just above and in from his pelvic arch. It felt like breath and glitter against the top of his thighs. He could feel the sudden change in pressure and then the slow, wet trail that paused just below the crown, with quick, teasing flickers of contact and then the same gentle, teasing pull at the skin, this time against his frenulum. His breath came quicker and he swallowed audibly, the angle of his throat making an effort of not just drooling up his face, as the tension inside him increased just the way he wanted it, a firm pressure tracing a slow path back and forth over maybe half a centimetre of his insides. And then Langly's teeth connected with his skin and there was no question in his mind about that, but he absolutely did not care. Maybe he'd care later. Or tomorrow. Or at any point when that gentle pressure wasn't somewhere he'd never imagined anyone touching with specific intent. And whatever the intent might have been, he was entirely aware of the effect as his legs slid off Langly's shoulders to the side and his hips strained against the pressure of Langly's arm across them. There were words -- he was sure there were words coming out of his mouth, but he had no idea what they were, and he just could not find it in himself to care at all. All he could be sure was in him was splashing across his chest, and that was all he had to be right then -- primally satisfied and transcendently joyful.

Langly looked smugly up Reid's body as he wiped jizz off his eyebrow. "So... Good?"

"I think I can safely say I don't have any complaints." Reid blinked at the far wall a few times, before looking back down at Langly. "You, ah... Sorry about your hair."

Langly's eyes widened in horror. "In my hair? God damn it."

"Does that mean we're not doing this again?" Reid teased, wishing he'd thought to bring a towel out before they'd gone to sleep.

"Just means I'm going to have to refine my technique," Langly muttered, carefully retrieving his fingers from inside Reid. "Discovered a few faulty assumptions I'm going to need to correct for, but I think we can make it work."

In the aftermath, Reid tried to sort out the sensations -- he could consider the event, now that it wasn't happening, now that thinking about it wasn't going to ruin the mood. "Was that-- Did you-- Was that your teeth at the end?"

"I know, I know, don't bite... Too much?"

Reid tried to untangle his legs from Langly so he could sit up properly. "Are you kidding me? I probably wouldn't go too much further than that, but that was incredible. I don't know what you were thinking, but it was brilliant."

"All right, all right. Say it." Langly's smugness returned full force, as he looked up from where he lay, still between Reid's legs.

"... Say what?" Reid blinked, trying to figure out what he should already know, what obvious answer he was missing.

"My kung-fu is the best."

Chapter Text

Breakfast was late, nearly lunch, but neither of them had any regrets about how the morning had gone. Langly made hash browns with onions, cheese, and mushroom gravy from various freeze-dried ingredients he'd stashed in the cupboards the last time he brought Reid home, and Reid watched sceptically until he actually tasted the pile of potatoes and sludge, at which point he had to confess it was better than diner food in most of middle America.

"So, you remember how you told me to stay away from Mrs Byers?" Reid finally asked, halfway through the meal, setting his coffee out of the way of any potential accidents.

Langly's head turned like it was on a pivot, eyes frightened and angry. "What did you do?"

Reid shook his head. "I drove by. I promise. I didn't try to contact her. I just wanted a look at the house, to see if I could spot anything that would help."

Langly relaxed subtly, still watching Reid as if he were certain he wouldn't like what came next. And he didn't.

"You said she doesn't trust the government, right? If that's the case, that's either not her house or something is very wrong. I spotted a sedan with generic government plates in her driveway. Most of the time, the agency can be identified by the letters that precede the number, which I'm sure you know, but this one was marked as an interagency motor pool vehicle, which means it's probably either actually circulating or belongs to a department too small to have its own plates. I'm going to assume it's not someone trying to conceal themselves, because using a rental would be the smart solution to that problem. Whoever this is, they want to be at least partially identified, possibly to increase the ability to deflect questions from the neighbours, police, or other concerned parties."

"I don't like this." The words were stupid, but Langly said them anyway. "I like this entire situation even less than I did three days ago, and that takes some doing." He paused as something occurred to him. "You remember the plate number, don't you?"

"Of course I do." Reid picked up his coffee again, now that he was relatively sure the likelihood of getting it knocked into his lap had begun migrating back toward zero.

"Got photos?"

"Absolutely not. I wasn't there to draw attention to myself. I drove past like I was looking for a particular house number and that one wasn't it. But, I can describe every single detail on the front of that house and the car."

A faint smile played at the corners of Langly's mouth as he set his plate on the coffee table and took Reid's face in both his hands. "I love it when you're smarter than me." He pressed a quick kiss to Reid's lips. "I'm pissed as hell that you went down there by yourself, because I know you were by yourself, but if you were going to do it, you did it right, and you did it well. Better than I could've done, even when I was young and reckless and doing this kind of thing all the time."

Reid's next breath drew him up and back, like a cobra flaring its hood. "You only get to be pissed if I'm stepping on your investigation. Otherwise, what I do on my own time is my concern."

"I get to be pissed because I care about you, and I don't want you getting brainwashed by the CIA or, worse, by the DoD," Langly snapped, hands still on Reid's face. "Do you get this? It's not about your competence. Nobody is competent enough for this. It's about the fact that what is going on here is probably a continuation of something so big and so completely fucking terrifying that if Byers wasn't up to his neck in it and crying about it, I'd walk away without even looking back. You know what I'm willing to do, at a moment's notice, and I would happily run from this, if I thought I could actually get away. This isn't about you. I just don't want you getting hurt when it comes back around to bite us in the ass."

"Listen to me, Langly. If what you suspect is what's actually happening here -- and I don't have enough information to pass judgement, so I'm going to take your word for it, for now, because you would know much better than I would -- it is my problem. Because I will make it my problem."

"Yeah, I got to see how well that worked out for Mulder, and as cute as you'd be blasted out of your mind and writhing on the floor, naked, I think I'll pass. I'm pretty sure there are less life-threatening ways to achieve that."

"You've already achieved that." Reid swatted Langly's hands off his face so he could drink his coffee. "And I don't really want to end up complicit in what you're describing, so yeah, as a federal agent it is my problem. I'm not bowing to the evil empire, assuming there is one. Besides, if this is happening, you need someone on the inside."

"Which isn't you. Technically, I'm pretty sure the FBI didn't have a whole hand in this particular clusterfuck."

"No, but Vanity owes you." Reid smiled grimly. "You have Vanity and the Black Queen and me."

"And you're all FBI," Langly pointed out again. "If we need someone inside, we need CIA or DoD, I think. I don't know who's involved any more, but I know where this started, and it all started with a Department of Defense research facility in New Mexico, where our darling Holly was said to have murdered six people."

"I think I have a State Department contact." Reid muttered uselessly, tipping his head back and forth as he considered who he knew and who they knew. "Wait, six murders? And we want to help her?"

"She was supposed to have been number seven. It was a cleanup job." Langly reached for his own coffee, the half-finished plate of hashbrowns sitting on the table as a reminder that he wasn't eating until he'd gotten through the upsetting parts of this conversation. No sense having to cook breakfast twice. "When she got away, they blamed it on her so the FBI would track her down."

"So, we should still have the file for that, right?" It sounded like the reasonable conclusion.

Langly shook his head. "It was gone by the time Mulder started wearing pants again. Charges dropped, file destroyed, nobody knew what he was talking about."

"Which means the FBI may be involved again, but not intentionally."

"Her Majesty would've caught it." Langly shook his head. "There's no way she'd have picked up... Except she was coming at it from Byers, not the other way. Okay, she's an American citizen on American soil, so the FBI might be involved again."

"We need to figure out who that car was checked out to, that night," Reid decided, sensibly. "Or at least which agency."

A smile crept across Langly's face. "You know there's a centralised database for that, now? I can get that. I can most likely get the agency and who signed off on it, at least."

"I'm starting to really like it when you say things like that."

"Weren't you the one who said there were things you absolutely could not know?"

"Yes." Reid smiled and shrugged, producing an expression of perfect innocence. "Don't tell me things I shouldn't know. Just tell me enough so I can appreciate your skill and wisdom."

Langly scoffed and got up to get his laptop from his bag. "Flatterer."

"I generally don't engage in flattery. I'm not really in the habit of saying things that aren't true." Reid watched, over the back of the couch, letting himself appreciate the lines of Langly's body. They had something like a case to be working on, but there was little more he could accomplish without the data Langly was after. He'd done his part, for now, and he could, if not relax, at least appreciate the scenery. And that was new: taking the time to just watch someone move for reasons other than suspicions of wrongdoing. Or, if not new, at least something he hadn't bothered with in a very long time. And Langly really was very well put together.

As Langly noticed Reid's eyes on him, he opened his mouth to make a joke about it, just in time for an unexpected noise from deeper in his bag. He dropped back down and dug for his phone.

"Was that a Next Gen hailing signal?" Reid asked, squinting at Langly.

"No, it was the doorbell from Picard's office." Langly found the phone and answered it. "How worried should I be?"

Reid assumed the call was from Byers, as he only knew of three phones on that network and Byers had the only one not in the room.

"Oh, are you kidding me?" Langly groaned and pressed a hand against his eye under his glasses. "Hang on." He took the phone away from his ear and looked at Reid. "Renovations on my place, this week. We're all going to be stuck in the basement for like ten hours a day. Do you mind--"

"If you stay here?" Reid looked like he was actually thinking about it. "Just you, right? I promise this is smaller than your basement."

"I know it's smaller than my basement. I think it's smaller than my bedroom," Langly scoffed. "Yes, just me."

"Don't upset my neighbours, don't get arrested in my apartment, and please don't get shot." Reid held up a finger for each point. "... And put your dishes in the dishwasher."

Langly bounced triumphantly and blew a kiss, before he brought the phone back up. "Yeah, don't worry about me. I'll be fine. I can work from he-- Yes, I'm serious. I can work from here. I know that. ... I have-- Byers, I can take care of myself. How long have we been doing this? ... Yes, I know I haven't used anyone else's network in fifteen years. It's not even his network, now. He doesn't have one. If this falls on anyone, It's not going to be us. And besides that? It's not going to fall on anyone, because I'm not stupid."

He groaned in annoyance and gestured for Reid to write down the plate number, as he continued to argue with Byers. It took a few tries to convey the right information with hand gestures and slowly mouthing words, but eventually he was holding it. "Look, if you want to keep me out of trouble, run this plate for me and pull the cameras on Tallahassee Holly from two nights ago. I want to see something." He read off the number. "It's a G-eleven plate, so... Yeah. Exactly. We don't have cameras on Tallahassee? Shit, no wonder it-- Never mind. I'll tell you when I get home. Byers -- Byers, when I get home. We already missed the punch on this one. Now it's time to figure out whose trap that is. ... Yes. Thank you. Yes, I'm fine. Yes, I'm getting online. Yes, I was holding my laptop before I picked up the phone, so if you hang up, so I have a hand free, I'll be right where you're looking for me."

"He's really worried about you, isn't he?" Reid moved plates to make room on the coffee table, as Langly shoved the phone into his pocket in disgust.

"He's been our face for a long time, that's all." Langly dropped back onto the couch and opened his laptop, wedging himself sideways between Reid and the arm of the couch. "He forgets I do still function when removed from the tank."

"Interesting choice of words, with recent events," Reid pointed out, trying to figure out if he could put one arm around Langly, rest his plate on the arm of the couch, and not drop hashbrowns in Langly's hair. A bit difficult, but he figured he could probably manage, now that the gravy had gone cold and lumpy. "What are you working on, if he's doing the license plate?"

"Just checking on Alcea. Something's got to happen soon." Langly pinned a window in one corner of the screen. "And Frohike says hello, along with several other unprintable things mostly aimed at me."

"Tell him to knock it off before I send naked pictures," Reid joked, and Langly tried to sit up and failed, finally just tipping his head back to look up at Reid


"Of you."

This time, Langly cackled. "Yeah, all right, that would probably make it stop."

Chapter Text

"She's got a package coming, later in the week." Langly sounded triumphant, tipping his head back against Reid's chest. "Kiss me, I'm brilliant. And we'll finally have eyes on Alcea, so Byers will get the twist out of his boxers... Well about that, anyway."

Reid licked the gravy off his lip and dropped a kiss on Langly's forehead. "Still have to solve the Holly problem."

"There is no solution to his Holly problem. He could find her and marry her for real, and he'd still come back to me agonising over all the years he wasted." Langly sighed. "It's Byers. He's just... like that."

"So, we need to solve the current Holly problem, so he can move on to the next." Reid twisted a lock of Langly's hair around his finger as he considered it. "How will it change him? Whatever we find, he's not going to be the same."

"It's Byers. He's always the same." Langly shook his head tightly, a tiny motion that conveyed all he thought of that idea. "His focus will just be on a different part of the same thing. She could be dead. She could be married with six kids and living in Reykjavik. She could, though the probability approaches zero, the more I find out, be alive and want him back. He'll still be Byers. He'll still be weird. He'll still be obsessed."

"I should call JJ." Reid made no move to get up.

"After dinner," Langly suggested. "Give her a whole day without you in it, and she'll appreciate it more."

"That or she'll call me, first." Reid leaned back into the corner of the couch. "Do I look like a horse's ass, if she calls me first?"

"Translation: How much do you actually have to care, and is it enough to get you off this couch?" Langly laughed, typing without looking as he filled Byers and Frohike in on what they'd need to be ready for, with Alcea, and when. "And the answer is no."

"You just want the answer to be no, so you don't have to sit up."

"Maybe." Langly shrugged. "You're still not going to look like a horse's ass. I grew up on a farm. I can definitely tell the difference. There's no resemblance."

A faint sound of amusement passed Reid's lips. "You going to be all right, here, tomorrow? I have to go deal with more paperwork."

Paperwork, by which he meant another interview in which he explained that he knew exactly what he was doing, when he shot Grafton in the leg, having been shot in the leg himself on one occasion, and he had absolutely no regrets about doing so, and really did not need any more time off to adjust to having done so. But, of course, to convey that in a way that didn't make him sound trigger-happy.

"Yeah, I'm not going anywhere, and you've got good coffee and enough food for a small army. I'll be fine. I promise not to talk to the neighbours." Langly glanced back at the screen and pulled the stills Byers was talking about, opening the first one and lifting his laptop for a better angle. "Did you sleep on the plane?"

"Why?" Reid felt a chill run down his spine.

"Because we caught you on a traffic camera in Tallahassee and you look even more like shit than you did when you came through the door." Langly lowered the laptop and tipped it back so Reid could see.

"That's not what you said last night," Reid teased, trying not to let on how disturbed he was by how easy he'd been to find.

"You were alive and not bleeding from anywhere important. Everything else was incidental. I was overwhelmed by my desire to appreciate your survival with my dick."

"The application of your appreciation was definitely the high point of my evening." Reid shifted, moving Langly with him, to get a better look at the screen, at the other images Langly was looking through. "Did you know what I was driving? Where was that?"

"How did we find you?" Langly translated. "We weren't actually looking for you. We were looking at the cameras closest to Holly's -- traffic cameras, other people's security cameras -- they're everywhere. And there's not a lot of them aimed at the street in that neighbourhood, which makes it a little harder. So, we're down to guessing which major intersections we'd be able to find people headed in that direction coming through. And I know about when you got there, so we started there and worked backward, because the other car was already there. Most likely, we should be looking at daylight hours, but I don't want to make that assumption and miss something. Byers picked up the government plate on what you were driving and went for a closer look."

"If you've ever wondered what I'd look like maybe half an hour after shooting someone? That's it, right there. Changed my clothes for evidentiary reasons and went right out."

"A little shocky, honestly," Langly observed. "If I looked like that, I'd want a barf bucket, not a donut."

"The donuts weren't even for me!" Reid protested.

"White smudge on your collar says otherwise. Probably powdered sugar, all things considered." A thin smile spread across Langly's face, visible in the dim reflection in the dark parts of the screen. "And you wouldn't go for straight powdered, because they're a mess, so that's probably jelly or cream, and the box is Bavarian cream, which means if it's cream it's Boston. So, it's jelly, because I know you, and you're not doing that to yourself if someone else is waiting in the hospital."

"Don't bullshit the man who analyses cryptid photos. Duly noted." Reid found himself impressed. It actually had been a jelly donut, and he'd thought less about it than Langly just did when making the decision. They'd been out of chocolate glazed and he hadn't wanted to wait the hour for the morning batch. "Okay, you know me so well, what kind of jelly?"

Langly blinked. "Strawberry. They're always strawberry."

"Blackcurrant." Reid laughed. "Trick question."

"Where the hell did you find a blackcurrant jelly donut in Florida?" Langly demanded, tipping his head back to look up at Reid.

"In the only donut shop that was open at four in the morning, apparently. The options at that hour were blackcurrant or pineapple, and I wasn't really ready to embrace the tropical before the sun was up. There's just something wrong about citrus in the middle of the night."

"I swear to god, you're going to turn into an X-File, assuming you're not one already."

"You say, as if your caffeine intake doesn't both far exceed mine and make you a prime candidate for cryptid status." Reid twitched his finger and tugged Langly's hair. "First mammal to be primarily fuelled by caffeine instead of carbohydrates. An unlikely evolution of an already ridiculous species, even if we're still not as bad as horses. Yet."

"'Far exceeds' is overstating the case. Slightly exceeds, maybe, not counting when you do stupid shit like ten cups before lunch."

"I drove across town four times that morning! On almost no sleep!"

"My point exactly. You don't see me doing shit like that."

"You're supposed to be dead. No one sees you doing anything." Reid paused, lips pursing against a smile. "Besides, I'm younger and still at the height of my physical excellence."

"Oh. Oh, that is it. Challenge accepted. No glove needed. It is on." Langly leaned to the side until his hair unravelled from Reid's finger and then sat up, pulling his legs off the arm of the couch. "And you just admitted you're a cryptid."

Reid blinked once, running the conversation back through his head. "It's ... possible to interpret what I said in that fashion."

"It's the most likely interpretation," Langly argued. "And? Older and wiser is still going to kick your ass for endurance. Competition DDR. Fifteen mile sewer hikes."

"Oh, I haven't even declared the terms of this duel." Now Reid's smile turned dangerous. "What were you saying this morning about six seconds?"

Langly's back straightened as he sputtered. "I still win. You stop after one."

Reid raised an eyebrow, chin tipping down. "By choice, I assure you." He hoped he was right.

"Yeah, we'll see about that," Langly scoffed.

"I will win on duration and number." Reid sounded a lot more sure than he was.

"I'll give you duration." Langly put a hand up. "But, number you're going to have to fight me for."

"The neighbours are going to kill us," Reid realised, suddenly, glancing over Langly's shoulder at the far wall.

"So, we don't do this here. We wait until after the renovation, and we do it in my properly-soundproofed bedroom, which has much more space and an actual bed in it."

"You can't fall off the floor," Reid pointed out, after a moment.

"Still more floor space, if you want to go that way," Langly reminded him. "And all the VR gear's still going to be packed because they're moving the walls, so the entire floor is going to be clear."

"I genuinely hope you can still stand, when I'm done with you." Reid's eyes gleamed.

"Same. I'd hate to leave you laid up from getting laid." The laptop made an angry noise and Langly's hands flew across the keys. "And this is a discussion we're having later because Byers just figured out I wasn't paying attention and piped /dev/random to /dev/audio, like an asshole. Which he can only do because I let him, and this had better be that important."

Reid tried to finish his breakfast, while Langly wasn't leaning on him. "I got the 'audio' part, and the rest went over my head. What's so important?"

"We got the car. Two men, and -- fortunately, I hope -- I don't know either of them."

"Because if you don't know them, they probably don't know you."

"Which means they may not know Byers on sight, either." Langly's shoulders dropped, putting his elbows almost level with his wrists, as his fingers flashed across the keyboard. "You don't know how much I hope this is someone looking for her work. Like, as genuinely bad as that might be, it's less bad than the alternative."

"Which would be that they're after you through Byers, yes?" Reid also hoped that wasn't the case.

"Yeah, those are the top two motivations. Everything else is so far down the list it looks ridiculous from here. Her work was the trigger twice already," Langly muttered, keeping the screen angled away from Reid as he worked. "Come on, Frohike, give me a better face..."

"What agency?" Reid asked, remembering the other half of the question.

"Couldn't tell you, and I don't like that. Means they're not playing straight." Langly's eyes darted to the side, meeting Reid's. "And that may mean we have a much more serious problem than I wanted."

"Yeah, but we knew that." Reid shrugged and scraped the last of the cold potatoes off his plate. "Besides, does the motor pool in that area even track that, or just who picked up the vehicle, by name? Don't pay too much attention to me, I don't actually know, because that is never my problem. We show up and usually someone has already taken care of the car and the hotel, so we hit the ground running. Which may also be why you're missing an agency and possibly the name of the driver. Someone else -- someone local -- set everything up in advance. JJ knows more about how that works than I do -- who you have to call, what they need to know. JJ and Prentiss are probably the last people on the team who have actually had to do it, since Morgan and Hotch left."

"It's not going to matter. We know the car and we know the faces, and that means we can get better faces, and then all we have to do is match them to something." Langly snorted and rubbed his eye, before pushing his glasses back into place. "'All we have to do'. Have I yelled about facial recognition yet? Because it's shit, and Frohike and I are going to wind up doing a lot of that by hand."

"With a significantly smaller pool," Reid pointed out, setting the empty plate on the table and pulling a book from under it. He turned to make himself more comfortable and tugged gently at Langly's hair.

"I'm not short enough for what you're thinking," Langly muttered, attention still on the screen.

"You will be if you stretch out a little," Reid argued, pulling a small pillow out from behind himself and leaning it on his hip.

"So I don't throw my back out?" Langly drawled, eyeing the pillow.

"So you don't carve a notch in my hip with your spine."

Langly scoffed, but he finally moved, settling against Reid's side, again, legs draped over the arm of the couch. "I don't think you get to say you're not cuddly any more."

"I never said it," Reid reminded him. "I said I didn't like hugs."

Chapter Text

Langly thought he could get used to this, the filtered sunlight spilling across his lap and the keyboard, the cup of iced coffee in one hand, the smell of Reid on the blanket draped over the back of the couch. He wasn't sure he'd ever get used to living in anything other than what was functionally a bunker, but this had the feel of a nice holiday, all the same. A good hotel. A nice place to visit. The place still gave him the shakes, when he thought about it -- the whole wall of windows, the multitude of cameras surrounding it, the fact that a solid kick would probably tear the door off the locks -- but he'd found it in himself to trust it, at least a little. At least for now.

He turned the laptop slightly, to get the sun off the screen as he compared the faces of potential matches against the images from the traffic cameras. Hundreds of faces, most of them already marked as definitely not matching, had crossed his desk since Reid had gone in to handle whatever paperwork that was. He'd check later. Maybe. Probably, if he was honest with himself. 

And speaking of things that needed to be checked, he checked a particular email address one more time, looking for a reply to his last offer. Byers was better at slow negotiation and weaselling his way into purchases no one else could have managed, but Langly wanted what he wanted, and he didn't much want to talk it over with Byers, didn't want to admit what he was doing, even if he was going to have to justify the expenditure, later. And at this rate, it wasn't going to be a small expenditure. He'd win, in the end, but it was going to take longer than he'd particularly wanted to spend. Why were these things never easy? Maybe he'd ask Byers to do it for him, after all.

Rejected again. Yeah, he'd get Byers to do it. And Reid would be furious, but he'd get over it. Later. Later, when this was all over. When he could look forward with some assurance that he'd actually survive whatever the hell it was Byers had gotten them caught up in, thirty years ago.

But, right now, he had a face to find, and -- his eyes leapt to the clock in the corner of the screen -- dinner to make. He could've called for it. Could've waited for Reid to get home before he bothered to do anything but the work that was going to ensure they stayed alive, but after a while, the faces all looked the same. Too many yellow marks, not enough red. And he was starting to really like the way Reid looked at him, when he cooked. Always a little suspicious, uncertain about whether the food would be edible, uncertain about his motivations, and then just happy. Surprised and pleased in that way that people didn't usually look at him. And if all he had to do was make sure he cooked at least once a day, it was worth it.

Maybe he'd skip making dinner. Maybe he'd just make dessert. ... But, Reid would never sit for the applications of raspberry pudding he was considering in that moment. Probably for the best. He wasn't sure raspberry went there. Pineapple was still his first choice.

Reid had almost forgotten Langly was waiting for him. The thought had crossed his mind periodically, but it wasn't something he could say. It wasn't something he could give the slightest hint of, and so he'd pushed the thought away, buried it thoroughly, over the course of answering the same questions all over again. Every time he'd shot someone, the questions had been the same, except for the part where people finally seemed a little less surprised when he hit what he was aiming for. Why was it necessary? How had he felt about it at the time? How did he feel about it now?

Frankly, a great deal less upset than he had the first time, not that he'd say it. He'd said that last time, and it hadn't ended well.

He wondered which of the neighbours was cooking, as he came up the stairs, and started to debate whether to bother having something delivered, as he fished for his keys. As he opened the door, several things occurred to him at once, not least among them that the smell of sweet onion in the hall was coming from his apartment and that Langly was not only there but cooking. Which shouldn't have been new. Langly had cooked in his kitchen before, but always while he was standing there carrying on a conversation and cleaning up at the same time. He couldn't remember the last time he'd come home to food on the table, but he thought he might have been nine, and he put that memory right back in the box it came out of.

"Honey, I'm home!" he called out, having no idea what one was supposed to say to this, but wanting to put his voice into the room before he crossed it.

Langly leaned out of the kitchen door, hair twisted and pinned behind his head. "Really? Really!?"

"What did I say about long distance relationships? I'm not very good at this." Reid took off his bag with both hands, elbows close until he managed to set it next to the desk, embarrassment clear in every motion, in a way it almost never was once he was home. "I just knew I had to say something, because not saying something is the start to a story about how I got stabbed in my own kitchen because I accidentally surprised the extremely attractive man who was cooking dinner."

"I have never stabbed anyone, surprised or not," Langly said primly, leaning back into the kitchen to open the oven, which produced a teeth-grinding squeal of metal on metal. "I hope you're all right with chicken and vegetable pie, because that's what I made."

Reid blinked a few times, still standing by the desk, as he sorted through the contents of his cupboards in his mind. "In... what, exactly? I don't have a pie pan."

"Yeah, I noticed that. You have like three pots." Langly cleared his throat. "You have a saucepan. I have a multitool. I improvised. I promise I'll screw the handle back on, when it comes out of the dishwasher."

"You disassembled my saucepan?" Reid appeared in the kitchen doorway almost soundlessly, and Langly wasn't sure how he'd covered that distance at those angles that quickly.

Langly shrugged with one shoulder, already fishing through the cupboards for bowls. "The handle's plastic. You don't put plastic in the oven -- especially when it's someone else's. The skillet's too shallow and the pasta pot's too big. I mean, the saucepan's too big, too, but it's less goddamn ridiculous." He paused, hands spread in front of him, and then turned to grab a serving spoon -- the serving spoon -- from the drawer behind him.

As far as Langly could tell, Reid's indulgences really were limited to good coffee and the occasional nearly-sterile wank, and the minimalist kitchen was starting to get to him, after years of having been the fortunate part-owner of a well-furnished kitchen almost the size of Reid's entire apartment. But, he could remember being twenty-something, when 'cooking' had mostly consisted of microwaving instant noodles and maybe chopping a hot dog into the bowl if their finances permitted. Thirty-something, even, if he was honest with himself. He'd come late to cooking, having generally preferred to leave it to someone else, until he realised cooking his own food meant he could finally have the foods he'd missed, after leaving home, and without the seemingly-inevitable ragging from dear old dad.

He shoved a bowl in Reid's direction, a thick pile of savoury sludge with chunks of broken pie crust jutting from it. "Anyway, it's food. You should probably have some."

"I just want you to know this was less weird in your house." Reid gazed down into the bowl in his hands, trying to put his head in order before he let Langly get too clear a look at his face. Someone was cooking where he lived, in his kitchen, and it wasn't him. The smell of onions and celery and pepper hung over him as he tried to put things back in the boxes they went in. His mother smiling and reciting the best parts of Gawain and the Green Knight as she washed potatoes and he tried to peel them. His father cautiously surprised at the calm. The taste of celery and melted butter at the top of a soup.

Langly watched Reid freeze, breaths getting longer, colour draining from his face. "Hey, you should sit before you fall over."

Reid looked up, lost, and his voice caught up before his face did. "Sorry, I guess I'm hungrier than I thought. This smells great."

Langly's eyes hardened for a split second before he let it go. Probably wasn't his business, anyway. Probably an old case, in which case he definitely didn't want to hear it over dinner. Serial killers and the smell of freshly-cooked chicken did not need to go together in his head. "Yeah, okay, we'll go with that. Put your ass on the couch, before I have to mop you and your dinner off the floor."

"I'm fine," Reid protested, backing out of the kitchen to sit on the far end of the couch, so Langly wouldn't trip over him. Maybe this place actually was small. He'd thought it from time to time. Other times, it didn't seem small enough. Still, he could afford it, and he'd stayed put long enough to be willing to fight to keep it. He knew it, he thought, raising the first bite to his mouth without a conscious decision to do so. "This is good!"

"Don't sound so surprised," Langly drawled, dropping onto the other cushion.

"No, that's not about you, that's just about my kitchen," Reid said, as if it were supposed to make sense. "You cook like this, and I feel like I should be paying you."

"You are. If you're going to fuck me like that, the least I can do is cook."

Reid laughed uncomfortably. "Thanks, and now I feel like a prostitute."

"Pretty sure that's how relationships work. Fantastic sex and somebody cooks. Except in the eighties it was 'fantastic sex and somebody calls for takeout', because white lines and Wall Street." Langly took a bite of the not-quite-pie and looked down in irritation. "This needs more salt. Right. Of course it does. You're out of salt."

"How am I out of salt? There's a huge canister of it in the--"

"Reid? When's the last time you bought salt?"

"I... may have moved in with that," Reid admitted, after a moment's consideration.

"That's how you're out of salt." Langly picked up his laptop, one-handed, and opened it off his chin before setting it on the arm of the couch. "Buying salt. Anything else you need?"

"Haven't you put enough in my kitchen?" Reid asked, mouth full and covered with one hand.

"Obviously not," Langly retorted. "You're out of salt."

"It doesn't really need the salt."

"That's only because you haven't tasted it with the salt. Trust me, it needs the salt. I will cook it for you in my kitchen, with the salt and a pie pan, and you will see what this is supposed to be like, because this is a pretty good impression, but it's still not right." Langly counted ingredients off on his fingers and then started typing again. "And speaking of things that aren't right, there's a pudding in the fridge."

"I'm sorry, why is that not right? Pudding in my fridge sounds like a great universal wrong has been righted." The fork stopped halfway to Reid's mouth, and he turned a quizzical look on Langly.

"Because I made it with water."

"Pretty sure you can make an instant pudding with water, if you don't mind it being a little runny, but I'm also pretty sure instant pudding wasn't on the list of things you brought into my kitchen."

"Give the man a cigar." Langly glanced over his shoulder. "And I'm not buying milk, because I know better."

"You put cheese on the hashbrowns, yesterday. That's not a complaint. I'm fine as long as I don't overdo it."

"Yeah, but I've seen the kind of 'overdoing it' that happens with you, me, and dairy desserts, so that's a no." The corner of Langly's mouth tipped up. "Pretty sure we'd get further with better results if we just started with non-dairy."

"You just want me to lick pudding off you. That's what this is about, isn't it."

"I wasn't planning on it, but if you want to go there with that, I'm not going to tell you not to." It wasn't a lie. Not really. He'd meant that to go the other way, if it went at all.

Chapter Text

Langly woke alone, in the chair, a massive fluffy blanket heaped on him. The sound of shifting paper drew his attention, and he tipped the chair up a bit as he rolled onto his side, finding Reid sitting at the desk next to him, entirely absorbed in something in the dim light of the desk lamp. A scribbled comment in the margin and Reid set down the pen and picked up the spoon from the coffee mug next to his wrist.

"Got into the pudding without me?" Langly asked, stretching and then curling closer around the blanket.

"Figured I should make sure it was edible, before we put it to any more interesting uses." Reid dropped the spoon back into the cup. "Sorry about last night."

"Pretty sure I'd have been pissed if I had the day you had." Langly tried to remember where he'd left his glasses and to decide whether he cared.

"I know the way this works; I know I'm supposed to be afraid. But, I'm not; I'm just annoyed. And I know that's what they're looking for, along with a few other things." Reid shook his head. "I'm done talking about it. I'm done thinking about it. One more day, and I'll be back at work."

"What are you working on?"

"Peer reviews. Nothing exciting, unfortunately. Getting first crack at the newest theories is only fun when they're not just old work rephrased for a different journal." Reid laughed a little bitterly. "We all do it. Well, I don't, any more, but ... academia. It's like that. It puts the work in front of more people, but sometimes the same reviewer ends up with it multiple times, which isn't supposed to happen, but most people don't review for quite as many journals as I do. I get bored. I need something to think about, when I get home."

Langly shrugged out of his shirt and tossed it into Reid's lap. "I'll give you something to think about."

"I'm pretty sure that's the opposite of thinking." Reid folded the shirt in a few quick motions and set it to the side.

"Depends on how creative you feel like getting."

"It's five in the morning. Don't you have something to do, today?"

"Post office doesn't open until seven thirty. I don't have to be paying attention before seven." Langly purred and stretched. "Which means I'm all yours for two hours, if you want me. I'm pretty sure I'm more interesting than last year's research. I am at least this year's research. Research still pending. Experiments not yet performed."

"You just want me to lick pudding off you," Reid teased, picking up his pen to make another note.

"I am completely naked and offering you my entire body, within reason, and your thoughts turn to pudding." Langly tipped the chair back and draped a hand across his forehead. "I see how it is."

"All things considered, the pudding's not bad. It's not right, but it's not bad." Reid sucked thoughtfully on a spoonful. "It's not creamy enough, if that makes sense? But, at least it doesn't taste like soy."

"I got coconut milk. We'll see how that works. I mean, yes, obviously it's going to taste like coconut, but that's kind of the point."

Reid's eyes landed on Langly, his face strangely calm, hands unmoving. "Coconut cream."

"What about it?" Langly blinked.

"Pudding isn't the answer to this question. Coconut cream probably is. Unsweetened." Reid could see it, as he let his eyes fall out of focus, thick, white, and pouring down Langly's spine. Thinner than the frosting, and it would taste better, too. Less cloying. Less nauseating. And when had this become a thing he was even willing to consider beyond a single act of stupidity? When had he let himself start to trust Langly's skin so close to his own? And that wasn't just about his hands and his tongue any more, either. But, after spending most of a year living in filth, he supposed everything was an improvement. And this was something he could control -- his own experiments for his own enlightenment. What could he talk himself into, in pursuit of physical pleasure? And, really, why? The whole thing had been largely ignorable, until recently. Until he gave in to the imp of the perverse and pried open that box, smashing boards as he went. He could probably put that away, again, pack all of it back into a box and shove it to the back of the tower of things he wasn't thinking about, but at this point, it would be painful.

"You're thinking about it, aren't you?" Langly's voice cut into Reid's thoughts, and Reid's eyes refocused with a flash of guilt.

"It's an appealing thought. Potentially. Probably easier to clean if we don't do it here, though. Coconut cream's a little runny, and the neighbours are definitely going to start wondering about how many times I wash my blankets in a week."

"You could always just lick me."

"I could." Reid looked at the papers on his desk, again. He'd have time, later -- more than enough of it, once Langly started working.

"If you're not into it, I'm getting another hour of sleep." Langly curled up again, pulling the blanket up under his chin.

Reid made a decision. "Did you say 'completely naked'?"

"Entirely. The only thing I have on is this blanket."

"How much do you want me wearing?"

"That's still open for debate. Don't throw anything across the room when you take it off, but definitely take it off." Langly shifted his weight so the chair carried him up. "Or c'mere and let me take it off you."

Reid stood up, hands already undoing the top button of his pyjama top, as he checked the height of the chair and stepped across Langly, coming to rest kneeling over Langly's lap, as Langly kicked the chair back to keep from dumping both of them on the floor.

"I'm perfectly capable of removing my own clothes," Reid pointed out, the faintest hint of mischief in his voice as he rested his forehead against Langly's, still slowly working his way down the buttons.

"You're perfectly capable of any number of things." Langly's hands slid up Reid's thighs, slowly and almost reverently. "And I was going to make an argument about sex appeal, but I don't know what I was thinking, because I'm completely sure I could not improve the events currently in my lap. Yeah, take a minute to enjoy it, I was wrong."

"Even the best can't be perfect all the time," Reid purred, shrugging out of the shirt as he pressed a kiss to Langly's forehead.

"Not funny," Langly muttered, tipping his head back to meet the continuing kisses.

"Wasn't supposed to be." Reid ran a finger down the middle of Langly's chest, just the barest touch. "And I don't do flattery."

Anything Langly might've wanted to say to that became half a breathy mutter, lost to the kiss Reid laid across his lips. He grabbed Reid's hand and pressed it flat against his chest, just holding it there as he kissed the taste of pudding out of Reid's mouth. It really wasn't bad, but it could've been better, and he could tell that, even secondhand. But, that was hardly the point or the dominant sensation. He could feel the faint warmth radiating from Reid's body, just far enough out to make him realise how cold the room was with the blanket having fallen into his lap. It wasn't even cold, not really, it was just the kind of temperature he'd rather have been wearing clothes in. Instead he was almost wearing a half-dressed hot fed, and that was a definite improvement on pants.

Reid kissed his way down Langly's neck, tipping the chair back to change the angle between them. "I am so entirely uncomfortable with how much I enjoy you." He laughed breathily against Langly's collarbone. "Your company, your incredible wit, your willingness to let me touch you... my wholly uncharacteristic willingness to let you touch me... Still bothers me." He pushed himself up to watch the fight settle into Langly's eyes. "And I still want more. So much more of just... you."

"Okay, there are two problems with this situation." Langly cleared his throat and put his hands on Reid's shoulders. "At least two. One? You're wearing pants. Two? You're on top of the blanket and I'm freezing. Fix that, and we'll work on the rest."

Another laugh struck Reid, as he eased himself back off the chair, trying to avoid dumping both of them on the floor. "I'm serious," he said, stepping out of the pants and leaving them with the shirt on the floor. Looking down, he covered himself, reflexively, before the motion of the blanket drew his eyes back up along Langly's bare skin, slightly gold in the light from the desk lamp.

"So am I."

Reid's eyes lingered, taking in the sight, recognising the scene from a film he couldn't put a name on, but it would come back in a bit. Except the gold-lit body in the library armchair had been a demon, in that film, and the light spilling over the books had made the room look opulent, instead of trapped in time and pale amber. And with that in mind, he climbed back into Langly's lap, acknowledging the echo and its unpleasant threads of potential truth, and then completely disregarding them, as Langly pulled the blanket up across his shoulders, cutting the light between them and warming the space.

"Better?" he asked, as the warmth pooled between them, damp and clinging. The idea of the demon still caught in his mind, and he knew that wasn't literal, but he could see it -- the changes, the sacrifices, the temptation. He'd always had a questionable relationship with temptation, so rarely fell to the physical, so often fell to the intellectual. It was something he'd had to admit after the second Ph.D. But, he found Langly desirable, a little too easy to want, too easy to have. And he could see the changes happening in himself, in his space, the little impositions, and even as he benefited, he wondered at the cost yet to come.

"Much better." Langly's hands returned to Reid's thighs, palms a gentle pressure on the firm muscle. "Now what was that about you being uncomfortable? If this is a breakup, it's the weirdest possible way to do that. I mean, the whole getting naked thing really makes that unlikely but when have we ever done anything the way it was supposed to be done?"

"No! No, definitely not a breakup. No. I mean, no. Not-- No. Wow. No." Reid covered his face, peered down over the side of his fingers. "I just meant I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop."

"Oh, good, that's not just me." Langly offered an awkward smile. "Shit like this doesn't happen to me."

"Shit like this probably could have happened to me, but things kept getting in the way, like work and... death. I don't even really know what to do with this-- I've said that before, right? My reflex is to buy you books I think you'd like or send long, rambling letters. But, letters don't go, because you're right here. Why send letters when I could just prattle on endlessly and watch your face at the same time?"

"Why send letters when you could whisper your every desire right into my ear and watch me combust under you?" Langly laughed, raising one hand to tuck Reid's hair back. "You know that's going to happen eventually, right?"

"Combustion? And here I was expecting heart failure." Reid paused, leaning in to continue the kisses he'd stopped when he got up. "Not really. I'm not that exciting."

"Lies," Langly declared, as Reid nibbled at his collarbone. "That might work with your team, but you cannot pull that 'boring' shit with me. You pretend you're not exciting so no one looks too close, but I know better."

"Because you cheat." Reid nipped a little harder, wrapped a hand around Langly's hip.

"...Yes? It's why I'm still alive." Langly twisted, angling his hip up and tipping his head back.

"Right now, I'd argue you're still alive because I strangled a woman with a pair of pants."

Langly writhed, trying to put more of himself in contact with Reid's skin. "Right now, I'd argue I know you're not boring because I saw you do that with no hesitation. You didn't even blink."

Reid swallowed and pulled back. "Okay, I started it, but this is not a conversation I want to have right now."

"Who needs conversation? Shut me up with your mouth."

"I thought you wanted me to whisper my desires into your ear," Reid teased, leaning back in to nip at the corner of Langly's jaw, just below his ear. "Not sure that counts as using my mouth to shut you up, though. Might just be using my mouth to make you louder."

"I can promise you it's going to take more than a few dirty words to get me to--"

"Or maybe I should just lick every part of you that isn't going to get me slapped," Reid purred, absolutely certain he'd have regrets if he tried. Quickly. Even more quickly, if Langly smacked him again. This was exactly the sort of thing he shouldn't have wanted to do, and on some level didn't want to do, but if he was going to do it with someone, he'd rather that person be Langly, who hadn't taken issue with him suddenly backing out of things, yet.

Langly swallowed, throat clicking as he tried to start the next word too soon. "Don't do anything you're going to regret."

Reid dragged his tongue along Langly's neck. "Mild regrets only," he promised. "Hopefully nothing you're going to regret."

"I'm only going to regret it if I slap you again." Langly blinked a few times. "New plan: same as your plan, but hold onto my wrists. If I pull, you stop. Should stop me from belting you in the teeth again."

"Wasn't quite the teeth, for which I am grateful. I don't need another split lip." Another quick touch of Reid's teeth and Langly's head tipped back and to the side.

"You keep doing that, and you're going to leave me with hickeys. And you'd better not leave me in a position where I'm going to have to explain them." Langly laughed nervously and tugged one of Reid's hands, bending his own arm into a mostly comfortable position against the chair.

"You sure about this?" Reid asked, spreading his hand across Langly's wrist and leaning against it.

"About being fine with hickeys nobody's going to see? Yeah." Langly laughed again, a little less nervous, and tipped his head toward his pinned wrist. "About that? Get the other wrist and we'll test it."

"For science," Reid joked, pinning Langly's other wrist to the chair, and then pausing, uncertain of how to proceed.

"Lick my nipple," Langly suggested, as if it were the obvious choice.

"What?" Reid recoiled hard enough that Langly had to tense his back to keep the chair from folding back up.

"We know what's going to happen. We'll know immediately if this is going to work." Langly shrugged one shoulder.

"I'm not sure doing something you don't like is really the way to start."

"You can make it up to me on the way down from there."

After one more long, wary look, Reid lowered his head and dragged his tongue over Langly's flesh. Langly's entire body wrenched, but his hands stayed where Reid held them.

"Do it again," Langly demanded, breathless. "You're touching less of me. It works. Just don't let go, in case I'm wrong. Which I'm not going to be, because I am the actual best and--"

The rest of the sentence turned into a raw, strained sound, forced between Langly's teeth. His hips bucked, but his arms didn't move at all. One point of contact, and he could feel it through his entire body, soft, warm, and sharply electric. This was going to be over before it even began, he thought, as licking turned to sucking, and he lost track of any sound he might be making, beyond the rush of air against the back of his teeth.

Reid didn't have to look to be aware of the small pool forming against the inner curve of Langly's hip. The entirely desperate sounds from Langly's mouth were enough of a hint. Still, with another flicker of tongue, he pulled back, just not to overdo it. "You all right?"

"Any discomfort is entirely because I am now sitting in a puddle and it is entirely your fault," Langly snapped, trying to find all the parts of his body and remember how to perceive them normally. He paused. "That sounded a lot worse than I meant. Why are you not doing more of that?"

"Because the neighbours might take offence," Reid caught his lip in his teeth and shrugged, mischief plain on his face. "And there are so many more parts of your body I haven't begun to appreciate. Why spend all my time on the one you don't even like?"

"Just remember, 'Death By Federal Sex Vampire' is a shitty headline."

"Should I take it easy on you?" Reid asked, licking a stripe up the centre of Langly's chest.

The response took a moment to clear the sudden haze of distraction that settled across Langly's mind. "Absolutely not."

Chapter Text

They'd paused to stretch, at some point, and the hands had moved down, so Reid could reach, his face now pressed against Langly's inner thigh, as he fought to stuff the part of his mind that wanted to stop into a shiny new box he was building entirely for that purpose, every plank of it another fulfilled desire, a latch of warm coiled pleasure. This was the smell of sweat, the taste of sweat, and on this side, the taste of cooling seminal fluid, which was the most conceptually vile thing he was absolutely not thinking about right now, and he absently squeezed Langly's wrist harder as he sucked and licked at that spot that had Langly cursing in ecstasy, his heel digging into Reid's ribs.

"God! Fuck! I hate you! Don't you dare stop!" Langly made an incoherent sound of frustration, tears streaming back into his hair as he writhed, still laid back in the chair, still not yet at two, but closer with every touch of Reid's tongue.

And that was when the alarm went off.

"God damn it!" Langly swore, loud enough the neighbours had to have heard him, jerking his hand back just as Reid let go of it. But, even as Langly switched off the alarm, Reid didn't stop licking. Langly tapped him on the side of the head. "Come on, I have to do actual work, and I don't think you want me resting my laptop on your head."

Reid cleared his throat and raised his face, smeared wet from the eyebrows down, white droplets clinging to his hair. "Sorry. Thought I'd see if I could finish what I started before..." His hand leapt up to wipe his face before he thought better of it.

Langly looked calculatingly down at the man between his legs. "Go take a shower. I'm going to get everything set up, but on the floor, instead of the couch. I need to be able to watch this happen, but there's going to be a lot of waiting. As long as I keep my eyes on the screen, you're welcome to make that as interesting as you like."

"Shower first," Reid agreed, hands clenched in squirming fists as he stood. "I'll be right back."

By the time Reid re-appeared, dripping wet, bathrobe-clad, and looking a bit shell-shocked, Langly was sprawled across the thinner blanket with the fluffy new one pulled almost up to his shoulders, as he typed, elbows on a pillow not to cut off the circulation in his hands.

"I want you to appreciate that working naked is an entirely new state of affairs for me. Not something I ever considered before you dropped into my lap," Langly said without looking up.

"Like a hundred and sixty-something pounds of bricks, all corners." Reid huffed in amusement, something that might have been a laugh if he'd been feeling a little more himself after what he'd just done.

"There's no way you're only one sixty. I say that having caught you with my balls and maybe my spleen."

"You caught me with your balls, and you still wanted to have sex with me. I have to say, I'm impressed with the complete lack of self-preservation instinct." Jokes were good, Reid decided, slipping under the blanket at Langly's side, bathrobe and all. Jokes were normal. He knew what to do with those. "And I have no idea what I weigh. More than I did ten years ago."

"Welcome to middle age." Langly snorted, eyeing a car that turned into the post office parking lot. He screenshotted it, even as he was sure Frohike had already done it. Better to have it twice than not at all.

Reid's eyes focused on exactly nothing, as a thought occurred to him, and he squeezed Langly's ass in one hand. "You don't fit in my pants because of competition DDR."

"What?" Langly's eyes darted away from the screen. "That's not the sentence I expect to hear when you've got your hand on my ass. And, you know, any other part of your body you want to put on my ass? Also welcome."

"Muscle," Reid clarified, giving another squeeze. "You are, as previously established, in better shape than I am."

"And you're letting cold air under the blanket. Come keep me warm."

"I'm wet," Reid protested.

"Yeah, haha, so am I." Langly's eyes flicked to Reid again.

Reid winced. "Sorry."

"I don't want you to be sorry," Langly sighed, watching another car pull into the lot. "I want you to be horny. Totally other thing. I want you on top of me, shoving your--" On the screen, a young woman got out of the car and headed for a bank of parcel lockers. "Hold that thought. I have to do actual work for a minute, which wouldn't actually be an issue, if you were already-- Oh, shit."

As the woman swiped her card to retrieve the package, the data came up on the screen.

"That's her. That's actually her, and I have everything -- name, address, date of birth." Langly's fingers clattered across the keys. "Her name's actually Alcea. Alcea Fitzgerald."

"You're kidding me." Reid finally moved, straddling Langly's hips and pulling the blanket up over both of them, to get a better angle on the screen. He blinked. "You're not kidding me. That photo..." His eyes flicked from the blue-eyed photo to the camera feed, to the woman with the long, brown hair. "She was born when?"

"April first--" Langly started, but a sudden movement on the screen stopped him.

Two men who would've stood out anywhere else, in their black suits, came up to either side of Alcea, grabbing her by the upper arms and lifting. She dropped the package and fought to get free, but they just kept walking, carrying her out of the view of the camera Langly'd been watching.

"Don't lose them!" Reid commanded, diving to the side to grab the desk phone, the blanket tangling and slowing him, until he shed it and the bathrobe, standing naked in the middle of the room, waiting for Garcia to pick up.

"Yes, I have the day off, but we have a case. It's not ours, but it will be. Kidnapping. I'm a witness. Get this case, Garcia. It's a friend of Fitz's." He pointed at Langly, forgetting Langly couldn't see him, eyes still on the screen, fingers flying over the keys. "Which post office?"

Reid relayed the information as fast as he could get it out of Langly, unwilling to put Langly's voice on a line out of their control, after what happened last time. "I know. I don't know who she is -- I know her name, and I know she reached out to Fitz for help -- and I'd like to find that out before either of us start jumping to conclusions, and none of that is going to matter if we don't find her alive. Get us this case Garcia. It has to come to us, because if you're thinking what I'm thinking, and we're right, this is going to go very badly if anyone else picks it up." He paused. "Call me. I'll come in as a witness, if I have to. I will work this case unarmed -- Yes. I'm entirely serious. Call me."

He hung up and turned to Langly, phone still hanging from his hand. "He didn't know, did he?"

"I still don't know," Langly warned, the feed from the camera blocked out by several other windows. "And Frohike's not letting him see this, until we have a better idea what we're dealing with. He's handing the cameras. He'll get everything to the Black Queen. I have to get into her other email. It's too late for the subtle approach, now, and if they were waiting for her, they have the same information I have, and I have to get in first. I have to lock them out, so they can't come after us."

Reid set the phone down and pulled the blanket back over Langly, before he stepped out of the room to find clothes he'd be willing to leave the house in. Work. This had become work, in the middle of an entirely erotic act he still wasn't sure how he felt about. And neither of them had batted an eye. This, then, was what it was like to be with someone who understood, someone who could switch just as fast as he could. He could get used to this, as long as he didn't spend too much time mooning about it, while he was supposed to be working. That was likely to get someone killed.

"What do we know?" he asked, running a hand through his hair as he came back into the room. "And do I need to help you get dressed, so you don't have to take your hands off the keyboard?"

"Actually, yeah, that would help if you can figure out how," Langly muttered, going through the settings to ensure he'd absolutely locked out anyone other than himself.

"I'll remind you I got shot in the knee. Trust me, I know how." Reid pulled clothes out of Langly's bag, finally realising the only jeans Langly had with him were the ones he'd been wearing the night before. "What do you have?" he asked again, tapping on Langly's leg to start the process of getting clothing on him.

"I have almost nothing," Langly admitted, bending his knees. "She cleaned up after herself. There's only one thing in here, a draft message, titled 'Dear John'."

"The classic name for a breakup letter." Reid sorted through what they knew, trying to figure out where that made sense.

"Yeah, except it's not. The full text is 'Find her and bring her home.'"

"Did they get in before you? That has to be--"

"It's not, and they didn't." Langly lifted his hips for Reid to slide his jeans up, as he went back to records, looking for any trace of Alcea. "This is from before her first letter to us. This isn't about her. She wanted us to find someone else."

"You have to tell Byers she was looking for him, for his help." Reid held up a shirt and Langly yanked it on as quickly as possible, leaving Reid to straighten his glasses and pull his hair out of the collar as he worked.

"I'm not telling Byers shit," Langly scoffed. "If this didn't look like a trap before, it sure as hell looks like one now. I need to know what the hell is going on here, before he decides to go off on another crusade to appease his dick and his sense of moral rectitude. I know what he's going to want to see, and I need to make damn sure I can confirm something, before I let him near it."

"April first, what year?" Reid asked, suddenly.

"Two thousand."

"Off by about a month. Should've been May." A faint smile touched Reid's lips.

"July, not August. It was ninety-nine." Langly stopped and looked up at Reid. "Why the hell do you know that?"

"The Kool Aid fountain." Reid shrugged. "About two steps to the left of MIT's particular brand of stupidity. I had to see if I knew anyone."

"That was way more NMT than MIT," Langly argued, still digging for anything he could find.

"You didn't even go to college!"

"I had friends!" Langly choked on a laugh. "Okay, but, did you hear the one about the guy who snorted wasabi?"

Reid stared in blank horror. "... Why!?"

"Hell if I remember, it was like twenty years ago." Langly's eyes suddenly focused on something. "Got her. File clerk. Intern in a low-security office handling bullshit research grants for... yes, you guessed it, our favourite assholes in Defence."

"She's not military, but she works right next to it," Reid mused, considering the profile he'd worked out. "Eighteen puts her right in the middle of the age estimate, too. If she's just an intern, I don't think they're going to waste resources on her. They'll cut off her access to everything, but her disappearance isn't their problem, otherwise. It's our problem."

"You hope."

"I will start that fight, if I have to, but I won't have to."

"You will if they know who she is."

"If she's who we think she might be, and there's no proof of that."

"I will find it. Either way, I will find it, and then we'll know." Langly's lips came together in a grim line as he kept digging.

Chapter Text

Reid and Langly were the first on scene, after the locals, and Langly could feel his stomach churn despite the minor modifications to his face. Broad daylight, public place, law enforcement in every corner of his vision... and the cameras. He knew where every one of them was, and he tried to stay out of range, keep his head down. The sunglasses and cheek pads would help, but only against facial recognition; actual eyes that knew him would still know him, he was sure. His wasn't a face you could forget, not a face that looked like fifteen other people at any given office party, like Byers's.

He vaguely registered Reid flashing a badge, getting them past the line at the edge of the parking lot. The panic chewed up most of what was going on, and that was not good. That was not going to help. He needed to focus. He used to be good at this.

"And it's an abduction of a federal employee, so it's an FBI problem now," Reid explained to another officer, with a casual shrug. "You know bureaucracy."

"So, you've confirmed her identity?" the officer asked, leading them toward the building and the fallen package. "She's one of you guys?"

"She's a file clerk, but we think someone might have overestimated her clearance. Right now, with no ransom demand, we're working under the assumption someone's trying to use her clearance -- which is nearly non-existent -- to access confidential information." Reid crouched down next to the box Alcea had dropped, only the faintest flicker of discomfort on his face as his knee cracked loudly -- it was that time of the year again. "Do we know what's in here?"

"If that's an Amazon box, it's just some personal goods. Nothing fragile, nothing that's going to spoil. Definitely nothing anyone else wants, or they'd have taken it." Langly blinked and swallowed, fighting the urge to cut and run. He wasn't Richard Langly, fugitive dead man, out here. He was Frank Arroway, FBI technical consultant, and that was all this kid with a badge knew. Any dirty looks were strictly agency rivalry, not some secret knowledge of his past. Still, he wondered how long he could make it, out here, before he passed out from the panic. He should've stayed back at the apartment, and he knew it, but that would've meant getting Byers out here, because this was Byers's informant and one of them needed to be here. And Langly knew he was the one with the consultant creds and the fed in his pocket, so here he was.

The conversation had moved on without him, and his attention snapped back as Reid stood, much more smoothly than he'd have expected after that snap on the way down.

"Did you get anything from her car?" Reid asked the officer, cocking his thumb at the little silver Toyota in the corner of the lot.

"We haven't touched it. Word came down we were supposed to secure the scene and wait for you."

Langly closed his eyes and played back the scene that brought them out there in his head, one thumb hooked in the strap of his laptop bag, where it crossed his chest, the other hand counting the locations of cameras and participants. "They lifted her over the box," he noted, perhaps pointlessly. "She dropped it right in front of her, when they grabbed her, and they just kept moving straight forward. It's really hard to pick someone up by the arms -- shoulders are pretty flexible. Two people picking someone up, one on each arm? That's not something you just do. Trust me. I've been carried around an awful lot."

"And she's not tall, but she's not short enough that a man of average height is going to get her a foot off the ground by raising her elbow height to his." Reid picked up the thought.

"They've done this before, because I didn't spot the lift over the package until now. They know exactly what they're doing." Langly tapped his foot nervously. "And they're probably tall, but the cameras didn't catch them in relation to anything but her, and that was already a little too vertical."

"Put Fitz on it?" Reid suggested, knowing Langly was trying to keep Byers away from Alcea's name and birthdate.

"More like put Fr--" Langly pulled out his phone and cleared his throat. "Fitz, yeah. I'll call him."

A car door slammed and Rossi appeared, trailing JJ.

"You want to tell me what the hell is going on here?" Rossi asked Reid, quietly.

"Do you remember how you found out you had a daughter?" Reid edged around the answer.

"Ah... something you want to tell me, Reid?" Rossi's eyebrows arced up in surprise.

Reid blinked in confusion, until Rossi's meaning sunk in. "No! Not me! A... friend. We're not sure yet. What we are sure of, you have. Eighteen-year-old intern kidnapped in the middle of picking up a package, and the package is still here. So's her car, obviously."

"We just wanted to catch up with you two before we went to check out her apartment," JJ said, her eyes lingering somewhat disapprovingly on Langly. "Straight into the field with no briefing."

"Stop looking at me like that. I'm a witness. I'm also registered as a technical consultant, and that doesn't have my fingerprints all over it, but thanks for not asking." Langly folded his arms and tipped his shoulders back, expecting to fend off the fight JJ was obviously considering.

"Garcia?" JJ asked Reid.

"I had nothing to do with this."  Reid shook his head. "We're done here, except for the car, and as much as I don't think the car is going to help us find her, I want to make absolutely sure nothing appears or disappears, so I think we're staying a little longer. Don't let anyone into her apartment before you photo everything. No surprises."

"Spence, what are you suggesting? How long have we been working together?" JJ looked at once insulted and extremely concerned. "Pretty sure we know how to handle a crime scene."

"I trust you. I don't trust anyone else." Reid took a long breath and closed his eyes, when he opened them, the explanation followed. "We may be dealing with the daughter of not one but two people that certain high-ranking and well-paying people poured a lot of money into killing, and other high-ranking and well-paying people put a lot of money into causing to disappear. Right now, we don't know who has this girl, but I can name at least three reasons to take her, and two of them are her parents -- assuming for the moment that we're right about them, and we may not be, but if we're thinking it, someone else may also be thinking it."

Rossi eyed Langly curiously.

"Not me, Agent Meatball," Langly huffed. "Her mother..." He paused, glancing around him. Too many people, too many cameras, too many people's cel phones. "I'd be happy to have this conversation in a bug-free bomb shelter with everyone's phone outside, but I'm not unpacking this, here. I have no proof, but evidence is very suggestive. There may never be proof, if she doesn't come back alive."

"Because she's the only person who knows for sure," Rossi guessed.

Garcia sat at her desk, channelling information from three teams into an idea of what was going on. Fitz had been confined to going through old messages and Alcea's weaker email account, looking for any information that might suggest who was after her. Fitz had been joined, on the connection Garcia had left open for Frank, by the third member of their conspiracy-minded think-tank, currently calling himself 'Tango', short for 'Whiskey Tango', he said, 'and we'll leave the foxtrot to someone else'.

Tango, it seemed, had an eye for images and perspective that rivalled puzzle champions and point-and-click adventure speedrunners the world over. He'd taken the camera angles and Alcea's height and estimated the height of her abductors: a little taller than average, but by no means towering giants. An imposing height, but not one that would draw unnecessary attention. Both probably white, both dark haired, which anyone with eyes could see, but Garcia was happy to have the confirmation that it wasn't a trick of the light. As she switched back to the data Reid and Frank had sent in, she left Tango to attempt reconstruction of the upper faces of the abductors from statistical averages. They both had doubts it would produce anything useful -- the angles were terrible -- but even a guess might spark someone's memory.

She knew what Reid and Frank had been seeing, when they looked at the numbers, and she knew why they hadn't told Fitz. One look at the girl's security badge photo, and Garcia had come to the same conclusion. But, without evidence, without knowing if Alcea knew, there was no point in breaking that to Fitz. Not yet. But, the date meant nothing if they didn't match the birth certificate and other records from the hospital that supported it. Where was this girl born? It was a weird name, so it would hit quickly, assuming the relevant records had been digitised. And that was always hit or miss, even at late as the turn of the century. Even now. The bigger the city, the better the chance.

There it was: Alcea Fitzgerald, born to Holly Fitzgerald in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, on the evening of April first. No father listed.

Garcia poked the phone and waited for Reid to answer. "Good news, Boy Genius. She's at least half who you think she is, and I'd put next week's dinner budget on her being exactly who you think she is. Which is also bad news. This isn't going to have a happy ending, is it?"

"Little early to be making predictions. Remember, whatever they're looking for, they have to use Alcea or the idea of Alcea to get it. She's going to show up." Reid sounded entirely certain, unshakeable.

"The other thing I've got is that Holly checked herself and the baby out of the hospital in the middle of the night, against medical advice. They disappeared. There's no more records for either of them in Sheboygan, except the garbage you get when someone skips town -- left an apartment without notice or turning in the key, fired from a job after not showing up for too long, non-payment notices for utilities... Nobody's looking for her, though. No missing persons report, no investigation."

"See if Alcea's registered for school in Aurora, Illinois. That's where the fork happened. There's a chance that's what Holly was trying to hide, and we weren't looking for it, before." A muffled scrape followed the end of the sentence, probably Reid putting the phone to his shoulder as he spoke to someone else. "And I'm bringing you her GPS. I doubt it's going to tell us anything -- she's been too cautious, so far -- but, anything you can get might tell us something."

"Roger that! Bring me the box, my pretties, and I'll get right on it!" Garcia tapped the phone again and returned to her dive into the depths of records she probably shouldn't have had access to, but no one was looking.

The window pinned to the top of the screen spawned a few new lines, and Garcia answered

Can't do it. The angles are trash. I don't know if I'd be able to recognise them in person, in the same outfits, head on. Faces are more delicate than heights. Millimeter differences are going to be substantive errors. I've got a couple of attempts, but even with the statistical average measurements, they're subtly wrong -- we're hitting the uncanny valley for some reason.

We knew it wasn't going to work. I'm a little disappointed, but not really surprised. Still glad you tried, though.

I am a resource at your disposal for the duration of this case. I might as well do what I'm good at. ... Fitz says that means I should go make breakfast.

He's really stressed about this, isn't he?

She's his informant, if nothing else. He's been worried about other people coming to harm chasing her stories, but I don't think he was counting on someone picking her up. Assuming she wasn't being fed what she sent us, she might've gotten grabbed as a whistleblower.

There's no way. That wouldn't have been this sloppy.

Then what's with the G11 plate on the car they're using?

G11? G11s all have GPS. Give me the plate number. I'll put Rossi on their doorstep within the hour.

Chapter Text

"We found the car. Looks like a real fight, too. There's blood, a suit jacket, and a fully loaded gun, here. Door's open, keys are still in the ignition..." Rossi stayed between where JJ had parked and the vehicle used in the abduction, hoping the bulk of the metal would fend off any shots, if this turned out to be an ambush. Every time he thought he had a handle on this case, it got just a little weirder, which was why he was standing out on the side of a state highway, looking for what was probably John Byers's little girl.

"I'll get an evidence team out to you. Evidence tech, probably. This isn't really high priority, even though it's us," Garcia admitted, the sound of staccato typing coming through behind the words. "I've got Reid and Frank, still, until we've got somewhere else to send them, and I can smell the melting neurons, so please find me something."

"You managed to get Frank into your office?" Rossi laughed as he popped open the glovebox with a well-placed pen.

"He's like an angry cat at the vet," Garcia stage-whispered. "Too many screens, not enough keyboards. Send help!" She squeaked, then: "Putting you on speaker, so the rest of the class can hear."

"There's something wrong here." Rossi stood up and looked at the car again. "I don't think that's her blood. It's on the inside of this jacket, and the outside's scraped up, like whoever was wearing it was doing the backstroke down the road in it." He paused and crouched down to check under the car. "Got what looks like a shirt button, too. 

"She's defending herself." A voice Rossi couldn't place, right off, which made it Langly's. He still couldn't believe that idiot renamed himself after Voltaire and didn't expect anyone to notice, even if it was anglicised. "Oh, shit, I hope she didn't have what I think she had, or we have real problems. Look around the car, Agent Meatball. Do you see anything that looks like an aerosol can, a syringe, or a pressure-injector?"

"Nada." Rossi poked through the glovebox again with his pen. "What are you looking for?"

"Something very dangerous that is well above your clearance, and I've seen both versions in action. They were designed by a woman whose name I'm not going to say on this line, nor am I naming those drugs. But, the scuffed jacket and the shirt button made me think of something I saw back in eighty-nine. Got to watch our mutual friend writhing on the ground, tearing his clothes off, after he got nailed with the original version. Hallucinated something about getting abducted by aliens, when the ambulance picked him up."

"So... some kind of hallucinogen?" Rossi's mind wandered back to Mr Scratch. "I think we can handle that."

"Only in overdose. The earlier version increases suggestibility and anxiety, leaning toward paranoid tendencies. The later version also increases suggestibility and removes inhibitions. I'm not talking about this, because I do not trust this line, but there's a story about a man and a bus, and we both know it."

"Scary CIA drugs." Reid sounded like the connection had just occurred to him.

"Shut up!" Langly hissed, the words distorted in transmission.

"Whatever went on here, there's no people left, and I'm not seeing any sign they walked out into the trees. Normally, I wouldn't put too much faith in that observation, but two men, one possibly drugged, carrying a resisting woman? There'd be something." Rossi waved for JJ to holster her gun, finally sure they weren't walking into an ambush. "Means they planned to stop here. Probably already had a car here, and possibly another person, but I'm not inclined to lean that way. There's already two of them. They both drove here, got in one car, drove back to get Alcea, and then dumped the car with the government plates and the GPS."

"That's the second general motorpool car we've gotten in relation to this family in the last like... three days," Langly observed.

"Something you're not sharing with the rest of the class?" Garcia cut in, sharply.

"I may have done something stupid, while we were in Florida," Reid admitted, sounding like he might be considering regrets he hadn't managed to have yet. "Drove by the supposed home of a mutual acquaintance, only to find a G-eleven sedan parked in the driveway. I decided it might not be the ideal time for a visit and went for donuts, instead."

"Just going out for donuts, you said," Rossi accused, sharper than he meant, but not sharper than he intended.

"You'll remember I'd just shot someone. I needed a few minutes to pull myself together, so I took a fifteen minute detour. I have timestamps to prove it. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't going to..." There was a pause that usually contained a frustrated huff, but the mic hadn't picked it up.

"Shoot someone else?" Rossi drawled, poking at the dash-mount GPS with his pen.

"Cry, all right?" Reid snapped. "I didn't want to cry in front of JJ. I cry, and then she cries, and then she's got saltwater in the slice on her face..."

"Looks good on her, though," Langly observed. "That's going to be the kind of scar that makes men quail. Just a thin line of unadulterated badass." He snorted. "Keep her away from Fitz. He goes for that."

"And yet, he is somehow interested in me." Garcia chuckled nervously.

"You're a god damn legend!" Langly protested, slightly louder than Reid's "You've been shot in the chest!"

"Anyway, she's married," Rossi reminded them, still poking at the GPS.

"And he's Fitz. I don't ask." Langly sounded somewhere between resentful and disgusted.

Rossi changed the subject. "Garcia, can you get the logs for the dash unit, or just the current location?"

"Trying to see if this car started somewhere other than the lot, this morning?" A clatter of keys followed. "Good thought, since I have some doubts our dubious duo picked this one up legitimately, which gives me some serious questions about why it hasn't been reported missing. Or its driver..."

"If the driver hasn't reported the car missing by now, then the driver is also missing, which means they're either working with or are one of the abductors, or the abductors have rendered them incapable of reporting the car missing." Reid's voice held that slightly distracted tone that said he was standing in the most inconvenient possible spot in the room, with his eyes closed, narrowing the options by probability. "Either way, if we go to the driver's last known location -- or at least the car's last known stop -- we're probably going to turn up the answer to that, at least, which may or may not give us some insight into who we're dealing with."

Garcia's triumphant proclamation came next. "The last long-term stop, before this morning's outing to the post office was last night to this morning at what... looks like the residence of one Reynaldo Waterford, of the Department of the Interior, who is the last person to check the car out. And a quick inquiry tells me he's only in the office two days a week, and this is neither of them."

"Give me the address," Reid commanded. "Rossi, we're closer. Meet us there."

"Don't do anything stupid, Reid. Even if you die a hero, you're still dead." Rossi rubbed his forehead, pen still in his hand.

"Certified actual genius, thank you." Reid huffed loudly enough for the phone to pick it up.

"With no common sense," Langly reminded him. "Don't worry, there's two of us."

"Now, I'm more worried," Rossi admitted.

"Gentlemen! A new plan: Reid goes first -- yes, this is the old plan, but it gets better. If the scene seems the least bit like something might be happening there, you call me and I send backup. Locals, probably, but they'll be faster than Rossi, and they will keep your skinny butt out of the line of fire. And since you're not even supposed to be back at work until tomorrow, pending the results of an inquiry that still hasn't been resolved, I think that's very important."

"What can I say? I'm physically incapable of taking a holiday and staying on it. Cases just fall into my lap!" Reid was trying for the laugh, but Rossi could hear the underlying strain.

"The universe just has it in for you," Langly teased. "But, hey, better you than someone stupid."

"I very badly want to dispute that, but I know you're right," Reid muttered, barely audible.

"Reid. You do not go into the building, until JJ and I get there," Rossi instructed, tucking his pen back into his pocket as he stood back out of the car. "This includes outbuildings, cellars, garages, vehicles, and other things that might contain people or animals. You're not back on duty, and I don't want to have to explain how an off-duty agent managed to get into a shootout with two suspects in an abduction."

"I'm not even armed! My gun is still evidence!"

"All the more reason I don't want to have to explain it."

"He's got a point. Especially with the two of us," Langly chuckled. "I still think ferrets would've helped, that one time."

"Ferrets would not have helped! You'd still have been just as arrested!" Reid argued.

"You're assuming far more competent security personnel than I witnessed, that night." Langly paused, then changed the subject. "Point is, he's right. We're a comedy of errors waiting to happen, and this time you don't have a gun. Or spare pants. And I'm the last person you want on your side if things come to blows. By-- god, Fitz is a better choice for that. You should've seen him wrestle that dude to the ground, that one time. I'm pretty sure I was screaming in a corner the whole time. Things get a little blotchy when I think I'm gonna die."

"I'm consistently surprised at how many things you remember," Reid quipped, and Rossi handed the phone to JJ.

"Tell him he's not allowed to throw himself in front of a bullet."

"You're not allowed to throw yourself in front of a bullet." JJ shook her head at Rossi in confusion. "Any of you. Which one of you am I talking to?"

"All of us," Garcia answered.

"Me," Reid corrected. "Fine. We're already wasting time. Give me the address, and we'll call for backup if anything looks interesting. And give me the info for Waterford's personal vehicle, too, so I can tell if it's there."

"Agent Meatball says there's two cars. You thinking that's the second one?" Langly asked.

"Agent... Meatball? You're really going with that?" JJ raised her eyebrows at Rossi, who shrugged, before he looked down the road again, hoping to spot the evidence tech they were waiting on.

"You should hear the things he calls you. You should hear the things he calls me," Reid scoffed. "And yeah, I'm thinking if they wanted a car they knew would be unremarkable and unremarked, working under the assumption one of them isn't Waterford, they've rendered him unable to register a complaint, so both of his vehicles, assuming he has a personal one, would be the simple choice. And looking at the address, he has one. Nobody's walking that far for public transit if they don't have to."

"Motor pool car," Langly pointed out.

"No, Reid's right. The motor pool car isn't his usual. He only checked one out on days he'd have meetings to attend before he'd be back at work." Garcia sounded more absorbed in typing than talking. "And he does have his own car, no wife, no kids, and he owns the house, and you have all the relevant information, so get the hell out of my office, I love you both, but stop breathing down my neck. JJ, give me a call when you two are headed back."

Chapter Text

They sat in Reid's car, across from a block of townhouses, watching windows. Langly tried to finish off a burger without choking on it, before Reid decided to get them both into trouble. Which wasn't really fair, he supposed. This was Byers's mess, and Byers wasn't here to make his own recklessly stupid decisions, so someone had to do it for him. Except that was how they always got into trouble, so maybe it was finally time to play one straight -- or at least to let someone else get shot at, for a change.

Reid tapped his thumb impatiently against the bottom of the steering wheel. "That's definitely Waterford's car. We could probably get a look in it, see if there's any blood. Rossi said there was blood at the other scene. Depending on where it shows up, here, that might tell us something about the dynamic at work."

"You should have some fries. You skipped breakfast." Langly moved the bag from between his legs to between the seats. "And you should call Garcia. I'm not young enough to think walking into this is a good idea. In fact, I'm pretty sure I was never that young. Byers, sure, but this is a little outside my comfort zone. This isn't like... industrial espionage. This is three people, two of them probably have guns, and we don't. And unlike security or the cops, they don't have to follow any rules that might involve not shooting us. I have walked into some dumb shit in my life, but I like to think I've learned from the experience."

"I just want to get a look in the car! I'm not going to open anything!" Reid twisted around to get his bag out of the back seat.

"You are parked in a stupid place and the entire neighbourhood is going to call the cops, if you do this. You need to call them first." Mayonnaise dripped from the burger as Langly gestured emphatically with it, and he tried to lick the next drip off the burger while he wiped the gob of it off his jeans with the other hand. "God damn it. And it's the only pair I have this week. This is because I'm paying too much attention to you not getting killed and not enough to putting food in my face instead of wearing it. Call Garcia, have some fries, we'll go in when there are people with legitimate badges to protect us."

"My badge is perfectly legitimate!"

"You're on leave, Reid. You're not even supposed to have a badge again until tomorrow."

"There is no evidence anything 'interesting' is going on in that building, and there won't be if we don't at least walk by and get close enough to see into the car. Or maybe some sign that someone was carried into the house."

"There are four storeys of windows on this building, and three of them are overhead." Langly crammed more of the burger into his mouth, hoping to swallow before he had to bat down the next argument.

"No one is going to shoot out a window on a quiet, residential street," Reid argued, raising his voice to cover a complaint from his stomach.

Langly caught Reid's eye and stared, pointedly.

"There's a young woman probably being held captive in that building, or by someone who has recently been in that building, and we are sitting out here discussing breakfast!" Reid threw open the car door and got out, trying to pull his bag after him, but Langly held tight to the strap.

"And now we're making a scene," Langly said, grimly.

Reid let go of the bag and slammed the door, storming across the street as if he belonged there. And that, Langly realised, was probably the only thing keeping him safe.

Langly dunked the remains of the burger into the bag with the fries and licked that hand clean as he rifled Reid's bag for the fed phone, with the other. If Reid wouldn't call in, he'd do it.

"You've reached the All-Knowing Oracle! What do you need, Boy Genius?" the phone chirped.

"Boy Genius is doing exactly what we all told him not to and checking out the car across the street. It's Waterford's. The drapes are drawn, the car's parked right out front, and every nosey old lady on the street is probably calling the cops right now."

"Right, I've got the locals on standby. They've been waiting to hear from us, and they already have both your descriptions, so there won't be any accidents. Rossi called, and he and JJ are on their way to you, now. Locals have orders not to attempt to engage until Rossi gets there, because he's the negotiator on this one, but they'll have guns and riot shields, so the two of you will at least be covered, if things get out of hand, before that happens. Hang on and let me bring the locals in." Garcia must have picked her own hold music, Langly decided, after a moment, because he was entirely certain Iggy Pop was not on the FBI's approved list of offensively bland music with just enough high notes to make sure you don't fall asleep.

The next sound Langly made might have been a relieved sigh if he'd bothered to open his mouth -- Reid was coming back across the road, patting his pockets and looking utterly outraged, and for a moment, Langly believed it. He believed it right up until Reid slid back into the car, slammed the door behind himself, and offered a sly smile.

"Phone." Reid held out his hand, when he didn't find it in his bag, and Langly handed it over, call time still counting up.

"You weren't going to call. I did." Langly shrugged. "We're on hold."

Garcia came back as Reid was in the process of registering the music on the line -- the fact that it even existed. She'd done that so Langly would know she hadn't hung up, Reid realised, as opposed to the silent hold she used with the team.

"Is he back in the car? Tell me he's back in the car."

"He's holding the phone." Reid sounded entirely too amused. "He's also spotted bloody tissues in the passenger footwell and a bloody handprint on the glovebox. Matches up with Rossi's impression that one of the abductors was injured, rather than the victim."

"There's a local team that should be almost in your laps, and JJ and Rossi are about ten minutes out. Rossi's the negotiator, so nobody makes contact until he's there, unless things go very wrong," Garcia explained. "So, I'll leave it to you to explain the blood. The locals are carrying their own evidence techs."

Reid made an uncertain sound, somewhere just to the left of agonised.

"They're delivering to us, and we're expecting them. If anything goes missing, we'll know," Garcia assured him.

"If anything goes missing, it's still missing!" Reid snapped, before taking a breath. "Sorry. I know it's not you. Fitz and Frank have made me very familiar with the parties at work in this story, over the last thirty years, and I'm intensely uncomfortable with anyone outside the team working on it. I know we're trustworthy. I don't know about anyone else, and I'm afraid of the truth getting buried, because that's exactly what keeps happening here, according to first-hand accounts. I'm not this kind of reckless. You know I'm not. But, if I don't see it with my own eyes, if I don't take photographs with my own equipment, who's going to be able to make those arguments, if it comes to that? Memory is--"

He spotted the two cars turning the corner at the bottom of the hill. "I have to go. The locals are here."

"Who authorised this?" Rossi demanded, the car door slamming behind him as he stalked over to what appeared to be the operations commander for the team currently assembling behind an ops van parked behind Reid's car.

"There was shouting from inside the house," Reid explained, hands clamped around his elbows. "You need to know this was not my decision. I did not approve this."

Eight people in bulletproof vests, with helmets and shields, charged across the road, single file, taking up positions near the front of the building. Four for the upper door, four for the door behind the stairs, as they took their positions. 

Rossi looked like he was fully prepared to start a fight, when a window on the level above the street broke as a hefty metal bowl smashed through it. A howl of rage followed. Reid could almost make out words, but they were distorted. His ears rang strangely with the sound, but it wasn't electronic. When his eyes re-focused, the entire team had fallen, and they lay scattered on and around the stairs.

"What the hell?" The team's commander recoiled, watching his whole team drop.

"Gas," Langly said, voice tinged with no small amount of horror. "How the hell did she get that much? How the hell is she carrying enough--?"

"Gas?" JJ eyed Langly curiously, tearing her eyes away from the officers twitching on the ground. "What kind of gas does that?"

"I saw it exactly once, in nineteen eighty-nine. They're fine." Langly caught the look the commander shot him, and he glared back. "Yeah, there's a reason I'm a consultant, all right, and it's not my radiant complexion."

Another shout cut through the air, the words still bizarrely incomprehensible, and all eight members of the fallen team rose up from where they'd fallen, drew into a single line, and jogged back across the road, to the cover provided by the ops van.

The coordinator shot Langly another suspicious look, and then rushed to his team. "What the hell was that?"

"You called us back," one of the team reported, looking dizzy and confused. "We were about to make entry, and you aborted."

"What do you know?" another asked.

"Like hell I did." The commander blinked. "There's a guy over here thinks you got gassed, but I don't know how that works. You all fell down and now you're coming back here telling me I gave the order to abort?"

"We all heard you, Mackey," another member volunteered, tapping his earpiece.

"It's the gas," Langly insisted. "And that makes this my problem."

"Okay, somebody needs to explain this to me." JJ shrugged and looked around, expecting an answer, expecting someone to know what was going on.

Reid took the bait, as Langly went back to the car for something. "Nineteen eighty-nine, Baltimore. There are reports of a warehouse break-in during which three suspects are apprehended and an FBI agent is found half-naked and hallucinating on the floor. No evidence of the drug used on the agent has ever been found, and the three suspects report that the drug was a gas stored in asthma inhalers, and several pallets of it were removed by ... the report says 'men in black', but the individuals are described as having arrived in full biohazard suits. No evidence connects the suspects to the agent, nor to anything in the warehouse or potentially missing from it -- in fact, nothing is reported as missing -- so they're released after a night in jail and a fine for trespassing. Later, the first issue of a conspiracy zine is published, featuring another version of the story -- reporting both the name of the gas and the name of the scientist who developed it, a woman this article claims was then abducted by the same individuals who cleaned out the warehouse. Frank was present for parts of this, in some capacity, and both witnessed the drugged agent and spoke with him, after his recovery. If Frank believes this is consistent with that gas, I have reason to believe he's correct."

"It's not consistent with that gas, and it's not consistent with the injection, either. It's consistent with someone finding a way to combine them." Langly stepped away from the car, holding the Spanish-labelled inhaler from his bedside table in one hand. "I was hoping I'd never need this."

Reid grabbed Langly's arm. "What are you doing?"

"Reckless and stupid. It's the order of the day. Except it's not reckless and stupid, because Fitz has been carrying around the remains of that adventure in questionable taste for thirty years, and I'm holding the antidote. That and I've already been dosed with both of those and the antidote to one. There's a pretty good chance I'm immune to getting nailed again. And at the worst, what's she going to do, tell me to come back over here?" Langly pulled his arm out of Reid's grip. "This is stupid, and it's Fitz's goddamn problem, and I'm going to go solve it, for real, this time."

Reid's lips thinned and his eyes darkened, as he looked away, without another word.

Langly reached up and tucked Reid's hair back. "Hey, I'm coming back. I always come back."

Reid's face was unreadable, when he looked back up. "Yeah. We're hard to kill."

Langly met Reid's eyes, silently, before he hit the inhaler, shoved it in his pocket, and walked into the street like he was going down to the corner for a soda. Halfway across, he tipped his head back and put out his tongue, like he was trying to catch snow. A blink of confusion, but he pressed on. By the bottom of the stairs, tongue still out, he looked baffled.

"It's not the gas!" he called back. "I can't taste it!"

"Get out of there!" Rossi commanded, waving him back over.

An incomprehensible shout rang out from inside the building, harsh with fear and rage, and Langly wobbled where he stood, rocked back on his heels, but stayed up.

He turned and shouted toward the broken window. "I know you want me to go, but it's not going to happen, Alcea! I'm a friend of John and Holly's! It's not going to work on me!"

Another shout, and this one hit harder, but Langly bent like he was fighting the wind and came back up. "I'm going back across the street! When you're ready to get out of here, call me, and I'll come back! I'm here to help you! John sent me to protect you!"

This time, there was no response, and after a moment to be sure, Langly backed away, trusting Reid behind him, but unwilling to take his eyes off the window, just in case.

"I think I know what she's doing, and I hope I'm wrong," Rossi muttered. "I gotta make a call. The guys at the other end of the floor know what to do with this."

"Who is at the other end of the floor?" JJ asked Reid, as they both watched Langly slowly amble back toward them.

"Anomalous Crimes Task Force. Stephen Reyes offered me a job, once. I thought about it, but I realised I really didn't want that kind of chaos in my life." Reid smiled weakly. "The BAU is bad enough."

"Anomalous what now?" JJ blinked at Reid as Langly stepped up onto the curb.

"Oh, good, the What The Fuck Unit. Because we didn't have enough interdepartmental rivalry and hazards to an honest resolution on the field." Langly snorted derisively. "They're like the X-Files, but with no aliens, which is dumb because Mulder's weirdo hallucinations aside, there were absolutely aliens, and I was there for that."

"You've heard of them and I haven't? Apparently, I work on the same floor with them!" JJ was entirely nonplussed.

"Hey, sometimes I like a little light bedtime reading." Langly shrugged, crossing his ankles as he leaned back against Reid's car and jammed his hands into his pockets. "Reminds me of the good old days."

Chapter Text

"Duke!" Rossi waved down the block at the grey haired man walking toward them, trailing a tall, thin man in a cranberry sweater that gave a certain richness to his bronze skin, and a shorter, darker woman with large boots and a laptop bag.

"What're you telling the kids about me now, Dave?" The grey-haired man laughed and held out a hand more stumps than fingers.

Rossi shook the hand with no hesitation, patting Duke on the shoulder as he turned to introduce him. "SSA Solomon Todd, ACTF."

Langly's eyes rounded immediately. "Wait, wait, this is the Solomon Todd? Like, 'Life By Misadventure', used to write for Rolling Stone Solomon Todd? When the hell did you turn narc?"

"Oh, look, a fan," Duke remarked, drily, cocking a thumb at Langly as he raised an eyebrow at Rossi. He looked Langly over. "Should I know you?"

"I'm--" Langly caught himself on the verge of confession, and his lips tightened and his eyes closed, letting him miss the way the man behind Duke's eyes widened in surprise, a faint twitch as his head jerked back maybe a quarter inch. Langly's eyes opened, and he sounded much more subdued. "Frank Arroway, FBI Technical Consultant. Nobody you've ever heard of."

Reid noticed the woman behind Duke couldn't take her eyes off Langly, and for a moment, he was afraid she'd recognised him.

"And I don't work for the Bureau any more, so we're even." Duke grinned.

"Bullshit." Rossi dropped the word like a hammer. "I was talking to you in the elevator, yesterday."

"Okay, I do some work, but they don't pay me, how's that?" Duke shook his head, then nodded at JJ. "Who's your friend?"

"Special Agent Jennifer Jareau." JJ held out her hand, a hundred questions behind her eyes, none of them asked.

"SSA Dr Spencer Reid," Reid introduced himself, as Duke turned toward him, and the surprise on the tall man behind him's face dragged Reid's eyes back up over Duke's shoulder.

"You're that asshole!" the man exclaimed. "Everyone always mistakes me for you!"

Duke stepped out of the way, laughing, as Reid looked at himself and then at his accuser.

"I'm... we don't look that much alike, do we? We're none of the same colours. I think I might even be heavier, and that's a first."

"It's a 'that tall nerd' thing," the woman beside him explained, one eye strangely distorted behind the flickering double-lens on that side of her glasses. "Don't start scaring them off before we're even through the introduction, Chazzie. Wait 'til they ask what we do." She offered Reid her hand. "Agent Hafidha Gates, and this is my charming and totally socially appropriate partner, for this operation, Chaz Villette. We're actually still employed by the Bureau, unlike some people."

Reid considered the hand he was offered, but didn't take it, looking up at Chaz, instead. Chaz who was actually just a little taller than he was. "Villette, where have I heard that before? Oh-seven, Texas, the fi--" Reid stopped in the middle of the sentence, paling as the rest of that came back to him. "Sorry. I studied that case."

"I know." Chaz offered an awkward half-smile. "I read that paper."

"Okay, boys, flirting time is after we get the gamma in the bag," Hafidha interrupted, eyes still lingering on Langly, or, as Reid finally noticed, just short of Langly. "Tell us what we're dealing with, here."

"The girl's my friend's daughter," Langly started, jamming his hands into his pockets. "And she's got access to some information that somebody thought they could get out of her. They grabbed her this morning. She's currently in control of the situation inside that building, but she's not coming out, and attempts to push the point have ended in hallucinations verging on mind-control, which is consistent with some research done by some folks her dad and I used to know, but she's not using the chemicals they developed. I can taste those. I will never forget what those taste like. But, whatever she's using, I'm still mostly immune to it. I don't think scaring the shit out of her is a good idea, though."

"How long has she been doing this?" Chaz asked. "When's the last time she ate?"

"She got taken at a quarter to eight, this morning." That much Reid was sure of. "And this... Whatever it is she's doing started about an hour and a half ago."

Hafidha cocked her head, staring at nothing. "What's her name, again?"

"Alcea Fitzgerald." JJ continued to look uncertain about the addition of the agents from the other side of the floor. "Judging by the dishes in her apartment, she had breakfast. Judging by the groceries, probably kids' cereal and soda."

Chaz and Hafidha eyed each other, and then Chaz nodded. "That sounds like one of ours."

"She's probably still all right," Hafidha ventured. "But, we really do need to get to her. Has she actually hurt anyone, yet?"

"No." Reid shook his head, emphatically. "She's defending herself, as far as I can tell. Her family is strongly anti-government, so she may be just as afraid of us as she is of her abductors."

"Get rid of the cops," Hafidha said, suddenly. "The uniforms. They're not going to be able to help, anyway, with what Agent Rossi told us on the phone. They have no idea what we're dealing with, and if they stick around, somebody's going to get hurt."

Duke nodded. "She's right, you know. If that girl's giving orders, and we've got people in range equipped for a siege with hostages, this is gonna get uglier than that time in Jamaica Bay, with the illegal fireworks and the case of Haitian rum."

"Isn't that how you lost your fingers?" Rossi teased, the amusement obvious in his voice.

"Nah, nah, that was rabid weasels in Belize."

Chaz breathed a long-suffering sigh, and JJ went to send the locals packing.

"How are we doing this?" Reid asked, wondering what these agents knew that he didn't, but absolutely clear that he was missing a piece, if not several.

"Your friend over here's immune to this girl's charms. He's going in with Chaz." Hafidha considered it and nodded.

"Wait, I'm what?" Chaz's eyes leapt from his distracted study of Reid's features to Hafidha.

"You know I'm right. She can't hit you, Chaz."

Reid watched the other agent's face pass through annoyance, surprise, and then resigned acceptance.

"I know." Chaz leaned to the side and slipped his fingers into Hafidha's laptop bag. "But, if I'm doing this, you're giving me that Milky Way."

Hafidha slapped his hand and produced the candy from a different pocket in the bag, fast enough that Reid wondered if anyone else had noticed where it came from. She offered it to Chaz. "You're not the only one jamming, here. Do you see how much I like you? I'm giving you my snacks that I bought for me."

"You're the best." Chaz peeled the wrapper and tried to pretend to human-sized bites. He failed at the latter, and the chocolate bar vanished almost as fast as it had appeared. "And you're also out here with two other agents who probably keep granola bars in the glovebox, like smart people, while I'm going into a potential anomalous situation with a civilian for backup."

"You're an anomalous situation. He used to be an investigative journalist, in a past life," Hafidha said absently, and panic splashed across Reid's face, before the perfect stillness slid down over it. "It's like taking Duke, but younger and probably safer."

"I think you've got me confused with someone else." Langly managed to sound irritated. "Happens a lot. Almost got me shot a few weeks ago."

Hafidha smiled in a way Reid decided instantly he didn't like, and Chaz clapped a hand on her shoulder.

"Hafs, don't."

Hafidha looked like she might do whatever she was considering, anyway, looked like she might bite Chaz's hand. In the background, the local police piled back into their vehicles. Hafidha rubbed a spot on the back of her head, tucking her finger under two of the innumerable thin braids that twisted into flower shapes over her left ear.

"Don't what?" Hafidha asked, almost sounding innocent. The darkness in her eyes wasn't gone, but Reid found himself less afraid of it. "Go take the magical mystery consultant and get the girl, before we fuel the local rumour mill for an entire month, just standing on the street. Agent Reid and I will be just fine, right here."

Reid took that to mean that she wanted to talk to him, and that made him just as uneasy as the things she wasn't saying.

"They've got this under control," Duke said to Rossi, taking a seat on the stairs behind them. "I don't see any holes in this plan, except the part where I don't know how long your consultant's going to hold up, but he's unarmed and Agent Villette's more dangerous than he looks."

"I'm ... not that worried about Frank," Reid lied, over his shoulder. "I watched him do this once, today. I'm more worried about your agent."

"Oh, honey, don't you worry about Chaz. She'll never know what hit her." Hafidha nearly gleamed with some dark admiration. "She's trying to get into their heads, and with Chaz, you'd have better luck if you mistook a mirror on the wall for the door behind you."

Chaz shot Hafidha a pointed look, then turned his gaze to Langly, gesturing across the street. "Lead the way."

Reid's hands clenched tight, and he swallowed, watching Langly walk away, inhaler back in one hand.

"So, the two of you...?" Hafidha asked, distractedly.

"Partners, for the duration. We've been working together a lot, lately." It wasn't untrue, Reid figured. It just wasn't what she was asking.

"Uh-huh. Because putting a suspended agent in the field with a civilian consultant is totally typical Bureau policy."

"Hey, I'm not here with the retired guy."

An incoherent shout rang out across the road, and Chaz put a hand on Langly's back. Neither of them fell, but both of them rocked.

"I thought you said she couldn't get to him," Reid hissed, eyes still locked on the scene in front of them.

"She can't. He's testing her." Hafidha's distraction had stopped, suddenly, at the sound of the shout.

"Alcea, come on, we sent them away, but I can't hold off the press! We have to get you out of here!" Langly called toward the window as he mounted the stairs, hand firmly on the railing. He knew she'd keep trying, as they got closer. "I remember what happened to your mother, when she tried to lean on so-called legitimate journalism."

Langly's voice dropped as he got to the door, and Reid couldn't make out what he was saying. Chaz examined the door and then slammed his elbow through one of the high windows on it, lips moving in a sentence Reid also couldn't make out, as he climbed onto the porch rail and reached down to open the locks.

Hafidha sighed. "I'm sure someone here has a pick gun."

"He'd have to come back across the street to get it," Reid pointed out. "Although why we didn't send them with one in the first place..."

"I don't think either of them do this kind of thing much. I'm guessing you don't, either." The next smile was definitely less evil than the ones before it. "Brains doesn't usually go in first."

"I resent that remark," Duke muttered from behind them. "And if he's a journalist, he'd better be able to pick a lock."

"Just a network admin." Reid shrugged, catching the way Langly looked back at him, before Chaz led the way into the house.

"He's not just anything," Hafidha corrected, leaving Reid to wonder what she knew, to hope she wouldn't say too much of it aloud. "What do you feed that boy?"

"He feeds himself. Great cook." Reid stopped and thought about that, just not to think about the things he couldn't see across the street. "Well, for values of 'great' that include pot pies, apocalypse food, and the greatest culinary mistakes of the mid 20th century made palatable."

"Tomato aspic?" Hafidha asked with a shudder.

"He's a big fan of ambrosia salad with mayo. I refuse." Reid made a tiny gesture with his head that might have been shaking it, if he'd been willing to take his eyes off the darkness beyond the door. "I've heard rumours of other things involving pineapple jello and canned vegetables. The fritters are good, though. The pot pie is to die for."

"Just partners, huh?"

"I'm not usually the kind of guy who turns down a good meal." Reid shrugged, and without Langly to distract her, Hafidha's eyes finally landed on him, looking for something.

Chapter Text

The first thing Langly noticed in the house was the smell. He took it for urine, first, sharp and sweet, but that wasn't quite right. It was a sickly smell, like the morning after a whole day of nothing but coffee, and he could almost feel the ache in his arms at the thought.

Nothing moved, and the house stood silent around him. He glanced up at Chaz and shrugged.

"Alcea? Come on, I know you've never actually met John, but he's really worried about you. You sent us all those files, and we're still trying to track everything down, but he ... you know, he wanted to make sure you weren't jerking us around. So, he sent me to find out who you were, and I figured it out this morning, about two minutes before those guys grabbed you, and right now, he's working his ass off trying to find out who they are and what they want, so we can make this stop. For real this time." Langly took a deep breath and picked a doorway, stepping out of  the tiny entrance hall into the room with the broken window, apparently some sort of office or study, lined with books and with an enormous desk in the centre. "I know we didn't save your mother, but we tried. Let us help you. Come on, if you know John, you should know my face. You know who I am. You know I wouldn't be here unless--"

The girl who crawled out from behind the heavy rosewood desk, soaked in sweat, looked sick and thin, unlike the healthy young woman they'd seen that morning, and Langly could hear the sharp inhale from behind him, before Chaz squeezed past him into the room.

"Stick your head out and get them to call for an ambulance."

The girl raised her head and bared her teeth, loosing another shout that seemed to make her even more fragile, and this time, Langly backed into the doorframe. Chaz moved like nothing had happened, kneeling in the middle of the floor, still a few feet from the girl. She tried again.

"You have to stop," Chaz said, calmly, holding out his hand. "You have to stop because it's killing you. I'm not going to let that happen, but you have to listen to me. We're going to get you out of here, get you some help. You're going to be all right."

Across the room, Langly could feel the calm radiating from Chaz as if it were an actual thing he could grab with his hands.

"I'm just like you. It eats you from the inside, but you can control it. You can keep it from destroying you. And right now, the best thing you can do is to calm down." Chaz raised his voice a little for Langly. "Frank, get her an ambulance."

This time, Langly moved without thinking, with no interruptions to call him back. He jammed his hand into his pocket and pulled out his phone, unwilling to leave Alcea alone with anyone. "Reid? We've got Alcea. I think it's her. She's... we need an ambulance."

"Tell them to be ready to treat her for starvation -- like she hasn't eaten in a very long time." Chaz's voice was still a little louder than it needed to be.

"But, I ate breakfast," the girl protested, the first coherent words she'd spoken to them.

"It doesn't matter. You didn't have enough for what you just tried to do," Chaz told her, quietly, as Langly described what they'd found to Reid. "But, you're going to be all right, now. Can you tell me what happened to the men who brought you here?"

"They went away. I told them to go away, and they did. It didn't work the first time. I couldn't convince them to go. And then they just... left." The girl lowered herself to lie on the floor and took the hand Chaz was still holding out to her.

"Do you know what day it is?" Chaz asked, as if checking her mental state.

"Of course. I had to get a package, this morning, before work." The girl seemed even calmer with Chaz's hand in her own.

"And can you tell me your name?"

"Alcea Fitzgerald," the girl replied. "But, you already know that."

"I'm just making sure you didn't get hit in the head too hard. We don't know what happened to you, after those guys grabbed you, and we need to know what to tell the doctors. So far, you're coherent, you know who you are, and I'm only seeing a few bruises on your arm and your face," Chaz explained. "That sound right to you?"

"It's her," Langly told Reid. "It's definitely her, and we're going to be in here until the ambulance gets here. She's safe, if you want to take a look around, outside. Don't come in. You'll set her off again." He paused to listen, breathing easier than he had in a long time, in the glow of Chaz's calm. "Yeah, I'll take care of things here. Pinky swear."

"I'm hungry," Alcea complained, and Langly watched the regret wash across Chaz's face.

"It's only a little longer," Chaz promised. "The ambulance will be here, soon, and you'll get some food in the hospital."

Langly crossed the room and crouched down, a little back from Chaz, not to crowd Alcea. "Hey, kiddo. You scared the shit out of us. You doing okay over here?"

"I know you. Mom said you were dead." Alcea's brow crinkled as she squinted up at Langly, and he and Chaz both braced for an impact that didn't come.

"Stick your fingers in your ears," Langly told Chaz.

"Too late." Chaz shrugged one shoulder. "When I caught Hafs looking at you, I went for a closer look, too. You're Richard Langly, and you're terrified of anyone finding out you're alive."

"Maybe because people keep trying to kill me," Langly shot back, far less calm than he'd been a moment earlier. He could've tried to keep pretending, but he got the impression faking it with Villette and his partner wasn't going to leave him in a good position. "Anyway, Richard Langly's dead, now. I'm Frank Arroway."

"Like mom," Alcea murmured.

"Yeah, exactly like that. I was the guy responsible for a lot of that." Langly almost smiled, but his eyes went back to Chaz, curious and more than a little nervous. "How'd you know?"

"I'm like her, but different. There are more things in heaven and earth than are published in your newspaper." Chaz rubbed Alcea's fingers with his thumb, a calming gesture. "You probably picked up a few of us, though. We make pretty good cryptids. And I'm not supposed to be talking about it, but you already know. You've already seen it. And I think Hafs thinks you're already doing it. There's only one thing she looks at like that, and it's not people, not even ones like us."

Langly scoffed. "Please. I'm not a cryptid, I'm just a semi-retired investigative journalist."

"Sometimes I'm not entirely sure there's a difference," Chaz joked, imagining the horror that Duke would be as a gamma. "Okay, maybe a small difference."

"Anyway, kid -- Alcea -- we're taking you to the hospital, and I'm gonna call my friend Fitz for you -- the guy from Vexation of Spirit you keep writing to. I'll see if I can get him to come up and see you, but you've got to remember we're... we don't exist any more, and hospitals have a lot of cameras. It's gonna be a little difficult and a little dangerous, but we'll get there. It just might not be right away." Langly was more worried about the girl than about himself, which was a somewhat frightening thing to realise.

"Fitz? That's his name?" Alcea looked a little disappointed. "I like him. He always seemed like he wanted to help."

"It's his goddamn stupid moral imperative. You'll figure that out, eventually. He's... neutral good, leaning hard toward lawful. If we can't be right, we can at least be just, which, as I never cease to remind him, is how I wound up drinking gasoline, because he's an asshole, and it's impossible to tell him no when he starts making that morally superior disappointed-in-you face."

Chaz's shoulders curled in as he tried to stifle a surprised laugh. "Gasoline?"

"Hey, I didn't know how to siphon gas. He didn't know how to siphon gas. But, instead of making the third member of our party do it for us, I lost the draw, and he insisted we hit a whole parking lot and only take a gallon from each of ten cars, instead of just draining somebody's tank. I might have swallowed some. And then some more. I said I wasn't any good at it!" Langly huffed.

Chaz had a strained look like he'd swallowed his lips trying not to smile and it wasn't doing him the least bit of good.

"You're not very bright, are you?" Alcea choked out amid a bout of giggles that looked like almost more effort than her body could handle.

"Nice way to talk to the guy who saved your life. Screw you, I'm a genius." Langly glanced toward the door.

"And that's half the problem," Chaz wheezed, and for an instant, the whole room seemed to fill with his amusement.

"No common sense is Agent Reid's problem, not mine, thanks." Langly looked down at his bare wrists as if expecting a watch. "Where the hell is the ambulance?"

Chaz muttered something under his breath about 'fourteen minutes', the light fading instantly from his expression. He shook his head. "They'll be here. Besides, she's fine, aren't you, Alcea? Just a little hungry and tired? Maybe a little freaked out?"

"A lot of freaked out," Alcea admitted.

Langly looked back at the girl. "Hey, I gotta ask--" His eyes flicked to Chaz and back. "--you something, later. I found some things looking for you."

"Did you find her letters?" Alcea asked, eyes drifting shut. Outside, a heavy vehicle stopped.

"Letters? Whose letters?" Langly's head rocked back and he blinked. "I found a letter you didn't send, but..."

"The letters she didn't send. I have them all in a box under the bottom drawer. You need to give them to John. They're John's letters."

"Frank?" Reid's voice came from the door they'd left open.

"Go back across the street, Reid." Langly's voice was tense. Even now, he wasn't willing to trust Alcea with anyone who couldn't hold her off, and he had no reason to think Reid could.

"Medics are here."

"Send in one with a gurney." Chaz took control of the situation. "I'll carry the foot end down the stairs."

Langly got it instantly. If Alcea panicked while she was being moved, Chaz would brace the gurney so she wouldn't roll down the stairs, even if the medic bailed. "I'll ride with her," Langly offered.

"I don't think--" Chaz started, as the lone medic entered, and Langly cut him off.

"I'm her family. I'll ride with her." Langly's lips tightened and his eyes gleamed, daring Chaz to challenge him again.

"We'll meet you at the hospital," Chaz conceded.

Reid's eyes lingered as the ambulance pulled away, and he silently questioned the wisdom of sending Langly alone. There wasn't space to put anyone else in the back of the ambulance, and he couldn't swear that Agent Villette would be a better choice since he didn't have all the context, but the medics could all be commanded, even if Langly couldn't be, and that made Reid extremely nervous. He could probably be commanded, which made him more nervous, and the conversation about the 'scary CIA drugs' came back to him, raising a bitter taste under his tongue.

Hafidha's voice cut into his thoughts. "So, we've got two soon-to-be identified men in black suits cowering and freaking out every time anyone looks at them stuffed in the back of a Bureau SUV, one girl who didn't ask for any of this en route to a hospital with her woo-woo freakshow probably not an actual uncle--"

"Actual uncles are extremely overrated," Chaz said, somewhere between amused and antagonistic, and Reid knew what that was the punchline to, maybe a little heavy on the punch.

"Woo-woo freakshow?" he asked, changing the subject. "Is that the technical term?"

"It is, now." Chaz shrugged. "You really think he's...?"

"I don't have to think. I can see it." The smile Reid didn't like came back. "He's gonna be dangerous like me, some day."

"What makes you think he's not, already?" Chaz asked, mildly.

"I'm sorry, what are you suggesting about my consultant?" Reid cut in, carefully not saying 'boyfriend'.

"That he's a cryptid." Chaz shrugged and offered an awkward smile.

Reid laughed and then suddenly stopped. "No, no, the joke is that I'm a cryptid."

Hafidha shrugged at Chaz. "What do you think? He might be, but he's not my style."

"Well, people do mistake me for him." Chaz paused and shook his head. "No, probably not, that would be creepy. There are perfectly non-anomalous geniuses in the world."

"So, you're probably not a cryptid, but your 'consultant'? Somebody's been getting my kind of fancy with his data and he looks like he does his own work." Hafidha's next smile was mischievous, but not concerning. "I'd cough up for a party box of donuts to watch him in action."

"I actually need him to watch you in action." Chaz shifted his weight, and when nothing happened for an entire second, he went on. "We need to get Alcea's ... probably father, but that's what we're going to find out, into the hospital without anyone seeing him. I figured you were the best choice for that."

"And I get to hang out with Mister Not An Investigative Journalist, while this touching family reunion takes place?" Hafidha looked contemplative, tipping her head from side to side. "Sold. Put me in position, and I'll make it happen. Little concerned about getting that close to the girl, but I don't have to go in at all. But, if I don't go in, I don't get to poke the woo-woo sparkly and see what dirty secrets fall out." She made a face at Chaz. "What do you think?"

"I think I haven't seen you get this excited about something in years, and I don't think she's that dangerous, yet. At least not as long as she doesn't feel threatened."

"Somebody's going to have to teach her to control that," Hafidha said, and Chaz made a face like a frog being stepped on.

"Does it make me a bad person if I don't want to send her to Idlewood?"

"You're asking the wrong person, Chazzie. You know my answer." Hafidha looked down the street and shrugged. "It's just a little hospital stay. She's probably not going to need that kind of ... special treatment. We've had worse. We've been worse. And look at us now!" She glanced up at Chaz, who was very determinedly not looking at Reid. "You're doing it again, Chaz."

"I'm standing here, considering your assessment."

Hafidha shot him a reproachful look and turned to Reid. "Spencer. Can I call you Spencer? Tough shit, I'm calling you Spencer. Let's try that introduction again, but socially instead of professionally. I'm Hafs, and this is my little brother, Chaz."

"Hafs, don't," Chaz groaned, backing up straight into her arm, which caught him around the waist.

"We live together, so I get to watch him moping around the house like a left sock caught in the back of the dryer. He keeps looking at you... wistfully. You already know what happened in Texas. Do us both a favour, and please, please, take my brother home with you and bang him until his eyes read 'TILT'. He needs it."

Reid's eyes rounded and his mouth opened and closed around a multitude of half-finished words, none of them getting more than a syllable past his lips.

"Okay, he's not interested, I'm never going to be able to look anyone from that side of the floor in the eye again, and I think we're done here!" Chaz wasn't dark enough to hide the flush that spread across his face.

"I was going to say something about stopping for coffee, while we get everything squared away with Fitz, so I could pick your brains about this... cryptid thing, but now that's completely awkward." Reid's smile looked like it might shatter if he breathed wrong.

"Hafs? You safe to get to the hospital without me? Let Duke drive." Chaz tipped his head back, so he wouldn't have to look at anything.

"Please, what do you take me for?" Hafidha patted Chaz's hip and winked up at him as she backed away and went to catch up with Duke, who was still talking to JJ and Rossi about the two men who weren't panicking, as long as they were the only ones in the car. "Call me so I know who I'm meeting and where! Don't bother coming home before tomorrow!"

"You up for pastries with that coffee?" Chaz asked, still not looking at Reid. "Because I'm starving, and I'd like to stop doing that while we have the completely non-sexual conversation about anomalous individuals that Hafs is going to make innuendoes about until the end of time."

"I know this fantastic patisserie--"

"The one on Connecticut or the other one on Connecticut?"

"Your choice."

"I take back the 'asshole' remark."

Chapter Text

The doctors were quick to discover they could not remove the FBI consultant from the room. The consultant objected, the patient objected, and the FBI had objected in advance, which was documented, right along with their request for a private room. But, after much tutting disapproval and blustering, the consultant was allowed to remain.

Some time later, Langly paged through the same issue of People he'd grabbed out of a lounge, on the way past, for the fiftieth time, wishing he hadn't left his laptop in the car. He'd called Byers, though, after Reid called to fill him in on the plan, and Byers would bring him... something. And hopefully take his place, at least for the time he'd need to straighten things out with Reid, after all the dumb shit they'd done. Agent Gates would get Byers in, and whatever anyone saw, there would be no record. She was cute, he thought, but also extremely dangerous in ways that made him want to sew his trousers shut and move to Lesotho in self-defence. He wondered if leaving Byers alone with her was actually a good idea at all.

"Uncle Frank?" Alcea's voice cut through Langly's thoughts -- she'd started calling him that, once she figured out it backed the nurses down faster about him being there.

"Hey, kid. Need something?"

"Who is Fitz?"

Of course, she wouldn't start with the easy questions. "He's Fitz like I'm Frank, you with me? We think he's your dad. And if you can stand being poked a few more times, we'll find out for sure. Your mom's Holly Fitzgerald, right?"

"Sometimes." Alcea pulled the thin blanket up higher, rolling onto her side to see Langly better without having to sit up.

"I used to know her a little before that. She had a different name when we met, and the last time I saw her..." Langly cleared his throat and looked down at the magazine in his hands. "I'm pretty sure the last time we saw her was actually the day you were conceived. Awkward, but probably true. I was making sure she'd be safe, when she left. Fitz was... in the other room, with her, I guess. They had something. I never really understood it, but they sure did. He's been in love with her for thirty years."

"And where was...?" Alcea seemed to have figured out that names were a bad idea.

"Whiskey-Tango-Go-Fuck-Yourself? He was out scrounging a camera and the kind of photo backdrop we'd need for the last step. I don't really want to say too much about that, here. Hospitals are notoriously easy to bug. You wouldn't believe the things I've seen..." Langly shook his head. "You want me to get you some water?"

"I want you to get me a bottle of Mountain Dew," Alcea grumbled.

"Glucose drip only for the first day. We'll get Froot Loops and Mountain Dew, tomorrow." Langly tipped his head. "Well, depending on what the doctors and Agent Villette have to say. I'd hate to rescue you from the brink of death only to kill you with a bowl of cereal."

"I like Agent Villette. I wish he'd come with us."

'Us', Langly noticed. She felt better with him and Chaz around, which wasn't too surprising, since Chaz had a clue. "He's... I don't know him, but I do know he knows what he's talking about."

"You don't?" Alcea looked curious.

Langly shook his head and picked the more flattering way to answer the question. "We've never met, before today. He's part of a special unit that handles people like you, people like him. Which means there's enough people with freaky powers who do bad shit to justify it, I guess. But, I should know that. Your mom probably told you Fitz and I used to work on some creepy shit for the FBI, every now and again. A lot of it was people who... looked like regular people and ... did bad shit with their freaky powers. And then there was the shit with the aliens, but I'm waiting until you get out of here to tell those stories."

Langly's phone rang and he answered it without looking. "Tell me something I don't know. ... Good. ... Yeah, hang on, lemme look." He got up, leaving the magazine on his chair, and opened the door, checking both ways in the hall before closing it. "Yeah, we're on pretty low circulation, up here. You should be fine. ... And grab a few blankets out of wherever on your way up. Your kid's freezing her ass off up here."

He hung up. "Sorry. Fitz is here. He and Agent Gates will be up in a few minutes."

It was somewhere around the third lemon tart that the timing of Reid's frequent downward glances and Chaz's sleeve sliding up intersected at the tattoo that marked one of the thick bands of scar around Chaz's wrists.

"Sufficient," Reid's eyes rose to meet Chaz's coming down, and they both looked away. "I can read most of the characters you find in flash books. Tattoos and victimology..."

"I was a little surprised to find this one." Chaz looked out the window and stuffed the rest of the tart in his mouth. "Saw it, wanted it, got it."

"I'm a little surprised to see it on someone. A little more understatement than most people go for." Reid considered his own half-eaten pan au chocolat. "Sufficient. The repairs or you?"

Chaz washed the tart down with coffee. "Both," he said, and Reid heard 'neither'.

"Does it help?" Reid asked, voice smaller than he wanted it to be.

"Mostly." Chaz shrugged and picked up another tart. "Some days, though... Some days I just want to cut it off." He paused, dragging his eyes up to look straight at Reid. "You know what I'm talking about, don't you." It's not a question. It's almost an accusation.

"I have a pretty good idea. We have a little too much in common, you and I." Reid met Chaz's mismatched eyes. "The difference was that my family is a lot less exciting and a lot more alive. Higher status, possibly, too, but that didn't help for as long as you'd hope it might."

"I haven't actually read your file, or I'd have known who you were, before you introduced yourself. Short form?"

"Las Vegas, nineteen eighty-one. Schizophrenic professor and absent lawyer. CalTech, MIT, FBI. Banned from several casinos, along the way, because they really don't like it when you can work the odds in your head." Reid offered a small, self-deprecating smile. "I dug my own grave, once."

What might've been a smile, if his mouth wasn't full, curled one side of Chaz's lips, before he managed to swallow. "There's two of us, we're not related, and you're the normal one. Rock climbing?"

"I can barely move my sofa, and I'm not actually that fond of the great outdoors."

"Probably for the best. I was wondering how I was going to maintain my dignity trying to out-climb you with..." Chaz glanced down at his wrists and tipped his head to the side, one shoulder jerking in what could have been a very small shrug.

"Assume you already have." Reid cut another corner off his pastry, the chocolate having long since stopped being warm enough to drip. "It's not the same, after. Ninety-five percent still isn't a hundred."

"And everybody keeps telling you it's 'basically the same'."

"It is not the same. And it's not just range of motion!"

"Locks in the winter, swells in the summer..." Chaz shook his head. "Oh, to be twenty-five again."

"You wouldn't want to be. Then you'd have to do it all again."

"Less mistakes."

Reid shook his head. "Different mistakes."

And Chaz wondered what he knew, changed the subject before they could get into that conversation. "You don't eat much, do you?"

"There's a limited number of things I can do at a time, and eating falls off the bottom, first, because even if you don't usually think about doing it, it does require a certain amount of attention and physical coordination. Writing, too." Reid finally managed to get another bite of pastry into his mouth.

"She's right, then. You can't be one of us. You'd be dead." Chaz's smile was made more awkward by his attempts to suppress it. "Five thousand calories to maintain one of us, on a slow day."

"Then she's probably wrong about Frank, too." Reid made a point of paying attention to his food. "He forgets to eat."

"Not when he's working, I bet," Chaz ventured.

"It's not the food, it's the Jolt," Reid realised, suddenly. "There's eighteen hundred calories in a twelve pack."

"He'd probably die if you gave him decaf. Not that I can talk." Chaz reached for another tart. "We should get a cake. I should get a cake. I just thought the box of tarts would make a less terrifying opener than the idea that I fully intend to demolish an entire cheesecake with no regrets."

"Regardless of the caloric intake needed to sustain your talents, the human body can only fit so much in the stomach at once." Reid blinked a couple of times, considering the volume of the cake in question.

"It's a talent." Chaz licked the lemon curd off his lip. "We've evolved."

"You'll understand I have very little difficulty believing you're what you claim to be. Agent Gates is definitely something more than she appears. But, Frank? He's just as normal as I am, which may not be saying much, but it counts," Reid argued, still working on the calculations. Langly ate more than he did, but that wasn't necessarily difficult.

"Hafs isn't wrong. She's... I shouldn't be talking about her. I shouldn't be talking about me. But, she does this thing where she can tell if somebody's been manipulating stuff with powers like ours, as long as there's a digital record. Except she needs to be looking at the data to do it. I've never seen her look at a person like that."

"So, you're interpreting the abnormality as being that kind of anomaly, instead of some other sort." Reid shook his head and took another very intentional bite of pastry. "I don't doubt what she's seeing. I doubt the interpretation. He's... He's called himself a ghost. There's a lot of heavy manipulation of public record around him, and a large part of that, dating to a specific moment in time, is official. We did it for him. 'We', like I was even out of college."

"You think someone else marked him." Chaz considered it. "I don't think so, but I'll ask her. It's on him, not about him. And I may also have taken a look, but a narrow one, I promise. I don't do that to people, but she was ... staring. It was making me nervous."

"What do you see? I'm only partially clear on what you do, and it doesn't sound that different to what I do."

"That's not in the case file, is it?" Chaz closed his eyes. "Of course it's not. Only the barest mention of the anomaly." He took a deep breath. "It's easy to say I read minds, but that's not really it. I can show you what I do, but you're not going to like it." Another pause. "I'm scary, because I could make you like it. That came later. I didn't want that. I didn't want any of this. But, I have it, and I can control it, and I hope I never lose my grip."

"Show me." Reid put down his fork.

"That's a bad idea."

"Does it hurt? Are we going to upset the room?" Reid tried to figure out what kind of damage control would be needed, considering that Langly hadn't even noticed it was happening.

"No, it's just... Intrusive. A little rude. I'm not sure I want to know the kind of things about you that you know about me. Or how you felt about them."

Reid recoiled, blinking. He hadn't considered that might be part of it. "I'll make that sacrifice," he decided.

"I have to feel it," Chaz warned, hesitance in every line of his body. "So just... focus on something pleasant. Please. And you're paying for the cheesecake."

Reid tried to find something safe to put in the forefront of his mind -- something that wouldn't be a betrayal of anyone else's confidences -- and finally came up with a quiet afternoon at home, golden light in the windows, book in hand. He nodded. "This should be safe."

For a few moments, nothing seemed to happen other than the way Chaz's face relaxed, pleased surprise registering in his eyes. Reid's mind wandered just a bit, filling in a scene from the other day. The warmth of the room, the mellow golden glow, a simple calm, with the aftertaste of cheese and gravy.

"Just partners, huh?" Chaz ran a hand over his face and looked away.

"Sorry! Sorry. I'm... That is... that's... not..." Reid realised he'd been thinking of Langly leaning against his side, working, while he read and ate hash browns.

"I know you're not going to tell me that's not what it looks like." Chaz reached for another tart, studying the pattern in the tile on the floor. "His hash browns or yours?"

"His." Reid answered the easy one, first. "I was going to tell you that's not what I meant to show you."

"Watched it resolve," Chaz assured him, not sure how reassuring that actually was. "I know what you were aiming for. Still... That's a lot better than an old case."

"That is an old case," Reid said and instantly regretted it as the corner of Chaz's mouth quirked with something he wasn't going to say.

Chapter Text

"The last time I set him up with someone, she was a serial killer, so I thought we'd try something a little closer to home, this time." Hafidha shrugged and tugged Byers into an otherwise empty visitors' lounge, until the people coming the other way down the hall passed.

"Agent Reid is currently in a serious relationship, and I may be wrong, but I don't think he's interested in being shared. He's not even interested in shaking hands," Byers observed, watching the group turn a corner in the mirror hung above a small bookcase.

"What's his malfunction?" Hafidha asked, leading the way back into the hall.

"I didn't ask. I just don't touch him." Byers followed close behind her, keeping his voice down as they passed patient rooms. "What do you know about Alcea?"

"More than you do. Give me your email, and I'll give you everything." Hafidha's fingers flicked, and the nurse at the desk between them and the rest of the floor jumped up to check on something, leaving them to walk right by.

Byers reached into a pocket and handed her a business card.

"Ken Fitzgerald, and everybody calls you 'Fitz' instead of 'Ken'," Hafidha raised an eyebrow.

"Ken for 'Kennedy'. Why tempt fate?" Byers shrugged, knowing full well the only one tempting fate was him. As he opened the door of the room Hafidha nodded toward, Byers suddenly got hauled in and slammed into a wall.

"Oh. Good. It's you." Langly stepped back and cleared his throat, giving Byers a clear view of the bed, as Hafidha came in and closed the door. "Allie, this is Fitz."

Byers sputtered, straightening his suit and brushing himself off, and then his eyes landed on the girl in the bed. He knew that face, even if the colours were all wrong. Even if she was much younger and much thinner. His back still against the wall, he just stared.

"Hi, dad." Alcea waved, amused but uncertain.

"Drugs first," Langly said, wrapping Byers's unresponsive fingers around the inhaler. "You're probably not going to need it, but let's just keep things safe."

"This is the expanded AH antidote." Byers blinked down at the inhaler in confusion.

"Oh, good!" Hafidha smiled brightly. "Nobody told him." She pulled up the chair Langly had been sitting in and dropped into it, offering a hand to Alcea even as her eyes never left the pair by the door. "Hafidha. I work with Chaz."

Alcea shook the hand she was offered with what would be a solid grip, once she'd recovered. "Allie."

Back by the door, Langly was speaking quietly, and Hafidha watched the hospital's networks wind around him like a friendly school of eels he couldn't seem to see.

"What?" Byers blinked in alarm. "No, no, that doesn't make sense. Langly, that's not--" His face drained entirely of colour.

"It's fine! I knew!" Hafidha fluttered her fingers at them cheerfully. "And yes, it does work like that. She's the real thing."

Alcea took a breath and opened her mouth, and Hafidha turned on her, one finger raised.

"Don't you dare. You will die."


"Man's waited this long to meet you, he can wait another few days to see which shiny powers you have. Trust me. You have your whole life ahead of you!" Hafidha smiled like she meant it. Tomorrow, she was going to have to explain that 'whole life' might not be that long, if the Bug had its way.

"You just ate an entire cheesecake." Reid looked on in horror as Chaz bought another dozen tarts. "Full-height, complete with candied fruit. An entire cheesecake. And I watched you do it."

Chaz's eyes gleamed mischievously. "And in twenty minutes, I'll be considering a snack."  He shoved his wallet back into his pocket and picked up the box, finally taking mercy on Reid, as they headed for the door. "Okay, most of them are a sacrifice to Hafs, assuming she hasn't already eaten your consultant's friend."

"I'd say something about how I'm sure you're joking, but I saw the way she was looking at us earlier..." Reid smiled like he wasn't sure if he was making a joke, as he pulled open the door.

"She nips, when she's hungry." Chaz grinned. "That's how Duke lost his fingers."

"Thought that was rabid weasels in Belize." Reid unlocked the car, noticing the meter had been out of minutes for half an hour, already, suddenly utterly thrilled he hadn't gotten a ticket.

"Only when it's not his ex-wife trying to take back the wedding ring." Chaz smirked across the top of the car before ducking into the passenger seat, nearly knocking himself senseless on the edge of the frame. "I'm pretty sure there's a timeline where that one's true. I'm pretty sure all of them are true, if you look far enough out."

"A dangerous definition of truth," Reid observed, a moment later, as he started the car. "Watch your head."

"It's only dangerous if you forget which timeline you're currently experiencing. Substantially less dangerous than your car."

"My car is perfectly safe, if you remember you're not getting into one of the Bureau's," Reid scoffed. "It's a step down, not a step up."

"My car is about two inches higher than yours, and those two inches make all the difference." Chaz ran a finger along the spotless dashboard. "Not as nice, though. Actually, it's a complete piece of shit, and if I weren't so attached to it, I'd buy something new."

"New is distinctly overrated," Reid pointed out. "My car is older than my boyfriend, and I like it that way."

"Boyfriend, now? Not just partner?"

"I could go with partner, and I probably will, once we get to the hospital, but I'm not sure there's any point in denying it, at the moment." Reid chewed on his lower lip and paid far more attention to the traffic than was at all necessary. "You're already aware of my opinions in the matter."

"I get the impression I may be more aware of them than you are." It was a dangerous and stupid thing to say, and Chaz was instantly glad the car had manual locks, or he was sure he'd be intimately acquainted with the road.

"Are you? Great." Reid cut a glance to the side, the last veneer of civilisation peeling like sun-scalded paint, before his eyes met the road again, and everything smoothed back over. "Then maybe you can tell me what the hell I'm doing, because it seems to have gotten past me."

"You know exactly what you're doing. You just don't want to." Chaz paused, head tipping, eyes squinting. "You don't want to know. You definitely do want to do. Got that part loud and clear. I'm going to need a rubber band and a glass of ice cold water if you want me to look at him, again, today. That'll pass. It's not me; it's you. It's just... the kind of thing I'd rather have a few more hours to shake, before I have to pretend everything's normal."

"I feel like I should be sorry, but I'm just not." A wicked smile darted across Reid's lips and disappeared into the next sentence. "You asked for something pleasant."

"I get it. I really do. Do I ever." Chaz stared out the window. "Doesn't usually affect me like this, any more, but I'm usually looking at people who have done horrible things. There's some distance. Or maybe Hafs is right, and I just need to get laid -- which is not your problem, no matter what she thinks." He still didn't look at Reid, watching a woman cross the street with her dog. "You really don't want to be in love, do you?"

"I'd rather not," Reid admitted, with no attempt to explain himself.

"Touchy subject. Which it should be, and I know that, but ... unusual circumstance. I'm not you; I don't get to talk to you like I am." Chaz touched his knuckles to his mouth as a laugh turned into a chewy cough. "Even if nobody else can tell us apart."

"Everyone else is an unobservant idiot, obviously," Reid snapped with a bit more misanthropic force than generally found its way into his head or out of his mouth.

"I've often thought that," Chaz observed, quietly. "Okay, if everyone else is an unobservant idiot, and I should probably buy a new car, what do you say we go get banned from a few casinos in Atlantic City when this is all over, and I'll get something that doesn't die at traffic lights. The question is whether I can get into a Maserati without smacking my head."

"The question is whether there are any casinos in Atlantic City I'm not already banned from." An apologetic smile that verged on hysteria crept across Reid's face.

"Yeah, see, that would be nice and all, but what you see before you is raw talent combined with years of experience. It's just me. I'm just that good." Langly leaned on the wall beside the door of the hospital room, Hafidha beside him washing down jellybeans with her third soda.

"You could be better, if you just let go of your expectations," she said, offering him the bag. "Take the buttered popcorn jellybean, Neo."

"Why the hell is that even a flavour?" Langly complained.

"I have no idea. I was hoping I'd get you to eat it so I wouldn't, accidentally, but I'm not Chaz and as ... exciting as you are, you're not a machine." Watermelon. That was safe. Hafidha tossed it into her mouth and then flicked her fingers, tugging at things only she could see.

Except that wasn't quite true. "Wait, do that again?"

"... Can't... really. Wait, let me try another one." A small rotating gesture, like winding string, and a quick flick.

"Patient in three seventeen, persistent tachycardia." Langly blinked, shook his head, closed his eyes. "I can't see it. It's not there, but it's ...? What the hell are you doing?"

Hafidha's eyes gleamed dangerously. "Oh, we're gonna have some fun, Pale and Nameless. But, if you start getting ... different? Not like you? Angry? Violent? You tell me, because we have to stop. Have to. You need to get a good grip on that thing if it starts making waves. And you need to eat, no matter what it tells you."

She glanced down the hall at the flicker of movement in the corner of her vision, spotting Chaz carrying a large pastry box, joking with Reid in that way that she could only tell was joking, because she knew him. And Reid's face moved almost the same, but in saner proportions. Reid must've said something particularly funny, because Hafidha watched Chaz try to swallow his own lips.

"God, that's creepy," Langly muttered, watching them. "There's not really two of him, but there's two of him."

"There's two of him," Hafidha agreed, thinking of the temptation for Chaz. Wondering if he'd given in to it -- just a taste. And then they both looked at Frank, and she knew.

Chaz wrenched his eyes back to Hafidha, holding out the box of tarts in supplication.

"This is an acceptable reason for me to be seeing your face again," Hafidha decided, accepting the box of tarts and offering the first one to Langly. "Yes, yes, make your sacrifices to the technological masters. I notice you're not sweaty. Or damp. I'm disappointed."

Chaz cleared his throat and stared intently at the floor in front of him, apparently fascinated by the pattern in the linoleum.

"What the hell did I miss?" Langly stared over the top of Hafs's head in abject confusion, an untouched tart in one hand.

"Form-filling... maybe now in triplicate!" Hafidha's smile was far too bright. "Bureau boys have to be good for something. Not sure it counts as forms, in this case."

"Hafs, no. Do not. Not helping." Chaz turned a wide variety of colours as he tipped his head back to stare at the ceiling, instead, pointedly keeping his eyes off of Langly.

Reid caught Langly's eye. "You remember what I was saying about the team and sexual autonomy? I take it all back."

Langly choked on the tart, one hand clapped over his mouth as crumbs of the crust sprinkled to the floor, accompanied by a strangled sound that might have been laughter.

"Choking to death isn't an improvement on starving to death," Chaz teased, still not looking down. "But, what do we know?"

"I know my baby brother persists in not getting laid, and will therefore continue to be the Sultan of Sulk." Hafidha held up a hand, the other one still balancing the tarts. "No, I know. Brave Master Fitzgerald, in there, sent the samples downstairs and I handled the paperwork. When the results come back, they'll be rerouted appropriately and then disappear. But, looking at the two of them? I'm inclined to believe it just as much as I'm inclined to walk up and yank his tie."

"He's already bought and paid for," Langly said, as Hafidha pulled the box of tarts out of his reach.

Chaz grabbed one, instead. "You want to yank his tie, and I'm the one who needs to get laid?"

"If 'bought and paid for' is Allie's mom, he needs to get out more." Hafs tried to grab the tart, but Chaz was faster, and half of it disappeared into his mouth before he held the rest up over his head.

"Until this started, he was getting exciting with The Black Queen. There are things I'm not asking because I do not need to know, but I suspect there would be some definite stepping on of toes." Langly licked raspberry jam off his fingers.

"What, me?" Hafidha laughed. "No, no, I'm worried about Chaz. What about that cute blonde -- not you, the other one."

"Married. I'm her son's godfather." Reid's face remained without judgement -- without expression, entirely.

"That's it. We're going to a bar, and I'm buying drinks until you go home with the first thing that sits in your lap," Hafidha decided.

"Sorry, I'm here to take the next watch." Chaz's faint smile was anything but apologetic. Sharply self-satisfied, even.

"Speaking of things you should know, I don't think she's like you, Chaz. I think she's fear and desire. And I don't think she knows, either. I don't think she can see what she's hitting, just that she is hitting. I've been going through the reports again and again. You can't understand her; Frank can't understand her; but the entire team she dropped swears their commander called them back. You can't understand her because she's not using anything coherent, and she can't get through to either of you to sink it in."

"Did you--?" Chaz's eyes widened, darting to the door.

"Of course not. I'm evil, not stupid," Hafidha scoffed. "I told her not to show off until they actually feed her at least twice."

"You're not evil, Hafs."

"It's just more subtle, today." There was a warning in her eyes. "Which is why I'm not taking Technical Consultant Magic Fingers home with me, to teach him the arcane ways of our kind."

"You're sure...?" Chaz finally had to look at Langly, hoping to see what Hafidha saw.

"She's sure." Langly sighed and nodded. "I can see it."

"Go home and drink a bottle of corn syrup," Hafidha suggested. "It'll get rid of the headache. Play with what you have, and don't let yourself bind to anything. Seriously, don't talk yourself into believing you know how it works. Just let it come to you." She pointed at Reid. "Make sure he eats. Not normal people meals -- buy a few cases of Twinkies, meal replacement drinks, maximum calories in minimal volume: high sugar, high fat is a good start. Junk food all the way down."

"Watch out for the megalomania." Chaz sighed and stretched a hand across his eyes, tipping his head back, again. "It will try to make you a supervillain -- that's just what the Bug does. It gets in your head and it tells you all kinds of crazy shit. And on the other end, watch out for the crash. I don't know you, but I hope your situation is mostly stable, because you're going to need that. If it can find some way to hurt you, it's going to grab on and twist. You will do unimaginable things, if you can't keep it nailed down." He pulled his hand away and caught Langly's eye as he looked down. "I don't slip often. Neither does she, any more. But, the anomaly has produced a ratio of serial killers and mass murderers among our kind that is on an entirely different scale to the rest of the population, and you need to be aware that it's possible, so it doesn't become you."

"If you start leaning that way -- if you need help with that or with anything else -- just reach out and touch someone," Hafidha reached up and tapped her finger on Langly's nose, in a flurry of data only they could see. "Me. You can probably find me, because you know what you're looking for and I'm going to be watching for you."

"Right, if I start feeling like a serial killer, go talk to my superhero FBI friends," Langly scoffed. "Because that's going to end well."

"Actually, it is." Chaz jammed his hands into his pockets. "There's been research into some treatments that don't completely contain the anomaly's more destructive tendencies, but can help to control it. You're probably a good candidate for it, if things start getting ugly. Relatively stable, self-aware, not delusional that I'm aware of, and most of all, willing to resist -- which a surprising number of people aren't. You haven't been swallowed by your personal mythology in a way that's likely to make recovery difficult."

Hafidha took the initiative, when Chaz looked at her, inquisitively. She gestured at herself. "This is what it looks like, when it works. I have the first generation. They're better, now."

Langly's eyes widened in surprise, and he stepped back to give Hafidha another look. "You're serious?"

"As a head wound!" Hafidha fluttered her eyelashes and smiled much too cheerfully, waiting for the look of unease that slid across Langly's face.

"So, this could be really good or really bad, and if it's really bad, you can turn it back into something I could take home to mom," Langly summarised. "Yeah, okay. Let's do this."

"There's not really a 'do'," Chaz pointed out. "It's something you are, and you've been it all along. It's just about to get a whole lot weirder."

"Told you," Hafidha said. "You were the best for a reason. And now I'm the best. You want your throne back, you'd better catch up."

"Hafs, don't," Chaz sighed.

Langly folded his fingers together and stretched his arms until his knuckles popped. "You're on. My kung-fu is the best. This is just a new platform."

Chapter Text

Reid was calling Prentiss before the second door closed behind him, explaining that he'd be late, if he came in at all, the next day, because he'd gotten pulled into an ACTF case, by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Prentiss pointed out he'd done a lot of that, lately, and he offered only the flimsiest excuses about it not actually being his fault, but only his problem. He finished up by strongly suggesting he be returned to duty, full time, if he was so badly needed. After all, he'd been dragged out of every one of the last four attempts at leave -- intentional or forced -- by a case of some sort, and furthermore, he was getting a little tired of it. Taken aback at his vehemence, Prentiss promised to look into it.

"Is he all right?" Frohike gestured at Reid with the spatula he still held, bacon fumes wafting forward from the kitchen.

"We've had an extremely interesting day," Langly said, cautiously, as if he weren't holding three shopping bags full of snack cakes in one hand and a case of protein shakes under the other arm. "And when Byers gets back, we'll have an even more interesting day, because he's coming back with the test results, I hope."

"Why the hell did you go shopping?" Frohike asked a second later, registering the bags in Langly's hands. "We're stocked for the apocalypse."

"Not enough junk food." Langly shrugged. "I didn't want to cook."

"He needs to sit down and eat a box of Twinkies," Reid said, as if it answered anything at all.

"I'm going to go make some more bacon, and you're going to explain, in small words, what the hell I missed. What is this about Susanne's daughter being a cryptid? Why is Langly eating an entire box of Twinkies, this time? What's this about Byers almost getting eaten by an ACTF agent?"

"I got hit on by an ACTF agent!" Reid volunteered. "The same one, I'd assume, since I was with the other one at the time. Or at least one of the other ones. Where'd we lose Duke?"

"Duke went back with JJ and Rossi. It's why Hafs had the car. She talked Duke out of it, I guess, because Byers and security." Langly shrugged, eyeing the back of the wall of monitors that faced his desk. "God, that's annoying. I hate that she's right."

"Bacon," Frohike repeated, heading toward the kitchen and expecting to be followed.

"Bacon goes in my face," Langly decided.

"I thought you were eating Twinkies!"

"He really needs to eat," Reid said, quietly, as Langly offloaded the case of protein drinks onto his workbench, pulled one out of  the box, and opened it one handed.

"You two skip breakfast?" Frohike asked, returning to the stove and the unrolled bacon sitting beside two empty tins.

"That too," Langly admitted, tossing the bags on the end of the table and tearing open a box of Twinkies.

"Let's start with the part where Susanne's daughter -- Holly's daughter -- is apparently an 'anomalous individual', to use the polite phrase. Basically, she can reproduce the effects of the psychological warfare drugs her mother worked on, with nothing but her mind," Reid explained, as Langly jammed his face full of cake. "Agent Gates described it as exploiting fear and desire without having to be aware of the specifics."

Langly managed to swallow. "I wouldn't say nothing but her mind. Her mind and a gallon of hummingbird water, maybe. That's why she's there overnight. Probably a couple of days. Byers and Agent Villette are staying with her for now, but I should go back at some point, just so Byers can sleep. Hafs and I can keep her almost as safe."

"I'm okay with anything that doesn't involve leaving Hafs alone with Byers, again." Reid laughed. "I'm pretty sure she doesn't mean to stop at yanking his tie."

"Good," Frohike huffed. "Maybe. We all remember what happened the last time some foxy fed started yanking his tie."

"Evidence suggests it was a lot more than just his tie, last time." Langly mumbled, around a wad of sticky cake.

"He needs to get out more," Frohike argued, frustratedly shovelling more bacon onto a plate. "Needed. Before. Now we all need to get out more. Guess you had to catch up with us, eventually."

"Everyone looking for us is dead or senile," Langly shot back, getting up with an eye to snagging some bacon. "And he was about to be getting out more, before this shit blew up in our faces."

"Next question: Do we think Susanne was experimenting on her own daughter?" Frohike asked, stopping himself from smacking Langly's hand with the spatula.

"You'd want to ask Agent Villette," Reid said, after a moment. "If anyone would know, he'd be able to find out. Currently, we're working under the assumption that Holly was also somehow... different, in some way, and that Alcea inherited that from her. Research has suggested that the children of somewhat less anomalous individuals may be a great deal more anomalous. It's also possible it's Byers, but you'd probably have noticed. It's also possible she's the first generation touched by the anomaly. But, it's unlikely, though not impossible, this is the result of experimentation."

"And speaking of Susanne, she's missing. Like, missing missing. Not like we packed her off into oblivion." Langly paused for another strip of bacon. "Allie was looking for people who might have known Byers -- might've known us -- to help find her mother. That's why she hit Byers in the first place. It was a test. She was looking for a trustworthy contact."

"What do we know about her family and history?" Reid asked, taking a seat that wouldn't put him between Langly and the Twinkies.

"Allie says she mostly remembers growing up in Aurora, homeschooled. Serious shit, too. Way, way overprepared for the private school she got into in Virginia. And that's a story -- apparently, it was her step-dad who got her into the school, not her mom."

"Step-dad?" Frohike turned around, eyes wide. "Oh, shit. Who's telling Byers?"

Langly snorted. "Allie. I'm not sticking my foot in that."

Frohike shook his head. "I don't have enough scotch for this."

"Get vodka and rearrange the fridge. I'll make jello shots." Langly stretched, and Reid watched the lines of his body, around the edge of the kitchen island.

Between having Chaz in his head and Hafidha taking him as a perfectly serious target of sexual commentary, Reid had been pushed to take another look at himself, at his relationship with Langly. And really, he had to appreciate both Langly's existence and interest in him, whatever might be going on between them. And Chaz had called him out on that -- he really didn't want to be in love. His associations with the idea were still nerve-wracking. He found friends difficult enough. Friends who showed up in the middle of the night carrying food? A little more unsettling, but probably a good thing. A friend he woke up next to, after a night of incredible sex? Life altering, and frankly terrifying all by itself. He didn't need the fear that 'in love' would add to that, and to judge by the reactions, neither did Langly. Maybe later, he thought, when things got too normal, and neither of them stayed up half the night, staring at the ceiling, wondering what the hell they were doing.

Langly was still explaining things to Frohike, as Reid realised he was staring and Langly was giving him a concerned look. "-- but she never married the guy, so she basically disappeared again. Everything's in his name to keep anyone from looking too closely. Allie doesn't know if the other Hollys are her mother's work or someone else's, but I'm leaning toward them being Susanne's intent, if not her hand, given what we have from Tallahassee."

Reid shook his head and gestured for Langly to go on.

"And for some reason, the kid has all her mother's old love letters to Byers stuffed in a drawer, somewhere." Langly reached into his pocket with the hand not holding bacon and pulled out a heavy pewter keychain, a few keys dangling from it. "I have her keys, because I managed to convince her Byers shouldn't be allowed to stumble on that by himself, even if they are for him. He's gonna need a few drinks and someone to sit on him."

"Sit on him and bounce, if we're lucky," Frohike muttered.

"Not gonna be me, if that's what we want. There is no quantity of jello shots that would make that be me." Langly stopped suddenly and stared at Frohike, as the missing piece of the last few days clicked into place. "What the hell are you doing up here? Aren't we in the middle of renovations?"

"Yeah, and I paid them for three days off, because this seemed a little more serious than I really wanted to deal with, sitting in the basement. Three days should buy us enough time for Byers to sleep off his hangover, and then we'll see where we are." Frohike sighed and dropped the last of the bacon onto the plate. "Unfortunately, the walls are out in the back, and all your shit is in the living room, until the floor's finished."

"... Kill me now." Langly groaned and reached for more bacon, only to have Frohike slap his hand. 

"Save some for your boyfriend."

"I had a pastry." Reid held up his hands, unwilling to put himself between Langly and food.

"Reid? You're doing it again." Langly picked up the plate of bacon, ignoring the nagging hunger that pulled at him, and stalked across the room to put it in front of Reid. "You haven't eaten since dinner, last night. A pastry is not a whole day's food. Have some bacon. Man cannot run on caffeine alone, however much he might like to, some weeks."

Reid laughed and gave in, watching Langly cram another entire Twinkie into his mouth. "He's just going to be like this, now," he told Frohike.

"What do you mean 'now'?" Frohike shook his head. "He's always been like this, when he gets going. A twelve-pack and a box of snack cakes, and he's good to go. Caffeine and sugar, the true mark of a technological pioneer. My question is really why we're on the second box of Twinkies and he's still sitting at the kitchen table."

Langly looked like a dog that had been caught digging in the trash, mouth full, eyes darting between Frohike and Reid.

"So, you know how we said Alcea's a cryptid?" Reid smiled nervously, mangling the strip of bacon he held. "Recent study suggests Langly might be one as well. And he just did some things, most of them while I wasn't looking, with no breakfast."

"What's breakfast got to do with it?" Frohike stood very still.

Langly managed to swallow. "Yeah, so, there's a reason it's 'a twelve-pack and a box of snack cakes'. Eat or die, but mostly if I'm using it, I guess. Which... might change, because I can do more weird shit now than I could this morning, and it's really bugging the shit out of me. I'm going to redesign the network. This is bullshit." His eyes lingered on something no one else could see.

"Is he hallucinating?" Frohike asked Reid. "Is this some side-effect of getting too close to Byers's baby cryptid?"

"Not as far as I can tell." Reid lifted one shoulder, his face uncertain. "Give him a bit to recover, and I guess we'll find out. I didn't really understand most of what I saw at the hospital. Definitely understood the warnings, though."

"Yeah, apparently, I have to be careful not to accidentally turn into a serial killer. Pretty sure if I was gonna do that, it would've been much sooner." Langly looked a little uneasy with the idea, but his eyes unfocused as he unwrapped another Twinkie. "First round of processing's done on the photos. Twenty-seven possible hits, which isn't bad, given the limits of the reference data."

A second later, an alert went off on Frohike's tablet, lying on the kitchen island, out of the way of the bacon grease.

"And yet? I still can't check my mail from here," Langly said, after a moment. "This sucks."

Chapter Text

John Byers was not a well man, when Chaz dropped him off at the place he said was home. When Langly arrived, a minute later, to lead him back through the steam tunnels, after a quick word with Chaz, he looked even worse. By the time Frohike let them in the lower door, he was in tears.

"Do we have vodka, yet?" Langly asked, nudging Byers up the stairs in front of him. "I need so much vodka right now."

"I paid for it, Reid picked it up," Frohike confirmed. "Along with some more munchies for your sugar binge. Hope you're in the mood for peanut noodles, because that's what Special Agent Sex Machine is cooking. He swears it's stupid college food."

"It is stupid college food." Byers coughed and wiped his nose on the back of his hand, then instantly regretted it. "It's basically hot sauce and peanut butter on spaghetti, or at least it was when I was eating it."

Frohike passed him a box of baby wipes from a nearby bookcase, as they dodged around the extra furniture packed into all the available space that didn't block doors in the back room. "So... Susanne, or...?"

"Everything." Byers took a shaky breath and blew his nose in a wet wipe.

"Are you going to drip snot on me, if I touch you?" Langly asked, at his wit's end and looking it.

"No." Byers huffed and straightened his jacket, bursting into tears again as Langly's arm dropped across his shoulders. "How did I not know? Why didn't she tell me?"

"Byers, let's be entirely fair, here. You were a one-night stand in Vegas, and you decided not to go, when she asked you to. What incentive does she have to try again?" Frohike shrugged and gestured toward the kitchen. "And besides that, you know she does what best serves her -- I mean, we're all like that, but I get the impression she's a little quicker to take advantage of the situation. And you. She wanted something, you could give it to her, and you and I both know there are so many things you could fill in that blank with, because every time she snapped her fingers, from the moment you laid eyes on her, you jumped. And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, because I'm ... pretty sure she didn't get us to do anything bad, even if some of it was a little regrettable, but that's where you are, Byers. She got what she wanted, and then she left -- and she did offer to take you with her."

"Why didn't I go?" Byers let himself be guided into a seat at the table, and Langly went for the bottle he knew would be in the freezer.

"Because you like us better, for some unfathomable reason," Frohike told him. "At least that's what you've been saying all these years."

"Wait, if both of you are here, who's at the hospital?" Reid asked, suddenly, hands stilling where he'd been mixing the sauce into a massive bowl of noodles.

"Hafidha and Duke," Byers said, quietly. "Allie seems to like them. She seems to like everyone. When Chaz and I left, Duke was telling stories about Panama, and we had three nurses in the room, laughing."

"Good," Frohike nodded and sat down next to Byers. "She'll get better faster, if she's happy. That's why it always takes Langly so long to shake things. He's too busy being bitchy."

"Hey!" Langly smacked a glass down on the table and poured three fingers of icy vodka into it. "Hold your breath and pour it down your throat. You'll thank me in fifteen minutes, ten if you skipped lunch."

Reid brought over the bowl of noodles and a somewhat smaller bowl of extra sauce, and Frohike got up to get the dishes.

"I'm going back in a few hours, to replace Duke," Langly told Reid. "Agent Villette makes the excellent point that someone has to keep an eye on Sir Sob-story, over here."

"You're an ass," Byers croaked, throat tight with vodka and thick from crying.

"Tell me something I don't know," Langly shot back. "And, ah... you're going to hate me even more, soon. Allie tell you how Susanne made herself invisible?"

"It should've been me! I should've been there!" Byers buried his face in his hands, sobbing miserably, and Langly put a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm gonna take that as a yes." Langly looked up at Reid. "Can you get the box?"

"Oh, shit." Frohike groaned and rubbed his face, before serving himself some noodles. "We're doing this now? We're doing this before dinner?"

But, Reid was already almost out of the kitchen.

"Let him get it all out of his system at once." Langly shrugged, eyeing the noodles longingly, grateful that he'd been able to alter the routing in the house well enough that his teeth had finally stopped buzzing. The visions came and went, flickers of things he could know, sometimes entire seconds before they hit their endpoints, in the case of shitty signal. Most often, just a few tens of milliseconds. Just long enough to see trouble coming, he thought, as a message came and went in the space above the table.

"JJ wants to know if you're still going to come visit the kids, next weekend!" he called out, and Reid's phone chirped in the middle of the sentence.

"Can you not do that?" Reid asked, coming back into the kitchen with a shoebox in one hand, two protein drinks balanced on it, and his phone in the other.

"Actually? No. I can't. And it's driving me up the wall." Langly grabbed a can. "Thank you."

Reid set the other can aside and put the box in front of Byers, one hand still on the lid, as he stood at the corner of the table, between Byers and Frohike. "You don't have to do this all at once, but you do need to know these exist."

"Allie's going to bring them up, and it's better you find out here, with us..." Langly squeezed Byers's shoulder a little more firmly. "She says her mother wrote you letters, every year, a few times a year. She asked me to make sure you got them." He pulled a chair over with one foot and sat down, arm still around Byers's shoulders. "Byers, you need to know what you're going to see, in here. She started writing right after she left Vegas. I haven't read any of it, but the backs of the envelopes are dated, and the fronts are addressed. The ones in the back have our old address on them. The ones in the front have the address for Arlington."

Byers looked lighter, somehow, as the tears stopped, but not in a good way, Reid noticed. He looked hollow, as he wiped his face one more time, and Reid let go of the box as Byers reached for the lid. Reid watched Langly's face for cues, as Byers slid a letter out of the box at random, tipping up the one behind it.

"Pictures," Byers said, feeling the envelope. "Christmas, oh nine." As he picked at the tape holding the envelope closed, Frohike and Langly both flipped open knives and offered the handles.

"Synchronised stabbing," Reid joked. "I feel like that should be a competitive performance."

"It already is, I think, in combination with ice skating." Frohike didn't blink as Byers snatched the knife from his fingers, with a horrified look.

"You would think, after thirty years, that I wouldn't be surprised at anything that comes out of your mouth, but you always manage to find a way."

"Thanks. It's a well-honed skill."

Slitting the envelope open, Byers pulled out the photograph, first -- a young, brown-haired girl smiling back from the lap of a mall Santa, a woman with a very familiar face and very different hair standing just to the side. "Oh, god. It's all so... so normal. It's just like I wanted it to be, but I wanted to be there. She's--" Byers made a sick sound and pushed the box away not to cry into it. "She's my wife, according to her."

"Are we sure--" Frohike started, but Langly cut him off.

"We're sure. Allie says her mom talked about Byers as her husband. Said he'd died a hero. Used to visit our graves, after they moved to Virginia."

"The flowers Narcisse said she found, in the second interview." Reid blinked in surprise.

Langly nodded. "Yeah, I thought that was just Jimmy being a sap, but ... it's possible -- pretty likely even -- that they're from Allie."

"So, how does this kid who had two anti-establishment parents, wind up with a job at the Department of Defence? Even if it was a shitty clerical internship, that's not the kind of thing you get with the parents she had." Frohike tipped his chair back, leaving the untouched plate of noodles on the table. "Mostly because you end up with exactly the kind of shit she actually did."

"Step-dad, I assume." Langly shrugged his free shoulder. "I haven't had the time to look him up properly. It's a common enough name that I have to figure out which one's the right one."

Byers looked up from the letter, gesturing with it. "If she was in love with me, like this, why would she pick someone else?"

"Because you were dead at the time, Byers," Langly reminded him.

Reid looked at Frohike, a thought passing between them.

"This guy isn't just going to be some random person she met in a bar," Reid started, the first elements of a profile falling into place in his head. "She picked him on purpose. She very likely hunted him -- found five or six men who fit the criteria she needed, and basically stalked them until she could position herself to, for lack of a better word, acquire one. It's very likely she told him a similar story to the one she first told you, Byers. Something that put her and her daughter in danger -- only this time, the daughter's real, and the danger may have been, as well."

"The criteria being that she was looking for someone who could help her make Alcea not only visible, but appealing for certain kinds of work. A smart, cheerful, all-American girl, from a good family and a good school." Frohike rubbed his nose under the bridge of his glasses. "The question is which one of them decided that was what they wanted? Did Susanne want a new insider? Did Alcea want revenge on the institution that wronged her mother? And what kind of mother lets that happen?"

"We need to talk to her about what she wanted, growing up. I've just been asking what happened." Langly's eyes were cautious.

"We need to talk to her about her step-dad," Frohike decided, after a moment's thought. "Because if he's got the money and connections to do what we're thinking Susanne wanted him for, it's possible he's part of the problem. 'Holly Fitzgerald' is married to Byers. You look up Byers and the file doesn't stop at the FCC."

"You're thinking he figured out she was Susanne?" Reid didn't look convinced.

"He doesn't have to know that up front. All he has to know is that she used to be married to a known writer for a conspiracy rag, like ours. It's going to inspire a much closer look." Frohike rocked his chair forward again and pointed to the photo sitting on top of the box. "Look at her. She changed her hair, maybe got her cheeks done a little, aged about twenty years, but she looks the same, if you know her. If you're dating her and you find old photos, I think you'd recognise her in them."

"Just like us, to be fair," Langly pointed out.

"She's missing. She's been missing for months." Byers looked up, hopeless and hollow-eyed. "What are the chances she's even still alive?"

"Pretty good, actually." Langly nodded contemplatively and pulled Byers a little closer, into something that might even pass for a hug. "Remember the last time we lost her? Ten years later, there she was. They might've changed her, but I'm pretty sure she's too valuable to kill."

"This time, I'll be the one to save her," Byers declared, looking at the box again, with a new fire in his eyes.

"You saved her last time, too," Frohike pointed out. "The fucko fed was trying to kill her, not run off with her."

"Third time's the charm," Langly decided.

Chapter Text

Alcea slept, an assortment of two-litre bottles lining the shelf above the visitors' niche in one wall. Every time the number got low, someone ran down to the pizza shop on the ground floor to buy a few more. With Langly and Hafidha both there, the number dropped faster.

They'd run a few tests, while Duke was still there -- how did a non-anomalous mind react? Duke was used to weirder shit than Alcea, so he could consent to the tests in a way the nurses couldn't. And shouldn't. The less the medical staff knew, the better. But, Hafidha still stood outside, until Alcea learned to aim, both to keep the hall clear and to keep herself out of the way.

Langly had stayed with Duke, serving as a safe test for Alcea's focus, checking to see if she was capable of hitting only a single target or if everyone in range was necessarily going to be affected. In the end, she'd gotten the hang of it, but it was still easier for her to hit everyone within range of her voice. And Hafidha was right, as it turned out -- Alcea couldn't discover the fears or desires of the people she affected, she could only trigger those responses in a way that caused the brain to fill in something that made sense, in the context of what was going on.

Duke decided three times that he needed to pee, once that he wanted a smoke -- and Hafidha had to remind him he hadn't smoked in years -- and eight times that there was surveillance equipment in the room. Langly had to demonstrate that last was untrue, both to get Duke back into the room and to settle his own creeping suspicions about hospitals. Hafidha didn't think there was surveillance, either, but Langly pointed out she'd only know if it was broadcasting or receiving, rather than just recording. Still, he didn't pick anything up.

But, now, Alcea slept, and Hafidha and Langly talked networks, on the far side of the room, crammed into the visitor's niche together. Her knees were bent up, feet jammed under him, and his feet were crammed into the back corner, next to her head, as lines and patterns only they could see swam in the space between them.

"So, you're better at things in motion?" Hafidha asked, considering what that might say.

"For now." Langly snatched the password for the wireless in the optometrist's office, two floors below and ran it across his thumb to decrypt it.

"Wait, what did you just do?" Hafidha leaned forward, toward the sparkle in Langly's fingertips.

"Nothing you couldn't do with a little patience and a copy of John." Langly shrugged, absently, dropping the password and grabbing at a passing alert. "Shitty WPA passwords are still shitty, and they're twice as shitty when the network's not hidden. Come on, you think I'd be this good if I couldn't do passwords? That's not the hard part."

"Frank, that is the hard part. How long have you been able to do that?" Hafidha looked intensely curious. "I can get to the data as long as it's connected to the internet, and whether or not it's in motion, because that's just how I work. But, active decryption? Cracking? I don't bother. I don't need it. But, you apparently do, and you can do it." She paused. "Or you believe you need it, anyway."

"I did need it." A smile crept across Langly's face. "Understand that I'm admitting to nothing, but take a look through the Pentagon's purchasing records for July of thirteen. You'll spot what I'm talking about."

Hafidha's eyes glazed, and then she clapped her hand over the giggle that might've woken Alcea. "That's disgusting! I love it! And you did the whole animation on the fly?"

"I could have. I'm just that good. True story at the bottom, too." Langly looked completely smug.

"How did you not just die?" Hafidha wheezed, trying not to laugh.

"Assuming, for a moment, that it was me, there may have been a spice cake involved. That frosting had to come from somewhere."

"Sounds like you know your way around a good time." Hafidha grinned, and then changed the subject. "So, you can grab anything in here between the source and the destination, and you can probably decrypt it. What happens if you try to reach past the hospital's networks?"

Langly looked a little ill at the idea. "It's already loud in here. I feel like I'm going to have a seizure. Why would I want to reach out further?"

"Because you don't want to trap yourself into believing you can't."

"Find me a billboard," Langly decided, stretching over his head to crack his knuckles and smacking both hands on the top of the niche, instead.

"Find your own!" Hafidha scoffed, one eye still on lab results, as they were entered. She'd kept a very close eye on all of Alcea's paperwork, but they were still waiting for the paternity test to come back, even though she'd shuffled it closer to the top of the queue.

"How?" Langly huffed and gestured around him, at his complete lack of a keyboard or any other equipment.

"Same way you usually would. You're looking for the exact same thing, and at this point, probably using the exact same protocol and methods. You're just doing it ... freehand."

"You suck," Langly huffed, trying to figure out how to use the network, instead of just snatching things out of the currents.

"Hmmm, I don't like you that much." Hafidha raised an eyebrow. "Impress me. I thought you were the best."

Byers was shitfaced. By that point, there was really no other word that quite captured how far down the bottle he'd gone and how intoxicated he truly was. But, that was all right, because Hafidha and Garcia were doing the heavy lifting. There was no need for him to dive down into databases, searching for the identity of Susanne's ... what even was he? Boyfriend? Victim? Tool? All Byers had to do was absorb the information, connect it with what he knew of Susanne, which, admittedly, wasn't as much as he might have liked, but did include the contents of several files that no longer existed.

Even drunk, he could still catch things that no one else would know to look for.

Reid held onto the laptop with Garcia's black box plugged into it. If nothing else, he was still sober enough to type complete sentences and convey information in both directions.

"So, let's look at what we have." Reid grabbed a page from the scrap pile and started making notes.

"That's what we've been doing," Byers reminded him, head on his arms on the desk, glaring at the empty vodka bottle.

"Victimology," Reid corrected. "I'm not sure we're looking at a victim, but we approach it the same way. What do we know about him, and what does that tell us about her and her motives? And possibly, what does that tell us about where she's gone and why?"

"Allie wanted to work for the government. My little girl wanted to be a fed, just like mom and dad used to be," Byers muttered into his elbow.

"Right, so in order to make that happen, she had to be brought back out into public records. She had to be someone, on paper, and you know how important that is." Reid wrote down a few names and places. "We know that all her recommendations for this internship come from people her stepfather knows from his work at the State Department. And we also know that he knew Waterford, whose house and car were used in the abduction. He still hasn't been found, alive or dead. But, the question remains: Who is Paul Asher?"

"A jerk," Byers grumbled. "A paper-pusher for INR. Strategic Military ... something or another."

"Unmarried, older, upper-class, but not ... rich. Not the way you see it, here. Well-to-do, good investments. An emergency surgery isn't going to wipe him out." Reid sketched in a few more notes.

"Closer to her age than mine." Byers picked up the bottle and turned it upside down, resting it in his glass and hoping some last few drops might manifest.

"A little older than she is, I think. I only have Holly Fitzgerald. I don't have Susanne Modeski. You said you filed a death certificate, but there's almost no record she ever existed, and I think what's there is paper records that were digitised after someone cleaned up her identity."

"He raised Allie, and she's in a hospital with feds and hackers keeping her company. Where the hell is he? I was there! I shouldn't even know she exists and I was there!" Byers sat up hard, and Reid grabbed the back of his chair as it started to roll.

"Interestingly, it looks like he was sent out on some sort of inspection? None of us know what the shorthand is, here, so I'll have to ask Prentiss. She might know. But, he's scheduled to be out of the office and in a location we can't identify, until early next week." Reid tapped the end of his pencil rhythmically against the corner of the desk. "What we don't know is whether he's getting himself out of the way or if he was sent out of the way so he couldn't interfere. Either way, he's not supposed to be in town, when Alcea's abducted. He's probably supposed to be completely out of contact. Which may mean this isn't about her. It might be about him. Either to make him out to be a heartless bastard who can't be bothered to take care of his family, or to give him some heart-wrenching story to tell to some subcommittee. Or it may just be to make him feel unsafe -- to show him he can't take care of his family. After all, Holly is also missing."

"And why isn't there a record of that? She's missing and he doesn't call the police?" Byers jabbed an accusatory finger, and Reid caught him before he tipped out of the chair, tugging the chair closer to lean Byers on his shoulder while he looked for the right intercom button.

"After the things she probably told him, I'd have been more surprised if he did call the police. Consider that Alcea didn't call, either. She tried to find you. Or at least to find people you'd known. She was looking for people who could work the system from the outside." Reid punched the buttons for the kitchen and the basement, guessing Frohike would be in one or the other. "Need a little help up here. Grab the beanbag, if it's not buried?"

"He's completely wasted, isn't he?"

"I am not that drunk!" Byers protested, vehemently.

"He's that drunk," Reid sighed and let go of the switches. "You'll be more comfortable in a chair you're not going to fall out of."

"I'm not going to fall. I'm going to find Paul Asher, and I'm going to kick his ass!" Byers insisted, his breath nearly enough to get Reid drunk. He fell quiet, staring at the page Reid had been organising notes on. "Nobody called the police because she was afraid of the police. There was a warrant for the murders in Whitestone, because she wasn't going to be dangerous to pick up, she was just going to be a disaster if she got someone to listen to her. And nobody's going to listen to her if they think she's a murderer."

"Whatever was happening, Alcea didn't think it was enough, so she came to you. Tested you to see if you had access to the information she found in your files, which she has because Holly came and got them."

Byers blinked. "Where the hell are our files?"

"They're not in Alcea's apartment, but they wouldn't have been. It's too easy, and they're not hers. They're Holly's." Reid closed his eyes and took a slow breath. "They're somewhere supposedly safe, which means that wherever they're stored, they're not in Holly's name. If she's smart, they're not in Alcea's either. Probably not yours, because you're dead. If they're in Asher's name, they'd show up if anyone went looking for his holdings."

"Try Holly Modeski," Byers suggested.

The sound of something being dragged preceded Frohike's voice. "Isn't that what she was calling herself when we met? Pretending Susanne was her daughter?"

"See, he knows what I'm talking about!" Byers twisted around to point at Frohike, nearly clipping Reid in the face.

"I'd help you with that," Reid said, "but my hands are a little full, right now."

"I got it." Frohike heaved the beanbag chair up to the desk, parking it on the other side of Byers's chair. "C'mon, Byers. Out of the jacket before you barf on it."

"I'm not going to barf. And I'm not going to fall, either." Byers protested, leaning away from Reid and toward Frohike.

"Yet." Frohike shot a look at Reid, who turned the chair, while Byers wasn't holding on to anything. Hauling Byers out of the desk chair, Frohike leaned him against the desk, as Reid shoved the desk chair out of the way. 

"What are you--!?" Byers tried to bat at Frohike's hands, but couldn't seem to land a solid hit.

"You're home, you're drunk, and it's just us. Lose the jacket and tie, so you don't hurt yourself when the rest of that bottle hits you. Which it's going to." Frohike caught Byers as he stumbled to the side, suddenly.

"Fine, but I didn't have that much." Byers nodded at Reid, failing to loosen his tie. "He helped me drink it."

"I had one drink," Reid pointed out. "The rest of that went in you, and I have some serious concerns about that."

"He's fine. It's not the first time. This is 'Susanne drunk'," Frohike explained. "It's just usually he has a bed, or the sofa's not buried under another sofa, and Langly's here. Langly's better at this."

"Langly smells nice." Byers continued to struggle with his tie.

Reid's fingers twitched as he watched Byers lose his grip on the tie, yet again. "Will you let me help you with that? I have had a lot less to drink, and I know how neckties work."

Byers finally gave up. "Um... sure. That's probably... yeah."

"And it's not just me, then. He really does smell good, doesn't he?" Reid loosened the tie and eased it up over Byers's head, trying not to catch it on his nose or ears.

"Smells like home," Byers mumbled, eyes drifting shut, as Frohike spun him for Reid to hold up.

Reid glanced at Byers and raised an eyebrow at Frohike, mouthing 'home?'

Frohike shook his head and shrugged, before he peeled Byers's jacket off, leaving Reid to lower him into the beanbag chair.

"Lemme up," Byers protested, far more drunk after having been upright. "Gotta find Susanne."

"I'll get a blanket and a bucket," Frohike offered. "Don't let him choke on his own vomit or anything."

Chapter Text

"I realise this isn't the ideal time, but do you mind if we go back to my place, instead of yours?" Reid asked, when he picked Langly up at the hospital. "Or, at least first?"

"You've been wearing the same thing for two days," Langly realised. "And there's no shower at ours, right now, because construction."

"And the water's turned off to the laundry." Reid glanced at Langly as they stopped at a light. "And besides that, there are no longer rooms without sound and video, except the front bathroom, and I would really like ten minutes to finish what we started the other morning, without worrying that Byers needs to vomit again."

"How drunk did he get?" Langly asked, flinching at the thought.

"Frohike called it 'Susanne drunk'."

"Oh, god." Langly groaned. "I need to be there." He paused, slumped down in the seat, hands shoved up under his glasses. "We're absolutely going back to yours, and I want you to throw me up against the bathroom wall and bang me like a cheap screen door."

"If you need to get back to--"

"I need you to fuck my brains out, and then I'll deal with Byers." Langly was vehement. "I'm not dealing with the network, Byers crying, and a boner, all at the same time, and the more pleasant way to deal with one of those things is definitely to let you handle it for me."

"That has to be the least romantic--"

"No, it's not. I'm sure I've said worse." Langly laughed and pulled himself back up, straightening his glasses and leaving his eyes closed. If he couldn't see the signal, he didn't have to deal with it -- and he knew how dangerous Hafs would tell him that was, but right now, it was the off switch he knew how to find. "Okay, you want me to try romantic? This is going to be even worse."

"Come on, if you're at least trying, how bad can it be?"

Langly could hear the smile in Reid's voice.

"You want to find out? All right, let me see... Romantic. I have to have that somewhere. I watch movies like everybody else does, I have to have picked up something, right?" Langly laughed nervously. "Dinner, from that Indian place you like, and we'll eat it as the sun sets, right on the couch, right in front of those big, gold windows. And you know we're going to have to look at each other, because those windows are way too bright for a sunset, head on. That's romantic, right?"

Reid tipped his head from side to side. "Mmm, you're in the vicinity. I wouldn't say it 's quite romantic, but out of you? Not bad."

"Fine, then. You do better."

The corner of Reid's mouth tipped up and he chanced a sidelong glance at Langly. "Punk Rock Girl."

"Wha-- Oh. Oh, shit." Langly's eyes fluttered open, rounded in surprise, and for a moment he regretted it -- everything around them swarmed with packets in motion -- and then it all filtered out, and everything was a little greenish around the edges, like he was looking through welding goggles, but it was still like it had been before he'd learnt to see it.

"It's completely your fault I even know that song, but if I were going to attempt a romantic gesture, aimed at you, that's where I'd start."

"I, for one, would love to see you jump up on a table and shout 'anarchy'." Langly's voice squeaked with the laugh he was struggling to contain.

"Only if you introduce me to your dad." A smile occupied all of Reid's face, except his lips. "I'm pretty sure I've never made anyone's parents squeal, except my own."

"Pretty sure my dad would scream bloody murder, right before he ran us both off with a shotgun." Langly snorted. "Also pretty sure my dad's dead, so unless you're gearing up for a zombie invasion, I don't think we're gonna get that part."

"I'm pretty sure my dad never wants to see me again, after last time." Reid cleared his throat.

"Mine didn't either." Langly shrugged, trying to figure out what Reid could possibly have done to warrant that kind of reaction.

"Pretty sure you didn't accuse your father of murder, though." Reid grimaced and flushed. "I mean, I was wrong, and I'm really glad I was wrong, but... you know... not really one of the highlights of my career, or my personal life."

Langly whooped with laughter. "You did what?"

"I don't really want to talk about it. Memory is impermanent, and I made a really horrible mistake." Reid took a slow breath as the expression slid off his face. "Memory is impermanent. Byers."

Langly shook his head. "There are features of his memory that I'll doubt, but I was present for ninety percent of that story, and so was Frohike. You'll figure out where it's busted if you ask all of us, and it's gonna be little things, like what people were drinking, or what the hell Jimmy rolled right before Doohickey and Federal Fuckwit knocked on the door. I may have been holding the dice, but Jimmy rolled right before me. And maybe I don't remember the room numbers in Vegas, off the top of my head, but, you better believe that's somewhere in the shit Byers carried out of that hotel and has been toting around on a thumb drive ever since. And, you know, nobody knows what the hell happened to me for about an hour. Including me. We just know what I came back to do. But, there's three of us. We know what happened in Baltimore, and we know what happened in Vegas."

"You think you know what happened in Vegas," Reid pointed out. "You were dealing with several people wielding memory-altering chemicals."

"I got nailed. Jimmy got nailed. Scully got nailed. And that dickhead CIA douchebag got nailed." Langly counted on his fingers and then shook his head. "There was never any sign that Frohike or Byers was injected with it."

"You were the only person in the room while Frohike was looking for spare parts and Byers was ... saying goodbye to Susanne," Reid reminded him.

"If Susanne had injected Byers with it, he'd have left with her, for sure." Langly looked at Reid like he'd lost his mind.

"The two of you keep saying how strange it is that Byers didn't go with her."

Langly shook his head. "Literally none of this makes sense, if she drugged him so he'd stay with us. Look, start with the love letters. I'd say look at the fake marriage, but we know why she did that. No, that was his stupid-ass decision, and the letters back that up."

"You want romance, that would almost count, except the part where both of them are ..." Reid blinked and shook his head. "This is why you got nervous when I said I was looking for something permanent, isn't it?"

"Byers is more than enough, but he's just as good as he says. He's never gone looking for her, since we sent her off. The other time, we watched her get abducted, so yeah, he was looking for her, but that was reasonable. It's never been that he was weird and stalkery, or anything. It's just that like twice a year, he completely loses his shit, and I'm already part of that, you know? I don't want to be part of another that. I don't want to be one of the core components in that sort of thing," Langly explained, not quite managing to put it into words, but talking pretty tightly around it. "It's like it's some fundamental part of who he is. This is just a thing we do."

"We've made a choice to have a good time, together, for as long as that lasts," Reid said, and the words sounded like they belonged to someone else, but the concept seemed to be working out, so he'd go with it.

"Exactly that." Langly nodded and tried to stretch his legs. "It's been pretty life-altering -- for both of us, I think -- but, I don't think that's a bad thing. Yet. It's pretty good. I like it. And you know how to get out of the way and let me work."

"So do you. And I appreciate that more than you will ever know."

"Pretty sure I get it." Langly straightened his glasses and tried to figure out how to turn off the filter on his perceptions, now that he'd turned it back on. Hafs was going to be pissed if he'd shut it back off, for good, and he got the impression she would not be a safe person to piss off. A known signal, he needed a known signal to look for -- and then he spotted the camera box mounted on the next traffic light. A car passed the line, and there it was. He knew the front license plate and the driver's face, and the world burst into flickering swarms of information, again.

"You all right?" Reid asked, glancing over again.

"What? Yeah, I'm fine." Langly looked down at himself, confused, trying to spot whatever had made Reid ask.

"You just twitched like you got hit in the head."

"I did. Kind of." Langly took a deep breath and pressed his palms together, the filter sliding back down over his vision like another set of eyelids. "I think I just figured out how to turn it on and off. The weird shit, for lack of a better word."

"Back to only pouring straight sugar down your throat while you're working?" Reid teased, trying to find parking. Good fortune was the only reasonable explanation for the spot that opened up right in front of him.

"I don't know. We'll find out." Langly grinned, suddenly. "But, I can turn it off. Which means there's a lot more space in my brain suddenly. And all of it just filled up with how much I want your hands on me."

"This is the part where I'm supposed to jokingly call you a nymphomaniac, right? Except I've actually done the research, for a case, and no." Reid turned the car off and leaned over to kiss Langly. "I agree with Byers. You do smell good."

Langly pushed Reid back with the tips of his fingers. "I'm sorry, Byers said what?"

"I quote, 'Langly smells nice'. Did I mention how drunk he was? I had to help him take off his tie, so Frohike and I could be sure he wouldn't strangle himself if we dumped him in the beanbag chair." Reid smiled awkwardly.

"I'm not drunk enough for him to think I smell nice," Langly complained, elbowing open the car door. "And just so you know, if I am that drunk? I make no promises about my willingness to say 'no' more than once."

"L-- Frank, no," Reid sighed, getting out of the car. "Not because I mind, for me, but that's really going to put a wrench in things with Garcia. For him. Possibly also for me, but I refuse to take responsibility for your actions."

"Susanne has already put a wrench in things. Because it's Susanne, and he'll never be over her." Langly shook his head in disgust, taking long backward strides toward the building, so he still faced Reid. "Besides, it's been thirty years. Don't you think if that was going to happen, we'd have gotten there by now? I'd much rather pay attention to something I want when I'm sober, given how much drinking I don't do." He'd been slowing down so Reid had almost caught up, and then he stopped, rocking back from the last step, putting him a scant inch from Reid, who almost walked into him. "You know me. I'll take a good offer, if I have the time, but I want you."

A mischievous smile settled on Reid's face, and he gave Langly a quick peck on the lips. "So, what do you think of Chaz?"

"You're still better." Langly stole another kiss.

"I'm not so sure about that. He's got some talents." Reid slid his arms around Langly's waist.

Langly recoiled, pulling back just far enough to get a clear look at Reid's eyes. "Did you?"

Reid blinked slowly at Langly. "No. ... Not what you're asking me. I'd have told you. I'd have asked you. But, I may have demanded a demonstration of his... other talents. And I have to say, I could enjoy that from the next room, put to the sort of uses we're discussing."

Langly remembered the sensation of thick, heavy calm that had filled the room at Waterford's house. His eyes widened and his lips narrowed as he considered the implications. "Have I mentioned I like the way you think?"

"Maybe a few times." Reid leaned in for one more kiss, and someone driving by whistled. "I think we should take this conversation upstairs."

Chapter Text

The bathroom lights were merciless on Langly's skin, showing it a blinding, translucent white against the off-white of the wall, where he leaned his head against his forearms, panting, as Reid, still dressed, pounded into him from behind, long fingers teasingly gentle against his skin. They were both filthy, and he knew it -- for definitions of filthy that involved not showering as often as Reid expected. He still smelled of that clingy, all-permeating hospital stink, and Reid smelled mostly of sweat, bacon, and vodka, like maybe that whole bottle didn't go into Byers, and some of it ended up in Reid's lap. But, it was something other than the smell of soap, between them, and Langly loved it -- fast, hard, and imperfect had been his favourite thing, before Reid.

"Do you know what we should do?" Reid panted against the back of Langly's ear, fingers skipping off Langly's inner thigh, between thrusts. "Would be romantic if we -- took a walk by the river. Late night. Meteor shower." His hands slid up to squeeze Langly's hips. "Just you and me, the stars. Up against the rail, watching the reflections in the water. And I'd be right behind you, with my hands right here." He turned his wrists and pressed his thumbs almost where Langly's hips met his spine, fingers splayed across Langly's back.

Langly howled in ecstasy, pressing his mouth against his wrist to muffle the sound. His legs tightened, ankles locking, toes spreading against the floor, canting his hips up to change the way Reid fit inside him. His eyes squeezed shut, and a low, desperate sound barely made it around his wrist. He wasn't even sure that had been three minutes, but he was absolutely sure it was going to show up on the sort-of-beige wall. Like that one time, with the rose-coloured wallpaper, and where the hell even was that? Nowhere that mattered. Nowhere that mattered at all, as Reid's hand slid over his hip and down, fingers stroking behind his balls until they found that one spot that made his legs tremble, made his knees weak.

Reid wrapped his other arm around Langly's chest, just in case, as Langly shivered and shook, panting almost soundlessly against one pale wrist the bite marks would be vivid on.

"Tell me," Reid breathed, the scent and taste of Langly strong on his tongue, and Langly whined at the thought of having to find words.

"Just like this," Langly managed, one breath at a time. "Just like this, but more. Harder. I want it!"

And that was what Reid needed to hear, Langly's desperate demands ringing in his ears as his hips snapped forward again, each thrust just a little closer to the one before it, each thrust probably reverberating through Langly's elbows into the wall and pissing off the neighbours, but as far as Reid was concerned they deserved it. And then Langly clenched around him again, breath stuttering, and his concerns about the neighbours vanished.

"More," Langly demanded, voice cracking. "Don't even think about stopping. Don't even think--" The next sound out of his mouth was a low moan that seemed to uncoil straight through him from where Reid's fingers still pressed between his thighs.

Every sound Langly made seemed to clatter along Reid's bones like dice on a wooden table, and every collision birthed a vine of scalding need that wound through his flesh. He wanted to be wanted, and Langly never failed to make it clear. Langly never failed to go far beyond just wanting, into desperate pleas and demands -- things Reid had always thought would put him off, but in the right context, being begged for things he already wanted to give... There was nothing like it. He felt radiant and warm, like a star had ignited from the pressure in his chest.

The half-swallowed sound of pleasure behind Langly's ear, Reid's breath against his neck, that sudden pulse he could just feel against his insides, and Langly tipped over yet again, the tension in his legs way too sharp against the inside of his skin. But, he wanted... Actually, he had no idea what he wanted. A pot of coffee. A kiss. To lie down, maybe. His knees debated giving out, and behind him, Reid came to a conclusion.

"Oh, right. That's why we don't do this standing up..." He managed to stumble back a step, pulling Langly away from the wall, before he collapsed, knees striking the floor.

"Oh, shit!" Langly panicked as he fell, landing hard in Reid's lap.

"Sorry. I'm a little dizzy..." Reid leaned back against the cabinet door behind him, still panting, hands gently squeezing Langly's thighs.

"I hope you're dizzy, after that, or I'd have serious questions about whether you're an android," Langly muttered, wiping the remnants of the inevitable flood of tears off his face, and still trying to drag his heart back down out of his throat.

"Pretty sure androids don't sweat," Reid joked, trying to remember which end was up.

"Only the really well-made ones, Special Agent Sex Machine." Langly twisted around and leaned into Reid's shoulder to get a better angle for a kiss. "God, now I just want a nap."

"Byers," Reid reminded him, and Langly groaned pitifully. "Shower, mostly clean clothes, and the rest of the pudding that's still in the fridge."

"Coffee," Langly demanded.

"Shower, then coffee," Reid countered, and Langly sighed.

"Fine, but only because I'm not sure I can stand up without help."

Chaz and Langly stood just inside Alcea's tiny apartment, as she went over everything, checking to see if anything was out of place. There were photographs of where Rossi and JJ had found everything, when they'd come, and what they'd moved, and Langly swore he'd only taken out the last drawer of the dresser to get to the box of letters. He'd also checked for bugs the instant she'd unlocked the door.

"How's John -- er, Fitz -- er... dad, I guess?" Alcea asked, examining drawers and their undersides. She'd been taught well, Langly thought.

"Ah, he'll be all right." Langly shook his head. "He just needs a few days to get used to the idea. And the other idea. And really, everything that just fell in his lap in the last few days. He'll bounce back."

"He seemed to be taking most of it pretty well, all things considered," Chaz offered. "I didn't look. That's a normal human observation."

"Yeah, he cried, and then he got drunk, and then he decided he had to do something heroic, and then Reid had to sit on him for a few hours. I heard Hafs was helping them with the background for those heroic acts."

"She's pretty good at that." Chaz's smile suggested that might be an understatement. It might be more correct to say Chaz's lips suggested they might be a smile.

"He's looking for my mom?" Alcea asked, producing a derringer from the inner side of the dresser, between drawers, and clipping the tiny holster into her pocket.

Chaz raised an eyebrow and Langly stepped back, bumping into a floor lamp.

"I'm licensed and I'm an excellent shot. I just don't carry it to work. I'd never get it through the door."

"An excellent shot. With a derringer." Chaz looked like he'd need some convincing.

"The range is short and the accuracy's garbage, right? Except if you know the gun, you compensate for where it thinks it's going to put a bullet." Alcea looked wholly entertained at the range of expression that crossed Chaz's face. "It likes me. Unlike some assholes -- pardon me, sir -- in suits. Do we know who they are, yet?"

"We don't," Langly admitted. "Or... not in any way that helps. And they're not helping, either. You broke them."

"Sorry." Alcea winced and shook her head, almost the exact way Susanne used to do, Langly noticed.

Chaz shrugged expressively. "Sorry is for if you do it again. This time, you probably saved your own life, and they're lucky they lived." What he didn't say was that they were lucky her power set didn't actually overlap his own very much. "Don't feel too bad. It was self-defence."

"You can't interview them, though," Alcea pointed out. "And you still don't know who they are."

"We've got a handful of possible motives, though, and we want to run them by you, see if anything jumps out," Langly said, still holding on to the lamp behind his back.

"There are three people who could be the root of this, and probably your mom's disappearance as well." Chaz glanced around, looking for somewhere to sit, if only so he could be shorter and not blocking the door. "You, Holly, or Paul Asher."

"Paul? What's Paul got to do with it?" Alcea laughed, surprised, but gestured Chaz toward the only armchair.

Chaz tried to get comfortable in a chair designed for a woman of average height, and Langly picked up where he'd left off.

"Paul's... You know what, let's get to Paul in a minute." Langly edged over and dropped himself onto the arm of the chair without asking. "You're the easy one. If somebody wanted you for what you know, it'd probably be related to your job. Someone mistakenly thinking you had access to something you don't, or someone who knows about your... er... friends in interesting places."

"You mean, I might have gotten grabbed by someone who knew I'd been in contact with Fitz -- as Fitz. Not even someone who knew who he was, beyond one of the writers of a conspiracy zine." Alcea sat on the edge of the bed. "Okay. That makes sense. It's someone who knows what I've been telling him and wants me to stop, and/or someone who wants me to tell them the same kind of things."

Chaz nodded. "Pretty much. But, that doesn't look likely, when you look at the method."

"In a public parking lot, instead of at work or leaving work." Alcea nodded back. "If it was someone I worked with -- someone trying to make me stop -- it would've happened closer to the building. Probably also would've been a lot less sloppy."

"I thought the same thing," Langly admitted. "It is sloppy, but only for a North American job. These guys knew what they were doing, or you'd have been able to get out of that first grab in less than a second. I think we don't know who they are because we've been looking in the wrong places, and Whiskey-Tango's working on dragging international flight records, now. Problem is we don't know where they came from, when, or what faces they had when they got here. We do know they don't have any local identification. Right now they're being held as psych patients, because there's no way they can be expected to do normal human things, in the condition they're in. So, they're not going anywhere."

Chaz blinked a few times. "Let me deal with them," he offered. "I'd like Duke and Agent Reid there, for support, but I may be able to get access to information we'll never be able to use in court."

"You call Duke; I'll call Reid," Langly agreed, and the thought Reid had put in his head the day before flashed through again. What did he think of Chaz? But, this wasn't the time, and he pushed that thought aside. "Okay, so, that's what people might want from you. And yeah, there might be other things, but we're pretty sure that your mother's disappearance is related, so that narrows the field a lot. Next up is what if it's her, not you."

"In which case, you might have been taken as a pawn, to manipulate her," Chaz suggested. "Do you remember if our amnesiacs in black said anything about what they wanted?"

Alcea shook her head. "Like I said before, they didn't say much at all. The usual things, you know? 'Scream and we'll kill you' and 'if you run, we'll shoot your legs'. Threats and directions, only. And none of the threats involved anyone else. Nothing about mom or Paul or Fitz. Whatever they were going to do, I scrambled them before they could do it."

"You did it on the road, but you only got one of them, right?" Langly asked, watching Alcea's face.

"I just yelled." Alcea shook her head, again, tucking her hair behind her ear. "I don't even think there were words. I was so mad, I just yelled. And one of them ... had a seizure, I guess. Fell on the ground, twitching, and tore his shirt open. He scraped himself up on the road. I remember the blood. And then the other one must've done something because I didn't wake up again until were were in Rey's house." She paused. "Where's Rey? Is he all right?"

"You know him?" Chaz asked.

"Sort of. Rey was one of Paul's friends. He'd come for dinner, sometimes, when Paul made barbecue." Alcea shrugged and slid forward off the bed, turning to lift the mattress away from the box spring and check between them. "I've seen his house a few times, because Paul would sometimes stop to drop things off, when we were going somewhere. I knew where I was. I know the smell of the house and I've been in the study before."

"Is there any chance Rey's involved, or do we think he's a victim?" Langly asked, cautiously. "Because there's no way he's just a bystander, at this point. Both his cars were stolen and used in the abduction, and his house was where we caught up with everyone. And he's supposed to be in the country, but he hasn't come home."

"Poor Rey!" Alcea exclaimed, and the last few days finally showed their weight on her face. "He has to be a victim. Who would do this to him?"

"Someone after Paul," Langly said, quietly. "Your mother's work is dangerous, and I know at least two agencies that got into a bit of a slapfight over it in Las Vegas, the year before you were born. I'm assuming you know about that, and about Whitestone. But, unless Paul's involved in this, the setup doesn't look right for your mother as the target. Grab her, to get her to reproduce the work; grab you, to make sure she'll do it... but why involve Paul's friend? Unless someone's trying to set him up for it, in which case it's still about him. Kind of."

"But, why would someone be after Paul? He's a wonderful man!" Alcea stopped to think about that. "Fine, he's a bit of an ass about the dog, and he was a dick when I did completely normal teenage things, but that's ... dad behaviour, not something you kidnap someone's entire family over."

"There's a few ways this can go, that we've figured out. One, Paul's involved, directly. He found out about your mom, and he's turned her over to the people who want her. He arranged for you to be taken. In which case, Rey may still be alive and complicit."

"That's ridiculous," Alcea scoffed. "Next, someone else found out about mom and is trying to frame Paul for her disappearance."

"Yeah." Langly nodded. "Next, someone's trying to make Paul look bad, by having his family disappear -- why are you trusting him with secrets when he can't even keep track of his own family?"

"And after that, someone's trying to manufacture a feel-good story, where Paul's wife and step-daughter are kidnapped, but through bravery and quick action, they're rescued. Or at least you're rescued," Chaz suggested. "And that's one he may or may not be involved in, but you've been rescued while he's still out wherever he's been sent, so if this was the point, we've screwed it up."

"Unless he comes back and finds Holly," Langly pointed out, stretching his legs and crossing his ankles. "That's still a possibility. We rescued his daughter, but only he could find the girlfriend." He paused. "They're not married. If they got married, she'd show up on paper."

"Right, right." Chaz sighed. "Anyway, we think it probably has something to do with Paul, so if you can think of anything controversial he might have been working on, or anyone who might have threatened him..."

Alcea shook her head. "And he's not involved. He can't be. He loves us. He's been devastated since mom disappeared -- he thought she left us!"

Langly looked at Chaz and then back at Alcea. "Is that possible? Is that something she'd have done? Because I helped her disappear like that, once, and I'd believe she'd do it, if she thought she'd been found out and you and Paul were in danger because of her."

"She'd have told me, at least." Alcea stood up, again, grim and frustrated.

"That's what I thought." Langly took a deep breath and blew his hair out of his face. "Okay, so, the things we didn't tell you."

Alcea's eyes narrowed, her head turning to focus them on Langly, and Langly found himself intensely conscious of the fact that he was the single unarmed individual in the room.

"We don't know what you know, but before we were looking for you, we were ... kind of casually looking for her. Just kind of a 'whatever happened to'..." Langly held his hands up, close to his chest, palms out. "We found her in Aurora. And that's where she turned into three people. There was an identity with a genuine address in Florida, and that one's been compromised -- Agent Reid went down there to check. We've got two more unidentified faces in a general motor pool vehicle involved, and we're pretty sure they're not the guys we're holding, because those guys seem to still be in Florida."

"And the other two?"

"One of them is in Virginia. The other one's still in Aurora. But, neither of them has a real address. They're places that should exist, but don't. And they're all apparently working for temp agencies, have phone bills, the whole deal, but none of them own cars." Langly shrugged and watched Alcea, aware that having Chaz in the room might alter her responses.

"They're fake. I thought Tallahassee was fake, too," Alcea walked into the kitchen and came back with a soda. "I think we have to get into that house."

Chaz nodded. "I'm starting to like that idea."

"Is this still your case?" Langly asked, and Chaz made one of those terrible frog faces.

"Technically? Probably not."

"It's not Reid's either," Langly pointed out.

Chaz looked at Langly and laughed nervously. "We're so fired."

"I can't get through airport security," Langly muttered. "Or I could, but that would not end well for anyone. Same for Fitz."

"Holly's not even officially missing," Chaz complained, then glanced at Alcea. "But, we do know her daughter's an anomalous individual..."

"And you do have a last known address for her, in Florida. Kind of. Well, for Holly Byers, anyway," Langly went on.

The very corners of Chaz's lips turned up, and he gave Langly a pointed look. "Known alias. Mother goes missing, daughter turns up anomalous, it's only good and right to go make sure the mother's not also anomalous. It passes in families, and we all know it."

"I love it. Let's do it. Fitz will pay for it, if the Bureau won't foot the bill." Langly cracked his knuckles. "But, we're gonna need you to stay here, kid. It's for your own good. Whoever's not coming with us is staying with you, in case someone tries again, while we're not looking." He looked grimly around the tiny studio, smaller even than Reid's place. "Or, better, we can move you for a little while. I've got a friend with a very nice, very large house. And she's a brilliant network administrator and deadly with every one of the seventeen weapons she uses for decoration. I don't know anywhere you'd be safer or more comfortable, if you can't be home, than in Gathani's guest room."

"Can I meet her, before I make that decision?"

"Sure. We've got some things we need to do, before we can go, and I'll make some calls. Fitz can introduce you -- he knows her even better than I do."

"Is she his girlfriend?" Alcea asked, curiously. "He didn't mention one, but I'd be surprised if he didn't have someone."

"Nah, not Gathani. He's... trying to get together with one of Reid's friends, but it's the first time he's tried, since we left your mother in Vegas." Langly took a long breath and held it for a moment. "Fitz is really... ah..."

Alcea's hand leapt up to cover her mouth. "No wonder he looked so sad, when I told him about Paul! I thought he was just sad he'd missed out family things! On being my dad!"

"He's pretty bent up about that, too, but this isn't the first time she's gone off with someone else because he wasn't available, and I'm pretty sure he's remembering the last time." Langly pushed his glasses up and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Someone used something she designed to make a friend of mine jump in front of a bus. It was not a good weekend for any of us, we all almost got killed, and I almost murdered your mother." He held up a hand, the other one still on his face. "Someone used the scary drugs on me, too, which is how we got the idea to make her disappear like we did. It's not the kind of thing any of us look back on, fondly. Except Fitz, sometimes, because he'll find the silver lining in anything and spend the rest of his life with his face mashed against it. So, yeah, it's... not... just that, either."

The tension hung in the room, a thick bubble of unvoiced accusations and deeper explanations, and Chaz tried to push it aside. "So. Calls. We should make some. The sooner we get moving, the sooner we know how much trouble I'm in for suggesting we go to Tallahassee."

Chapter Text

"I didn't know you had a daughter, Johnny!" The dark-skinned woman in the doorway wore a wide smile on her round face, a sleeveless yellow shirt showing off her broad shoulders.

"Neither did I." Byers laughed uncomfortably and gestured Alcea forward, a heavy bag smelling of Italian food hanging from his other hand. "Allie, this is Gathani. She and her sister handle most of the networking and security concerns for my company, and I'd trust her with my life. She's good people. Gathani, my daughter, Allie."

"She's the girl on the news!" Gathani noticed, as she offered a hand to Alcea. "You're that girl from the post office!"

"Oh, shit, did that make the news?" Byers paled at the thought, as Alcea shook Gathani's hand. "Which part?"

"The footage from the parking lot," Alcea said, following Gathani in, as the woman stepped back and held the door for them. "It's all they could get. The feds locked down the rest."

"Something about a daring rescue by the FBI." Gathani raised her eyebrows at Byers as she closed the door. "That for real?"

"Six agents from two task forces, a hostage recovery team, and, if you can believe it, they took Dick along." Byers rolled his eyes and shook his head.

"Dick, as in, 'no, his name's not Richard, we just call him Dick because he is one'?" Gathani laughed, leading the way through a wide and open looking house, with laminate flooring and sliding doors hidden in the walls, if you knew to look for them. The decor included film posters, polearms, and dancing lights wired on the surface of the walls.

"That's him."

"Dad! You can't just say that about Uncle Frank!" Alcea laughed, a horrified look on her face, as she counted people and realised who they were talking about.

"I've known your Uncle Frank, to the day, just as long as I've known your mother, and there's nothing I'd say behind his back that I wouldn't say to his face, including that he has the moral fibre and social skills of a feral cat. I love the man like a brother, but that doesn't mean I'd ever let him talk to our clients." Byers heaved the bag onto the counter, as they came into the kitchen, with its beautiful wall of stained glass.

"Or to my sister. He wants to start shit about the network, he can come to me." Gathani chuckled. She caught Alcea's lingering look at the glass wall. "Bulletproof. Johnny wouldn't have anything less in here, when I told him what I wanted. And it seals up nice, if it gets hit."

"You built this?" Alcea asked Byers.

"No, I just paid for it." Byers pulled out box after box of Italian food, opening them as he pushed them down the counter. "Gathani knew what she wanted, and I made sure she'd have the safest components and the highest quality, because I don't want any accidents happening to my friends. I've had enough of that for a lifetime."

"And yet, he's been living in the same place for fifteen years, and he's just now getting proper walls put in." Gathani raised her eyebrows at Alcea and tucked her chin, as she picked up a slice of garlic bread. "Has he shown you where he lives? My sister's going to pay a decorator if she's over there another week."

"It's a perfectly practical design!" Byers argued, as Gathani handed him a stack of plates to set the table. "We just didn't own the place, when we moved in! It's taken a lot to convince us we needed to do more than just reinforce the exterior and the exits!"

"My sister says that 'convincing' is Dick's boyfriend. She got an earful when you called about twenty-seven." Gathani chewed on the garlic bread as she got paper towels and forks for all of them.

"Thirty years in was not when I wanted to find out Dick was a screamer." Byers cleared his throat. "If we didn't have the outside walls done, I think you could've heard that from the gate."

"Dad! Did not need to know!" Alcea made panicked cutting motions with her hand in front of her throat. "How am I supposed to look at him, now?"

"The same way you did, before, but hopefully with a little more disapproval." Byers picked up a plate and scooped spaghetti and chicken parmigiana onto it. "I didn't need to know either. Muringa didn't need to know. Nobody needed to know that. And that's why we're getting new walls."

"They still happy, those two?" Gathani asked, sitting down with a plate heaped with pasta, meat, and cheese in various combinations.

"Dick's about as happy as he's capable of, which means he's utterly manic, and still a complete asshole. The doctor is... mellow." Something incoherent and uncomfortable slithered through Byers's mind. Reid and Frohike... and how drunk had he been? "I think they're doing all right. I've never seen Dick even consider a relationship, so I'm a little surprised it's going so well."

"Well enough for you to renovate the back rooms." Gathani nodded.

"Doctor?" Alcea asked, a bite of manicotti halfway to her mouth.

And that was when Byers realised no one had told her, which made a certain amount of sense. There hadn't been a context where it would matter, and both of them were excellent at keeping their personal lives personal. He made a small, non-committal sound. "Nice guy. I think you've met."

"So, it's not Hafs, obviously, however adorable I think that would be. Have you seen them? They look like they're going to push each other down the stairs and then take over a small country."

Gathani laughed. "Who is this Hafs who would push Dick down the stairs? I like them already."

"I think you'd like her anyway," Byers said, washing down a mouthful of chicken. "Networks and data storage. She works for the FBI."

"My kind of woman," Gathani agreed, piling sauce and cheese onto another slice of garlic bread. "No wonder she wants to push him down the stairs."

"Can't be Chaz, because he said he didn't know Chaz. I like Chaz, though." Alcea chewed and studied the window.

"He's twice your age," Byers pointed out, hoping Alcea wouldn't bring up how much older Susanne had been. Either way, it was still a smaller number.

"Not like that. I just like him. He's friendly and he's not afraid of me. And he's helping me learn how to be... like this."

"Like what?" Gathani asked, wondering what hadn't been in the news.

Byers and Alcea looked at each other for a moment, and then Byers took the question. "After what happened, she has a minor disability. It's nothing serious, but Agent Villette had something similar happen to him, and he's helping her through it."

Gathani smiled and patted Alcea's wrist. "That's good. You need friends who will understand, people who can help you. It doesn't have to be hard, forever."

Alcea knew Gathani had no idea what they were actually talking about, but it seemed like good advice, anyway. "I'm trying."

"That's all anybody can ask." Gathani nodded and took back her hand, returning to her meal.

"So, if it's someone I know, then it's either Agent Reid or Duke, and I'm guessing it's probably Duke," Alcea decided, pointing her fork at Byers. "Duke seems like he'd be ready for anything. And all those wild stories about Central America and Asia seem like the kind of thing you and Uncle Frank would've gotten into. Agent Reid seems a little brittle. Uncle Frank would break him. I know they work together, but... that's not going to last."

Byers choked on his spaghetti, trying not to laugh.

"You all right, down there, Johnny?" Gathani asked, from the other end of the table.

Byers held up a thumb and tried to finish swallowing before he laughed again. "Well, you're right that Duke was sort of a role model for us, when we were younger, but no, they're not dating. That would be a little too weird. That's just... Duke's a cultural icon of our time."

Alcea shook her head and shrugged. "Then it's someone I haven't met."

"No, you just confirmed you met him." Byers wound spaghetti around his fork.

"But, he said he didn't know Chaz!" Alcea protested.

"He didn't. It's not Chaz." Byers put the spaghetti in his mouth and waited.

"... There's no way. They're nothing alike." Alcea looked mostly horrified, yet again. "How do they stand each other?"

"Dr Reid's a lot more witty and resilient than you'd think. And he's very much in love with your Uncle Frank, whether or not they've noticed, and I think they have. They're just ignoring it."

"Men," Gathani scoffed, rolling her eyes dramatically.

Alcea cocked a thumb at Byers and raised her eyebrows at Gathani.

"Yes, him too! He comes here, and you're how old, and he says to me 'I didn't know I had a daughter'!"

"To be fair, we didn't tell him," Alcea pointed out. "Mom was ... she didn't want to put him in danger. And she didn't want being around him to put us in danger. So, I grew up with just enough danger for one parent, not for two. And I've seen the files. She's probably right."

"You really that exciting, Johnny?"

Byers shrugged narrowly, giving Gathani one wide eye. "I hired you, didn't I?"

She laughed harder than it probably deserved. "You could have done worse for a father."

"Easily," Alcea agreed.

"Now, since he's so good at not telling people things, did he say he wants us to meet so you can stay here, for a while?" Gathani asked.

"Uncle Frank told me, this morning." Alcea nodded. "He said he and dad had a good friend with a nice house and seventeen weapons she could kick someone's ass with."

"Only seventeen?" Gathani's head jerked back in surprise. "Ah, it's Dick. He's never been here. And the house will take good care of you, even without me. Even Dick can't break my house -- we made it that way."

"You guys don't fuck around, do you?" Alcea looked back and forth between Gathani and Byers.

"You've seen the files," Byers reminded her. "Speaking of which, we'd really like those back, if you know where they are."

"I don't." Alcea shrugged and shook her head. "Mom didn't want me getting into them, so she didn't keep them at home, and then with Paul... She was really careful with your stuff. And with her stuff, I think. I can't even swear if there are records of her stuff, but if there are, they're not in the house."

"If you think of anything that might help us locate them -- especially hers -- we're hoping there might be some clue about where she's ended up." Byers looked lost and sad, eyes widening as he held off the tears that threatened at the thought of Susanne. "I lost her, once, and then I found her, but we had to send her away, and now I've found you, but she's gone again."

"Chaz and Uncle Frank are trying to figure out how to go to Florida to check ..." Alcea paused and adjusted the sentence. "... to check our house there. I guess there was a break in, and they want to see if there's any sign of her."

"If Agent Villette can arrange things with the Bureau, I can put them on a plane," Byers promised.

"Uncle Frank says he can't fly..."

"He can't get on a commercial flight," Byers corrected. "And he'd rather not get on a small aircraft after that accident in Puerto Vallarta, which... also started in Florida, now that I think about it. But, he's flying as a passenger, this time. He'll get over it."

"You and Dick have the most ridiculous stories." Gathani shook her head. "If I came from anywhere else, I think I might not believe you, but it always sounds just like things my uncles would have done, if my uncles had fast computers. As it was they had a dog and a motorcycle, and they did enough damage like that."

"Uncle Frank and a dog." Alcea shot Byers a look and giggled.

"You know, let's just not. Your Uncle Frank and a motorcycle was bad enough." Byers covered his mouth and swallowed a laugh. "Your Uncle Frank and ice skates was also worth seeing."

"Just so you know, I'm asking him about that, when he gets back from Florida." Alcea pointed her fork at Byers again.

Gathani got up for seconds. "So the question that remains is do you wish to stay here, while your father's friends try to find your mother? I welcome you, as long as you do not make a big mess. I will be more upset about a dirty kitchen than thugs with guns."

"Thank you," Alcea said, first, looking around the massive kitchen. "I promise I'll put things in the dishwasher, if you show me where it is. And I'll stay out of the way."

"You'll join me for dinner," Gathani insisted. "There's no point in having someone in the house, if they don't come to dinner."

"It's a deal," Alcea agreed.

Chapter Text

"Look, I am the last person to talk, but are you sure this is a good idea?" Duke asked for the third time, as Chaz stared at the closed door in front of them. The walls, here, were white, in typical hospital fashion of the 20th century, and this corridor was lined with golden stripes at about hip-height. About wheelchair height, some traitorous part of his mind pointed out.

"No." Chaz's face twisted in ways that were unique to him and to cartoon frogs. "Actually, I'm pretty sure it's one of the worst ideas I've had since I went to Texas." He rubbed the scar on one wrist, absently. "And I'm gonna do it anyway, because we don't have anything else, right now."

"And we could go to Tallahassee and maybe find everything we need in that house," Duke pointed out.

"And we could go to Tallahassee with no idea what we're walking into and have another Beale on our hands." Chaz's hands settled on his elbows as multiple versions of that day slammed against the backs of his eyes, competing for attention. How many times had he watched Duke die, before they got it right? The memories leapt back, leaving a sucking void between what had been and the moment, as something cold brushed against his fingers.

"You're looking a little dizzy," Reid said, from the other side of a bottle of soda.

"Thanks." It wasn't actually what Chaz needed, right then, but he was about to, if he went through with this. When he went through with this. He took the bottle and opened it slowly to stop it from fizzing over.

"So, what are we doing here?" Duke asked, just to make Chaz go over it one more time, before the kid stepped off what looked like a steeper ledge than they'd pushed him over yet. "Not you. I know what you're doing. Are we just here to make sure you make it to Idlewood in one piece?"

"I need him to remember, and I need you to stop me." Chaz covered his mouth and burped quietly, half the soda already gone. "This is going to be ugly. What I've seen until this point has been the kind of ugly where there's still logic and reason in it, no matter how bad the reasoning is. I've had to sit through rationalisations and memories of murder, and I'm kind of getting used to that. But, this isn't going to be like that, I don't think. We're dealing with two men who have spent days in a state of incoherent panic, only even approaching calm, when they're left entirely alone except for each other."

"And you're afraid you're going to forget who you are." Duke finally got it, but... "And we're supposed to fix that how?"

"Just think happy thoughts," Chaz joked, weakly, bouncing the empty bottle off the wall behind the recycle bin, where the corridor turned. "No, really. Spencer's here to think happy thoughts and very literally hold my hand."

"What you don't trust me to get them happy enough?" Duke teased.

"I don't want to find out the answers to questions you don't want me asking and I don't want to even know could be asked." Chaz shrugged, studying the floor. "I don't want to ruin all the stories and the mystery." He cleared his throat, hands moving back to his elbows. "You're here because you know me. You're here to remind me who I am, if I look like I'm going to do something stupid."

"Ah, how stupid do I need to be worried about?" Reid asked, concerned that he might end up on the wrong end of Chaz getting violent. And he knew that was a fight he couldn't win.

"I probably need him to remind me I'm not you." Chaz looked up and smiled uncomfortably. "I need you to get me out of that, if I don't come back in one piece, and I need him to get me out of you. Two steps, I should be fine."

"Why me, and not someone else on your team?" Reid finally asked.

"Because I know you have the kind of control this is going to take."

"Bullshit. I slipped last time."

"Maybe, but it still wasn't anything bad. I said 'happy'. You got a little enthusiastic with the happy, but you stuck to it." Chaz tipped his head down and rolled his shoulders in. "I don't want someone who has enough background to panic when they see this. I don't want someone who can remember me in a hospital room."

The confusion slid off Reid's face. "I'm exactly what you want, and I'm ready when you are."

"Bat country," Duke muttered. "Let's do this."

To say that Chaz panicked almost immediately, when he reached into the room, was an understatement. He'd been prepared to offer calm, to try to quiet the remnants of whatever Alcea had done, but the instant the first man laid eyes on him, it was too late. Still, he tried. He held up the mirror and tried to hide himself behind it, to hide himself behind himself for whatever sense that made, as some part of him leaned into the storm. And it was a storm -- as if every fear a single person could experience in a lifetime had been unleashed at once. A mother? A teacher? Someone yelling and shaking a paper covered in red marks. A hole with a snake in it, eyes gleaming in the dim lights of the road. Staring down the barrel of a gun, knowing the fastest way to get shot was to try to look past it. The sudden loss of gravity, lifting out of the seat, but still caught in the belt, watching the engine disintegrate outside the window, spraying fire across the insides of the clouds. A woman with a needle. The sound of screaming from another room. Dogs barking and an electric fence. A storm, and the brakes work, but the road keeps sliding.

Chaz looked sick, the richness having faded from his skin with the blood. But, Duke had locked the door into a partially-open position, because Chaz needed to see and there were no windows, and Chaz occupied nearly the whole of the space it had been in, head down, hands still clenched so tight against his elbows that his knuckles looked jaundiced. Most often, there was no way to tell he was doing this, and Duke knew it, having gotten used to Chaz casually picking through the minds of recently manifested gammas while carrying on a conversation. This wasn't normal. This wasn't the way it was supposed to work, but clearly Chaz had been expecting it.

Reid stood with his back to the wall, almost invisible from inside the room, and just his hand on Chaz's forearm, palm resting against the tense fingers clutching at that elbow. He didn't say a word, kept his eyes closed, and thought of countless little things that had made him smile -- the smell of old books, the stories in books he hadn't yet read, the way Langly's face lit up when he smiled, getting drunk enough to laugh loudly in a public place (and maybe one day he'd try it sober), the way the light fell across the edge of his desk from the windows. He could keep going almost endlessly, he knew, because Chaz wasn't looking for excitement or fun, he was looking for something solid, simple, and pleasant. And if there was something Reid was surprisingly good at, it was comfortable.

A low whine started in the back of Chaz's throat, and Duke slipped a foot past him to kick up the stopper on the door.

"Grab him and pull towards you," Duke hissed, leaning on the door to make sure it closed, as Chaz stopped blocking it open.

"Chaz? Look at me." Reid's hands slid over sweater until they found skin, gently settling against Chaz's hands. As Chaz's eyes rose from the narrow space between them, Reid's next breath suddenly felt like water. Water. Falling in water. Drow-- no. Good things. In water. Lila. He'd made an ass of himself, but he made up for that, later. A hot bath, a good book, and a bowl of pasta puttanesca pinned between his knee and his chest, because no it wasn't a good idea, but damned if he wasn't going to cram as much excellence as possible into the time it took the water to cool. Wine, next time, he thought, despite the fact he didn't keep it in the house, and he wondered if that thought was his own. Other people in water. Langly in the shower, and that was so much more than just a kiss...

Chaz's hands finally released his elbows, one hand moving up to cup Reid's cheek, the other settling on his hip. He leaned forward and rested his forehead against Reid's, just relaxing into the memories. Nothing would be lost, if he let go. It would just stop being real. He slid further down into the ease and joy Reid offered.

"Chaz, no." Duke's hand slipped into the sliver of space between Chaz's lips and Reid's, and shoved Chaz back an inch or two. "Let go. Look at yourself. Where are you? Who are you?" He glanced back at Reid and offered an apologetic grimace.

Reid held up a hand and shook his head, as if no apology were necessary. He should've seen that coming, but his eyes were closed, again, and he'd gotten lost in his own memories. And he wondered how much Chaz had to do with that -- the little flags that raised in his mind, looking over the last few minutes, thoughts that shouldn't have been his own, but fit well into the memories in question. The kind of thoughts he might have had in a dream, perhaps, but under the circumstances.

Chaz blinked at Duke, finally surfacing, his eyes clearing and his face finding an expression that looked a great deal more like himself. And then the memory of a memory hit and he winced, sneaking a sidelong glance at Reid. "Sorry."

Reid shook his head again. "Don't be. I'm ... I shouldn't have handed you that."

Chaz's shoulders straightened over the course of a single breath. "I thought that was me."

"And this is what happens when you confuse the shit out of yourself with crazy people," Duke decided.

"They're still in there," Chaz said, after a few breaths of sorting his head out. "They're delusional, but they're still ... aware? That's not even right. They're not aware of very much at all, outside the delusional panic state."

"What are they afraid of?" Duke asked, putting a hand on Chaz's back to encourage him away from the room. "She had to hit something, right?"

Chaz shook his head. "She hit everything. Bad grades, snakes, plane crashes... and it's all going at once."

"No wonder they're a mess." Duke looked back, past Reid who was just behind them. "Chaz, are you sure we made the right decision about her?"

Chaz twisted away from Duke's hand, stepping in front of him, and stopped. "Are you sure you made the right decision about me?"

Duke blinked once, before he answered. "Yeah, of course."

"Ask yourself how sure you are of that, because that's why you can ask this." Chaz stalked off down the hall, making it almost to the next intersection, before he realised he hadn't finished the conversation he needed to be having. The reason he'd come here and done this. But, he didn't turn back, he just stopped and waited, like an angry cat with no tail to twitch, and somewhere near him passed the ghost of ruffling feathers.

Reid caught up first, as Duke strolled down the hall as if he had nowhere to be.

"Was anything worth pursuing?" Reid asked, because it was easier than asking if Chaz was okay. That was a pointless question. He already knew the answer.

"They're from El Salvador. Former cartel assassins -- I know those fears and some of those faces. But, this wasn't about that. They were paid by an American, and they're terrified of disappointing him. They've never met him, but they believe it's a man -- they call him the Helmsman. And the only assignment the Helmsman has given them, so far, was Alcea. He paid big, he paid half in advance, and with about twenty minutes and a pencil, I can probably reproduce the account number of their account, which Hafs can use to find the Helmsman's account, because I have the transaction amount. I don't know if it's going to get us anywhere, but it's something."

Reid stared at his own hand, until he could convince it to move, laying it on the back of Chaz's arm, for a brief moment. "Thank you."

"You really want to thank me? Take me out to dinner."

Chapter Text

Reid was trying to figure out how much damage he was about to do to his emergency funds, when Chaz suddenly changed the subject away from the case, setting aside his last bowl, as he waited for Reid to finish eating, before he went for dessert.

"So, this is awkward and horrible and every nerve in my body is screaming not to bring it up, but we have to talk about this, before it gets stupid. Before anything happens, because that's not how it's supposed to happen." Chaz tried to find somewhere safe to rest his gaze and wound up staring into the iced tea you could almost stand a spoon in. "Earlier, at the hospital, we both saw something, and we both assumed it belonged to us. I almost kissed you, because I couldn't remember and I thought that was me."

"I was hoping not to have this conversation like this." Or maybe at all, if Reid was honest with himself. "That... belonged to me. And I am very sorry."

"Then the other person was Frank or that girl from the pool."

"Lila." Reid shook his head. "No, you ... were seeing that right." He left the last few bites on the edge of his plate and shoved it away, no longer hungry.


"I'm incredibly sorry. That was beyond rude. I really don't know what happened, there." Reid's hands clutched at each other, in his lap, a gesture of discomfort he thought he'd shaken years ago.

"You also don't drink wine in the bath," Chaz pointed out. "That was me." He paused, tried to stand a spoon in the tea, just for something to do with his hands. "So, you think the thought is yours because you've had it before."

"Not-- No." Reid's eyes widened and he looked straight across the table at Chaz, like a man staring into the lights of an oncoming train.

"Then why is it yours?"

"You mean you've thought it before." Reid's eyes narrowed a bit, confusion tugging between them.

Chaz shook his head. "Not like that. Not anything like that." His hands squeaked against the glass of tea. "People have memories that stick with them, things that keep coming back up. In my case, they're not always my memories. Most of the time, they're things I wish I didn't know, things that make cases more horrible, things that occasionally make it hard for me to look at other people the same way. With you, I keep coming back to your relationship with Frank."

"I've apologised for that, but I don't think I can take it back, now."

"You can't. It's not... bad? I don't think less of either of you. I just have your perspective, and it sneaks up on me. I look at him, and I know what it would be like to relax next to him. I know what his hair smells like, up close. I know the wonder you feel, when you look at him." Chaz closed his eyes, trying to assemble the right words, in the right order. "And I think I may have reflected that back at you, when you pulled that memory of him down, today."

"You need to know I've been curious, to some degree, since Agent Gates first suggested I sleep with you," Reid said, quietly. "But, not the kind of curious that would have led to me kissing you. Frank and I have both experienced what you can do with our minds, and I may have entertained some thoughts about that in other contexts, but I wanted to wait until this case was over, before I decided if I was going to say anything about that. But, this afternoon seems to have forced the point."

"I remember you panicking, early on. I know I did that to you. I know you were grabbing for thoughts that made you feel safe, and I can see where putting what I was doing to you in that context could have helped. I can see where it may have helped us both," Chaz admitted eyes opening again, as he continued to stare into the tea. He casually nudged a waiter away from the table, with a quick distraction. "But, whatever combination of things that was, it happened, and now we get to decide what we're doing about it, while I keep all of myself on this side of the table."

"Frank and I would welcome you, if that's something you wanted to try. If not, I put the idea back in the box it came from, and we go on. I've ... made poor choices about my co-workers before, and I've never allowed it to harm our friendship, even if it took a few weeks to look at each other again, and no one's ever gotten either of us sufficiently drunk to admit to anything that happened." Reid cleared his throat and checked his phone, wondering when Prentiss was going to decide she wanted a report on her desk.

Chaz's face twisted in horrified amusement, suddenly glad he'd never actually tried. "Oh, good. You made that mistake for both of us."

"In my defence, someone else set it up," Reid protested. "I probably wouldn't have bothered, on my own. It's really unlike me to do anything about things like that... things like this. I put them away, and sometimes take them out and look at them curiously, when I have the time to question myself. Unless someone else makes a move, I just... don't."

"You and Frank?" Chaz asked. "Did he make the first move, or did someone else set you two up?"

"That was like watching a train wreck while falling off a cliff." Reid covered his mouth and coughed up a bit of a laugh that caught in his throat. "That was intensely stupid and I'm still not sure what either of us were thinking. I'm not sure there was so much a 'first move' as an adrenaline and caffeine fuelled game of chicken. He tried to kiss me on the cheek in some kind of weird triumphant posturing, I turned my head, the folding chair collapsed, and my Technical Analyst offered to call the fire department. We were tired and nobody died. You know how that goes. It was legal insanity and the imp of the perverse from there on in."

"See, and if you ask me, that sounds like a good start. Pretty sure that makes it his move, though."

"You'd think that, but we put it behind us, and then it was my move, after the second chair accident of the night." Reid shook his head. "I swear I'm not just fundamentally bad at chairs."

"You're bad at chairs because you were already thinking it," Chaz suggested, looking up from the tea, finally.

"I really wasn't thinking it!" Reid protested.

"Mm-hmm." The look Chaz levelled across the table was one he'd picked up from Falkner, and it felt like cheating every time he used it.

Reid leaned forward, elbows on the table. "Come over here, and I'll prove it to you." He still wasn't quite sure how he felt about having someone in the last sanctuary he had, in the only space he'd always thought was his and his alone, but Langly had made an excellent point about exhibitionism as a form of control.

Chaz leaned back in his chair. "And that's what we were just talking about. I don't want to be nothing but that, to you. I can turn it off. Or, more accurately, I can turn it on. And I don't make a habit of using it on people I like or people who are irrelevant. I'd rather learn about people because I asked."

"As reassuring as it is to hear you say it, I'd already come to that conclusion." Reid sat back, as well. "But, the point remains: the choice is yours, and I'm not going to bring it up, again."

"You know I'm going to Florida with your boyfriend, tomorrow." Chaz picked the words for the greatest impact and his tone for the least.

"Any arrangements or conclusions you come to, I'll hear about when you get back." Reid sounded unshakeable in his certainty, the expression sliding off his face as he studied Chaz. "But, you could have said that differently. You didn't ask a question, but you knew I'd answer you. A borderline-antagonistic statement. You're checking to see if I'm going to become a problem, if you accept our offer. I leave the conclusion to you."

"Busted." Chaz shrugged. "Nice poker face, though."

"Yes. I know." The faintest glimmer of amusement lit Reid's face. "Dessert?" he asked, knowing he'd regret offering, but that he'd regret it more if he didn't.

"Of course." Chaz made no move to attract a waiter. "On the one hand, I think you're right, and we should finish this case before we make any decisions. On the other hand, if I'm going to keep using you for support during this case, this is probably going to keep happening."

"Is that something you can handle?" Reid asked.

"I'm terrified of doing something I'm going to regret, something I'm never going to be able to take back. And the odds that we're going to run into more people who have been affected like those two, today, go up, if we go after Holly Fitzgerald. If what we've heard about her work is true, if anyone has gotten her to produce more of it, I have serious concerns about what I'm going to have to put us both through to find enough pieces to find the Helmsman and whoever he may or may not be working for."

"After today, what are the chances you're going to turn violent?" Reid asked, quite sensibly. "Because if you're just going to kiss me, maybe put your hands in some places they shouldn't be in public, I'm... going to want to brush my teeth and take a long shower, but I'm also going to be all right with that. I'm... not great with people touching me, but I've got a much higher tolerance when the end result is important. Or worth it for other reasons, which you've already seen."

"You're very good at what I'm asking you to do. With anyone else, I'd be worried about getting violent. I'd be worried I'd unload too much, too fast, and blow their focus. But, you... I'm a lot less worried, after today. We both walked into that half-blind, and that came together pretty easily, even if I never want to do it again. The only glitch was trying to kiss you, which made perfect sense, at the time."

"It did," Reid agreed. "Apparently to both of us. Did you actually need Duke?"

"Yes." Chaz's eyes met Reid's. "It's two steps back, because Duke can't handle me, and I don't want to do that to him. I'm afraid it would be permanent. And also because you don't have enough memories of me to put me back in myself. This ... isn't normal. It's not how this works for me. I'm invisible -- and sometimes I mean that literally. People don't notice I'm looking. I can just... put it down, when I'm done. It's not much more effort, any more, than answering the phone and then hanging up. Except that's people who are still relatively rational, even if it's only to themselves. People who are still having one thought at a time, maybe three, if they're scared. What I saw, today, was ... I couldn't make it stop. She screwed them up so bad, even I can't turn it off. I got lost in there, and I needed you and Duke for something to follow back out, and I'm just glad I had the sense to consider that, before I went in."

"Should you be going to Tallahassee without me?"

"Probably not." Chaz finally nodded at the waiter, who held up a finger and handled a closer table first. "But, we both know you're back on your unit's business, and this one is... barely still mine. If she was actually reported missing, it might still be yours -- abduction of both the mother and daughter, but we can't make Holly's disappearance official. There's some reason it hasn't been done, and I'm not going to step in that until I'm really clear why, and what the consequences are."

"I don't like this." Reid looked grim. "I don't like anything about this case."

"I especially don't like the part where it's about to become not a case and none of us are going to have authorisation to pursue it."

"I cannot name an instance in which that has actually stopped me."

"This is why you're in so much trouble, isn't it?" Chaz laughed and tipped his head back. "We are so fired."

Chapter Text

Chaz and Langly got out of the car, only to find two people waiting on the stairs of the plane, instead of one, the pilot laughing at some wild story being told by the other person.

"I hope you don't think you were going to Florida without me." Duke raised his eyebrows at Chaz.

"What are you doing here?" Chaz's eyes rounded. "I thought we were it! I thought there wasn't anyone else they could spare!"

"They don't get to spare me. I'm retired, remember? And they sent the brains and the brains on this one, and your civilian consultant looks like he'd piss himself in a fistfight."

"Hey!" Langly straightened up and jabbed a finger at Duke, knowing perfectly well he was probably right.

"Wait, if we're the brains, what does that make you?" Chaz asked.

"The common sense." Duke picked up his bag. "Also, we're doing another house that someone else has gotten to, first. You want me in front."

Chaz took a deep breath, his mouth suddenly dry, as he remembered the other time, and how many repetitions it had taken to get them all out alive. He nodded. "I know you're right."

"And Chaz? Don't do anything stupid. I'm supposed to bring you back in one piece."

"When was the last time I did something stupid?" Chaz shot Duke a look and started up the stairs.

"How about yesterday?" Duke reminded him, gesturing for Langly to precede him.

"That was a perfectly calculated decision, and it served us well," Chaz argued, stashing his bag in a cupboard and picking what looked like the least-uncomfortable seat. This wasn't their plane, so it didn't have his seat, and his legs were too long for this shit.

"I'll give you 'served us well', but I'm pretty sure getting randy with Agent Down the Hall wasn't part of your calculations."

Langly snorted quietly, lips a thin line.

For a moment, Chaz looked like he might concede. Then: "Are you completely sure of that? Are you really, really sure you want to know that?"

Langly, who'd had that conversation with Reid, the night before, giggled helplessly.

"Speaking of yesterday," Duke went on, taking the seat next to Langly's, knowing Chaz would be occupying both seats on the other side of the table, once they were off the ground, "we found Waterford, and thank you."

"Okay, so what's the story there?" Langly asked, picking through the cupboard under the window, as the engines spun up. He'd never liked flying, and after that whole thing with Byers's dad, he really extra didn't like flying, as if Puerto Vallarta hadn't been enough. And then there was the whole being dead thing. He fished out three shot bottles that looked expensive and interesting and poured one straight down his throat. Byers was paying for it; he didn't care.

Duke watched with no small amount of amusement. "Waterford's dead, which Chaz found out, yesterday. What's left of the bones were found in the incinerator in the basement, which we couldn't cut open until the rest of the house was processed."

"I couldn't tell how much of what I was seeing was real." Chaz shook his head, sadly. "I was hoping there would be some other explanation."

"Sorry. You got it on the first try."

"Why don't we let someone else tell Allie?" Langly suggested. "Like her dad."

"You've really got it in for him, don't you?" Duke asked, after watching Langly empty the second bottle.

"Every fucked up thing that has happened since I left the state of Nebraska, in the eighties, has been-- All right, not everything, but still most of the things that almost got me killed? Totally his fault. This whole situation? Totally his fault. He should be here, but he likes air travel even less than I do, and I'm not talking about that until we're on the ground." Langly huffed. "The time I got air mailed to Puerto Vallarta? Definitely his fault."

Duke plucked the third bottle out of Langly's hand and turned sideways in his seat, leaning against the arm to better watch Langly. "Okay, that one I have to hear."

"I'm sorry, you what?" Chaz blinked. "I'd expect that out of Duke, but..."

"It all started with organ smuggling..."

"I have a very bad feeling about this." Frohike sat back, elbows on the armrests of his chair, and folded his hands. "The Helmsman?"

"Overlord is dead," Byers said, quietly, eyes still on his own screens.

"We're dead," Frohike reminded him.

"Even if it were faked, he'd be like ninety! There's no way. It's not him." Byers finally swivelled his chair toward Frohike. "But, it may be his project."

"You've got something?" Frohike looked over.

"Paul Asher was investigating misappropriation of Air Force funding. Hafidha just dumped his work for the last two years on me, and a lot of reports have the same reference number on them, so I pulled those out. I was trying to separate it all into projects, to figure out if one of them might be what caused this, and I think it's the big one. The other ones are like... advice for appropriately handling new evidence of former US weapons deals, in Central American countries. This one's closer to home, part of some analysis of equipment budgeting, older equipment still stored by the Air Force, and a more precise breakdown of where certain 'general' funding was being spent. It's part of a disarmament project, but what he's found is completely unrelated to what he was looking for. It's noted as 'a major budgetary concern' but 'not necessarily of interest to this office'. And he says he's forwarding the records to the parties better suited to handle that." Byers paused, turning back to his screens. "Except there wasn't anyone occupying those positions, so he tried to wait it out. Six months ago, one of them got filled, finally, and shortly after that he opened the file again, to start adding new evidence, before he sent it. I think someone's trying to keep him from doing that. Five months ago, Susanne disappeared. Four months ago, Alcea got in touch with us, to see if we could be trusted."

"You were on Overlord's shit list, right next to your old man," Frohike pointed out. "If someone's got Susanne, because of this dingbat, they may be looking for you, and we just put Langly on a plane."

"They're not going to go for the plane." Byers looked over his shoulder. "It's a private plane chartered for the use of an FBI agent and a civilian technical consultant on an ACTF case. There's no connection."

"I'm not worried about the plane. I'm worried about what happens when he gets off the plane and walks into a bunch of people with guns who have you on their shit list, and probably photos of all of us."

Byers blanched, his jaw opening before his lips did. "We have to call him. When does he land? We have to get him as soon as he's got signal. I can set up a loop--"

"It's the twenty-first century. The plane's got satellite internet."

Byers grabbed his phone from where it rested on the desk and called.

"Excuse the hell out of me?" Langly's eyes rounded and his ears pulled back. "You want me to what?"

"You already said it. You can't be recognised." Chaz shrugged. "Duke needs cover to get into the house."

"Besides, six and a half feet tall and three percent body fat is going to stand out like pineapple on pizza, so I can't take Chaz." Duke gestured at Chaz with one mangled hand. "You look like you've probably got the legs for it, anyway."

Langly stood up to his full height, mouth opening and closing, as he remembered having a very similar conversation in a very similar motel room, a number of years ago he didn't even want to consider.

"Come on, we'll go shopping. You can at least wear something you picked," Duke offered, relatively amicably.

Chaz was very glad he was going to be waiting outside, until they got in. He didn't need to be thinking about or looking at Langly's legs. He didn't need the awareness of how Reid felt about those legs, or what those legs would feel like wrapped around his waist. He closed his eyes and focused on breathing, until he realised he'd been asked something and had no idea what the question had been.

"Earth to Chaz..." Langly was waving a hand in front of Chaz's eyes when they opened.

"You still here?" Duke put a steadying hand on his shoulder.

"I should really eat something." It wasn't untrue, Chaz figured. There were very few moments in which that wasn't a true statement. It just wasn't the problem he was having.

"Okay, new plan. You two go shopping, try not to get filmed eating an entire donut shop, and I'll take a look at what Hafidha can tell us about the house. I don't want to walk in there without floor plans. We've been stupid, before, and this time, we have time, so let's not do it again, what say?" Duke tossed the car keys to Chaz.

Chaz wanted to point out that the current plan was stupider than usual, but that would mean admitting his problem with it -- that he'd be stuck dress shopping with the man whose legs he was trying not to look at. Whose legs he was trying not to remember in intimate detail. He swallowed and attempted an objection. "I should be looking at the floorplans."

"It will take you five seconds to memorise everything she sends us, but you're not me, and you're not going in with me, so I have to know it." Duke waved them toward the door. "Trust me. I know what I'm doing."

"Liar," Chaz spat, just a little more sharply than he intended, and gave up, heading for the door.

"I feel like there's a lot more going on here than anyone's bothered to tell me, but weighing that against donuts and the possibility that once we've eaten we'll have a plan that doesn't end with me in a dress? I'm with him." Langly turned and followed Chaz out.

They bought four dozen donuts and picked a direction -- the ridiculous consumption would be much less obvious if they just stayed in the car, they figured, and they really didn't want to become any more obvious than they were about to be, once they started shopping.

"Listen, you're uncomfortable with this, and I'm a lot more uncomfortable with this than I was when Duke was taking you shopping, but I really can't think of anything less likely to draw attention in that neighbourhood than an old man and his middle-aged trophy wife. I've seen pictures. You'd pass as being related to Holly, with a little padding -- round your cheeks a little and it'll--"

"Take away from the chin. Yeah. I know." Langly huffed and ran his non-sugar-covered hand through his hair. "Surprise, I'm uncomfortable with this because I have done it before, multiple times, and it works pretty well."

"That sounds like the opposite of a reason, but I get it. Just because it works doesn't mean you'll enjoy it. I'm unsurprisingly familiar with that idea." Chaz reached for another jelly donut and changed lanes at the same time, with stunning precision that still put Langly's stomach in his throat.

"Speaking of things that are weirdly uncomfortable, while we still have a box and a half left, Reid told me you accidentally almost kissed him, yesterday."

Chaz's stomach felt small, and he was only sort of glad when his hand refused to obey the first thought through his head, even with the way the anomaly was leaning on it, and he didn't drive straight into the side of a building, instead of making the required turn.

But, Langly was laughing. "I wish I could've seen his face, when he realised it."

"I'd show you, but I didn't see it either." Somehow, Chaz managed to sound relatively normal, as if he found it even a quarter as funny as Langly did. "You'll want to blame Duke for that. He grabbed me by the face, and I couldn't see a damn thing."

"Is he even tall enough to reach your face?" Langly laughed even harder as he helped himself to another donut.

"Don't say things like that about your fake husband!" Chaz almost smacked the last of the donut he was holding against his chest, as he went for an appropriately scandalised gesture and then remembered there was a bite left.

"You know, of all the ways I've imagined myself dying, I can safely say 'getting shot by rogue feds while pretending to be Sol Todd's trophy wife' wasn't one of them, until now." Langly shook his head. "Twenty, thirty years ago, I might have counted 'dying of a heart attack because I met Sol Todd', though."

"You were really a fan?"

"That man was a legend," Langly insisted. "His writing was everywhere, when I was in high school. He's not even my genre. I didn't run with those people. But, he was just... the Ur-Gunman. When we started publishing, back in eighty-nine, I grabbed Doohickey and shook him, yelling about how we were gonna be the next Solomon Todd, and it was going to be amazing. He fucking rolled his eyes at Fitz. Fitz didn't have any idea what we were talking about. We had to sit him down with a copy of that article about Kent State. I ran out my coffee budget for the week making copies of his articles at the library."

"And now you get to pretend to be his wife, for a day," Chaz drawled, the words slowed as he held the laugh out of them. "Lucky you."

"Lucky me if we can find something that doesn't make me look like I'm trying to be twenty years younger and isn't binding across the thighs," Langly huffed, between bites of donut. He slid down in the seat and shoved his glasses up with the hand that wasn't full of donut.

"Marilyn," Chaz said, after a moment.

"Get me a curling iron."

Chapter Text

Chaz was, to put it lightly, intensely uncomfortable as Langly stepped out of the bathroom in a full-skirted white dress, cut just below the knee, with a tiny feathered jacket. The moderate lift from the low wedge shoes -- 'can't make him too much taller,' Chaz had said -- drew the eye instantly to the muscled lines of his freshly-shaved legs, unstockinged because white was ridiculous and the so-called 'nude' shades weren't light enough.

Langly cleared his throat and Chaz dragged his eyes back up to the carefully-painted mauve lips and golden curls.

"The shoes," Chaz said stupidly. "The shoes are why it couldn't be me. Your feet are big, but my shoes are special order." 

He hoped he didn't look as utterly dumbstruck as he felt. Langly had said he'd done this before, but for some reason, Chaz hadn't managed to imagine how good he actually was at it. His face should have been awkward, but the curls disguised the shape and the paint job on those lips was incredible. He knew damn well what Langly's lips looked like, and it was nothing like that.

Duke elbowed him. "Might want to close your mouth before you start catching palmetto bugs."

"I'm... just... surprised, that's all." Chaz blinked a few times, slowly, and forced himself to look at anything that wasn't Langly.

"Take a picture, it lasts longer." The words were out of Langly's mouth before he had a chance to consider them, hands landing on his hips. The horror sank in a moment later. The sound of both Chaz and Duke taking photos, a moment after that.

"Don't say shit like that when I'm already holding my phone." Duke waved it and then tucked it into one of his multitude of pockets.

"You really do look nice," Chaz said, studying the picture on his phone. "I should send this to Spencer -- and why is it that I call him Spencer and you don't?"

"Because we don't have that kind of relationship," Langly snapped, snatching a clutch purse off the table under the window. Multi-tool, phone, anti-surveillance box, assorted cables and adapters, lipstick, jackknife... The essentials, really. He held out an elbow to Duke. "Let's go fuck up someone's day, Mr Todd."

Duke winked at Chaz. "Just like my fourth wife."

"You were never married, Duke."

If there was something Reid wasn't expecting, it was a text to his work cel, while he was at work, sitting at his desk, in full view of most of the team. He looked around the room and then reached for the phone. Langly wouldn't be texting him on this number. He wasn't even sure Langly remembered this number.

Oh. Chaz. That made a certain amount of sense. 'We're all still in one piece. About to go see what that house has in store. Rockin' some great disguises, of course.'

After another second passed, the image popped into view, and he just stared. That was recognisably Langly, but only because he'd seen Langly in drag, before. And he looked pretty ticked about it, too, which wasn't that surprising. But, Reid thought he might print it out and frame it on his desk. His desk, at home. Which was not in an office full of his co-workers. One of whom, he realised, was standing right behind him.

JJ cleared her throat and watched Reid hit every button except the one he wanted, trying to turn off the screen on his phone.

"Yes?" Reid squeaked, finally flipping the phone face-down onto his desk and leaving his hand on it. "What? Case?"

"Who's the girl?" JJ asked, tipping her chin at the phone.

Reid tipped his head back, a calm smile replacing the momentary panic. "What girl?"

"The one you've got a photo of on your phone." JJ leaned on the back of his chair with one hand. "I was going to see if Simmons wanted to make a sandwich run. You grabbed your phone and then made the 'cute kittens' noise. I came over to see what was up."

Had he made a sound? He didn't remember it. "I can promise you the only pictures of a girl on my phone are from the last time Garcia took me out drinking." The implication, he hoped, being that they were pictures of Garcia.

"You were just looking at it! White dress, blond hair--" JJ froze, her eyes rounding. "You're kidding me. Is that Frank?"

"Frank is currently in Florida on another case, and doesn't have this number." Reid's smile remained unmoved. "He has my home number, not my work number."

"And with that much of him in the picture, he wasn't the one taking it, and I bet the ACTF agents he's with have it." JJ considered that for a few moments. "And that raises whole other questions."

"Exactly none of which I'm going to answer." Reid pointed at the screen. "I have work to do."

Chaz's phone went off as he pulled to the curb in front of Holly Fitzgerald's house, and Duke got to it first.

"Give him my honest opinion, for me," Duke read off, before Chaz snatched the phone out of his hand. "That's all it says."

"That's all it needs to say." Chaz leaned over and opened the back door. "Let me know when it's safe. Or when I need to come make it safe."

Duke tried one more time. "Is this about yesterday? Are the two of you--"

"He's my evil twin. Get out of the car before people start staring."

Langly nudged Duke toward the door. "Come on, the longer I sit on this skirt, the flatter it gets. And the more my legs itch. Crinoline and razor burn. Move."

"Remember, you two, comfortable couple, nothing that's going to catch someone's eye!"

Duke eased himself out of the car, moving like the old man he usually tried so hard not to be, and held out his hand to help Langly, who blew a kiss to Chaz as Duke shut the door behind them.

As Chaz pulled away, Langly's second thoughts started. Third thoughts. Maybe he was up to fourth or fifth. There was no car, and he knew no cameras faced the outside of the house, or he'd have picked them up in the original search. The inside of the house, though... that he couldn't be su-- 

Yes, he could.

He held on to Duke's hand, trustingly, and looked for a signal he was expecting. One of these houses had to have an open network, and he let go of Duke's hand to pull his phone out of his purse and pinpoint it. He just had to find something known, something to grab-- And there it was. The phone had already connected to it and was blinking with a message he didn't dare check now. Slipping the phone back into the bag, he smiled fondly at Duke, who was eyeing him in mild confusion.

"Had to get a look at the local networks," he muttered, under his breath. "The house is rigged, and it's seen us. It's running on an unexpected connection, which is why I didn't catch it the first time through. It's not security cameras. They're modified baby monitors."

"Anybody home?" Duke asked, just as quietly.

"Do I look like Chaz?" Langly shrugged, both hands holding the purse in front of him, and fluttered his eyes at Duke.

"No, and I'm going to thank god for that every day for the rest of my life." Duke studied the few short steps up the wooden porch and the door and window beyond. "Can you turn it off?"

"That would be a bad idea. But, I might be able to fake it out. We're already busted, but if nobody's looking right now, some fake signal might keep them from noticing. At least until someone reviews the footage." Langly followed Duke up to the door and pulled out his phone again, holding it up like he was checking a message and engaging the camera. A few seconds at about the same angle as the peephole camera, and he could probably rig this with his eyes closed.

Duke knocked on the door, listening to see if anyone was home, but not answering -- in exactly the way you'd expect of the kind of people who'd be sitting around in an abducted woman's house. He knocked again, to buy a little extra time, and raised his eyebrows at Langly, who nodded. The door was harder than he'd expected to unlock, and he should've seen that coming. Someone as paranoid as Holly Fitzgerald was said to have been wouldn't have stuck to cheap locks. But, he got it open, finally, and checked the length of the door for wires and triggers, as best he could, as he opened it slowly.

"Don't let it touch the wall," he whispered to Langly, as he stepped in, first, a pistol replacing the lockpicks in his hand. And first, look up. Nobody ever looked up. But, apparently nobody trapped up, either, in Florida, because the space above the door was clear and the ceiling looked like it had never even seen a patch. "They're not expecting us."

"Neither is she," Langly pointed out, taking a breath and closing the door, as he disabled the alarm the easy way. He picked up the small decorative table that stood between the door and window, bare of any contents, wondering if he could use it to defend himself. "Holly? We're here! Allie and John send their love!"

Duke dived behind the curtain, tugging it still around him. But, nothing in the house moved. "Are you out of your mind?"

"She knows me. If she was here, she probably wouldn't go after me." Langly shrugged, opening the feathered jacket, to give his shoulders a little more room, as he glanced around the living room they'd stepped into. The house stretched forward into the kitchen, by what he could see through the open door, and another door stood open to the left.

"She's not the only thing that could be in here!" Duke reminded him.

"Then they already know we're here," Langly pointed out, debating whether it was at all reasonable to ditch the shoes. "The cameras got us. Better if we make them come to us. If they're not here, then maybe we can still get out before they notice. I'd really rather get rushed by a man with a gun than Holly Modeski."

"Fitzgerald," Duke corrected, but filed that away for future reference.

"Byers," Langly said. "That's the name on the house."

"True." Nothing had come for them, yet. There was no sound outside their voices, and Duke was ready to believe they might be alone. Still didn't mean they were safe. "Stay behind me. We do this one room at a time, not that there's many of them."

The room to the left was a bedroom, nearly the whole of it occupied by a bed and a dresser that crossed the foot of it, taking up most of one wall. Further down the wall another door opened, narrower, into a tiny bathroom. Duke found nothing left to catch an unwary intruder.

"Something's wrong here. This isn't somewhere she lived." Langly counted windows in the half the house they'd already cleared. "Look at this -- the windows are all wood frame, single-pane glass. These aren't bulletproof and you could unlock them from the outside with a paint stirrer. That's not the Holly I know."

"So, either the house has been sitting unoccupied all this time, or she's been renting it under the table." Duke pulled the doors shut behind them, as they moved back to the living room.

"She's been circulating a decent amount of money we haven't been able to source, propping up other identities," Langly admitted, figuring it didn't hurt to mention it now, since the other identities were clearly fake and the addresses were too. Those were dead ends. "She was trying to hide something besides just herself, and I don't know what, but I suspect it might have been her work, or the records from it."

Duke held Langly back at the kitchen door, checking appliances and the back door, first. Another door stood to the same side as the bedroom, this one closed, and Duke took his time with it. Still, nothing. The door opened onto a small office, every surface covered in dust, but no paperwork remaining. Duke took everything apart, while Langly distracted himself with the baby monitors, trying to determine where the signal was going. He was sure Hafidha could do it. He was sure he could do it if he was carrying his laptop, but that was hardly going to fit in a clutch purse. Packets had to have destinations. The question was whether the destination was the endpoint he was looking for, and that was going to be impossible to judge with his limited senses. Impossible to judge, yet, he reminded himself. Nothing was impossible, any more.

"There's nothing here. Not just no one, but this place has been emptied out, if anyone ever was here." Duke pulled out his phone to let Chaz know the house was clear.

"Back door. Check for a storm cellar or a crawlspace. Maybe we'll get lucky." Langly didn't sound like he expected much. Still, he hung back and let Duke get the door, just in case. Again, nothing wrong with the door.

Langly was starting to wonder what the obvious feds had been here for, when the place had so clearly been abandoned so long. Maybe he and Reid had been wrong. Maybe they'd been moving out. A quiet surveillance operation aimed at the neighbours or something, but just coincidentally in the home of a missing woman who'd run off with government secrets in the form of her own memories.

Chapter Text

By the time Chaz got there, Langly and Duke were eyeing what looked like a large gardening shed, in the back yard. Not the sort one bought at a home improvement store and snapped together, but an older building, made of wood, and carefully tended, painted the same aqua as the house.

"Where's it rigged?" Chaz asked.

"It's not." Duke studied the shed, contemplatively, rubbing at his chin with the side of one hand. "The house isn't rigged, aside from the cameras. There's no cellar and no sign one's been covered up. The crawlspace looks uninteresting enough that I don't really want to get stuck in it for nothing. There's just this shed. We've been saving it for last."

"Looks like a simple keyed padlock. Shouldn't be difficult."

Langly finally stopped looking quite so cross-eyed. "There's nothing broadcasting or receiving in there. I'm not even sure there's electricity. It's just a garden shed, and somebody probably got to it before us."

"Yeah, but we're not looking for what they're looking for. We're looking for them," Duke pointed out.

"On the one hand, you're right," Langly conceded, catching himself before he ran a hand through his carefully curled hair. "On the other hand, speak for yourself. I want both." He paused and looked down. "I also want decent shoes and a pair of jeans."

"Sorry, not until we get back to the motel." Apologetic wasn't a good look on Chaz, but it faded as he studied the shed again. "And we're standing out here because...?"

Duke pulled out the lock picks again. "Because you get to be the guy with the gun, this time. The door opens out."

This lock was easier than the front door had been -- just a cheap padlock that looked like it had been there as long as the shed. Duke dropped it into an evidence bag, just in case, and crouched down, slowly opening the door and waiting for the tension. Nothing. A quick, but careful, sweep with a flashlight revealed no trip wires or obvious triggers.

"There's no windows," Chaz pointed out. "There has to be a light somewhere."

"You'd think that," Duke said, pinpointing a lantern hook in the ceiling with the flashlight beam.

"Wish Dad was here for this," Chaz muttered under his breath.

"No you don't." Duke stepped into the darkness, getting a closer look at the floor, first -- concrete block, unmortared. One of his least favourite kinds of flooring. Every block that was safe got marked with a small chalk circle, which turned out to be about everywhere you could set a foot. The walls of the shed were lined with heavy steel workbenches and the usual assortment of gardening and potting tools. A cupboard, rather than shelves, took up the back wall.

"Frankie, do me a solid," he said, running the light over the edges of the huge metal cabinet.

"Never call me that again, and I'll think about it," Langly retorted, once again wishing they'd let him wear boxers. It wasn't like it was a short skirt. Not like the last time he was in Florida.

"Go count your steps down the side of the shed and knock for each one."

"How close?"

"Normal stride should do it." Duke pressed his hand to the wall above the end of the workbench, right before the cupboard made an angle with it, right in front of the bin of rakes and shovels. He felt Langly knock against the wall, close to his hand, and then just one more.

"Ran out of wall," Langly announced from outside.

"That's not it, then." Duke sighed. "We need more light. A lot more. The floor's not mortared or grouted, but there's space between the blocks, and they don't move when you step on them or try to jam a toe between them. There's something under here holding them in place. That's an unusually solid foundation for a garden shed. I should at least be seeing stray grass poking up -- something. This is designed to look like this so no one will question the parts that will move. I just don't know where they are."

"You're looking at a woman in her fifties or sixties--" Chaz started.

"Early sixties. She's closer to Frohike's age than ours," Langly filled in.

"In her early sixties, who's been hiding some fairly serious secrets for thirty years. I still don't know who she was, before, but from what you've said, she was a scientist working for the Department of Defence. She very likely has encountered both technologies and ways of thinking that none of us have seen," Chaz went on.

"I have." Duke smiled grimly. "I know it's under the floor."

"Point is, she's your age, Duke. If it's not under the open floor, it has to be under something she can move," Chaz pointed out. "And more than that, you haven't mentioned seeing any pry marks or handles, so assuming something's under the floor, either she hasn't come back for it or the access is non-obvious."

"So, why's the cabinet still closed?" Langly asked, appearing next to Chaz in the doorway.

"Because the cabinet scares the shit out of me," Duke admitted, after a moment's thought.

"Come back over here and give me the light." Langly fished the inhaler out of his purse, ever so glad it had survived the flight. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I'm standing in a tunnel, with nothing but a camera, waiting to get killed."

Chaz stepped to the side, pulling Langly with him, and Langly moved the door. "Out," he commanded.

"Yeah, come out here and breathe some fresh air. You'll feel better," Langly said, debating at what point to bring up the antidote. "You're standing in the dark, man, and it's humid as hell around here. Just come out and take a few breaths. You'll feel better."

Duke backed slowly away from the cabinet at the far end of the shed. "It was fucking looking at me," he said, as he stepped back into the light.

Langly bounced with glee. "I know what it is! I know what it is and why nobody's found it! It's leaking E-H gas -- nobody's been able to stay close to it long enough!"

Duke stared at Langly for a long moment. "Damn, that's disturbing."

"Isn't that what you usually say when I make that face?" Chaz asked, elbowing Duke.

"You may think you make that face, but I promise you don't. And you're not usually making any version of that face in a late 1950s party dress." Duke shook his head. "Yeah, I know. 'Mom, dad, the gamma's freaking me out!'" He laughed.

Chaz leaned in a little closer, putting a friendly hand on Duke's other shoulder. "Which one?"

Duke rolled his eyes and shook his head. "All right, all right. You think you know what it is, but what are we doing about it?"

"Me." Langly took a puff from the inhaler, tossing the clutch to Chaz, before he tugged the light out of Duke's hand. "I'm what we're doing about it. Is it locked?"

"I don't remember. It was looking at me."

Langly stopped just short of running a hand down his pancake-powdered face and looked up at Chaz. "Can you pick a lock?"

Chaz shook his head and pointed at Duke. "If we have a choice in the matter, you want him, not me."

"I hate Florida," Langly muttered, giving the inhaler to Duke. "Hit that. If you start getting nervous, hit it again. It's the gas. I got to watch one fed strip naked and writhe on the floor from this shit and I really don't need that number to go up." He pointed the light into the darkness, and headed in.

Duke followed, watching Langly's every step and taking note of where he'd marked in the last pass.

Suddenly, Langly stopped moving, about two thirds of the way into the shed. He licked the roof of his mouth a few timed and chuffed, disgusted. "Yeah, I know that smell. It's subtle, but it's there."

"You're sure we're safe from it? If something in that cabinet's leaking, and I open the door..."

"We're as safe as we're going to get. Fitz has the exact composition of this crap noted down somewhere. He developed the antidote with that and the antidote for the stuff that came after it. I'm not feeling it, yet." Langly shrugged.

"You're also immune to the girl," Duke pointed out, edging around Langly to get to the lock.

"I've had a lot of weird shit happen to me over the years, but the girl thinks she's this drug, and the antidote works against her." Langly didn't mention the part where it was entirely speculation and they hadn't actually tested that with someone who hadn't demonstrated a resistance -- she hadn't tried to send Byers away, and they hadn't given Duke the antidote, because she was supposed to be able to get to him for the tests.

"Hold your breath," Duke suggested, opening the cabinet to reveal three massive cylinders, the height of the cupboard, and a pressurised hose that split and connected to outlets at the front-facing corners of the cupboard. He reached in and twisted what looked like the shutoff valve and hoped for the best, staggering back a few steps before he took another breath.

Langly leaned into the cupboard. Mechanical wasn't his thing, but this was a simple setup. With tanks that large, it would probably run for years, generating a cloud that hung around the cabinet, but never got big enough to affect people outside. At least, not without a serious wind. It was definitely leaking out of the shed, but probably not in a concentration that would do much once it hit open air. "There's another valve back here. Like, another another one."

"Fill valve?" Duke asked. "Vent valve?"

"It's not connected to the tanks. It's connected to something underneath." Langly stuck a hand out. "Give me a glove from over there?"

"You're holding the light."

Langly huffed and aimed the light at the workbench where he'd seen the gloves. Too small for him, but they'd keep him from leaving fingerprints on things he shouldn't be screwing with. Or unscrewing. When Duke brought him the glove, he tugged it on as far as it would go and pulled the handle on top of the valve.

"Holy shit!" Duke staggered to the side as the floor moved under him.

"What the hell?" Chaz asked from the doorway.

"Hydraulics." Langly leaned out of the cabinet. "A sixty-something year old woman with a secret puts in hydraulic stairs and hides the valve with terror gas."

Duke held out his hand for the light. "I'm first."

The stairs terminated at a vault door with an electronic keypad. The power for this had to be coming from somewhere, Langly thought, but he doubted it was the house -- that would be too easily terminated.

"Wired. Closed system," Langly muttered, stepping closer and angling the light at the keys differently. "No marks. She's not here often. Shit."

"You probably shouldn't guess until we have a better idea what happens if you're wrong," Duke pointed out.

"I don't have to guess. I know someone who probably knows." Langly traded the light to Chaz for the clutch and pulled out his phone. Byers would know. "Hey, you'd never believe what the hell is going on here if I told you, but the important part is that I'm in front of a ten-key, and I need you to give me the most Susanne number you can think of."

Byers rattled off a nine-digit number and Langly punched it in.

"Stay on with me." Langly looked over his shoulder. "If the two of you want to go back up the stairs before I hit enter, now's the time. If I'm wrong, it may be the only way we get a second chance."

"Get the hell up the stairs, Chaz." Duke gestured back the way they'd come. "Now's not the time to play hero."

Chaz let himself be herded backward. As Duke stepped off to the side of the gaping hole in the floor, Chaz called down, "Clear."

"Byers, if you're wrong, I'm probably gonna die, so I just want you to know you're the brother I never wanted and don't mind having." Langly punched the button and the locks disengaged, loudly. "Holy shit. What the fuck did you just give me? Her what!? You're kidding me. ... Well, the identity's all but gone, so it's probably a pretty safe choice. You want me to put the camera on for you? I don't know what we just found, but I feel like this should be documented, in case I blow myself up."

Duke clattered down the stairs, holding the flashlight. "And that's why I'm first."

"I don't know about that, this time," Langly said, holding up the phone and hoping it picked up anything in the room ahead. He got a look at the ceiling, as Duke checked for cameras and less-friendly devices. "Fitz, I gotta hang up. I'm about to lose signal. Steel vault, underground. I'm filming, though, and I'll do everything I can to make sure that gets back to you."

"Screwdriver?" Duke held out a hand, and Langly put the clutch back in Chaz's hand.

"I only have one hand."

A few seconds later, the room was fully lit, a dim but clean white light that illuminated every corner.

"This is all our shit." Langly blinked into the room, spotting landmarks that were completely out of place in relation to each other, but still instantly recognisable. "No, seriously. That's the god damn MRI Fitz built. That file cabinet's my parts box -- the one with the Black Flag sticker on it. This is seriously it. She had all our shit and she buried it in fucking Florida."

"Which means it doesn't help, because it doesn't tell us where Holly is or who has her," Chaz pointed out.

Chapter Text

While Duke was out getting dinner, Chaz heaved one of the beds into a corner, and then sat on the foot of it, trying to figure out what to make of what they'd found -- and hadn't found.

"I'd rather not wake up on the floor," he said, when Langly, still in the dress and back on the phone, gave him a strange look.

Langly hung up the phone and threw himself into one of the kitchen chairs from the table by the window, rocking it back into the wall with the impact. A moment later he looked at Chaz, put his hand in his lap, and tipped the chair back forward. "Sorry."

"There's way too much crinoline for an apology." Chaz held his hands up by his shoulders, eyes on the table, instead of on Langly. "Anyway, you're stuck with one of us, because Duke won't share a bed with me. Nightmares."

"You have them or you give them to him?" Langly asked, reaching for the tissues and the cold cream on the table.

"Have them. I don't think I've ever given anyone nightmares while I was asleep." Chaz didn't want to consider what that would mean, if he did.

"Yeah, that's not going to bother me. That's normal." Langly started wiping off the cautiously-painted face he'd worn all day. "And as much as being able to go home and say 'I slept with Solomon Todd' is kind of hysterically appealing, if he can't handle nightmares, he's not going to want to put up with me, either."

"You too?"

"Nah, not so much any more... but I'm not making any bets about what being in Florida again is going to do to my head." Langly looked at the colour of the tissue after every wipe, trying to figure out if he'd gotten all of that patch off before he moved on. "I don't sleep like a reasonable person, especially when it's not my bed. I'll be up and down all night. If you want me to, I can sleep in the bathtub. That's a thing I do in motels. The floor is where you get tripped over and stepped on."

"That's not something I'd do to someone, if there were a better option," Chaz said, carefully. "The choice is yours. And I'm not going to blame you if you switch in the middle of the night."

"Wake up screaming?" Langly asked, before sweeping away the lipstick.

"Not any more."

"We're fine. Don't worry about it."

Chaz watched for a little longer, as Langly's face changed shape and colour. "Did you manage to straighten out the move?"

"Yeah. Fitz called Allie, and we worked something out. We're going to have to go back down there, before we fly out in the morning, and supervise the packing. It'll fly out just after we do, and be picked up on the other end by people I recognise." Langly wiped the dregs of the cold cream off his face. "Thanks for putting up with this. Holly took our stuff for a reason, and right now, I don't want to leave it where the kind of people who probably kidnapped her can get their hands on it. We were involved in some really questionable shit for a very long time, and while we'd like to safely put the majority of that information into the hands of the general public, once we've established the truth of it, exposing some of it to a closed group intent on screwing with people we like is probably not going to go well for anyone."

"Trust me. I get it. We don't get to go public, either. People would shit bricks -- that's the justification. And I'm just like, at what point does the existence of people like us have to become public knowledge for everyone's safety? For our safety as much as anyone else's." Chaz got up to help as Langly struggled to get out of the feathered jacket. "And for now, I'm willing to believe we're safer as we are, because the people who are going to shit bricks are the kind of people who are going to try to pass laws that make us no longer human. At the same time, I've seen the damage done -- I've been the damage done -- when only a small number of people know what's going on. But, somewhere, there's a tipping point. Somewhere the number of lives saved is going to dramatically outweigh the number of lives endangered by that decision. And we're not there, yet. And I just keep telling myself that."

Langly finally got his upper arms unstuck from the fabric and extracted himself, leaving the jacket in Chaz's hands. "I want you to look at some of our files," he decided, trying not to turn around and look at Chaz, trying not to give Reid's thoughts on Chaz too much consideration, trying not to think about how easy it would be to push his luck while Duke was still out. "Once we figure out if they're all still there. We have some things you might not -- probably people like us."

"Thank you." Chaz leaned past Langly and hung the jacket on the corner of a chair. He kept his hands to himself -- this wasn't his relationship, however much Reid had given him of it, however much he wanted to be part of it. He knew the right thing to do was to wait until the case was over, until they could sit down and talk about this like reasonable people. But, he wanted -- oh, how he wanted. He wanted to have his own memories of them both. He wanted to taste Reid, to feel Langly's fingers clutching at the edges of his scars.

But, this wasn't the time.

"You should probably take a shower," he suggested, stepping back, a bit shaky. "It'll get the curls out."

Langly woke in the middle of the night, hair half-dry and starting to curl at the ends, when Chaz rolled backward into the corner the bed made with the wall, taking the sheet with him. He seemed to compress into the space, as if hiding from something, and Langly reached out and brushed the hair out of his face.

Chaz grabbed Langly's wrist like an iron vice, but didn't wake up, lips thin, face dripping sweat.

"Did I ever tell you about the last time we were in Florida?" Langly murmured, keeping his voice just above a whisper, clear enough to be understood, but not loud enough to wake up Duke. He hoped. "No shit, there we were, and we had to get into this tango competition. And, you know, I don't know how to tango. Fitz doesn't know how to tango. We were kind of hoping Little Jimmy would have something going for him, but that was even worse. Turns out the 'Tango' in 'Whiskey Tango' actually meant something..."

Langly just kept talking, focusing on the tango part of that story, because it was the funny part, really. The rest of it involved things like getting shot at and falling off a boat. As he described Frohike's epic dance skills, Chaz's grip slowly loosened. The next time he brushed Chaz's hair back, Chaz moved toward him, out of the corner and back onto the bed, properly, grabbing on to him for leverage.

Or so he thought, until Chaz curled around him in exactly the way Reid usually did -- head tucked under his chin, one leg tossed across his hip. Except Chaz was taller and this bed was smaller. At least the room was warm, so blankets weren't going to be a problem. And, Langly realised, Chaz was still caught in the sheet, which wound around the leg now jutting off the bottom of the bed. Still, he reached down and pulled up the itchy, stiff bedspread that was ... so Florida, somehow, draping it across them, so the tangle of limbs wouldn't be the first thing Duke saw when he woke up. And then, he let himself put a hand on the back of Chaz's shoulder, just like he did with Reid.

It wasn't until Langly started drifting off that Chaz shocked awake, whole body jerking back as he tried to untangle himself from Langly.

"Sorry! Sorry!" Chaz hissed through clenched teeth, trying to figure out how he'd ended up in that position.

"Hey. Knock it off!" Langly put his hand back on Chaz's shoulder and shifted a leg, defensively. "You're tangled in the sheet and you just kneed me in the crotch."

"Told you. Nightmares," Chaz lied, hoping Langly would never know what he'd been dreaming, just before he woke up.

"Nah, that was about half an hour ago. I told you stories about Florida until you stopped trying to melt into the wall." Langly squeezed his eyes shut and then blinked a few times, debating how much to say. "I was just getting back to sleep. I mean, if it helps you sleep, you can stay there. I'm wearing clothes, you're wearing clothes, you don't smell funny..."

"It's not that." Chaz tried to untangle himself from the sheet without touching Langly more than strictly necessary.

"It doesn't bother me. Reid sleeps the exact same way." Langly finally brought out the thing they weren't talking about.

"Does he?" Chaz bent further under the blanket, chasing after the twisted sheet, hoping to disappear.

"I thought you knew that."

And there it was, the moment Chaz had been dreading. "What did he tell you?"

"Not a lot that I wouldn't have figured out from watching you. You look at me, and then you look confused and look away. You have a whole lot of his memories after the other day, don't you?"

Chaz nodded, still under the godawful bedspread, which was starting to make his face itch. "Yeah. I'm..." He slid off the end of the bed and took the bedspread with him, shaking off the sheet and putting it back. "I'll go sleep in the bathtub. You don't need this. I shouldn't have offered you the option in the first place."

"Or you could just come back to bed," Langly offered, making no move to get up. "What, exactly, is bothering you?"

Chaz looked like he might be praying for death. Or maybe that was just the lamp by the pool filtering through the blinds.

"Seriously, Chaz, just come back to bed. I'll stay on my side of it if you have another nightmare, if that's what you want. I just ... didn't want you to be stuck in it, if I could make it stop."

That was what finally got Chaz to sit back down, feet still on the floor, face still twisted with self-reproach. "I'm not him, and I don't want to be."

"You're right. You're not. And you're not going to be, because it doesn't work like that. You just... remember some of the same things." Langly stretched and pulled the sheet over himself, despite the fact it really served no purpose. But, it was a symbol of sleep, which he was hoping to get back around to. "Look, I met a guy, one time, who'd been plugged into a fake life in a sensory deprivation tank. You want to talk about not being someone? I have seen some shit. You're not just going to accidentally absorb his life and start thinking you're him. Brains don't like when you do that shit to them, even on purpose."

He watched the tension in Chaz's back. "That's not it, is it."


The only times Langly had heard a single syllable carry that much guilt and bitterness, the sound had come out of Byers. "Well, I'm awake, now, so you might as well."

"It's the way I remember you, in his memories."

"You've seen me naked, haven't you."

The next sound out of Chaz was ragged and equally miserable, impossible to determine if it was a laugh or a sound of horrified despair. Probably both.

"Look, I've been expecting 'nice shoes, wanna fuck' since I put the stupid things on. You keep looking at me like you're thinking about it, but we've been busy, and we both know it. You probably already have my boyfriend's memories of exactly what I'm like, so you can make an appropriately informed decision. And that means there's never going to be a point this isn't awkward, so if you can't turn it off, turn it up." Langly dug the heels of his palms into his eyes, trying ever so hard not to wake Duke, as he went on. "We're done for the day, we've got four hours before we have to be back on the road, so if there's going to be twenty minutes when we don't have to be doing something else, it's pretty much right now. You, me, and the bathroom wall. I am fast, I am easy, and then I am going back to sleep."

"No," Chaz said firmly. "Yes, but no. Not here, not now." Not without Reid, he meant.

"Then goddamn come back to bed and get some sleep, because I have to be up and paying attention like a legal representative of the Fitzgerald-Byers family at god's asshole in the morning, and if you're not going to bone me until I pass out, the least you can do is stop sulking on the end of the bed like a goddamn Byronic hero."

Chaz looked horrifically offended for exactly as long as it took him jam his knuckles against his mouth to hold back a laugh that still escaped as a muffled squeak. He closed his eyes and forced himself to relax -- one breath and then the next. Still breathing slowly, he finally leaned back, turning to rest himself on one elbow, facing Langly. "Come on, 'like a Byronic hero' would be boning you and then sulking about it."

"Oh my god," Langly groaned, pressing his hands over his face. "I know you're right, and now I'm going to sleep."

"Good." Chaz pulled himself back up the bed, considering everything Langly had said to him. After a moment watching Langly try to get comfortable, he curled up with his head under Langly's chin, again, and tossed a leg over his hip.

"You did this on purpose, this time," Langly pointed out, "and if you knee me in the crotch again, I will end you."

"That seems fair."

Chapter Text

Three people and a moving truck were waiting, when they got off the plane, and Langly recognised two of them immediately. 

"Allie!" he called, waving as he came down the steps.

Gathani stood beside her, and after a moment, Langly remembered the other face from an employee record. Faysal, just as Byers had said. He'd handled enough of the guy's data, but they'd never met. He was the man you called when you needed something serious moved between points -- heavy equipment, emptying junk from old buildings, and in this case, moving a fully ridiculous amount of parts and paper. Langly knew they'd wind up throwing half of it out -- the parts, at least, were old enough to be useless. The paper would, for the most part, need to be digitised and destroyed. If they'd had the capabilities then that they had now, they'd never have left so much paper behind to begin with.

"Uncle Frank!" Allie waved back, staying close at Gathani's side, tucked mostly between her and the truck.

No one had come for Chaz and Duke, which wasn't surprising, given how they'd arrived, and Duke was already calling for a cab by the time his feet touched the tarmac.

"You hitching back with me?" Duke asked Chaz.

Chaz held up a finger and turned to Langly, on his other side. "You mind if I go with you? I should talk to Spencer."

"One, we don't live together." Langly looked up over his shoulder. "And two, how much do you hate blindfolds?"


"Blindfolds. As in, you can't see where we're going to drop all this off." Langly shrugged. "Sorry, my ass is very valuable to me, and I can't have some random fed holding that information. You're cute and all, but no. We just don't have that kind of relationship. I'll get you copies of some of it, though. I said I'd do that."

"I'm with you," Chaz said to Duke, then turned back to Langly. "What if I meet you both for dinner at..."

Langly cut him off. "I'm buying. Pick something good."

Duke's mouth rounded around a long inhale, and he stared at Langly in disbelief.

"You sure about that?" Chaz asked, giving Langly one more chance to back out.

"I won't even have to sell any stocks to do it. I promise."

Langly called Reid, who came back with a surprising suggestion -- that Langly pick up dinner from the Ethiopian place he liked and the three of them could have dinner at his apartment.

"You don't want people watching you eat," Reid reminded Langly. "It attracts attention, makes you memorable."

"We're not all going to fit on the--"

"I do have an actual table, even if I rarely use it. You've seen it. You've thrown decor off it."

"Ethiopian?" Langly asked Chaz, who shrugged and held up a thumb in approval. "We'll do it. Call me when you leave the office, and I'll make it happen."

Alcea pulled off the blindfold, as Langly led her down the stairs next to the loading dock, into the basement. "Where are we?"

"Your father's basement." Langly turned around and made a few suggestions to Faysal about where to put things, but it looked like Byers had already taped off spaces for some specific things they knew the size of, mostly file cabinets. Susanne hadn't rescued bulk of the furniture, but everything that was storage had been moved whole. Standard movers' boxes of hardware were also a known size and a known number, and space had been made for those.

At some point during the process, all four of them moving what they could with hand carts, Byers appeared.

"Is this all?" he asked, and Langly knew what he meant.

"For now. Hafs been in touch?" Langly leaned against the side of a file cabinet until it shifted that last two inches into place.

"She and Penelope have some interesting news that suggests I'm right. This is all about Paul, but it may splash back on us." Byers put his hands in his jacket pockets. "On me."

"Are we sure they even still know who we are? It's not like we pissed off anyone but good old Uncle Ray." Langly tipped his head and rolled his eyes. "Okay, not directly."

"We're not sure, but they have Susanne. At least we're pretty sure Helmsman has her. The money starts in the right place and goes somewhere -- it's almost the same amount. The problem is that 'somewhere' does money like you do money."

Langly tipped his head and pushed up his glasses. "Gimmie."

"Go ask Fr--" Byers cleared his throat and peeled off his jacket, handing it to Langly. He tipped his chin toward the inner door. "I'll take over down here."

"Don't throw your back out." Langly snatched the jacket and headed in without another word.

"Who's Penelope?" Alcea asked, shoving a file box onto a shelf.

"You know how Hafidha does computer stuff for Duke and Agent Villette? Penelope has the same position in Agent Reid's unit." Byers rolled up his sleeves and took the box Faysal handed him, suddenly wondering if Langly had been right about his back. "I went to the best people I could, with your Uncle Frank out of town. They're excellent at what they do." He had private suspicions that Hafidha might be even faster and more dangerous than Langly, not that those words would ever pass his lips.

"So, your girlfriend, right?" Alcea guessed.

"What makes you think that?" Byers asked, avoiding the question as he went back for another box.

"Uncle Frank says your girlfriend's one of Agent Reid's friends. So, first name I've heard that wasn't prefaced with 'agent', definitely female, and is described in relation to Agent Reid." Alcea shrugged, carrying another box past Byers. "Given what I've got, it's a good guess."

"Careful with her, Johnny," Gathani teased, helping Faysal with another cabinet. "She's a smart one, just like her dad!"

Byers didn't look thrilled with either observation. "Look, she's... it's complicated. Yes, we went on a date, just one, but then this whole thing with your mom happened. And... she knows your mom and I are married, which is how I found out. So, things are a little... I don't know. Maybe we'll try again, when all this is over. Maybe we won't."

"I'd say you should, but I don't even know her. But, you picked mom, so you've got good taste." Alcea stepped out of Gathani's way.

"Thanks, I think." Byers went back for another box. "That's the first time anyone's ever called that decision 'good taste'."

Reid got home first, a fact for which he was profoundly thankful, as he cleaned up the handful of things he'd left out to remind him of things he was supposed to be doing -- that was done, that he was doing, that one... he could put that off until tomorrow if he put it sideways in his desk drawer. He folded Langly's blanket and stuffed it behind the chair. His own blanket got folded over the back of the couch, where it as supposed to go, but he'd been sleeping in the chair so much, and there was no one to see, except sometimes Langly.

He'd let Chaz into his head. His home should have been the easy part.

Coffee, he remembered, just before the knock at the door, and he opened the door, still holding the coffee can in one hand, to find Langly on the other side -- something else for which he was profoundly thankful.

"That smells incredible," Reid said, stepping out of the way of Langly and what might have been a ridiculous number of bags under other circumstances. "And you look... Did you do something with your hair?"

"You can ask Solomon motherfucking Todd what I did with my hair," Langly snapped, heaving the bags onto the small breakfast table in the corner by the bedroom door.

Reid closed the front door and locked it, realisation blooming on his face. "That wasn't a wig?"

"Congratulations, you win a prize, an exciting, drama-filled evening at home with yours truly and the psychic reincarnation of Lord Byron!"

"Are you all right?" Reid asked and felt like a fool, as he crossed the room.

"No, I'm mad as hell, and it has nothing to do with you or Chaz, and I'm not talking about it until Chaz gets here, so I don't have to hash it out twice." Langly started unpacking boxes of food, and very quickly ran out of space. "Crap."

Reid moved a few things off the top of the half-wall bookshelf between the table and the door, carefully setting them on his desk, and Langly took advantage of the space immediately.

"Psychic reincarnation of Lord Byron?" Reid raised his eyebrows and waited for an explanation.

"Hafs is right. Sultan of sulk. We ended up in the same bed because two beds and three people, and Duke's apparently the wrong choice, and I didn't want to sleep in the bathtub again -- not after I just spent a day in heels." Langly took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes with the other hand. "And it was fine. He had a nightmare, I talked him out of it, and he got a little cuddly. Just like you, right? He didn't even wake up. I didn't care until he woke up and panicked because he was touching me. I don't know what the hell the two of you did, but he's afraid he's going to fall asleep and wake up you or something. Spent like ten minutes just sulking at the foot of the bed, having a completely useless identity crisis, before I could get him to stop perching like a vulture and go back to sleep." He stopped gesturing with the glasses and put them back on.

"To be fair, he's had a lot of my fonder memories in the first person," Reid said, staring toward the kitchen as if it would make the coffee finish faster. "An inordinate number of the ones that come immediately to mind are of you."

"Yeah, I got the part where he's seen me naked. I don't actually care, mostly because it's your memory and you're delusional about my looks anyway." Langly tore off a bit of bread and stuffed it in his mouth.

"You know, I think I might have skipped the glowing one."

"That's why he still wants to sleep with us," Langly scoffed. "He hasn't seen what you're like when you're tired."

"You like me just fine when I'm tired." Reid stepped in and poked Langly in the chest, accepting the quick kiss that got him.

"Let's see: you're hot, you're into me, and you have your own life that you live entirely without apology. If you've got some weird delusion that I'm hot, that can only end well for me." Langly's eyes gleamed with amusement and he rested his hands on Reid's hips. "How much time do you think we have?"

A knock at the door answered that question, and Reid stole another quick kiss. "Not enough. You get the door; I'll get the coffee."

Langly opened the door to find Chaz, who apparently cleaned up well. Or whatever the opposite was of 'cleaned up', he supposed. Gone were the dorky sweaters and khakis that sat a little short, replaced by a Siouxsie t-shirt over a thermal shirt tight enough to leave no question about why it was necessary and black jeans, now tucked into the inevitable boots.

Chaz held up a clinking six-pack. "I brought beer. I hope it's an appropriate sacrifice to the household gods, or at least the master of the house."

"I've seen photos that suggest if we put four of those into the master of the house, he gets a lot more party-friendly. I'm not sure if that's a suggestion or a warning." Langly stepped back and held the door. "Nice shirt."

"Same." Chaz finally noticed Langly's Circle Jerks shirt. "Sorry about last night."

"I'm only accepting that apology if you mean the part where you kneed me in the crotch." Langly shut the door.

Chaz grimaced at the memory. "Let's start with that, yeah."

"Reid, you've just inherited beer!" Langly called, stepping around the bookcase to put the beer... somewhere. There was a lot of food. He finally turned the box sideways and slid the bottles on top of the paperbacks on the second shelf.

Reid leaned out of the kitchen, mug in hand. "I just made coffee."

Chaz looked back and forth between the two of them. "I'm assuming we're working over dinner?"

"Yeah. Oh, yeah." Langly looked about as thrilled as he'd been the last time he had to find his way through an entire cornfield.

"Coffee, first," Chaz proposed. "Beer when I get to pretend this is a social occasion."

"Seconded," Langly agreed. "Beer when I get to stop thinking about it for a few hours."

Reid looked from Langly to Chaz. "I don't really drink that much, anyway."

Langly held up four fingers to Chaz, with no comment.

Chapter Text

"Anyway," Langly said, picking up more yam stew in a strip of bread. "The point is that we've definitely tied the Helmsman to some shit the Air Force was doing around the turn of the century, and beyond that, to Paul, who was investigating the ... basically money-laundering keeping the project afloat. Now, this project, as far as we can tell, is one that used to be at least partially handled by someone else, and we're pretty sure that guy died of old age, because the obituary puts him in his eighties, supposedly long retired."

"So, a long-standing project, then. What, twenty, thirty years?" Chaz had decided communal food was a good idea, and he'd been quite occupied getting at least a few bites of everything. "Why's the other guy matter, if he's dead?"

"Because we knew him, and his name's Ray Helm." Langly took another swig of coffee while that sank in. "Overlord, he called himself. Basically Fitz's dad's friend, until he tried to have the old man killed. We put a stop to that and to some shit involving dropping a commercial flight on a major metropolitan area, and he was... not exactly thrilled with us, and I got the sense that a lot of us getting our toes stepped on later, in relation to some particular stuff, may have been his influence."

"Ray Helm. Helm's man." Reid tried not to pour something green on the table as he balanced the bread in his hand instead of putting it in his mouth. "You're thinking this is is protégé?"

"Bingo. See, this is why I like you. You're bright." Langly paused for a few more bites. He'd been doing questionable things to other people's encryption for hours, and he felt like he'd been hit by a bus and then backed over. "So, where we lose touch is at the project account. We can't find the Helmsman, because his name's not on anything directly linked to the money. The account's a unit budget account with multiple signatories and none of them -- none of them -- can be linked to specific transactions, because they're all using the same passcode. Probably because of exactly this."

"But, you have the names," Chaz pointed out.

"Yeah, we have the names, but I have no reason to believe they're accurate. They're pointing in some weird directions, including back to Ray Helm, who's been on the list forever, probably. An lot of these are dead people, and I'm betting they're actually dead, not dead like us, but unless you want to come help me dig up a grave, we're not gonna know for sure." Langly held up a finger and stuffed a meat-laden scrap of bread in his mouth, washing the lot of it down with coffee. "I don't think any of these names are actual people currently working for the project. I think they were, once, probably when it was set up, but the records were never updated. Again, probably because of exactly this."

"Is Hafidha--"

"Watching the account for future transactions, in the hope of tying them to a source? Yes." Langly ran out of bread and Chaz grabbed another folded round off the bookcase for him. "I should be doing it, but I had existing obligations and Hafs wouldn't let me back out of them. I don't think I've ever had my hands slapped that hard in my entire life, and she wasn't even in the same building with me."

Chaz blinked. "What the hell did she hit you with?"

"The network," Langly muttered, stuffing more food in his face.

"Oh, shit, you can touch what she can touch, so she can throw it at you." Chaz nearly swallowed his lips, trying not to laugh.

"Remote manipulation of current..." Reid speculated, grabbing the last of the collard greens.

Chaz shook his head. "This is new. I think she can only do it to him, which means it's not actually electricity. It's some kind of dangerous I think they only are to each other and other people like them. Which is to say, not like me. Or you."

"Great," Langly mumbled around a wad of bread and veg, "something else I have to watch for when I do things I'm not supposed to tell him about."

"He's very good at not telling me things I don't want to know." Reid rocked his chair back, both hands holding his coffee cup. "I feel like that's foundational to any relationship."

"Speaking of foundations of a good relationship, check your texts," Langly told Chaz, after he finally managed to swallow. "Hafs wanted me to tell you something and I told her to tell you, herself."

"I'm assuming that was some variant on 'don't come home until tomorrow'?" Chaz ventured, wiping the last of the stew out of one of the containers and stacking the empties, as he chewed.

"That was some part of it, I'm sure. I stopped listening somewhere around 'sweaty'." Langly pointed to the beer still stashed behind Chaz. "And that's about how far we got before I had to stop for dinner. I had some sent up to her and Garcia, too, because I'm not an asshole, no matter what certain people have to say about it."

"To be fair, you are an asshole to him," Reid pointed out.

"He started it! Do not fuck with my hardware!" Langly went for the last of what was on the table and Chaz let him have it. There was still more on the bookcase.

After a few false starts, Chaz managed to pry the beer out of the bookcase and set it on the table. "Does this mean we're done working for the night?"

"For now." Langly shrugged and scraped out another container of stew. "Any of us could get called back in at any point, and the way this week's going, it's probably going to be all of us, and three different cases."

"He gets it," Chaz said to Reid, maybe a little more surprised than he should've been.

"He lives it." Reid's smile was almost hidden by the rim of his coffee cup.

"He's sitting right here." Langly rolled the last bit of bread and stuck it in his mouth, chasing it with coffee.

"And looking much better out of the dress." Chaz pulled a lighter out of his pocket and opened the first beer with it, setting the bottle in front of Reid. "Sacrificial beer."

Reid nodded, hoped he looked grateful, and pushed the beer toward Langly.

Langly put it back in front of Reid and grabbed another bottle. He hooked the cap on the edge of the table and smacked it, popping the lid off. "There's enough for all of us."

"I'm still finishing my coffee." Reid took another sip. "I'll get there."

And he would. Assuming that two of those bottles were his, he intended to drink both. Just not yet. There was part of this conversation he wanted to have before he started drinking. And another part he wanted to get much drunker than two beers were going to get him before he attempted.

Chaz debated the open bottle, but grabbed another for himself. They'd all have one open. Whether or not Reid drank that one was up to him. "You'll notice we all still have the 'serious conversation' faces on."

"I guess that's because we're about to have another one." Langly took a long swallow of the beer, which wasn't terrible.

"We really do need to talk about this. Privately. All three of us," Reid agreed, slowly turning the cup with his fingertips.

"I know what you want." Chaz pointed to Langly and then to Reid. "And I have a decent idea of what you're thinking."

"Which means you're up." Langly took his glasses off to wipe them on his shirt. "If you're interested, what do you want from us?"

"I want my own memories of both of you. I'm stuck with Spencer's memories, and they're ... they've become part of me in a way I'm not entirely sure I'm comfortable with, but I don't think I'd do anything differently, given a second chance, except maybe stare a little less." Chaz sipped his beer, then tipped the bottle toward Langly. "Sorry about that. It'll wear off."

"I'm mostly flattered," Langly admitted. "I go through my entire life with a sex life I can count on my fingers, and suddenly I end up with the evil twins who think I'm hot and know when not to be a pain in the ass about it? Natural twenty. This is not the part where I start complaining."

Reid sat forward, finally, the chair clacking as it hit the floor. "I'm probably going to be the difficult one," he admitted. "But, Langly knows that."

"Excuse you, I'm the one who smacked you in the face," Langly argued, and Reid pointed at him with a sympathetic look at Chaz.

"Don't surprise him."

"I find that not surprising the people one's having sex with is generally a good rule of thumb," Chaz pointed out.

"We're not very good at this," Reid admitted.

"That's not what I saw." Chaz took a sudden intense interest in his beer and drinking it. "Stop me if I say something I shouldn't, but the two of you make each other very happy, and that's obvious. I don't think I'd even have to know what I do to see that. But, looking back at those memories, you're ... Okay, I can't actually do this. I can feel that in my hands and I don't want to feel anything in my hands except this beer, right now, because that is... I don't belong there. That's not mine to know."

"That's what you want, isn't it?" Reid asked, finishing the coffee. "The right to know these things."

"I mean, the incredible sex too, but... yeah."

"Incredible?" Langly's eyebrows lifted past the top of his glasses.

Chaz pointed at Reid. "I only have his impressions to judge from, but anything that made me feel like that would rank as incredible. Easily."

"I'm not going to argue 'incredible'," Reid said, picking up the bottle in front of him, and just looking at it. "But, my perspective may not be the most... ah... statistically relevant?"

"I think he means he's had less sex than me," Langly filled in.

Chaz looked up, gesturing to each of them, in turn, with his beer. "Okay, I want us all to take a moment to appreciate that I'm the youngest person sitting at this table, and without question I have had the most sexual experiences."

"Gasp! You slut!" Langly clutched at the front of his shirt for a moment, and then made a rude noise. "Oh, no. One of us might know what the fuck he's doing. Whatever shall we do."

Reid gave in to the inevitable laugh. "I'm not averse to trying a few things, tonight, but I need to be at work in the morning and I fully intend to get drunk enough to enjoy things I would not normally be willing to consider. I'm really not in the habit of letting people touch me, and I recognise that as being mostly irrational, and apparently that's also something that goes away after a few drinks. Or, at least I can ignore it better."

"We both have to work in the morning," Chaz reminded him, thoughtfully setting down his beer and wiping his hand on his sleeve. The anomaly, he reminded himself, wanted him to suffer, wanted him to cause others to suffer, and he thought of what an utter middle finger it would be, if he could find a safe way to turn what it had given him to some even more pleasing purpose for himself and others. "I'm going to suggest something a little weird, and I have no idea if it's going to work, but I kind of want to go back to that kiss. You weren't worried about me touching you, then, and if we can figure out why..."

"That mean I get to watch, this time?" Langly teased, the suggestion of a smile hanging at the corners of his mouth.

Reid nodded and put down the bottle he hadn't done more than stare at, yet. "This makes me very nervous, but I recognise that it's probably a good idea."

"Hey, you know how that always ends for us." Langly's smile widened enough to show teeth and then collapsed. "Well... except that one time."

"Pour me enough rum and we'll see if I can get that one right, too." Reid chuckled as he got up. "Of course, 'enough' rum might prevent that entirely. And I'd want to be a few weeks out of the field -- or at least away from anyone else's ... corpses, bodily fluids, teeth."

Chaz couldn't quite make the laugh sound like anything else.

"You would not believe some of the things I've--" Reid stopped in the middle of the sentence. "No, actually, you probably would."

Langly nodded. "He had anthrax. I almost got turned into a shark or some shit. Some goddamn serial killer broke in here and almost shot me, and he choked her out with a pair of pants. Things get a little wild around here."

Chaz put his hands on the table as he stood, leaning forward. "Doesn't even rank. Except the shark part. A shark? What the fuck, Frank?"

"And now we hit the part where I get difficult." Langly shrugged, looking up at Chaz. "You know who I am. You don't get to call me Frank, in bed."

"Yeah, okay, I know who you are, but I didn't pick up what you like to be called. Do I call you Rich? Do I call you Dick?" Chaz stretched and his shoulder made a horrifying sound like wet rocks sliding.

"Manhammer," Reid whispered, and Langly nearly spit beer across the table.

"I answer to Langly. Haven't been called much else to my face, in the last couple decades. Just means you can't scream my name, so I hope you're not too loud."

"You hope I'm not as loud as the two of you are?" Chaz scoffed. "Don't worry about it; the neighbours will never even know I was here." And he meant that very literally.

Reid leaned against the wall next to the bathroom door, eyes closed, trying to remember what had led to the moment they were trying to recreate. He held out a hand. "I've got the last thing I remember, before everything went sideways."

There was a squeak as Langly pushed his chair back just a little further and pulled out his phone. "I'm filming this so the two of you can see it, after."

"Mm-hmm, and not because you're going to be watching it later, while we're at work," Chaz teased, stepping around the table and letting Reid's hand settle on his arm. He raised one hand to Reid's cheek and wrapped the other around the top of Reid's hip. "Like this, I think?"

"Closer." Reid tipped his head back and opened his eyes.


"I think so?" Reid tried very hard to focus on the memory he bounced back and forth off the inside of his head, instead of the hand on his face.

And then suddenly everything shifted, twisted, and that was something he didn't want to remember about himself, but he washed it away with the next memory that came to hand -- and that wasn't a memory, that was Chaz, and he was in two places at once, touching and being touched, and the edge of a Star Trek episode brushed the back of his mind, but he'd consider it later. He had too much on his mind, in his mind. He looked up at Chaz and down at himself at the same time. He didn't smell like himself, and he couldn't tell whose thought it was. But, the hand on his face was just as much his own as if it had been part of the body he was fairly sure was the one he belonged to.

And then lips, tongue, the taste of coffee and beer and something else, and he felt all of it, one hand rising to tangle in ... that had to be Chaz's hair. The texture wasn't his own. A small sound of contentment passed between them, and he couldn't tell whose it was. Langly would know. He felt good, but he'd always liked kisses, despite the associated revulsion, and this was like being kissed twice at the same time. It was decadent and impossible. The thought of those hands on more of his body should have made his skin crawl, but there weren't any hands touching him that weren't his in some way, that he didn't know where they'd been before they were on him.

Chaz pulled back, mind first, dragging himself back from the utterly addictive experience of experiencing himself through Reid. "You should probably let go of my hair, just for a minute." He held out a hand toward Langly. "Beer?"

Langly leaned forward and put the bottle in Chaz's hand.

"I just have to remember that still counts as jamming, even if I'm having a good time." Chaz finished the beer as soon as he could tip his head back. "Good?"

"I have no idea." Reid leaned against the wall, still trying to find all the parts of his own body. "Yes. Let's go with yes."

"Want to do it again?" Chaz asked, already warm with the idea. He'd seen the flash of fear and regret, when he first opened the mirror, before he had a chance to turn it the way he wanted it, and he saw how easily Reid shook it off, as if he were entirely accustomed to things like that just happening. And Chaz knew he should still be careful, but every time he reached out, he was less afraid of hurting Reid. The man had intense focus and what Chaz could only describe as aikido for intrusive thoughts, and it didn't seem to matter if they were his thoughts.

Reid's eyes opened and a slow smile spread across his face. "Langly?"

"Still filming," Langly promised.

"That's an invitation," Chaz translated, and Langly looked up from the screen, eyes bright and curious.

"I'll get the blankets, you sit in the chair. Reid? Coffee?"

"Sugar?" Reid asked, as Chaz stepped back from him.

"As much as it'll take." Langly shrugged at Chaz, shutting off the camera and getting up to turn the floor into a bed.

Chaz nodded. "I think that's the theme for the night."

Chapter Text

The shoes had come off, first, and thus by Vonnegut's definition, it was a party. In actuality, it was three men, dressed but for their bare feet, in various states of reclining on a blanket.

"So, what the hell are we doing?" Langly asked, lounging sideways, knees bent, held up on one elbow.

"Staring at each other like nervous cats." Chaz sat with his knees pulled up to his chest, a second cup of coffee so sweet it was nearly syrup in his hands. "I'm the odd one out, here. The two of you already have traditions and expectations, except I'm here."

"We could put you between us," Reid suggested, from a position that seemed designed to make him look smaller, but really just made him look like he'd attempted to violate the laws of physics.

Chaz shook his head. "If I'm ever taking this shirt off, I need both of you where I can see you."

"You too, huh?" Langly chuffed and tossed his glasses onto Reid's desk. "That means I go in the middle, unless somebody's got an objection."

A hint of a smile was almost visible on Chaz's face, mostly hidden behind the coffee. "I should've made a move while you were still in the dress."

"Hell no." Langly glared. "Razorburn and crinoline."

Chaz glanced over at Reid. "You should have seen him."

"You sent me a photo, and I've seen it before." Reid finally picked up what was wrong in that sentence. "You shaved your legs?"

"Yesterday. And tomorrow they're going to itch, and I'm going to hate everyone."

"Have you tried to find stockings in his skin colour? It's almost as hard as finding them in mine." Chaz shook his head, finished the coffee, and stretched out his legs, making space for Langly between himself and Reid.

"I have never in my life had to buy stockings for anyone, which is honestly fairly surprising given the number of women among my friends. On the other hand, all my friends appear to be competent adults, so maybe that's less surprising." Reid thought about it, slowly unfolding himself along the other side of the blanket. "Tampons, but never stockings. I keep them in my desk drawer, because someone's going to ask, even if no one's going to ask me."

"Because you're a sane and rational person, clearly. Chocolate in the same drawer?" Chaz resisted the urge to look at Langly. He'd join them when he got around to it.

"Absolutely not. That is my chocolate and it goes in the drawer that locks, with my good pens."

"Feds," Langly scoffed, shimmying out of his jeans, but not boxers, before he stretched out between Chaz and Reid. "And since the two of you seem to have some ridiculous fascination with my legs, why don't we just start there. See? Legs. Shaved. Still mostly smooth. Feels weird as hell."

Reid studied Langly's legs for a moment and then got up. "Be right back."

Chaz held up the empty coffee cup. "Grab me another cup, if you're going that way?"

Taking the cup, Reid vanished into the kitchen.

Langly looked up at Chaz, whose eyes were almost the same colour in this light, and cricked his finger. "You've been thinking it since the hospital. Just stay out of my head."

"There are exactly two situations in which I'll do that again: either because you asked me to, or because I think you're becoming dangerous," Chaz promised, noticing that Langly really did have a face that looked better with glasses, but sure as hell didn't look bad without them. "Anything else you want me to stay out of?"

"Anything I haven't taken off, yet."

"Works for me." Chaz leaned a bit toward Langly, offering, but trying not to impose, and he let Langly pull him into a kiss. This one was much simpler, if only because he was absolutely sure which thoughts, which body parts belonged to which of them. He was nothing but himself, with a handsome man stretched out beside him, kissing him slowly and hesitantly, fingers holding his hair out of their faces without too much pressure on his neck, and Chaz wondered if Langly was just that cautious naturally, or if this was something he'd picked up from Reid.

Reid returned, almost silent until the sound of the coffee cup dully striking wood, as he set it on a coaster on the table behind the couch.

Chaz opened one eye and tried to look up at Reid, but didn't get past his knees, before Reid vanished out of his field of vision in the other direction. There was the sound of a metal cap twisting off a glass bottle, and then Chaz was entirely distracted by Langly moaning into his mouth.

Reid knelt with one of Langly's legs across his lap, sleeves rolled up, kneading oil into the freshly-shaved skin, which, to judge by the angle of Langly's hips and the way he pulled Chaz's hair was a very good choice. Langly writhed, clinging all the more closely to Chaz, as Reid rubbed the oil up his legs, fingers lingering in the spots that made him gasp. By the time Reid finished both legs, moving on to putting the oil and his thumbs to good use against the bottoms of Langly's feet, Langly had begun to tremble like the middle of the second day on nothing but coffee. His dick was caught on his boxers in a way that looked uncomfortable, but Langly wouldn't take his hands off Chaz long enough to adjust himself.

And for a moment, Reid felt like he didn't belong. This was the sort of thing that happened to other people, and not even the kind of people he knew, for the most part. He was watching his boyfriend kiss another man, in the middle of his living room. It wasn't really jealousy -- nothing was being taken from him. He just felt... separate from it. This had mostly been his idea, and he knew it. Certainly the last push, bringing them both home with him. What had he expected? How was he supposed to feel about it? Those weren't questions he really had answers to -- he suspected none of them did. Lost in thought, Reid didn't notice when Langly's hand slowly dropped from Chaz's hair until those fingers were wrapped around his wrist, tugging his hand back up to Langly's inner thigh.

At the loss of the hand on his neck and hair, Chaz worked his way back from the kiss -- a nip, a flash of tongue, a brush of fingers against Langly's cheek -- and then he looked down at where Reid sat, still mostly upright, the distance on his face much more than the space between any part of him and the kiss on the floor. But, it wasn't his place to try to correct that . Any offer he could make would be presumptuous. He was the extra piece, here. He was the one who didn't belong, and he wasn't about to start acting like he did.

Langly was the first to speak. "Reid?"

"Hmm?" Reid's eyes stayed on his fingers, where they caressed and teased the skin just beyond the line of Langly's boxers, against his leg.

"I want you."

There were a few tart things Reid could have said, but they all burned away in the next breath. None of them would help. "Tell me."

Langly smiled wryly and stretched for Reid's cheek. "I think you're a little overdressed for all of them."

"Am I?" Reid leaned into the hand, finally looking up as Langly caressed his cheek. He could tell when Langly wasn't telling him things, and this wasn't one of those times. Lusty and a little embarrassed, he thought, but not hiding anything. Probably not even implying anything untrue, with that look. As he unbuttoned his shirt, one-handed, trying very hard not to get too much oil on the fabric, he glanced at Chaz, whose eyes were on him, dark with desire, even as Chaz tried to make himself smaller, in turn -- one shoulder tipped in, a long history of slouching still angling his neck and shoulders.

"Okay, way overdressed." Langly paused, remembering the first night he'd spent here. "Do we need to make it darker in here, or does he know?"

"No. To both." Reid swallowed and looked at Chaz, his fingers lingering on the last button. "I have scars," he said. "And I don't want to talk about them. They're old enough that I don't want to think about them."

Chaz offered an awkward half-smile. "Don't ask about my back, and we're fine."

"One question that I'll answer first: anything we shouldn't touch?" Reid looked down at Langly's legs, as he shrugged out of his shirt, still trying not to stain it. He should've taken it off before he started. "This one's fine," he said, tapping the faint ridge that had sat just below the line of his collar. "Sort of. Fingers don't belong on my neck, but..."

Chaz nodded. "I get it. I'd really rather you not with these." He held up a wrist and pointed, bending the elbow he was leaning on. "The joints swell when I get warm. It's ... you know."

"That's my knee. Which I got shot in, and yeah, not that one. I don't know what it did to the nerves, but..."

Chaz shuddered and shook his head sympathetically. "My back's... a little gross. You can touch it, but I'm not sure you'd want to."

"You have entirely underestimated me," Langly announced, still sprawled between the two of them. "Scars are great. Scars are just adventures that fought back."

"Says the guy who got shot at and fell off a roof, and it wasn't serious," Reid teased, arms still held close to his body. Finally he raised each arm, running the backs of the fingers of the other hand down one and then the other. "If you can still find any of these, don't."

"Yeah," Chaz agreed. "The... ah... hospital scars are out. There's not many, but they're... Yeah."

Reid's face relaxed just enough for Langly to notice, and to guess that Chaz really didn't know. "Yeah."

"And I'm the most dressed person in the room," Chaz observed.

"You should quit that," Langly suggested.

"He's supposed to be the most dressed person in the room." Reid nodded at Langly and unbuckled his own belt, considering the absolute idiocy of what he was about to do. "You should know," he said, stopping with his trousers open, but still on, "that this isn't what I'm like. Or, more accurately, wasn't. But, this is the second time this year, and I'm not really sure how I feel about it, yet."

Chaz was already halfway out of his own pants, having decided to start with the less unsettling half of his body. "Then you should know this is exactly what I'm like, just... not with people I work with, because that's... going to get weird."

"We're at opposite ends of the floor," Reid pointed out. "This case is kind of a one-off."

"Kind of a weird-off," Langly muttered, trying to figure out what position he'd have to put himself in to get his hands on both of them at once.

"What are you like?" Chaz asked, folding his jeans and tossing them over his boots.

"Like I said, I don't make the first move. Or... usually even the third. Until we met--" Reid nodded at Langly. "--I could tally my entire sexual history on one hand."

"People?" Chaz assumed.

"That's an even smaller number." Reid offered a brittle smile. "And never on the first date. Or even in the first month. I'm... not very good at this."

"Lies," Langly pronounced, stretching languidly as he looked up at Chaz. "My sample set may be small, but he's the best in it."

"Are you sure--" Chaz started, with a cautious look at Reid.

Reid stood in one fluid motion and shoved his trousers down, leaving him in just briefs. "I want to do this, whatever this turns out to be." He paused, stepping out of his trousers and draping them over the back of the chair he'd sat in at dinner. "With both of you. Even if it's just once. I want this experience."

"Seconded." Langly held up a thumb.

"I've already got my pants off," Chaz pointed out, stripping off his t-shirt, but not the thermal under it. "I'm in."

Chapter Text

Reid had pushed Langly's hair out of the way, when he'd finally laid down, after they'd sorted out the fact that the warm blanket should probably go on top of them, since none of them had enough mass to even keep themselves warm, never mind anyone else. He was currently stretched along Langly's back, kissing Langly's neck and as much shoulder as he could get to, one leg not just tossed over Langly's, but resting on Chaz's thigh. He could feel the way Chaz's fingertips teased at the edge of his briefs, where thigh gave way to ass, a suggestion, but not a demand.

One hand on Reid's leg, the other tucked under Langly's face, Chaz finally really asked himself what the fuck, exactly, he thought he was doing. Sure, one night stands and adrenaline-powered thrill fucks were well within his comfort zone, but usually women and never anyone he was going to run into in the elevator. And this wasn't even that. This was some poorly-considered attempt to solve his own lack of control by overwriting memories that didn't belong with ones that did. And he'd managed to wind up wedged into a pre-existing relationship that seemed to be held together with spit and a promise, between two people who had nearly no experience between them. Maybe he was using them. Maybe they were using him. Maybe it didn't actually matter beyond hands and sweat and hungry kisses like the ones Langly pressed against his lips.

Maybe Hafs was right. Maybe he just needed to get laid.

Langly's hands were low, one arm folded back across himself, hand under Reid's leg, the other hand wringing Chaz's hip. The scars didn't come that far down, from what he'd picked up, and he really didn't want to start with them. There were places his hands didn't belong until Chaz was more comfortable with them, though that was happening quickly. Every kiss seemed more sure than the last. And Langly had never felt so real, so certain in and of his body as he did pressed between Chaz and Reid. Two attractive men he could trust with his body, if not his work, were touching him at the same time, and there was still no sense he was just a moment's amusement, not that he'd ever been bothered by that, but this was something else. They had time and they wanted to spend it with him, probably naked, before all three of them had to go back to work. He'd say he could get used to this, but he had, in some ways. He was getting used to the way Reid wanted him -- fast, hard and sudden, between things, but hours of slow teasing and tangled limbs, when they had the time. The idea that he didn't need a reason, that the whole price would be time he could've spent doing something else, was still new and unsettling, but he was getting attached to that. And the idea that it didn't just have to be the two of them was still fragile in his mind, but that might become something, too.

He felt Reid reach past his face to run a thumb across Chaz's cheek.

"Share this with me?"

Chaz found himself surprised at how hard the suggestion hit him, at how much he wanted exactly that, even while he was wholly unsettled by the thought of the kind of damage he might unleash on himself, on both of them, if he slipped even a little, if he lost the least control of himself, which was usually the point of doing things like this -- to render himself senseless and exhausted, if entirely content with that state. But, the things that crossed his mind, things he'd never let move his hands, were exactly the sort of things he had to watch for with the mirror open. Those little hooks that he shrugged off after a quarter-second's consideration were the sort of thing that would catch and tear at someone else's mind, almost entirely because that mind belonged to someone else, someone who wasn't expecting that particular sort of fucked up passing thought. Hell, he was pretty sure he'd done it to himself a few times -- nothing like intrusive thoughts mid-orgasm to fuck up your desires for a few months. Doing that to someone else seemed like the worst kind of violation.

"You sure you want that?" he asked, instead.

"I do." Reid pushed himself up, trying not to lean on Langly's hair. "I do, because I want you to touch me."

Langly stopped breathing, considering the implications for himself, and all he could come up with was that this was the absolutely most fucked up culmination of every fantasy about twins he'd ever had in his life.

"Please tell me you're just as single-minded while you're having sex as you are when you're not." Chaz looked nervous. "Because if I screw this up, we're going to have serious problems. If I screw this up mildly, you're probably never going to want to talk to me again. If I screw this up a lot... I don't really want to think about that."

"I'm pretty sure I'm going to be extremely difficult to distract from the subject at hand, unless my phone rings, at which point we're probably all going to have something else to think about."

Chaz closed his eyes and nodded slowly, before he patted Reid's thigh. "Let me up for a second. If we're going to do this, this is where you get the full experience."

Reid pulled his leg back, tucking his ankle between Langly's shins. His eyes never left Chaz. He'd always thought of himself as thin -- his team had been making jokes about it forever. He'd always worn long sleeves. But, looking at Chaz was something else entirely -- the man looked like he might be nothing but muscle and bone, and his first thought when Chaz peeled off his thermal shirt was something ill-advised about dog racing.

"Yeah, I know, I'm every anorexic's dream," Chaz joked, adding his boxer briefs to the pile of cloth on top of his boots.

"You're a living person with less body fat than I have, and that's a little frightening," Langly said. "Of course, I also don't have my glasses on, so you're mostly a sort of brownish smear in front of some other lighter-coloured smears and what I can be decently sure is a green wall. You should come down here so I can tell you that you're still hot and mean it."

"I can see fine," Reid offered, twisting himself around to pull up the blanket. "And you're still hot, but you look like you're probably about to be freezing, so..."

A breathy laugh slipped between Chaz's teeth, as he turned his head against his shoulder self-consciously, folding himself back to the floor while a certain amount of fumbling went on under the blanket and Langly tossed more cloth roughly in the direction his jeans had gone. His shirt, Chaz noticed, stayed on.

"Are you completely sure about this?" he asked again. "I've never used it like this. I don't ... this could get weird. This could get ugly."

"I'm absolutely certain I should be afraid," Reid admitted, "but we've been working toward this, somewhat unintentionally, since the first time I asked. It would be intensely disappointing, for both of us, I think, to back out now. But, if you don't want to do this, we're not doing it, and I'm not going to question that decision."

Chaz pulled the extremely fluffy blanket over his legs, considering the number of times he'd wholly intentionally thrown himself at the ground and missed. "Let's do something stupid. It'll be fun. You get to set the mood."

Reid wrapped himself around Langly, letting Langly's hands guide him. "What do you think? Something memorable..."

"Not the time I passed out. Maybe the time you passed out," Langly suggested, putting his hand back on Chaz's hip.

"Weren't you the one who said not to show him the time I was hallucinating?" Reid teased, slipping a hand under Langly's shirt to splay it across his belly.

"You know, with the way he was looking at me in Florida, I'm not sure you didn't." Langly gave Chaz a wry smile.

"No, that's really just you." A terribly awkward smile twisted Chaz's face. "Nice legs."

"Three?" Reid suggested, and Langly's smile turned wicked.

"Oh, that was good."

"I'm ready." Reid kissed Langly's shoulder.

Gently, Chaz thought, as he bared just a sliver of the mirror. Just enough to see, not enough to get lost in. But, the first touch of memory was still like a beanbag to the chest, and that was either just Reid or just something sexual, because he hadn't had it hit him like that since the early days, when he was just getting used to it, when he was still trying to control it. But, he had control, now. He had control and a beautiful view of Langly, and if he hadn't been achingly hard before, he definitely was, now. But, what he took away from it more than the physical sensations, more than the sound of Langly begging for more, was that bruised feeling in his chest, and he knew that belonged to Reid.

"You are so--" but it wasn't his place to be the one who said it first. "--good, together."

"And now, you get a piece of it, too." Langly tugged at Chaz's hip, and Chaz moved slowly but very willingly, letting Langly pull him as close in front as Reid was behind.

The kisses began again, and this time, Reid had some ghosts of sensation, the feel of Langly's lips against his own -- except those weren't his lips. He was feeling the way Langly kissed someone else, the click of teeth, the sense of something new, as Chaz experienced something Reid had done a hundred times.

Langly rocked his hips back, pressing himself against Reid. His hands clutched at Chaz, finding nearly no give in the bare body pressed against him. He twisted the arm pinned between them, flicking his thumb across Chaz's nipple, and behind him, Reid groaned quietly, pulling him closer. Oh, this was going to be amazing. The back of his hand traced down Chaz's chest, and he waited for an objection, tension, something to go wrong, but nothing did, and when his fingers collided with Chaz's raging boner, he tucked it between his own thighs, to sounds of pleasure from both sides of him. An idea began to take shape in his head, and he reached back for Reid, with the other hand and the same intent.

And that was when Chaz caught on. Or maybe Reid caught on. Or maybe it didn't matter, because they were both aware of it, and when Chaz held his hand out, across Langly, Reid put the bottle of lube in it. "Excellent thought, but..." He paused, realising he didn't have a hand at the right angle for this, and then poured lube into Reid's hand instead. "I don't want to walk into work bowlegged with the chafing, and neither do you."

"Wait, if there's two of you, does that mean we suddenly get common sense?" Langly joked, lifting his leg just enough for Reid to slather a substantial amount of lube across his thighs and the two dicks between them.

"God, I hope not."

Reid burst out laughing as he remembered Duke announcing that he was 'common sense', at the airfield. And then he remembered he hadn't been at the airfield, and deeply understood what Chaz had meant about this having the potential to go very wrong.

He took the bottle from Chaz, tipped a bit into Chaz's hand, and raised his eyebrows over Langly's shoulder.

"I like the way you think." Chaz reached into the tight space between himself and Langly and curled his fingers around Langly's warm flesh, thick fluid dribbling across his knuckles at a gentle squeeze. Surprise registered on his face for just as long as it took for Reid's memory to fill in the blank -- Langly dripped like a leaky tap, when he was turned on enough -- and yeah, framed like that, it was flattering.

As Langly shivered and writhed, he felt Reid's fingertips catch on his tailbone, and he recognised the question being asked, tipped his hips back as an answer, before realising that pulled him away from Chaz. "I'm... This is..." He closed his eyes to steady himself, running a hand up Chaz's side. "You'll be lucky if I even last half a minute, and that's not a sign you should stop."

"I would never insult you like that," Reid teased, fingers still until he could be sure Langly had finished that thought.

"Is he serious?" The words made it out of Chaz's mouth before the memories caught up, Reid's mild concern and amusement as Langly writhed under him, eyes wet and still vehemently demanding more, through a second and then third orgasm. He could feel the twinge that ran through him turn into a single pulse between Langly's thighs. "... How? I would die."

"Just lucky, I guess," Langly purred, pulling Chaz into another kiss as Reid's fingers slipped into him.

This, Reid thought, was what he'd wanted, what he'd wondered at the possibility of. He nipped at Langly's shoulder harder than usual, feeling the resistance against his teeth, and knowing that wasn't his urge, but welcoming it, all the same. His focus remained on the small, vital point where all three of them touched, between Langly's slick thighs, and having the same awareness, if less intensely, of Chaz's body as his own lessened the horror and the disgust, making it easier to appreciate the sensation without the concerns about what he was touching. And the sensation was incredible -- warm, tight, and slick. For all that Langly joked about not lasting, Reid wondered if he might not follow almost as quickly. He hyperextended his knuckles, fingers bending back in a very particular way, just as Chaz borrowed a flick of thumb he'd perfected, and between them, Langly choked out an incoherent sound and arched, legs tight, one hand suddenly clutching at the edge of a scar on Chaz's back.

And Reid could feel the sudden, cold shock of it, the stab of panic and revulsion, and the way it faded as Langly's hand shifted, intentionally splaying across the scar, tracing he edges, pulling Chaz closer. And then he realised they'd both stopped moving at the shock of it. He rolled his hips and put his mind back on the incredible feeling of rutting against another man, between his boyfriend's thighs. Framed like that, it should have been disgusting. He should've wanted to wash until his skin peeled. But, it just wasn't there, today. Curiosity, fascination, and desire, but he seemed to have misplaced most of his disgust.

Langly writhed, still and again, the motion tighter and more constrained as his muscles clamped down. He was so close, and he was absolutely sure Reid could tell and was just being a tease. Except that Reid and Chaz seemed to be sharing intentions just a little slower than the ping time between his machines and the BAU firewall, which meant they were both aware of it, and the relentless teasing was contagious. But, every touch brought him just a little closer, Reid's teeth at his shoulder, Chaz's tongue against his neck, fingers inside him, fingers wringing him. A sound of desperation wrenched out of him, as oddly quiet as he'd been, tonight, and then Reid's fingers curled inside him, and everything felt like falling.

Chaz felt the harder pulse and the sudden warm spurt against his hand, the clench around Reid's fingers, the rush of Reid's pride and desire. He followed Reid's lead, still stroking Langly's slowly softening cock and rutting between his thighs, as he and Reid pursued their own pleasure. And there was that talon in his chest again, sharp this time, as Reid wrung the life out of a thought and shoved it aside. And as sad as he found it to watch, Chaz knew he was the same way -- tone-deaf romance studded with fuckups. But, unlike Reid, he'd chosen the benefit of quick flings. And he knew that was probably what this would be.

Though he'd rarely really considered himself 'single-minded', Reid's focus was hard to shift, when he'd decided to pursue a point. And the point he'd decided to pursue was absolutely going to end with this blanket going in the wash before he slept on it another night. He felt Chaz turn to follow the thought he'd pushed aside in the chase, and batted the thought aside again, harder this time, burying it under the memory of the first orgasm he'd had with Langly inside him. That was enough to put things back where he wanted them and to get Chaz to let go of that flicker he hadn't even meant to share.

Langly was utterly convinced he was going to wake up alone with his dick in his hand. There was no time in his life he'd considered a fantasy anything like this in any way realistic or likely, and now there were two gorgeous federal agents sloppily kissing over his shoulder, rubbing each other off between his thighs, finger-fucking him, and wringing him out, all at the same time. It occurred to him to wish he'd filmed it, just for proof it had happened at all. Just so he could look at it later and know it was real. Whispered fragments brushed against his cheek. 'Show me', 'I want you', 'again' -- and that last was about him, he could feel it starting.

"Please." He shivered and bucked between them, wishing he wasn't in such an awkward position, that he could get his hands on both Chaz and Reid at the same time. But, he settled for dragging a hand down and pressing his fingers against Chaz's tailbone.

Reid swallowed the sentence that lay against the back of his lips. This wasn't the time. He wouldn't make that mistake again. He focused on his hand, on the feel of Langly's body around him and against him as he eased another finger in and listened to Langly struggling not to deafen Chaz, as he clamped down again. When Langly's thighs flexed, Reid felt Chaz tip over the edge, dragging him down as well. An asynchronous start led out into double-sensations timed like echoes, everything seemed to hit twice, to turn back on itself, hot and wet and infinite, and he felt Chaz ache with echoes of his own desires.

Slowly, the mirror folded, and Reid found himself alone inside himself again, at once relief and a loss. "Out," he panted, and eased his fingers out of Langly, to wrap that arm around him, instead.

"Holy shit," Chaz breathed, reaching for the now-cold cup of coffee with a still-dripping hand.

"You've really never done this before?" Reid asked, winding his leg around Langly's again.

Chaz shook his head and pushed himself up on his elbow to drink the coffee. "Definitely starting to see the appeal, but you see what I was saying about it being dangerous."


"No." Chaz looked at Reid across the top of the cup, watching him kiss and pet Langly, who was now very definitely crying. "That's not the-- ... Fr-- Langly, are you okay?"

Langly held up a thumb. "Great. Promise. Ten of ten, completely unrealistic fantasy made real, would do again."

"It's the second orgasm." Reid shrugged the shoulder that wasn't holding him up, hand pressed against the middle of Langly's chest.

"That's fair. I probably wouldn't be much better." Chaz tipped his head back, trying to shake the last dregs of sugar out of the cup and into his mouth. Instead, he dripped jizz on his cheek, and Langly snorted. Chaz shifted his grip on the cup and flicked his other fingers at Langly, sending a few small drops across his cheek and hair.

"Oh, come on!"

Reid finally laughed, even as he grabbed for Langly's discarded boxers with his foot. "It's yours and you kind of had that coming."

"There's a joke here, and I'm not going to make it." Chaz watched Reid try to clean not just Langly's face, but more of the mess they'd made. "So, this is usually the part where I put my pants on and go home."

Langly blinked in surprise. "If... you want, I guess."

"You don't have to," Reid said, lifting his eyes to Chaz's, "but I understand if you want to."

"I don't want to." Chaz looked down into the empty cup, thinking of how dangerous and irrational it was for him to be holding on to feelings that didn't belong to him. "But, I do want another cup of coffee and some more of that bread, or I'm going to be an absolute nightmare in the morning."

Reid made a decision. "Hand me that beer I left on the table, if you're getting up?"

Chapter Text

It wasn't quite dawn when Langly started making pancakes, and nearly the instant the smell hit the air, Chaz was in the tiny kitchen, critiquing his technique.

"Don't you have to work, today?" Langly asked, gesturing at Chaz's clothes from the night before, which he'd put back on. "Not exactly the Special Agent Nerd look you've got going, there."

"I've got clothes in the car. Never go anywhere without a change of clothes." Chaz grabbed a pancake straight out of the pan, folded it in half, and stuffed most of it in his mouth.

Langly looked like he might commit a murder with the spatula. "Go get dressed. You want to have opinions about my pancakes, you get to make breakfast next time."

Chaz swallowed the enormous mouthful as he backed out of the kitchen, tripping on the coffee table, the wry smile undisturbed by impact. "Next time, huh?"

"Hey, I said I'd do it twice!" Langly called after him. "But, the more shit you talk about my pancakes, the less likely that becomes!"

Reid stepped out of the bathroom damp and wrapped in a bathrobe, and immediately gave consideration to a larger apartment, as Chaz passed him, if this was what his life was going to be like. Still, he liked this place. He had no real reason to move, except the part where every time he slept on the floor his regrets about not having a bed expanded dramatically.

By the time the sunrise had begun to brighten the couch, Reid and Chaz were eating pancakes on it, and talking about growing up in Las Vegas. Langly was still trying to figure out how to produce enough pancakes for himself and Chaz with just a nine-inch pan. At least there were still leftovers from the night before.

"Jellybeans," Reid said, gesturing with a dainty bite of syrup-soaked pancake.

"Every fucking time." Chaz dipped half a buttered pancake in syrup and folded it straight into his mouth.

"That was you!" Reid realised, jabbing the bare fork at Chaz, the other hand over his mouth to keep the bite of pancake in his mouth.


"I was off by one, by one, and they told me someone else had won it. Some kid like me. I will never forget that. I couldn't figure out how I'd been wrong, first off, and more than that, I couldn't figure out who the hell had been more right than me."

"You have to keep in mind I was effectively cheating." Chaz shrugged and folded another pancake.

"If you were cheating, so was I," Reid reminded him.

"Okay, but... Card tricks?" Chaz asked, with his mouth full.

Langly leaned out of the kitchen. "Don't get him started."

"That was inevitable. What else do you do with punched casino decks?" Reid took another bite. "But, that led into illusion, more generally, and--"

"Swann." Chaz pointed a finger at Reid, nearly dripping syrup on the floor from the pancake he held in that hand. "Tell me you saw Swann, before he died."

Reid shook his head. "I wanted to, but do you know how expensive his shows were? And I was gone, before he died, I think. A lot of things happened right about then."

"Snuck in to a show, one time." Chaz grinned. "The guy was unreal. Looking back, I really wonder if it was all illusion. After some things I've seen..."

"On the one hand, doubting it could be disrespectful to the entire community -- doubting his skill and the breadths of what human ingenuity can accomplish. On the other, I've heard he had a few that no one's managed to reproduce, and if he was ... other, like you and Langly, who would be better to see it than you?" Reid shrugged. "I don't have enough information to pass judgement. Not about him and not about the capabilities of anomalous individuals."

Langly leaned in the kitchen doorway with the spatula in one hand and a pancake in the other, talking with his mouth full. "Speaking of which, I want to see anyone in their right mind justify you being the freakshow in this relationship, at this point, Agent Chicken-No-Chopsticks."

"Hey!" Chaz looked up, offended.

"Me, not you." Langly took another bite and leaned back to flip a pancake. "Little presumptuous, don't you think?"

"Sorry, I got stuck on 'freakshow' and didn't make it to 'relationship'. I say it about me, but I'm a little picky about other people doing it." Chaz paused, blinked a few times. "And you're one of us, so I don't even know what that was."

"Not enough coffee," Langly decided. "But, I mean, as much shit as I talk about Vegas, Nebraska's nothing but cornfields and cows. You want to talk things that'll fuck you up for life? Cows. You know why I don't have any expectations? Somewhere between cows and crop circles, I misplaced them. Badly. And now, I'm some kind of goddamn network sorcerer. Freak. Show."

"Yeah, but you can't tell people that," Chaz pointed out. "That's how you end up in Idlewood. You want a repeat of last night, you kind of have to not be institutionalised for the sake of public safety."

"I'm pretty sure he could make a pretty good case for 'freakshow' before the whole anomalous situation," Reid teased, wiping the last of the syrup off his plate with a final bite of pancake. 

"I would be so offended by that, if you weren't right," Langly muttered, snatching the freshly cooked pancake and gnawing at it angrily.

"And now we have to go, if we're going to make it in before traffic gets impenetrably bad." Reid got up to squeeze past Langly and put his plate in the dishwasher, but Langly grabbed him for a sloppy, pancake flavoured kiss.

Chaz watched them, trying to figure out whether he envied them, the ease with which they handled each other, the obvious affection. But, no. That obvious affection still obviously gave Reid enough issues to count as a subscription. That he couldn't envy.

"You didn't come home last night," Hafidha sing-songed, welcoming Chaz into her lair with the offer of the candy bowl. "Tell me everything."

"Absolutely not." Chaz folded himself into a seat and grabbed a fistful of caramels.

"Okay, short version." Hafidha reached out and hooked something out of the air with one finger, focusing briefly, and flicking it toward Falkner's office.

"That was fun. I might do it again." Chaz stretched his jaw to unstick a caramel from his teeth. "Frank's into it. Spencer's curious. I like them. They seem like completely unreasonable people, but our kind of completely unreasonable."

"Borderline vigilantes with good taste in music?" Hafidha grinned.

"Yeah, pretty much." Chaz nodded. "I'm not comfortable abandoning this case, speaking of ..."

"Well, good, because Penny and Fitz and I have been up all night!" A pause, as Hafidha unwrapped a truffle from another bowl. "Is that relationship fucked up? I feel like that relationship's really fucked up. They might be dating, except he didn't know he was married, and now she's helping him find his wife, who's been living with another guy for almost twenty years, and may have been abducted because of either or both of them. Shit like this could give Geraldo a lesson. Way better than 'I banged your mom, time for a folding chair duel'."

Chaz choked, taking a good four swallows to get the caramel back out of his throat. "I know better than to eat while you're talking, and yet most of our time together is spent eating and talking."

"It's because you have a death wish." Hafidha nodded solemnly, popping the truffle into her mouth. "Am I right, though? Tell me I'm right."

"You're asking the wrong person, remember? I just went home with Sol's fourth wife and my non-anomalous evil twin." Another caramel disappeared. "I'm pretty sure that rates at least an appearance on Geraldo."

Langly adjusted his headphones -- having actually packed them, this time -- called Byers, and tossed the phone on the coffee table, leaning back against the wall with his laptop on his knees. "Tell me what you've got."

"A lot less laid than you, I've heard," Byers said, reproachfully.

"And once we find Susanne, you'll stop having that problem," Langly retorted, paging through the logs from the night before. "One way or another."

"And if you gentlemen are done?" Frohike cut in. "I think we've got all the property records for real estate paid for from that account. It may be useless, but it's somewhere to start looking -- if they have Susanne, they have to be keeping her somewhere. Now, this assumes they're keeping her somewhere owned by the group, specifically, rather than owned by the Air Force in general or by any particular member of the group, so no guarantees, but dear Penelope seems to have turned up a total of three properties in the set that currently have electricity turned on."

"Implying they're in active use for something." Langly pulled up what Frohike was looking at, taking a closer look at the size of the buildings and the usage statistics. "One of these is a server farm. I'm pretty sure of that. Look at the ratios. It's either a server farm or it's something that uses power really similarly. The other two pull like offices -- eight to six is peak usage, doesn't look like anyone's running something bigger than a refrigerator and a copier. Most of the usage is probably the HVAC."

"Power usage." Frohike groaned. "That's what we weren't looking at in what Alcea sent us. Running those tanks would've popped immediately in a commercial district. Less easy in industrial, but..."

"Let's work under the assumption that's not a server farm, it's a lab," Byers suggested. "But, we still don't know what's in there, we still don't know where Susanne is, and we still don't have the names of the people responsible."

"If that's a lab, and they have Susanne, then the only people who can go after her are me and Chaz," Langly pointed out. "And maybe I'm not gonna piss myself in a fistfight, thanks Duke, but I am utterly the last person you want to put in front, unless you're looking to distract people with my devastating good looks, which I just don't think is going to cut it, here."

"I can make more of the antidote, but it's going to take time," Byers offered. "I don't know if we have time."

"I don't know if we can go in with only what we have. It's not enough, and we need something ... maybe a little longer lasting." Langly studied the images he could get of the building.

"The antidote works better and lasts longer if you inject it, but..."

"Packaging it's going to be easier, and you know it. Using it in the field, on the other hand..." Langly sighed.

"Do we have any friends who do pressure injectors?" Frohike asked. "Subsidiaries, maybe?"

"Are we even in medical, any more?" Byers sounded distracted as he dug through files. "I thought we were only funding the clinic."

"Do we need to be in medical?" Langly asked, the sound of typing suddenly paused. "Can we pay someone to handle this?"

"Can we let the fibbies pay for it?" Frohike asked, suddenly. "We do it, we get flagged. Your feds do it, and nobody bats an eye."

"It's technically an antidote for a chemical used in a psyop. Which means we can sell it on the 'war on terror' front, until someone realises it's a DoD-designed weapon, and our asses are all in a sling." Langly stretched his legs along the couch, changing the angle of the screen.

"Our asses aren't involved at all, if they ask for it because of what you guys found in Florida," Byers realised. "It's already in the wild, and Agent Villette has proof. Even if the DoD designed it, they no longer have complete control of it."

"Which is great and all, but if we go in waving E-H as a justification, someone's gonna ask what it's doing in the home of a sixty-odd year old woman. And then they're going to realise the creator would be a sixty-odd year old woman, if she were still alive." Langly tipped his head back, shoving his hands under his glasses, and groaned loudly. "Or we could take Alcea along and just... empty the building."

"No!" Byers sputtered, clearly aghast at the concept.

"Then we're probably looking at putting Susanne in danger so we can then get her out of danger." Frohike just sounded tired.

"Why can't Agent Villette do it?" Byers demanded.

"That's not going to empty the building in a pretty way." Langly thought of the files he'd slipped out from under Hafidha, by not going for anything she'd be watching. Instead, he'd gone after Agent-in-Charge Falkner's machine and looted personnel files from there. No one would look twice at her reaching for something. And he'd found out a few things that suggested the combination of Chaz and a shotgun approach would end in a lot more death than he was strictly comfortable with. Comfortingly enough, it looked like Chaz wouldn't be comfortable with it, either. "That is way more dead bodies than I want to see in a day."

"Byers, is this really worse than what you were doing at just a little older?" Frohike asked. "Come on, were you even twenty-five? Because Langly sure as hell wasn't. Saving the girl of your dreams and saving the world from that gas is why we're here."

"Twenty fucking one, thank you," Langly muttered. "Look, one or more people we like are going to end up in some fairly serious danger, no matter what we do, and the worst thing we can do is nothing, yes?"

"Yes," Frohike agreed.

"I know you're right," Byers sighed.

"Okay. I'm calling Chaz about getting us some help and some antidote. Byers, go write up something fancy and sciency so the lab can do what you want them to. Hell, sign your name to it and date it to the nineties, if you want. We can make it look like the Bureau's had it this whole time." Langly stopped. "And one more thing: how the hell do you know what I was doing, last night?"

"Hafs was hoping you'd take good care of her baby brother," Frohike replied, "and I had to hear all about it, when he didn't make it home from dinner. She wanted to check with us to make sure you were good enough for him."

"And this after she tried to pass him off on Reid, the day we met," Langly scoffed. "Oh, I'm the scary one, and he's the nice fed. I see how it is."

"You're the gamma, she says. I guess last time that didn't go so well."

Chapter Text

The appearance of a new face raised a lot of eyes. The appearance of a new face headed straight for Reid's desk got Alvez to stand up.

"Can we help you?"

Chaz stopped, entirely surprised at being addressed, and then realising he was at the other end of the hall, where no one knew him. "I'm just here to talk to Agent Reid."

"Agent Villette, what a surprise!" Reid managed what he hoped was a friendly smile, something to take the edge out of how Alvez was looking at Chaz. He pointed and made introductions. "Luke, this is Agent Villette, ACTF. He's from down the hall. We were working on that abduction, last week? It got a little complicated. I may end up back in the field for them."

"Prentiss is not going to like this." Alvez sat back down and pulled his chair in.

"Then Prentiss can get me my hours back, so I'm available more often."

Alvez held up his hands, not wanting to get involved. "Yeah, that's fair. Pleased to meet you, Villette. The genius doesn't get many visitors; we get a little concerned."

"I hope I do a better job presenting myself as an acceptable visitor, in the future." Chaz looked faintly amused as he took the last few steps that let him sit on the corner of Reid's desk. He lowered his voice. "Frank called. They think they found the building, and they need a team. Except the people in that building are military -- ours. We've got a couple of days to get our shit together, and then Frank and I are going in, but we could use some backup. I'd like to believe this is still going to be our case, since I just filed the report about Tallahassee and the gas we found -- and that's the angle we're going with. Missing daughter returns to find her mother missing, we go to check it out, just for the sake of completeness, and surprise, we find the remains of a Department of Defence project from thirty years ago under the house that, presumably -- thank you Allie -- the mother disappeared from."

"Holly's officially missing." Reid's face remained neutral.

"We had to do it, if we wanted enough of the antidote to equip a whole team. Fitz doesn't want Allie going with us, which means Frank and I are the only ones who wouldn't be affected, otherwise, and I'm here because you've seen the problem with that."

"What do you need from me?"

"People we can trust. I'm so uncomfortable with the idea we're going to hit a facility that large with a team this small, but Frank and Hafs are really clear that we're about to step on the toes of DoD R&D and the Air Force at the same time. And this is going to be horrible."

"I don't think I can--" Reid's phone rang, and he held up a finger and answered it.

"It's Allie. Have you talked to Chaz yet?"

"He's standing right here." Reid looked up and mouthed 'Allie', pointing at the phone.

"Good. I'm coming with you."

Reid's eyes widened. "Your father doesn't--"

"I didn't have a father until last week, and I'm an adult. He doesn't get to decide. You're putting together a team to rescue my mother. You need someone who can do what I can do. I'm coming with you."

"... Hang on just a minute?" Reid put the phone to his shoulder. "She's coming with us."

"Fitz thinks she's not. Do we really want to do this?" Chaz made another terrible frog face.

"It's not even a matter of 'we'. You and Frank would be going in with her. I can't get near the gas, if we don't have the antidote, same as everyone else. It's really not my decision."

"Kind of is. You know her as well as I do. Do you think she can handle it? She's eighteen."

"I joined the Bureau as a profiler at twenty-two," Reid pointed out, unwilling to admit what eighteen had been like, when he'd picked the institution for his mother. "I am really not the person to ask. That said, you saw what she did to her abductors and then to the hostage recovery team. If we take the hostage recovery team as a more likely outcome, I have no doubt she can handle herself, provided you don't run into anyone with the kinds of immunity you or Frank have. And the likelihood someone inside that facility has a similar antidote to what we're using can't be underestimated, if what you're thinking is correct."

"And that's when they become my problem." Chaz didn't look thrilled about it, but he was pretty sure he could get the kind of control he needed if there were only a few people. The higher the number, the more likely he was going to fuck up and someone was going to die. "I'm pretty sure we can subdue most of the building, if we have the opportunity to take it one room at a time. We run into trouble when the shooting starts."

Reid held up a finger and went back to the phone. "Allie? Quick question. How do you feel about pretending to be a prisoner?"

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Chaz hissed, and Reid just smiled innocently.

"Is that a yes?" Allie sounded surprised. "Let's do it. Where do I meet you?"

"We still have to sort some things out, here, and somebody's going to have to ... do something about your dad. I'll call you when I know what's going on, all right?"

"Thank you. You won't regret this." And then she was gone.

"This is a bad decision," Reid said, looking up at Chaz. "Except all the choices we have right now are bad decisions, and I don't see that any of the others are better. This is the nightmare. This is entirely political, and no matter what happens, someone's getting hurt that we'd rather not."

"Better us than them, right?" Chaz joked, trying and failing to look casual. "At least we're good at it."

"There are days in my life I sincerely wish that wasn't the case."

"You mean 'all of them'?"

"No! You can't take her with you!"

"Byers, it's not up to you," Langly argued, wishing he'd decided to have this conversation over the phone, instead of coming home to do it. "She called Reid. You told her she couldn't go, and she called Reid."

"Why would he let her do this? He's not even going in!" Byers threw a hand out, his eyes wide with outrage.

"Because he understands that we need her and that we're going to protect her as best we can." Langly reached out to take Byers by the shoulders. "And listen to me, Byers. It wasn't his decision, either. It was Chaz's. And mine. I said she could go with us."

Langly never saw the fist coming, but even if he had, he wouldn't have moved. His hands jerked back from Byers's shoulders and his eyes squeezed shut as his glasses skittered across the floor.

"That's my daughter you're talking about! That is my child! That is Susanne's child!" Byers shouted, inches from Langly's face.

"It's not up to you. You can't help us, this time. She can." Langly's eyes opened and he raised a hand to his stinging cheek. "Susanne put us all in danger, more than once, and right now, I'm about to walk into it one more time, but without you. Because you can't help. You can't. Even if we dosed you full of the antidote, you're a shitty shot and you're not in the shape you were twenty years ago, and? And? She has the ability to control people's minds, which you don't."

"Neither do you," Byers hissed.

"I'm there for the machines. She and Chaz are there for the people. If we play this right, no one will realise what happened until it's way too late."

"If you don't, you're getting my daughter killed. And my wife. My actual wife. I have a wife, and you're going to get her killed." Byers jabbed a finger into the middle of Langly's chest, and Langly slapped it away.

"I don't do corpses," Langly muttered.

"And that's why you can't do this!" Byers insisted. "The minute someone gets shot, you're going to stop being useful! You're not going to be able to protect her at all!"

"Then I guess you're going to have to trust in Chaz, a bulletproof vest, and a whole lot of backup." Langly looked grim. "What the hell do you expect, Byers? Do you have a better plan? Because I'd love to hear it!"

Byers squeezed his eyes shut, hands clenched at his sides, and said nothing.

"That's what I thought." Langly rubbed his face, tiredly, and sighed, wrapping his arms around Byers. "Come here, you formerly-federal fuckwit. We're coming back alive. We always come back alive. I mean, except that time we came back dead, and I could do without a repeat, but... even that. We're still alive."

"That's Susanne. And our daughter." Byers put his arms around Langly's waist, resting his forehead against Langly's shoulder. "I didn't even know we had a daughter. I've been over it a hundred times. I used a condom -- I'm not stupid. But, we have a daughter, anyway, and if that's not the best thing we could've given the world, I don't know what is, and you're telling me I just found her and now I might lose her, and I don't know what to do with that."

"Byers, I love you, but if you get snot in my hair..."

"I'm not going to lie to you. This case is a career-ender, almost no matter what we choose to do." Chaz raised his eyes and looked across the desk at Falkner. "But, what I'm asking you to do is to say we think this woman was abducted by terrorists, probably to blackmail her lover. There was already news footage of the daughter. and it absolutely is about blackmailing her husband. So far. But, that would give us the leeway to push through the antidote to what we believe is being manufactured in that building, in case we actually have to go in with a team."

"Which you're trying not to do, and I'm not sure I understand why." Falkner folded her hands and Chaz could feel her eyes drilling through him.

"Because I'd really rather this happen as silently as possible. It's an extremely delicate political situation, involving the State Department and the Department of Defence, and given the reports of what happened to this woman in the past, I'd like to just remove her, before anyone figures out what they're dealing with. Right now, we're the only ones who know, and we still don't know her name."

"Holly Byers, née Fitzgerald, according to the paperwork you've handed me."

"She was someone else, before that. She was the lead on the project that developed the gas we found in Tallahassee, which is why I'd like to avoid using the proper name for it, if at all possible. Someone is still looking for her, and they may not be the people who have her."

"All of whom work for other federal agencies," Falkner pointed out.

"Hence 'this is a career-ender'," Chaz agreed.

"Tell me how this plays out in your head."

"We bring in the daughter, claiming Helmsman told us to take her there and have her shown to Holly. The daughter, Alcea, is... like me, but a lot less dangerous. Between the two of us, we can fairly easily take control of the security personnel, while Frank takes control of the security system in the building. That means we have to deal with a lot less shit going in, and we can use the system meant to keep us out to defend us. It also means we can very quickly pinpoint where Holly is and what to expect. We go in -- possibly just me, depending on what we find -- get Holly, and let ourselves out, returning things to normal enough that it looks like a glitch that unfortunately let their prisoner disappear. If we're lucky, I can identify Helmsman from their memories. No one is ever able to bring this back on us, because we were never there. No one remembers us, and we're not on video."

"This isn't a small number of people, Chaz. I've looked at the building you're talking about. It would be like walking in here, and every one of them, if you're right about what's there, is potentially combat trained."

Chaz tipped his head to the side, eyebrows rising. "Not a beta any more, mom. Three gammas and a building full of alphas who aren't expecting we even exist."

"Can you sustain it?"

And that, Chaz had to admit, was a sensible question, given the handful of times he'd burned too hard, too long, and almost didn't make it back. "I like to think I've learned from my mistakes. Drinking corn syrup is disgusting, and I'm going to have the headache from hell, but yes. I can sustain it. Yes, even with that many people. If the shit hits the fan, I don't know how we're going to explain the number of spontaneous suicides, but I can get us out of there."

Falkner nodded, knowing exactly what he was afraid of. "And are you willing to clean up this mess?"

"If it's possible, I'll do it. If it's not, I'll do as much as I can to protect the unit, and then you'll never see me again." Chaz sat forward, crossing his wrists on the edge of the desk. "Disavow all knowledge of what we're about to do. I'll make that sacrifice. Blame me. I went behind your back, signed your name to things. If this goes wrong, it's my fault. I did it; I'll eat it. Promise me, Esther. Don't back me."

"It's too late for that. I've already called the lab. We'll have pressure injectors for sixteen doses in..." Falkner looked up at the clock. "A little more than a day. I played the terrorist card, right off the top. The story we're sticking to is that we had no idea these people worked for the Air Force. We just knew that a woman had been abducted and her house -- now empty for months -- had been set up to release psychoactive chemicals on anyone who attempted to access the now-empty vault beneath it. As far as we knew, terrorists had held the woman to intimidate her -- we thought it was about her former husband -- and then used her house to develop the rest of their scheme, before abandoning it and drawing back to a new location. By following the money, we tracked her there and freed her from her captors, returning her to her loving family."

"Someone write a press release."

"There's a reason I have this job." Falkner offered a grim smile. "Take tomorrow mostly off. You'll need to go pick up the antidote around six, but take the day to eat and rest. I want you in the best possible shape, before you do this. I wish I could go with you."

"If it makes you feel any better, Duke's on the backup team."

"Is there anyone under fifty on the backup team?"

Chaz stared off into space, uncertainly. "Agent Reid."

"Take Hafidha." Falkner's brow pinched, and she sighed. "You'd better bring me a cake, when this is over."

And Chaz knew what she meant was 'don't die'.

Chapter Text

He'd built a layer cake that could conquer Manhattan, and then took a photo, just in case. It had been a lot of years since Hafidha had done anything memorably awful, but it was just better not to pretend he was sure, when it came to Hafs. Living with her was like having a cat, he thought. Cats were sweet and wonderful until they ate the stuffing out of the sofa and shit on your pillow. Hafs was fantastic, until she smashed a cake or threw his good lasagne pan off the balcony. It had been a very long time, and she'd gotten a lot better, but he found it was just better to be prepared for anything.

As it was, the inevitable nightmares had woken him in the middle of the night and he'd started cooking before the sun was up -- everything he could think to make with what they had, most of it into containers and back into the fridge. And she'd known, when he'd stopped long enough to have breakfast with her. She'd seen it on his face and called him an idiot. Of course he was coming back, what was he worried about? She'd be right behind him, Frank's left hand. They weren't really going in alone.

"There's food," he told her. "Just in case. You can just microwave something. I know I'm coming back, it just might... take a bit, depending on how things turn out. If everything catches fire, I'll be back. I'll just be late. I may have to clean up after it. Besides, even if everything goes according to plan, I'm going to be ravenous when I get back. So, you know... I made the moussaka you like. It's in the freezer. Don't wait up."

"You make moussaka when you're going to do something stupid."

"Okay, fine, I'm bribing you. Have a girls' night with Penny from Down the Hall." Chaz tried his most pathetic face. "I will make you an entire tray of raspberry cream truffles."

"And I get all of them?" Hafidha raised her eyebrows at him.

"Yes, because I'm using the other pan for orange cream, for me."

"You're bringing Down the Hall home with you, aren't you?"

"I can promise you that you do not want to overhear any of what I'd like to have happen tonight, but 'what I'd like' is all I've got, right now. I haven't done anything about it."

"Well, hurry up! They're not going to wait all day for you."

Langly answered the phone quietly and borderline incoherently, still fumbling for his glasses with the other hand, Byers curled up against his chest, stretched between his legs, asleep. Finally he managed a complete sentence. "We on for tomorrow?"

"And then some," Reid replied, sounding bemused. "Chaz wants to know if we'll join him for dinner. His place, which is apparently a pretty posh address. I couldn't afford it, which makes me very curious."

"Condo. He bought it ... about ten years ago, I think. Taxes say it's casino wins." Langly absently stroked Byers's hair.

"You pulled his files. When?"

"Pretty much immediately," Langly admitted. "He knew who I was. Like, knew. I fought back, same as I did with you. I could turn his life inside out, not that I would."

"Hafidha know?"

"I really hope not. Let's go with 'probably not', or I'd be in a world of suffering on par with a Bosch."

"So, dinner? I'm holding a photo of a cake that makes me feel short."

"Holy shit. Yeah, I'm in. What time?"

"Seven. Pick you up at the drop in three hours?"

"Yeah, that'll give me time to move Byers. Long night."

"Is he going to be all right?" Reid asked, remembering that Langly had meant to tell Byers about Alcea.

"He's fine. If we don't fuck up, he'll stay fine." Langly sighed and Byers made a tiny disgruntled noise at the heaving of his chest. "I gotta go. I'll see you in a few hours."

"I'll be there," Reid promised.

Langly put the phone down and put his arms back around Byers, whose hip was digging into his crotch. 'Not stupid', Byers had said, last night, and under any other circumstances, Langly would've argued it, argued that being in devotedly in love with a woman you'd met twice in thirty years was really sort of the ultimate idiocy. But, it wasn't going to help. He'd made that argument before. Pretty regularly, even.

Three hours. He'd let Byers sleep a little longer. Even if Byers was a dumbass, even if Byers was crushing his balls, he was a dumbass who deserved a few more minutes of peace.

The music was loud, and he was singing along to 'Generals', so Chaz almost didn't hear the door. And that was the worst timing anyway, because he'd almost finished the butterscotch syrup, and there was a decision to be made -- answer the door was a must, but burn it or slightly undercook it? Fuck it, he grabbed the handle of the pan and bolted the few feet to the front door, letting go of the whisk just long enough to whip the door open.

Langly stood there with two blue bottles in one hand, and Reid stood slightly behind him with a suit bag over one shoulder.

"Good taste in music, but maybe a little too apt?" Langly teased.

Chaz snorted and stepped back, pulling the door a little further open with his foot, as he continued to whisk the slowly settling syrup. "Shit. I just threw on the best of, and stopped paying attention."

Reid closed the door behind them. "I think I got the panic bags to work in the suits, but I'm going to need to check them. They sit almost right on me, but we're not all quite the same size."

"You can still buy suits that fit right off the rack," Chaz accused, holding the dripping whisk over the pan as he offered the syrup-covered end to Langly.

"Caramel?" Langly asked, swiping his finger through the thick sludge, as Reid blinked in surprise at Chaz's assumption.

"Butterscotch." Chaz noticed Reid still hadn't moved.

"No, I can't!" Reid sounded as stunned as he looked.

"Don't look at me. I've never tried." Langly held one hand up defensively as he licked butterscotch off the other. "The last time I had to wear a suit, we were poor, and I got it from a thrift shop. Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks made it fit."

"Don't be rude," Reid sighed at Langly, and Chaz put the pan down and took the suit bag from him, crossing the living room to hang it on the stair rail, turning down the music as he passed.

"Why the hell not? It's his crazy, molar-pulling girlfriend that he's met twice in thirty years -- and both times she almost got us killed -- that I'm going to walk into the gates of hell to bring back, tomorrow. I think I'm pretty entitled to be a little rude at this point!"

"He's got a point," Chaz admitted, returning to the kitchen to pull things out of the upper oven, where he'd been putting things he didn't want to have to reheat.

A few obvious points finally collided in Langly's head. "Did you fucking cook? Goddammit, you fucking cooked." He turned on Reid. "Why the hell didn't you tell me he was cooking? I'd have brought something more than what I'm now figuring out was the wrong wine."

"Ice wine's a dessert wine anyway, not that I'm not going to open it now anyway," Chaz pointed out. "I can't believe you brought Blue Nun, which, shit, I don't think I've had since college. There was this girl who used to throw cribbage parties, and we'd all get shitfaced and argue over cards. She liked it, and then we all liked it."

Reid stared intently into space for a bit. "I think this is the first time I've ever felt like I really missed out on some essential part of the college experience."

"To be fair, I think I was older." Chaz turned off the lower oven and pulled out a pan of some sort of greasy, cinnamon-scented cakes, moving them to a cooling rack. They'd get covered in the syrup, later. "Which puts me even more years behind you."

"Sometimes, I'm not sure that's a bad thing," Reid admitted, eyes drifting back to the gigantic cake on the even more gigantic table in the next room. "How long did that take?"

"Oh, I took--" Chaz looked up and followed Reid's eyes. "Oh, the cake? Maybe nine hours? I was doing other things at the same time. It's not a lot of thinking, it's just a lot of waiting, really. The bottom layers don't fit in a single pan, so... Had to compromise on the frosting, a little, too, because that wasn't going to fit in the fridge and I didn't want it melting all over the table." The smile that followed couldn't decide if it was a grimace. "It's probably edible. Anyway, lasagne. Bruschetta is behind me; mozzarella salad, caponata, olives, and pickled mushrooms are on the table; I'm standing directly in the way if you want fried zucchini; and there's walnut dumplings... somewhere. I put that bowl down and ... there! Grab that and bring it out? I wanted to do chestnut, but it's too early in the season."

"I am in heaven," Langly declared, picking up the bowl of dumplings and the plate of bruschetta, and heading off toward the table with the cake.

"I'll get the lasagne, if you get the zucchini and the salad from the fridge? Third shelf." Chaz picked up the hot pan with one pot holder and a dish towel.

"You didn't sleep, did you?" Reid asked, retrieving what looked like a tossed salad.

Chaz spun gracefully, still in motion. "If you eat enough, sleep becomes optional," he said as he backed out of the kitchen and turned around. "But, I was hoping the two of you would make sure I slept, before tomorrow."

"By boring you to sleep with endless hours of talking through the transactions related to that address and the fact that we still don't have an interior for the building?" Langly teased, spooning caponata onto a slice of bruschetta as he stood next to the table. There were chairs, but sitting down before Chaz put his ass in one seemed like a poor choice.

"We probably do have to talk about that," Chaz admitted, "but I was hoping for something a little more enjoyable."

As Reid stepped into the dining room, his eyes lit on the wall of windows that stretched all the way to the far wall of the living room. Recognition flashed in his eyes, and then the expression slid off his face, entirely. No one needed to know he'd been reminded of the dream about the wall of glass. He didn't want to put the idea into their heads, if Langly hadn't already thought of it. Maybe one day, but now was not the time. There were things that he needed to deal with, before doing something like that. Besides, his own living room had the perfect windows for that, if he could be bothered to open the curtains... and that was something he hadn't realised until that moment. He'd been dreaming of his own apartment, and that put a few more things into perspective.

Langly's voice derailed that train of thought. "Ground control to Major Tom?"

"Hm?" Reid realised he was the last one standing, the last one who hadn't yet helped himself to the food that ran half the length of the table. "Sorry, I was just... admiring the layout. A lot of light, in here."

"Worth what I paid for it," Chaz said, depositing a slab of lasagne on his own plate. "Even the long costs."

"When this is over, we should go get thrown out of another casino," Reid joked, putting the pieces together. 

"You're assuming they'll let me back in, yet."

"I'm assuming they'll let me back in, are you kidding? Lifetime ban."

"I have never been thrown out of a casino." Langly blinked a few times. "And I haven't been in many of them, but you'd think after that stunt with the digital poker game..."

"I've always been pretty good at poker." Reid went for the dumplings, first, entirely out of curiosity.

"I've always been good at machines." Langly looked anything but innocent.

"Roulette," Chaz volunteered, aware of the other two suddenly staring like he'd started speaking Yiddish. "It's just physics."

Reid shook his head. "I'm not fast enough. Profiling and card counting, yes. Dynamic systems at that speed? It's a little much."

"I cheat," Chaz pointed out, around a mouthful of cheese and tomato. "A few tropical drinks -- high sugar, low alcohol -- and I can go all night. Voice of experience. Can, not should."

"New game: all three of us go in separately, and we see how long it takes each of us to get kicked out. Count the win on a combination of money and duration," Langly suggested.

"Dollars per hour." Chaz rubbed his cheek. "You're either going to be way ahead of us or way behind us, I think."

"Not ahead. Not if I don't want to end up in prison." Langly popped a mushroom into his mouth. "Uncanny, but not inexplicable. Gotta be something where the answer is 'and don't come back', not 'we're holding you for the computer terrorism task force'."

Reid cut in. "I feel like I should object to this on principle. I think we're past the era where people get their knees broken, but this is the kind of behaviour that would've gotten us there. Besides which, this at least verges on being completely illegal and two of us are federal agents."

"He's illegal," Chaz pointed at Langly. "We're just dicks."

"Speaking of dicks--" Langly started, but Chaz cut him off.

"After dinner." Chaz tried to hide a smile behind a forkful of lasagne. "After dinner you can talk about my dick all you like."

Somehow, Reid managed not to spit wine.

Chapter Text

"God, you're big," Langly panted, eyes watering and shoulders shaking, one hand on the table and the other teasing Reid's nipple, as he tried to recover his wits from the second time he'd come in fifteen minutes. He'd spent himself inside Reid in seconds, and then after a few fumbling minutes solving that problem, he'd come again, as Chaz pushed into him.

Chaz stopped moving, looking over Langly's shoulder at Reid sprawled across the table before them. "No, I'm not. Same volume, different distribution. You need me to stop?"

The curve went out of Langly's spine and his head tipped up, before he looked over his shoulder. "Ah, no? You might have to hold me up after this one, though."

Reid let go of the edge of the table, his other hand still clutching one thigh to his shoulder, and stretched his fingers until Langly leaned back down into his reach, covering him just a bit. And that was foolish, and he knew it even as he did it, even as Chaz registered his discomfort, the sudden meeting of eyes over Langly's shoulder. The room was large, open, and Reid felt somehow even more naked than he was, displayed on the table. He saw the thought cross Chaz's mind to offer him the shirt tossed across the chair that had been pulled out of the way, and for a moment, he considered it -- something to take the chill out of his bones that had nothing to do with the temperature.

And then he shoved the thought aside, hard, even as it dug its claws into his mind. The flash of entirely rational panic hit, and then--

"Reid? Looking a little spacey." Langly sounded concerned.

Reid borrowed a smile from Chaz, who still looked a little disturbed. "Just appreciating you. Even the parts I can't see."

And it hadn't been true, Chaz knew, but it was becoming true as Reid shifted his focus to the motion of Langly's hips, to the way Langly felt inside him, hot and hard and so very wet. And there was the flash of thanks to Chaz for that little silicone ring that he wasn't sure where he picked up, but knew exactly when to offer. The memory of watching Chaz help, because Langly's hands were shaking too much in the aftermath, and then the push back in, when Reid thought he might climb out of his own skin at the ache. But, it felt so good to have Langly inside him that Chaz had to steady himself at the echoes.

They were pretty vanilla, Chaz had noticed, but he wasn't actually that exciting, himself. What made this memorable, beyond just the incredible control Langly had of his muscles, was being able to have it both ways at once, the incredible intimacy of being Reid, of having entire conversations with full context at the speed of thought, of basically fucking himself by proxy, his every thrust driving Langly into Reid, and every sensation just as clear as if it were his own. He could feel himself reflexively clench against the dribble of lube and jizz that ran down Reid's ass, when Langly pulled back, between them.

'That wants bleach' was probably Reid's thought.

'Hafs is going to kill me' was more likely his own.

Langly had been reduced to incoherent pleading, between them, his arms just barely holding him up over Reid's chest. All the times he'd sworn he'd never beg had gone right out the window with Reid. There was no reason not to. Nearly everything he wanted, Reid would give him. He'd learned that all he had to do was ask, even when asking consisted of desperately panting filthy desires while he got the breath reamed out of him. And for all that Chaz was different, fucked different, he could trust that whatever the two of them had going on, he'd still get what he wanted, and without a price, without it becoming a trophy or a weapon. Not that there was anywhere to use it as a weapon, any more.

He couldn't remember which orgasm this was as it broke over him like a wave, left him drooling and sobbing onto Reid's chest, ass high for Chaz to keep pounding, Reid's hands stroking and clutching at his skin. He knew the way Reid's fingers bent back when he was close, and he'd felt Chaz force them both to relax a few times, already, and he wondered how much more any of them could take.

Reid arched, hands gripping Langly's shoulders, every breath some ragged sound. This time, he reached out and demanded, amplified, dragged Chaz down with him as he finally let go. He could feel Langly inside him, still hard as he clamped down, and he was inside Langly as well -- no, that was -- who actually cared? He was inside Langly, Langly was deep inside him, none of it made sense and that was perfect. It didn't need to make sense, it just needed to feel that good.

Chaz couldn't tell which of them was which -- clenched muscles, the pulse of release, the splash across someone's chest. Was that his hand on Reid's ankle or his ankle in Reid's hand? Did it matter? Langly was at once so hard in him and so tight around him, just perfect mindblowing bliss. And then the kiss of fingers on his cock -- his? Couldn't be his. The shift in his head, the sudden return of the tension in his thighs, said that was Reid going for two, and Chaz leaned in to put one hand on the table, Reid's leg bent out around his arm, Langly getting heavier between them, where Chaz still supported him with the other arm. But, those sounds were incredible, even as he felt them in his chest and heard them in Reid's voice. The visions of raw, gut-wrenching pleasure that flashed across their mind were just too much.

"Oh, fuck, Spencer, yes!"

And that was when Chaz lost his grip on the mirror, the guttural sound from Langly the first sign something had gone wrong. The second was the feel of wallpaper against his face and the smell of hotel carpet and terrible late-90s aftershave. He tried to pretend it wasn't happening as he pulled the mirror back, folded it away. Tried to pretend he'd seen nothing. And really, he had seen nothing. And he hoped Langly wouldn't figure out what had reminded him of that moment, whatever it was.

Reid made a faintly disconsolate sound as Chaz slipped back out of his head, half the experience, half the moment suddenly out of reach. But, as his own senses reasserted themselves as the only ones he had, he became aware of himself as something other than an echo of pleasure. He lay on the edge of Chaz's dining room table, with his thigh in one hand and his penis in the other, covered in sweat, tears, drool, and ejaculate, and he suddenly, desperately wanted a hot shower. Except that would involve getting up, and he was all too sure his legs wouldn't hold him.

"You remember that time I said I wanted to look back with pity?" Langly asked, resting his forehead in the middle of Reid's chest, in one wet spot or another. "Pity achieved. There is no memory that will ever hold a candle to this."

The human mind was a wonderful thing, Chaz decided, not for the first time. The kind of wonderful thing that would always find its own sense in things. "Do I want to know?"

"Less than three minutes. Not really worth remembering."

"My back hurts," Reid said, as though it had just occurred to him.

"And I need another slice of cake." Chaz eased himself back, taking Langly with him, so Reid would at least have room to put his legs down.

"Should probably wipe the table, first. I think we..." Reid winced at the cold, wet spot his ass cheek settled into as he lowered his leg. "Yeah."

Langly untangled himself from Chaz, stealing a kiss before he sank to the floor, exhausted, legs complaining like they did on competition nights, as he tried to get his numb fingers to stretch the ring back off his dick. "I was going to take a chair, but the seats are cloth."

Chaz looked around and started to laugh. It wasn't bad; not really. There were a few handprints in lube. Langly had dripped on Reid, the table, and the floor. Reid had managed to hit himself and the table. For a moment, Chaz regretted not having worn more of the evening, not being more of a mess. Hafs was still going to kill him, he thought, sliding the condom off and tying it. He had a very nice bed in a room with a door that closed and a bathroom right next to it. But, no. Oh, no, that would've been too difficult -- they'd decided the bed was too short. So, he'd had a wet, sloppy fuck next to the cake, on the dining room table. Maybe not one of his better decisions, but absolutely not one he could regret, in the least.

"I'm going to go wash my hands, and then I'm going to take an entire layer of that cake upstairs with me. You coming?"

"Thanks, but I already did," Langly scoffed, from the floor.

Reid groaned, clean hand covering his face, other hand covering his crotch, thighs pressed tightly together. "Stairs," he complained, trying to focus on the least offensive of all the things wrong with the moment.

"Really, you've got two options: stairs or Hafidha comes home and finds you naked on the table," Chaz pointed out, ducking into the kitchen. Trash, hands, Lysol wipes.

Reid groaned louder, the horror really starting to settle into his bones at what he'd just done.

"Give me ten minutes, and I'll carry you up the stairs," Langly promised, raising a hand to squeeze Reid's ankle, reassuringly.

By the time the front door opened, hours later, Langly was passed out cold, curled up around Reid's side, in Chaz's huge bed. A bed, he'd thought as he drifted off, that was about the size of his own. Two sensible people in this relationship, if that was even what this was. He wasn't sure this thing with Chaz would last longer than the case, and that was fine, too. It was something to do with the adrenaline.

When Chaz heard Hafidha come in, downstairs, he changed position ever so slightly, in case he had to get up from where he lay between Reid's legs, trying to convince his evil twin that blowjobs were, in fact, a fantastic idea. Their nightmares had woken each other up -- fear about the day to come -- and they'd fallen into each other's arms, whispering not to wake Langly, who would've been up in another minute anyway, when one of them got loud enough. A kiss, a touch, clinging to each other just to have something else to hold on to, besides the horrors they'd surfaced from. Nerves raw with terror were quick to overreact, and he'd taken advantage of that, to push the limits, Reid's and his own, until they'd ended up here, like this, with him purring warmly around the hard cock in his mouth, grinding against Reid's shin, as Reid tugged at his hair, almost silent in his ecstasy, unlike he'd been downstairs. Chaz moaned, quietly, to hide the hitch in his breathing as he heard Hafs start up the stairs. Paper sound, fingernail on the door -- a sticky note. And then he heard her door close, down the hall.

Reid tugged sharply on Chaz's hair, once he heard the door close. He'd been listening, too, trying to stay politely quiet, while Chaz did things he'd never gotten past disgust to imagine. That was not, he was sure, a part of the body that belonged in anyone's mouth, but Chaz was making an extremely enthusiastic case for it. This was something they hadn't been sharing, both because they'd begun at nightmares and because he hadn't wanted to know that taste, hadn't wanted that to be his mouth. Even if that would mean his mouth on his own body, it really wasn't any less disgusting. But, Chaz was making an amazing case for the act. And just maybe it could be worth trying with someone else's mouth, a mouth that would stop being his.

Chaz looked up to Reid tapping on his forehead, eyebrows raised. An offer. Maybe a request. He knew he should ask, but he also knew Reid wouldn't be proposing it if he wasn't sure. He knew he shouldn't. Not so close to the raid. But, there was still half a cake downstairs and a half gallon of corn syrup spiked with whey protein loaded in the panic bags. He braced himself for the first memory and held out a sliver of the mirror. Pinned against a wall, rank sweat, terror, pain: hot and wet-- and then the golden flare of Reid's pleasure blotting everything out. 

Oh, he realised, this was going to be incredible.

The change was immediate. What Reid had thought was the single most erotic experience of revulsion he'd ever know paled in comparison to the way Chaz touched him, now. He could feel himself, hot and hard, against his own tongue, senses flooded with the smell and taste of his own lust. He wanted to vomit, and at the same time, he never wanted it to stop. Langly wasn't between them, any more. There was no buffer between desire and implementation, no surprises, except how much Chaz was clearly actually enjoying every bit of it. And Reid let that enjoyment wash over him, tried to drown his objections in it, as Chaz writhed and rutted against him, every flick of tongue spurring another sound from his own mouth.

Langly woke to the unmistakeable sound of Reid having a mind-blowing orgasm, the feel of the body he'd been wrapped around arching. With a smug smile, he tossed a leg across Chaz's back and tried to get back to sleep. If they'd done what he thought they had, he was going to have a thousand questions for Reid.

Still shivering, Reid brushed Langly's hair back with one hand, pressing a kiss to his forehead. His other hand was still tangled in Chaz's hair, as Chaz panted against his balls, chasing that little bit more, another for both of them. And then that little sound that could've been agony or pleasure, the second burst of raw, unfiltered sensation through both their bodies, before Chaz slipped out of his mind, leaving him questioning everything.

Chaz kissed Langly's thigh and settled his head against Reid's hip. "I think I'm just going to stay right here," he decided, as Reid gently stroked his hair.

Chapter Text

"The cake almost makes up for what I had to hear, this morning," Hafidha said, as Chaz folded himself into the van, for the last run through before they split into two teams.

Reid pretended she wasn't talking about him, as he leaned across Byers and tapped on the video feed of the front of the building, but Frohike picked it right up.

"Symphony in screaming fed? Now in stereo, I guess, since there's two of them."

Chaz bit his lips, as he caught the look on Reid's face. "Well, if the cake almost makes up for it, does the moussaka make up the difference?"

"Gimmie another truffle, and I'll think about it." Hafidha held out a hand and made grabbing motions.

"But, these are the orange ones! They're for me and Frank!" Chaz tried his most entirely pathetic and pitiable look.

Langly elbowed Byers. "You're good, but you could take a lesson in sad puppy faces."

"I do not look like a--" Byers turned and caught the look over Langly's shoulder. "Wow, that's... I don't even know what's going on and I feel guilty about it."

"As you should." Duke grinned back at them from the front seat, where he sat next to Frohike, the two of them dressed as maintenance men. "He's good at that. You'll get a resistance, eventually."

Chaz finally huffed and gave Hafs a truffle, before handing the bag to Alcea.

"You should feel bad. I turn my back for two days, and you and Uncle Frank--"

"That wasn't your Uncle Frank," Hafidha promised.

"Anyway," Reid cleared his throat and changed the subject, "Fitz and I have determined there's a security patrol that passes the front door every fifteen minutes, which means you have about fifteen minutes to get in and neutralise the desk and then the security office."

"That's where Frank and I come in." Hafidha handed Langly a wireless dongle. "Plug it into anything connected to the security system. Don't worry about signal; I'm carrying. Plug it in, hit the button, and it should link. Network name should be 'rabbithole'."

Langly blinked, opening his mouth and then closing it again, without asking the question. He'd known a few Rabbits, once upon a time, but the chances...

Hafidha smiled, dangerous and with far too many teeth, as she read the look on his face. "I'm the White Rabbit."

Byers missed his mouth and poured half a cup of hot coffee straight into his lap. "Excuse me?"

"Dammit, Hafs, now I'm going to have that stuck in my head all day," Chaz groaned, tapping a rhythm on the edge of Hafidha's monitor, with one finger.

Langly started to laugh. "I just wish we could've borrowed Vanity. We'd have become a legend."

"Four gammas on a single federal operation," Chaz pointed out. "We're already legend."

"Overkill," Byers insisted, trying to wring the coffee out of his trousers, while Reid wiped the puddle on the stool onto the floor.

"I'm not sure we're enough," Chaz muttered under his breath, looking up at where Alcea stood in the corner, short enough to do exactly that. "You know what you're doing?"

"Screaming a whole lot. If we get an intercom, hit that, too." Alcea nodded and patted her pockets. "I've got enough of the nasty orange gunk to stay out of the hospital, and if I run out, I ask you, not Frank."

Chaz nodded. "If the shit hits the fan, I will get us out. Both of you, if anything goes wrong, grab me." He hoped he could do what he thought he could, but it was too late to test it now.

Byers looked pleadingly at his daughter. "You don't have to do this."

"Yeah, I do, Dad." Alcea leaned over Reid to hug Byers, and then stole his coffee. "It's my turn to go rescue mom."

"What am I driving?" Chaz leaned to see around Hafidha.

"I don't see why I don't get to drive," Langly complained.

"You see this? He hasn't even seen you drive and he already has concerns. Smart guy." Duke laughed as Byers produced the keys and tossed them to Chaz.

"Do you want to see why I get to drive?" Chaz looked Langly right in the eye. "Give me a window, and I'll show you."

"You know, I'm ... totally good with you driving. You drive. I get the radio. She gets tied up in the back seat."

"I'm tied up in the back seat. I get to pick at least some of the music," Alcea protested. She'd tested the bonds a hundred times, but she slipped them onto her wrists again, making sure they'd fall open when she wanted them to, and no sooner. "Emilie Autumn?"

Reid's face lit up. "Emilie Autumn's fantastic!"

"You can lie to the papers, you can hide from the press," Chaz sang, grinning at Alcea. He knew that was exactly the kind of wind up he'd need for something like this, for the kind of absolute devastation he was about to have to wreak.

"Yes!" Alcea shot a hand out and high-fived Chaz. "Come on, let's go get mom."

Prentiss wondered how it was possible for one agent to generate so much paperwork, and then remembered that had once been her problem. Pity Reid seemed to have inherited it. Still, she needed a damned good reason to go against recommendations and pull him back to full time, like he kept insisting he wanted and could handle. Well, she couldn't quite get him there in one step, but she could at least get him back into the office.

He needed things to go back to normal, she thought, to how they'd been before Mexico. And the least she could do was help him get back to that. She signed the last form and closed the folder, hoping she was doing the right thing.

As she stared at the folder, the phone rang, and she picked it up. "Prentiss."

"Ambassador?" The unfamiliar voice on the other end sounded surprised.

"No, but we are related. Can I help you?"

"Oh, you must be her daughter! I'm so sorry. You sound just like her on the phone." A small chuckle. "This is Paul Asher. I've got several messages to call your office about my daughter?"

"Mr Asher! Thank you so much for calling back. I trust you're back in town?"

"Just got in an hour ago. Haven't even gotten home, yet, but this seemed urgent."

"Let me reassure you, Alcea is alive and well, as of the last time I spoke with her, this morning. She's with one of my agents, right now." Prentiss paused, trying to decide what to say, over the phone. "In your absence, I'm afraid she was abducted. We've apprehended the men who took her, and I hate to be the one to break this news--"

"My wife?" Asher asked, choking on the words.

"Until a few days ago, we believed your ... are you married, Mr Asher? Odd, that didn't come up." Prentiss rearranged the pages in the folder in front of her, to create the sound of paper moving.

"We may as well be. She doesn't want the public record, she's... unusual about some things. But, we've been together this long. Holly is very much my wife, Agent Prentiss, in all but paper." Asher paused. "Are you telling me something's happened to her?"

"No, only that when Alcea returned, she asked that we contact her mother in Florida, but we've been unable to reach her with the information we have. I was hoping you'd have some idea where we could find her. Alcea may have remembered incorrectly, in the aftermath of the trauma. It's common with abductions, but again, she's just fine, now." Prentiss paused, putting her thoughts in order. "But, what I'd meant to say is that the men who abducted her appear to also have murdered Reynaldo Waterford. I'm terribly sorry to bring you that news."

"Rey?" Asher sounded stunned. "Why?"

"We're not sure, yet. The abductors have been anything but forthcoming, and we have no reason to believe that will change. Still, we need to look into the possibility that this may be related to your work, in some way."

"I'll get off at the next exit and be in your office as soon as I can get there. Which building are you in?"

"You've just gotten back into town, Mr Asher, and you haven't been home yet. What if we make this a business lunch? I'd hate to have you stuck here for hours with nothing to eat, after everything you've been through, today. How about you pick somewhere, and I'll meet you?" Prentiss offered, hoping to get him somewhere they could have a relatively private conversation -- or as private as any conversation was, when Garcia was logging it.

"That's very thoughtful of you, Agent Prentiss. You're right, I wasn't looking forward to that, but we should definitely discuss the situation as soon as possible." The slow caution in Asher's tone suggested he'd picked up that she didn't want him in the building. "I know a quiet sandwich place..."

"You're having way too much fun, up there." Reid's voice cut through the singing in the lead car.

"Spencer thinks we're having too much fun," Chaz announced to Alcea, who didn't have an earpiece, for safety reasons.

"Spencer's just jealous we're listening to Emilie Autumn without him!" Alcea laughed.

"Envious, not jealous," Reid corrected, automatically. "And we have a problem, if I can hear her."

"You've had the antidote," Langly reminded him.

"It hasn't been tested!" Reid snapped.

"You want a test?" Chaz asked, pulling his earpiece out. "Have a test." He handed it to Alcea. "Go scare the shit out of Spencer."

"You sure?" Alcea asked, eyeing the earpiece with no small concern.

"He can hear you anyway. We have to know." Chaz caught her eye in the rearview mirror.

"Go easy on him?" Langly suggested, silently praying he'd been right.

"You ready?" Alcea asked, the plug jammed into her ear.

"Yeah. I'm the only one who can hear you. We'll try this on me, first."

Alcea shrieked, and Chaz's hands tightened on the wheel. Langly looked like he might be sick.

There was a long pause before Reid's voice returned. "I think we're good."

A click, and then Hafidha. "What the fuck did you just do to him?"

"It was just a test, to see if the antidote worked on me, like it does against mom's drugs."

"Give Chaz back his ear, sweetie."

A moment later, Langly was holding Chaz's phone, watching video of Reid's reaction.

"I'm not sure that's the antidote," he said after the third repeat. "Or... not just. He just ... what the hell?"

"What?" Reid sounded completely confused and a little annoyed. "It's working. I'm still in full control of my faculties, insofar as that's a thing that can be said about anyone."

"Yeah, so... you're listening to us. Frank needs Hafs to have mic, but turn off her audio, once we get to the door," Chaz decided, sounding a little unsettled at the paused frame Langly was holding up. "I think that's you, not the drugs. Because you make the same face when you do that to me."

"If he's got a natural resistance, we've got a problem," Langly realised. "He's not one of us, and if he can hold her off, so can someone else."

"Then they're my problem." Chaz shrugged, trying to keep in mind that losing their tail was exactly what he was trying not to do.

"Yeah, but that's the point. He can hold you off, too."

Chaz sighed, not wanting to have this conversation while Reid could hear him. "He can do that because I'm not trying to hurt him. He can do it because I have enough control to only give and take a little. He has the best resistance I've ever encountered, and I could blow it away by exerting less effort. But, I don't want to, because I'm enjoying exploring this with someone I'm not going to accidentally hurt."

"Wait a minute. Wait a fucking minute." Hafidha's voice cut in. "Did you-- Is that what the cake was about? Have you been--? Are you completely out of your fucking mind, Charles?"

Chaz winced, like he always did when she called him 'Charles'. "I'd like to think my fucking mind is exactly where I was," he joked, weakly.

"Back to the point at hand," Reid changed the subject quite stridently, "How much of a problem is it, if we do run into natural resistance, in there?"

"It's not one," Chaz insisted. "Because we'd have to run into a gamma with that specific talent for it to be one."

Byers clicked in. "If you're so good at this, why are you even taking Allie with you? What purpose could she possibly--"

"I have to see people, even if it's remotely. They just have to hear her. I have to know them; she just has to hit them. I will do what I mean to, but she's a lot faster and a lot less of a danger to herself, because she's not getting feedback."

"I hope you're right about her, Chazzie, because I don't know who's going to bring her to Idlewood, if you're wrong." Hafidha didn't quite sigh, but Chaz knew that change in her breathing.

"Me." Chaz eyed the building coming up on the left, the road empty but for him and the van behind him. High traffic, for this time of the day. "Ears off, guys; we're here."

Chapter Text

Almost nothing went according to plan, starting from the realisation that what they'd walked into wasn't a research lab. Langly's initial guess of server farm was much closer to the mark. They'd walked straight into a surveillance data analysis facility, and the bulletproof glass wall that held the second security door showed them to a very surprised security team.

Chaz kept his face as expressionless as he could manage, as Langly casually unlocked the door with a blank magnetic card and a good sense of what he was looking at. Good, that worked. Security still looked a little unsettled, but reassured on some level that they probably belonged there. There was one more door between them and the rest of this floor, and the wall around it was blank and windowless. Front security, then, was isolated from the rest of the building -- honestly it was very good design. Bathrooms stood to either side of a card-locked elevator, behind the security desk, and Chaz was willing to bet this layout continued on the other floors.

As he saw Alcea take a deep breath, he squeezed her shoulder. There was no need for that. Not yet.

Langly approached the desk, looking weirdly official with his hair tied back, and a little bulkier than usual. The suit fit well, even if he hated the feel of it, and the panic bags were almost invisible, adding an imposing volume to his lanky frame. "So, we were told to bring the woman here, but not who to sign her over to. Don't you hate it when you only get half the instructions?"

He leaned on the counter, knocking a cup of pens onto the desk below, and Chaz took advantage of the distraction to bare the mirror in the first guard's direction. Didn't feel good about working here, but it was good money; worried about his mother; knew there were detention cells on B3.

"Sorry, sorry!" Langly leaned over the counter, trying to gather the pens back into the cup and reading everything he could get his eyes on as he did. "My mother always said I was all elbows."

As the other two guards stood up, imposingly, Chaz nudged Alcea.

A pencil snapped in Langly's hand as the scream rang through the small space between the outer and inner doors, crisp and sharp, piercing. One guard started to cry. Another ran for the bathroom. The third drew his gun, wild panic in his eyes.

Chaz stepped forward, bringing his focus and the mirror to bear, as he whipped one arm back, throwing Alcea behind him. A sudden, muffled pop sounded from somewhere behind Chaz, and Langly looked over in confusion, to find Alcea staggering to the side, as if she'd been hit in the shoulder. The gun was already falling from the guard's hand, unfired, a wholly other sound when it hit the floor. Chaz looked intensely angry, hands shaking as he stared the guard down, and Langly wondered if this had been a good idea, after all.

The memories of that fucking house hammered at Chaz's mind. All the times he'd watched his team die, again and again. And from the depths of his memory, before even that, Worth. By the time he slammed the lid back down, the guard he'd hit with that barrage was blank-faced and shaking. The crying guard sitting at the front of the desk seemed to be coming back to his senses, though, and Chaz leaned over the counter, catching him in an edge of the mirror.

"You want to help us, don't you? You hate this job. Do something you can be proud of."

Alcea let herself out of the shackles, as Langly went around the desk and to let Hafidha into the security network.

"We made a lot of noise, just now," Langly pointed out, as he waited for the connection to complete.

"I don't think anyone heard us." Chaz studied the video feeds, looking at them upside down. "I don't think there's audio on the cameras, down here, but there's very definitely cameras, and we're in a world of shit."

Reid relayed that point, and Hafidha laughed.

"The only shit you're dealing with is in a straight line between you and where you're going," she promised. "They're beating themselves against the door like angry hornets."

Chaz knew he was going to need to rearrange a few more minds, on his way out, after Hafidha finished rearranging the video. He looked up and turned a tight smile on the guard in the chair. "Michael -- I can call you Michael, right? We're friends. Tell me something, Michael: how do we find out who's being held on the detention floors?"

Langly could feel the amiability rolling off Chaz, and if he hadn't been watching, he might have found it comforting. As it was, he thought Chaz looked like every fox the fairy tales warned you about -- smiling and hungry. 

"You hand me the keyboard, that's how," he muttered, pulling it from in front of the guard who was apparently Michael. Hafidha had cut off security from the rest of the building, on every floor, and he made a point of avoiding things he could tell she had her fingers in. Wouldn't be that one, that was employee records, accounting, visitors, that entire subnet was ... exactly what he was looking for.

"Guys?" Alcea pointed toward the elevators, where someone was headed down.

"I thought you had the elevators, Hafs!" Langly snapped, years of data flashing across his eyes, one record at a time.

Lag from Reid, and then a response from Hafidha, "I do have the elevators. No one can call an elevator. Why is an elevator mov-- Oh. Return home. You're at the home floor."

"Open one up for us?" Langly asked. "We're going down."

Chaz opened his mouth, looked at Alcea, and closed his mouth again, with a faux-innocent glance at Langly.

'Later,' Langly mouthed, rolling his eyes.

"Now, I'm sorry about this, Michael." And Chaz did look almost sorry. "But, we've got to make sure we're all safe and nobody gets hurt, all right? We'll come let you out, when we leave."

With the two remaining guards zip tied to their chairs, Chaz crossed the floor to join Alcea and Langly by the elevators, wondering how much damage she'd done to the third guard, that he hadn't come out of the bathroom, yet. He wondered at the wisdom of just leaving the third guard. As he debated jamming the bathroom door shut with a chair, it eased open just enough to bare the end of a gun, and the third guard fired before the motion had registered with any of them.

Chaz turned and staggered as the shot took him high in the chest, the mirror unfolding even as his hand came up to clutch protectively at the hole in his jacket. The gun hit the floor as he threw the sensation back at the guard, panting as he pulled himself together. And he followed it with concentrated shame. "Do you know how hard it is to find a suit in my size?" he demanded.

Thank god for bulletproof vests.

"Chazohmygod!" The words all ran together as Alcea exhaled them instead of screaming.

Chaz looked at himself, ruefully, finger through the hole in his jacket. "That's going to be ugly, tomorrow."

"Chazzie?" Hafidha queried, as Langly zip tied the third guard.

"I'm fine." His shoulder made a horrible sound as he stretched it back, trying to figure out how bad the bruise would be.

"I'm gonna lose you in the elevator. There's five of them downstairs, and the desk's in the same place, but facing the other way. They haven't figured out what's going on down there, yet."

"Front right corner, screaming starts as soon as the doors open?" Chaz suggested, holding the elevator door open with one hand, until he could finish the conversation.

"Duke says yes," Reid replied, after a few seconds. "I agree."

"Don't get shot," Hafidha teased, voice not quite making it all the way to amused.

"Aw, but I was going for a matched set!" Chaz let go of the door.

The scream was even louder in the elevator, and Langly held on to the rail behind him, desperately trying not to lose his lunch. The panic spread through the guards -- three trying to alert the central office, one making a panicked call to his wife just in case, the last drawing his gun but unsure where to aim.

Chaz held the door open button as Langly fished through the newly-wireless signal from the security feeds.

"Gun. Closer to the door than to us, but he's in your blind spot coming out," Langly murmured, staring into something only he could see.

Chaz swore under his breath, and Alcea shrieked again.

"Two guns, aimed right at us, original's on the floor," Langly reported, trying to decide if this was better or worse than the original configuration.

Still, none of the guards had approached the elevator.

"I'm going to get shot," Chaz decided, nodding as he readied himself to catch anything that looked at him. "Catch me?"

"That's a shitty plan," Langly hissed. "That is the opposite of a good plan."

"Suit's already ruined," Chaz joked, stepping into view as Alcea leaned on the door open button, sliding into the space he'd occupied just before.

Fear. The first thing that hit him was fear. Not the fear Alcea had imposed, but the fear these guards had seen in the eyes of the people brought past them. Faces blurred together, but all with the same terrified eyes.

One of the guards dropped his gun, falling to the ground and clawing at his own eyes. Chaz pulled back just a little. Maybe he wanted the man to blind himself, for the last thing he saw to be that fear. Maybe just a little. Maybe just a lot. Maybe that wasn't him and he should stop that. He caught the other guard raising the gun to his own head and grabbed for something to stop it.

With a startled groan and a stuttered breath, the second guard set the gun on the desk and sank down behind it in stunned confusion.

Shit. That hadn't been at all what Chaz had meant to do, but he'd take it. His lips tightened in embarrassment and he squinted sideways at Langly. "Sorry."

"Sorry what?" Langly demanded, eyes still focused on the air in front of him. Slowly the sound from the room filtered into his consciousness. "Oh my god, you didn't."

Chaz cleared his throat. "Sorry," he said, again, offering a pair of zip ties to Langly and Alcea.

"I can't believe you did that," Langly complained, binding a guard to a desk chair.

"I needed a distraction! He was going to shoot himself!" Chaz didn't mention he'd grabbed for the first thing the Anomaly wouldn't like, something that it would have a lot more trouble poisoning. "It worked!"

Alcea finally put the pieces together. "Ew!"

"What?" Reid finally asked, trying to put together from the video feed what had just happened.

"If sex is a weapon, who's winning this war?" Hafidha sang, and somebody's mic picked up Duke laughing hysterically in the background.

"The guy on the floor, from the look of it," Langly muttered, pulling up a chair and getting another look at the names and numbers on the other side of the door. "I have a really intense urge to just ... unlock all the doors down here. I don't think any of these people are here for real reasons."

There was a pause and some muffled conversation, before Reid came back with, "Fitz says you should get Holly, first. We don't actually know who any of those people are, or what's going to happen if they're suddenly released with no guidance. It's pretty likely that whoever they were, before, and whoever they may be later, they're not the same people, right now, and expecting them to be is dangerous. If there weren't so many of them, you could probably make it work."

"He's right," Chaz said, quietly. "We can get Holly out, but there's only three of us. There's no way we can safely get that many people out of here, at once. Especially not the ones who've been here for years. People will get hurt, at least, and not necessarily the ones who have it coming. We don't know what's been done to these people, and we don't know what they're going to do when we open those doors. There are teams trained to handle this, and we're not it."

He hated it. He hated the idea of leaving them any longer than necessary, any longer than it took to get through that door, but he was living proof of the kind of changes people went through in captivity. He knew what he'd been through was different, but he couldn't be sure how different. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't just open the doors and release the other twenty-five unknowns, with no way to evacuate them, with no way of knowing who they were, why they were here, or how dangerous they might be to themselves or anyone else. He'd find out. And then he'd come back.

"Are we recording this?" Langly asked, knowing that Reid was probably right. "Because I'm smelling next month's front page. Let's piss some people off. We can blame the leak on 'inside sources'. We have copies of all the records I can find."

"Twenty-six cells," Chaz noted, skin crawling at the thought of what he was seeing. "Solitary. Probably sound-proofed, as much as I hope not. Complete isolation. This is going to be bad."

"No guards inside, though," Langly pointed out, as he got up. "The extra two are out here."

Chaz grabbed the keyboard and looked through the security feeds again, pinpointing the room with Holly, and going over the dimensions of everything they'd seen so far. "There's more space on this floor. There's something with no cameras."

"Get ready to fuck some people up, kid," Langly said to Alcea, as he overrode the lock on the inner door.

Chapter Text

"I'm in front," Langly argued, when they finally got to the door of Holly's cell.

"She's my mother!" Alcea snapped, shoving him.

"You can't open the door. I can." Langly took a deep breath and swiped the blank card. "You better appreciate this, Fitz," he muttered under his breath, easing the door open.

That was unquestionably Susanne. He'd know that face, those eyes, anywhere. But, he didn't like the way she was looking at him.

"You really think that's going to help you?" she spat, slowly standing from the edge of the bed bolted to the wall. "If you knew them at all, you'd know Langly would never be caught dead in a suit. And he is dead! No matter how long you keep me here, that's not going to change!"

"Susanne, come on." Langly stepped out of the doorway to reveal Alcea and Chaz behind him. "We don't have time for this. Yes, it's me. Yes, fuck this suit. Yes, I will blame Byers for this, for the rest of my life, but he's waiting in the car, and we have to go."

"Mom, hurry!" Alcea waved her forward.

"I can carry you, if you need help, Mrs Byers," Chaz offered, realising there was really no way to look smaller than he was in this suit. "But, we really have to get out of here, before people start noticing something's wrong."

"I found dad," Alcea said, holding her hands out. "I found him and he helped me find you. He's alive, mom. And we have to go."

"How long did it take you to turn her?" Susanne demanded, before turning a sad look on her daughter.

"Chaz, help me out, here?" Langly sighed.



"No." Chaz shrugged. "Not after what she's been through." He held out a hand. "Come on, Mrs Byers. I'm afraid Paul's still out of town on business, but there's a man outside calling himself Ken Fitzgerald, who claims to be your dead husband. And looking at the photos, he probably is."

"Come on, come on, come on!" Hafidha sounded nervous, and Langly took another look at the network, chasing security feeds.

"Shit. Someone just tried the inner door on two." Langly gave in to his irritation. "You have been a pain in my ass since nineteen eighty-nine, lady. Stalker ex-boyfriend my ass, okay. I don't know what the hell you did to Byers, but he's still in love with you, and we about had to tie him down to get him to stay outside where he belongs, while we blundered through the first half of a fucking heist flick to get to you. And now? Now we have a problem that I really hope we can fix, but we have to get you out of the building, so get the hell out here, or I'm going to carry you out."

"Frank, don't--" Reid started, and Langly looked over his shoulder as if Reid were there, and not just a voice in his ear.

"Don't you 'don't' me! I've been putting up with this shit for thirty years, and it stops here." He looked back at Susanne. "Here's your goddamn rescue. Get the hell out."

"Twenty-nine," Susanne corrected.

"And a half," Langly snapped, pointing up the hall.

"It doesn't matter what you do to me," Susanne said, as she swept past him, shoulders bowed and teeth bared. "I'm not telling you anything."

"Good." Langly kicked the door shut behind her. "Because I already know just about everything I want to about your entirely fucked up life."

"I'm just gonna ... sort out security," Chaz volunteered, as they came back into the front room. "Wait for me a minute?"

"I swear to god, this is the third fucking time you've almost gotten me killed," Langly went on, wiping his glasses with the corner of his suit jacket. "The third. Three of them. Three fucking times we've had to come save you or save the world from your work. And that's another thing! You're fucking lucky I'm immune to E-H, these days, or we wouldn't be here now."

"Of course you are." Susanne looked up at him, from the scattered guards tied up on the floor. "I designed that antidote, myself. I know exactly what I did to you."

"Can you step over here, a minute?" Chaz asked, pointing to the guards. "I'm trying to convince them there was a systems glitch, and you just walked out."

"What are you using?" Susanne asked, walking into the visual range of the guards and leaning over to study what was left on the screen.

"Nothing you'd have heard of. It's after your time."

Alcea gave Chaz a hard look and he shrugged at her, expressively, before waving Susanne back toward the elevator.

"Going up," Langly said, holding open the elevator doors.

Chaz settled things on the ground floor, the sour smell of a slow burn growing stronger around him, as he reached out further than he was accustomed to. Just a malfunction in the system. A horrible malfunction, terrifying and dangerous. Definitely something to get looked at. Time to call in the professionals to have a look, yes, but still... just a nasty glitch.

He handed a pair of scissors to Susanne. "The one in the middle is Michael. He's ... dosed. You want to cut him free and tell him to start making calls, as soon as his hands stop hurting. That'll be enough time to get us out of here. He'll never question why he waited -- his hands are probably numb from the ties."

"Who the hell are you?" Susanne finally asked, the confusion on her face a sign she still didn't quite believe what was happening.

"I'm a friend of your daughter's."

As they finally came back out the front door, Byers threw himself out of the back of the van, still soaked in coffee, ready to run to the woman of his dreams. "Sus--!"

"Nope." Duke grabbed him from behind, one hand over his mouth. "Stay right here, and be real careful what you call her."

Susanne's stride changed, as if suddenly taking on purpose, and Langly didn't register that it meant anything more than that she wanted to see if it was really Byers, until it was too late. She swung past Chaz, unholstering his gun and bringing it to bear, in one smooth motion.

"Take your hands off my husband, or I'll blow your head all over this parking lot."

Duke backed down, slowly letting go of Byers. "This is exactly what I'm talking about," he murmured.

"And now, somebody tell me what the hell is going on, here," Susanne demanded.

Behind her, Chaz stopped being there, and Langly stared at where he'd been with no small amount of concern.

"Allie was afraid something happened to you," Byers said, hands up defensively. "I came to get you. Last time... Last time you said you wished I was the one who saved you."

"So, instead of coming in, yourself, you sent this idiot. Again." Susanne took one hand off the gun to point at Langly.

"Hey! Screw you!" Langly looked like he might be winding up for another tirade.

Chaz plucked the gun from her hand and reholstered it, stepping away before he became visible, again. She'd been faster than he was, and that concerned him. Still, she didn't look that kind of thin -- definitely like she'd been eating poorly for a few months, but not thin like he was thin. Not even thin like Langly. Her daughter was a gamma, but she didn't have the look, herself. How had he missed that, then? How had she basically grabbed his ass without him noticing? Maybe she wasn't what they were, but she was ... something. Had to be. He wasn't that tired.

"Go kiss your stupid husband and get in the goddamn car," Langly huffed.

"Come on, mom." Alcea gestured toward the van. "Let's get out of here."

On her way past, Susanne stopped to take a long look at Duke. "You look familiar. Don't I know you from somewhere?"

Duke shrugged. "I used to write for Rolling Stone. You've probably seen pictures."

"Hmm... maybe." Susanne tore her eyes away from the puzzle that was Duke, as she came up to Byers, raising a hand to his cheek.

"John..." Her eyes filled with tears and she closed them to kiss him gently, tentatively. As she drew back, her hand drew back, as well, and she landed a slap that turned his head. "Why didn't you tell me you were alive!?"

Byers blinked over his shoulder, opening and closing his mouth to stretch his bruised cheek, before he turned back, blatant offence written large across his wide, blue eyes. "Why didn't you tell me we had a daughter!?"

Langly held out a hand and wiggled his fingers at Alcea, who rolled her eyes, pulled a tenner out of her change pocket, and slapped it into his hand.

"Told you so." Langly smiled smugly. "But, I will buy lunch."

Frohike leaned out the window of the van. "You two can have your angry slapfight about the last twenty years in the back, but get the hell in, because the longer we sit here, the more likely we are to get caught."

Reid stepped down from the back, giving up his seat. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Mrs Byers, but you do need to go." He cocked a thumb at Chaz and Langly. "I'll ride with them, so there's enough space for the whole family."

Alcea stepped up to help her mother into the van, following her in, and letting Byers bring up the rear.

"Meet you back at the place with the thing," Chaz said, pointing at Duke. "And then we have to figure out where to hide her, until all this blows over, because I feel like the original plan may need some adjustments." He shot a look at Byers.

This time, Langly got to drive, as Chaz changed his shirt in the back seat and Reid argued with the radio. Reid gave up and twisted around in his seat.

"How bad is it?"

"Suit's ruined. I'm fine." Chaz slipped a hand under the vest and prodded at the bruise. "I've done worse to myself falling off of things."

"You're lucky that wasn't a headshot," Langly muttered.

"Have you seen me, recently? No one goes for the headshot. No one's looking up fast enough or far enough. Everyone aims centre mass. This guy was a little high and to the right, but I was moving." Chaz pulled on a t-shirt from the bag behind Langly's seat and followed it with a hoodie. The vest stayed on. "Shit, that stings. I'm going to hate getting out of bed, tomorrow."

"We can hate it together," Langly offered. "My legs are fucking horrible. I can't handle this. I am never shaving them again. They keep catching on my jeans. How do people do this?"

"Daily." Reid looked like he might move, might say something else, but he pulled his eyes away from Langly, and his face was empty as he looked back at Chaz. "Now, we have to decide what to do about the rest of the people in that building."

"Paul," Chaz said, digging for the dozen or so protein bars that were somewhere at the bottom of the bag. The last thing he wanted was to have to hit the panic bags, now that he was out, but he could smell that he'd pushed himself too hard. Not much, not bad, but also not something to ignore. He tossed the first one over the seat into Langly's lap. "We lean on Paul."

"Isn't that where this all started? People leaning on Paul?" Reid pointed out.

Langly picked up the protein bar in one hand and tore it open with his teeth, not looking away from the road. After one bite, his face twisted. "Is this a goddamn Clif bar? This is a Clif bar. You have the worst taste. These things are gross anyway, and somehow, you manage to pack the worst possible kind. If I hadn't already eaten your cooking and liked it, I wouldn't start now. God, what is wrong with you?"

"If you're not going to eat it, give it back." Chaz stuck his hand between the seats.

"I didn't say I wasn't going to eat it. I said it was gross." Langly took a huge bite and shuddered.

"I feel like this explains a whole lot about the other morning." Reid raised his eyebrows and cleared his throat.

"Sucking dick is less gross," Langly decided, wadding up the empty wrapper and winging it at Chaz.

"Sucking dick isn't usually gross at all!" Chaz argued, swatting the wrapper out of the air. "There are exceptions, but for the most part? Not gross." He dug through the bag for another bar. "And why are we talking about dicks? I thought we were talking about Paul."

"Same difference," Langly scoffed.

"We think this all began at Paul, and it's certainly played out that way. It will be interesting to see what Holly has to say. I'm still curious whether Paul is doing or being done to." Reid switched easily back to the actual point.

"We're going to have to talk to him, at some point, once he gets back. And we're going to have to keep him from realising we have Holly, until we figure out what role he plays in all this." Chaz sighed and jammed himself sideways across the back seat. "And not to be an ass, but we might want to keep Fitz away from her, too. I don't want to deal with the fallout of 'we rescued your girlfriend from a black ops team, and then we hooked her back up with her dead husband.'"

"You know, that's between them. I am taking exactly no responsibility for anything that goes on between the two of them. She's using them both. I mean, I don't doubt she likes Byers -- you don't write love letters like that to a dead man, if you don't -- but... that's the fantasy. That's the life they both dream about, and are never going to have, in no small part because she just... keeps..." Langly huffed and sputtered for almost a mile. "He could've done better. He could've had a nice life with a nice girl at any point, but no. No, it was always Susanne. For thirty years, he's been mooning over this gorgeous older woman that he's met a total of twice, before today. Two. Times. That is not a relationship."

Something still bothered Chaz about the entire situation. Bothered him that Holly'd gotten past him, at the least. He didn't really know Fitz. Maybe he was just obsessive like that. But, something didn't sit right, and Alcea was definitely one of them. But, if that was the case, how had Holly gotten taken so easily? How had they held her so long, if she could do what he could?

No, there was no way. She couldn't. She'd be so much thinner. After as long as they'd had her, she'd be sick, if not dead.

Are you sure about that? he asked himself. You can't turn it off. Not all the way.

In the front seat, Langly continued to bitch about everything they'd gone through, because Byers wouldn't let go of the dream.

Chapter Text

As soon as Chaz got out of the car, Hafidha was attached to his side.

"Chazzie, darling, sweet boy, only reasonably sane man in my life, I am never getting married. If I ever say I'm getting married, it's time to get the zapper tuned, because that is the Bug talking."

"If you were going to, you should probably only marry someone you actually like," Reid pointed out, checking that he'd gotten all his gear, before shutting the car door. "Which I'm not convinced is what's happened here. I continue to hold that marriage is a good thing, if you can do it right. It's just that the 'doing it right' part is apparently harder than it looks."

"And doing it right doesn't include stealth marrying your fake-dead wind-up paladin." Langly slammed the driver's side door. "Can I just point out how fucked up this is? Can I also point out that I'm pretty sure Allie's the result of a doctor and a test tube?"

"She is," Hafidha confirmed. "He asked."

"It is fucked up," Langly insisted. "Right down to the love letters. None of this is the act of two people in their right minds."

Realisation lit in Chaz's eyes. "Tell me again about the letters?"

"There's a whole shoebox of them, like she's writing to someone she's expecting to see again. Even after we were dead. The letters were addressed to the cemetery, but they're all present and future tense. They start right about the time she must've realised she was actually pregnant and they go on until about six months ago. It's some freaky obsessive shit, and the most fucked up part is that I know he dreams about her, and those letters ... some of them are his dreams." Langly shuddered in disgust. "Every time he wakes up and none of it's real, I have to go sit with him. Happens a few times a year."

"How many letters?" Chaz asked, dread rising in his eyes.

"You don't think..." Hafs looked across the parking structure, to where Susanne and Alcea still stood with the others. "She's not thin enough."

"She's only using it a few times a year," Chaz pointed out.

"You're fucking kidding me." Langly stared at the dysfunctional family across from him. "Goddammit. I knew there was something wrong with this."

"Purely speculation," Reid argued, leaning on the top of the car. "We don't know, until we test it, somehow. It's genuinely possible he's just that obsessive."

"We have to figure out where to put her," Hafidha pointed out. "Because I don't think sending her home with him is a good idea at all, right now."

"Allie hasn't been staying at home, either," Langly said. "Let me make a call, and I'll see what I can do. And then we're getting proper food, because if I go another hour without an actual meal, I'm going to burn the world to the ground and eat the ashes."

"That wouldn't taste very good." Chaz pulled out his phone. "You good with steak? I'll call it in, now, and we can pick it up."

"Right now, I'll eat anything, including your shitty protein bars."

They left the parking structure in more vehicles than they arrived in, leaving the ones used in the raid to be picked up later, by another team. By general agreement, Duke and Frohike would take Alcea and her mother to Gathani's, Reid and Langly would pick up lunch, and Chaz and Hafidha would take Byers back to their place, where they'd sit on him until everyone else got there.

"Will you sit down?" Hafidha snapped, as Byers paced past her yet again. "I'm starting to really sympathise with Frank, right now. The man's a saint."

Byers looked hurt, turning sad eyes on a woman already nearly immune to Chaz's pathetic stares.

Chaz rubbed a hand across his mouth, wiping away the smile threatening to appear. "I'm going to go microwave some moussaka, and then you're going to tell me all about the dreams."

"What dreams?" Byers asked, blinking in confusion.

"The dreams about Holly." Kitchen sounds followed, and then microwave sounds. "Because I may have some very bad news for you, but I want to make sure I'm right, before I even suggest it. Agent Reid thinks I'm wrong, so this isn't a general consensus or anything, it's just a nagging suspicion, right now."

Hafidha made a quick gesture, sending a message to Langly, before she could forget. If they were going to have this conversation, they needed the letters. And if Chaz was nuking leftovers, the exceptional pile of steak could wait a little longer.

"What are you talking about?" Byers continued to pretend he didn't follow.

"Frank says you have dreams about Holly, a few times a year. That's all I know. I'm curious about what kind of dreams, what's in those dreams. It might actually be important to what's going on here, as weird as that sounds." The microwave started again, and Chaz came back into the living room, handing the first container and a fork to Hafidha.

"You mean somebody might be using those dreams?" Byers shook his head. "That doesn't make sense. Everything points to Paul Asher. You weren't with us on the way back, but she said as much. They were asking about Paul's investigation, nothing to do with me, with us."

"Okay, I know one more thing. I know Frank said the letters Holly wrote you have elements of the dreams in them, and I think those may both come from the same source, but the only way to find that out is to compare them." Chaz carefully avoided suggesting the source was Susanne. "It's possible somebody's been screwing with you for a long time."

"But, why? I'm dead!" Byers started pacing again, and Hafidha gave him a baleful look.

"I think why and who may become apparent, once we start looking at the letters. The comparisons should suggest what we're looking at." Chaz had rarely wanted to be wrong quite as much as he did, then, but he really didn't think he was. He sent a text to Duke, before he went to get his own food out of the microwave. "Are you hungry, or do you want to wait for the steaks?"

The subject change blindsided Byers. "I'm... I'm fine. I'll wait. You're seriously going to eat this and then steaks?"

Hafidha answered with her mouth full. "Don't you live with Frank?"

"Liquid," Chaz said, leaning on the wall at the edge of the dining room, as he shovelled eggplant and custard into his mouth. "He drinks his calories. Caffeine and sugar."

"How is he still alive?"

"He's not. He's dead, remember?"

Hafidha threw a pillow from the sofa, and Chaz staggered to the side, laughing.

"Anyway, the point is, I think those dreams are coming from somewhere, and from what Frank says, you guys have been working with enough weird shit to get exposed to all kinds of crap. You picked something up or it picked you up, and those letters sound like Holly's having similar dreams."

"But, they're so normal! It's really regular stuff! I want a nice house, my beautiful wife, our daughter... the things anyone wants!"

"So, sit down and tell me about it. Do you want a drink? I can see where this might turn into a pint glass dirty martini kind of conversation..."

Once Reid and Langly got there with the letters and the steaks, they'd all moved to the dining room table, to have more room to spread out. Reid mostly took notes as Byers talked about his dreams, and Chaz went through the letters, reading off dates, themes, and particulars to Hafidha, who entered the data as fast as he could speak. Langly helped Byers remember, having been a lot less drunk, by the end of a lot of those nights. Frohike leaned on the wall, behind Reid, a glass of scotch in one hand, as he corrected the occasional unconscious assumption. Duke had taken it upon himself to keep food in front of the gammas, shuffling plates, ever grateful that Chaz's fridge was full of things that just needed to be microwaved, because the food they'd brought in hadn't lasted nearly long enough.

Duke caught Chaz's eye, as they started to compare the content of the letters to what Byers could remember of his dreams. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Probably," Chaz hedged. "It would explain an awful lot."

"You're saying someone got to us both. In Vegas? No, I was having the dreams before Vegas." Byers shook his head. "Baltimore? But, who would bother? That's just dumb. Why me and not them?" He pointed at Langly and Frohike.

"Because it's not 'someone got you both'," Reid sighed, finally willing to concede the point. "It's she got you."

"I don't think she knows," Frohike ventured, pulling out the seat next to Reid and finally sitting down. "I think it's some kind of accident."

"She kept a diary, after Baltimore. A book of the future she'd given up." Duke shrugged and helped himself to some leftover potatoes none of the gammas had managed to finish. "I asked in the car. The early dreams match almost perfectly to what she was describing. Right up to the part where every entry ended with a reminder of where she was and what she was doing. You kept seeing empty desert -- it's what was outside. It was written into the book."

"How do you know it's her and not me?" Byers asked, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms over his chest. "How do you know she's not writing down my dreams, because I'm giving them to her?"

"He makes a point," Frohike admitted. "He's been nutty about her since the minute he laid eyes on her."

"Because he wasn't looking for her, then. Even there, even then, there would've been other women, possibly even more attractive ones." Chaz glanced at Langly for confirmation.

"I may have been eyeballing that chick doing the Amiga demos." Langly shrugged. "Closer to my age. Closer to my interests. Definitely considering getting her alone for some peek and poke, if you catch my drift. But, yeah, Holly -- and that's what she was calling herself then, too -- wasn't the only one. Not a lot of girls, not in those days, but even if you stuck to the suits there was more eye-catching and more interested. She was looking for something, and it wasn't bootleg cable or a quickie in the bathroom."

"He was still trying to sacrifice his virginity to an interested party. It only took him another thirty years." Frohike snorted. "But, he's right. Holly was looking for something, and she didn't read us as being people who could provide it. And we... weren't that interested. She was cute, but I could do better. Maybe he couldn't, but I could."

"Hey, screw you." Langly offered a single finger.

"Not even if I get you with a ball gag."

"But, he's got this bug up his ass about making things right. Neutral good, leaning toward lawful." Langly tipped his head at Byers. "He went chasing after her, all fancy federal suit and tie and the whole deal."

"Who'd you work for?" Duke asked.

Byers cleared his throat. "The FCC. We pretty much still owned the backbone, in eighty-nine, and broadcast in any form was our business. It was important to make a showing, answer weird legal questions about amateur broadcasting, and that, yes, in fact, in absolute fact, bootleg cable was completely illegal." He glared across the table at Frohike.

"I feel like I should be offended, here." Langly eyed Byers sideways.

"You were a juvenile delinquent."

"Oh, I will kick your ass."

"So, the damsel in distress shows up," Duke translated, "and your knight in a nice suit goes ga-ga and decides he's going to help her out. What's she asking for?"

"Access to what turned out to be her own Department of Defence files. Which I could get. We had that kind of clearance, whether or not we were supposed to have it, because network security was garbage, at the time, if you were a federal employee, which was one of the things I was trying to get myself positioned to fix. I mean, networks weren't really my thing -- I was more of a database and storage guy -- but you had to know at least a little, and I knew more than whatever idiot had let that glitch go live."

"So, you really were the guy, right? And the big FCC banner on your booth would've told her that," Duke went on.

"Yeah, except she wasn't interested, at first. I swear she just looked right past me. But, I ran out after her, convinced her I wanted to help..."

"Angler fish," Hafidha offered. "There's only some kinds of things attracted to that, and the ones that bite get eaten."

"There's no way she's a double and still weighs what she does," Chaz argued, suddenly. "There is absolutely no way."

"Aspects of a single mythology. Princess in the tower -- she just wants her prince to come." Duke sat on the corner of the table, picking at Chaz's leftovers like a gull on the beach.

"Well, we know he did that," Hafidha drawled.

"Rapunzel." Chaz blinked and then batted Duke away from the chocolates still sitting on the side of his plate. "I mean, it's not, but it kind of is. Prince offers to rescue princess, climbs up to meet her, gets separated from her again through the intercession of someone claiming ownership, eventually, he returns to discover she's had his child, and has been writing letters and throwing them out the window. In some versions, he's rendered crippled or blind, but he always finds his way back."

"So, she what, thinks she's a fairy tale princess?" Frohike asked, thinking he'd heard weirder shit  in his time.

"Not necessarily consciously, but I think you'll find the story made a huge impact on her, at some point -- probably before Baltimore."

"We're back to her weight," Hafidha pointed out. "Look at you. Look at me, even. She's in her sixties, Chaz, she should be showing it. She went over thirty years ago."

"Our baselines are perceptions. They're passive. They're always on," Chaz pointed out. "If she doesn't have any passive talents, she's not burning nearly what we are. Not constantly. I bet she binge eats around the holidays. Look at the dates on the letters. And she probably thinks it's comfort eating because of the stress, but she never gains any weight from it. Look at the pictures -- she's a little thinner, in some, but there's nowhere she looks heavy. Look, this one? She's just had the baby. Alcea's only a few months old, here. Does that look like a woman who recently had a baby?" He spread a fan of letters from that period. "She's writing more, there."

"It's not that complicated," Byers insisted, looking plaintively around the table. "I love her, and I want to help her."

Langly took a deep breath and grabbed Byers by the shoulders. "Look at me. Today marks the third time you've seen her in thirty years. The third time. You've spent less time with her than you've spent with Reid. You've spent more time having nightmares about her than you've spent with her. You've been saying you were in love with her since a few hours after you met her. Maybe more than a few, but it was less than a day, most of which, might I add, we did not spend in her presence. Half of it we spent in jail. You've been obsessed. And then you found her again, in Las Vegas, and that was a fucking fluke -- and it was a fucking fluke because exactly none of the places you dragged us looking for her were where she actually was that entire time. But, we found her in Vegas, and we sorted her shit out, and then she had your baby without your consent. And can I just take a moment to repeat how entirely fucked up that is? Because that is like the definition of fucked up."

"Honestly, I'm going to have to agree with that last." Reid nodded, face still apologetic. "That's ... not the behaviour of a reasonable individual."

"No, no! You've got it all wrong! I love her! This was our dream -- look! We were having it together! You're wrong about her! She's the victim in all this!" Byers took a shaky breath, hoping for someone to jump to his defence.

"Well, she's absolutely a victim, right now," Duke agreed, nodding as he glanced at Chaz. "We're clear on that I think."

"She definitely got abducted. It's ... probably about Paul's work." Chaz tossed a mint chocolate swirl into the air, meaning to catch it in his mouth, but Hafidha grabbed it in mid-air. "Whatever she may have done to you, yeah, someone just tried to do some very bad things to her. And from what you've said, this may not be the first time, though it is likely the first time it wasn't personal."

"So, for now, our concern is Paul's work, the Helmsman, and getting that facility closed down." Reid put down his pen and reached across the table, slowly, to take Byers's hand. "You have to believe us. We don't want to hurt her. I know this is hard, and I know we might be wrong, but that's what happens when you go looking for the truth, right? You know that. But, if you don't follow the lead, you'll never know, and if we're right about her, and she doesn't know, she could really hurt you and herself, especially now that you're back in each other's presence."

"She's fucking nuts." Langly dropped the sentence like a lead brick. "She's fucking nuts, you're fucking nuts, and you probably deserve each other. But, I like you, for some stupid reason, and I want to make sure you're not doing something stupider than usual, which is a little more consideration than you've ever given me, asshole. I will never be over the gasoline, fuck you very much. But, I want to make sure you're okay, she's okay, and I don't have to worry about Allie. I kind of like the kid. She's going to grow up to be a real dick, one day."

"I'm pretty sure you're the asshole, Langly."

"This is what you say to me after you get drunk and pass out directly on my balls? I should've dumped you on the floor." Langly stared until Byers cleared his throat and looked away.

"Helmsman," Byers said, looking around the table. "First we have to find Helmsman."

Frohike shook his head. "Paul first. Paul's gonna help us find Helmsman, whether he wants to or not."

"And I'm going to die if I don't get some sleep, Chaz, take a hint," Hafidha announced, stealing Chaz's last chocolate as she got up from the table. "If you boys need anything, call Penny."

Chapter Text

They'd split, for the night. Hafidha went to bed, Langly and Frohike took Byers home, Duke vanished back into the ether from which he'd arisen according to legend. And Reid and Chaz kept working, though they'd gone back to Reid's after their enthusiastic postulating woke Hafidha for the second time.

"Sorry, I know it's small," Reid apologised, considering yet again that he really did need more space if he was actually going to have people in it. "We should be doing this at Frank's -- his kitchen's designed for it. But, I don't think we need to be doing this in front of Fitz, right now."

"I feel bad for the guy." Chaz set a bag of pastry on the table, Langly's last contribution to the evening. "He does make the point that it might be him, not her, and looking at the two of them, I have trouble setting that aside. She doesn't look like one of us, and he looks even less like one of us, but ... it has to be one of them. It's probably her, because I don't think I've ever seen a beta hold on to the jelly roll that long. He's a little too soft in the middle, even if he's only using a talent sporadically. She never gains weight, in those photos. He obviously has -- I know what he looked like thirty years ago."

"Because you got it from Frank."

"Actually, because Hafs showed me photos, after she finished looking them up." Chaz gave Reid a long look, lips pressed tight together. "I got the most completely superficial look at Frank. Just enough to figure out that he wasn't dangerous, he was just basically Witness Protection. Rattled the box a little, and still couldn't figure out why Hafs was staring, so I just gave up. There was too much I didn't want to know -- too much about anyone, really -- but, once she asked, everything I wanted floated to the surface, because he was trying to figure out what she knew."

"He's still a little pissed about that."

"He should be." Chaz shrugged and draped his jacket over the back of a chair. "It was rude as hell."

"So, working from the assumption that the anomalous individual in all this is Holly, what are the chances Fitz is the only one she's done this to?" Reid asked, dodging the coffee table on his way into the kitchen to put on a fresh pot of coffee. "What I'm saying is, what if she's doing it to Paul?"

"We'd need to talk to Paul to figure that out." Chaz sat down and tipped the chair back against the wall, trusting his jacket to keep it from leaving a mark. "If we're right about how this works, then she'd need to be writing letters. And the next question is whether the letters would still be effective if they're delivered. Does she need to hold onto them, to make them work, or is writing them enough?"

"I should call in and see if anyone's heard from Paul, yet." Reid leaned in the kitchen doorway, waiting for the coffee. "And if she is, then why is she stable? She's been living with him for a lot of years. Shouldn't she be expending energy keeping him attached?"

"Alternate theory." Chaz opened a box of slightly melted eclairs and licked the dripping chocolate from one, before he went on. "She doesn't need to expend extra energy, because she's living with him. Being around her is enough. She doesn't have to nudge him, because he actually likes her and is seeing her often enough to remember that."

"So, Fitz takes more effort because he's not present." Reid held up a finger, crossing to his desk to call Prentiss. No answer, so he left a quick message -- they were all fine, things had gotten even more complicated, please let him know if Paul Asher turned up.

"Wild guess, here, but someone who isn't in her presence, but caught the lure, is going to become less affected, over time, if she's not reinforcing the attachment." Half the eclair fit in Chaz's mouth, and Reid wasn't entirely sure how.

"Okay, but, back to the lure. How is that not a passive power?"

"It's not always on. She probably only brings it out under stress."

"She's been in isolation, except for being questioned by her captors, for almost half a year. Why isn't she dead? If that's not stress, I don't know what is."

"Okay, what are the triggers?"

"Are we even sure about the lure? I mean, Fitz isn't the most rational individual, according to his friends."

"His friends who met him after he met her." Chaz shot Reid a sidelong look. "Not the most rational individual? That's a lot from you."

"Thank you, I am perfectly rational, and any blatantly ridiculous decisions I may have made recently were well-considered, before I committed myself to them. And? No harm has come to anyone because of them."

"No harm comes to anyone if you turn the light on and off three times before you leave the house, either. Still doesn't make it rational." Chaz offered the box of eclairs and Reid shook his head. "I'm not saying don't make blatantly ridiculous decisions. I'm just saying don't kid yourself. I do irrationally stupid things all the time, because they're fun. ... Present company included. Let's be real, whatever this is, it's enjoyable, but I don't think anyone can call it a wise or intelligent choice for either of us."

Reid knew he was right. He still wasn't going to admit it. "And putting the case aside for a moment, what do you want to do with that decision?"

"Boldface it and see how far we get before that stops working?" Chaz smiled awkwardly. "You thought I was going to say something about how this was a terrible idea and we never should've done it?"

"It... may have crossed my mind. As has the fact that this is a terrible idea, and it's going to bite us in the ass, especially since we're not the only ones who know." Reid pulled the coffee pot out of the way and held his cup in its place for a few seconds, before putting it back. "If we're not the office gossip by tomorrow, I'm going to be extremely surprised."

"We won't be. Hafs is going to get a lot more satisfaction out of watching us both try to deflect the rumours than by confirming them. And no one else knows, because the only thing she said was that it wasn't Frank she heard."

"You actually think that's going to work?" Reid raised an eyebrow and sipped his coffee.

"You don't? People see what they want to see. Nobody on your side of the floor would believe it for an instant, and you know it. You see how they look at me. They don't trust me around you. I don't think they trust anyone around you."

"I hate it." Reid sighed and poured more coffee for himself, and then a heavily sugared cup for Chaz. "Thirteen years in the field and I hate that everyone I work with still looks at me like I'm made of glass. What more do I have to do?"

"Get laid."

"Tried that. It isn't working." Reid crossed the room with a cup in each hand, putting both on the table as he took a seat.

"Yeah, but does anyone know?"

"Everyone knows. Like we said, we had... an unpleasant end to our first case." Reid stared directly into his coffee, running his thumb along the edge of the cup. "Which included certain of our bodily fluids being scraped off the furniture and entered into evidence. Everyone knows." He left out the part where he hadn't been wearing pants. Or anything else.

"Traumatic experience. They've all put it out of their minds. You need to ease them into the idea. Make it look normal." Chaz picked up another eclair, revelling in the taste of chocolate and custard. "And if you keep them looking at Frank, you know where they're not going to be looking?"

"At you." There was a faint flicker of offence, and Reid slapped it down. He knew exactly why Chaz didn't want anyone looking too closely. He didn't want it either. The absolute mountain of paperwork that would generate wasn't something anyone wanted to deal with. You didn't date other agents. You just... didn't. Dating. Was that even what this was? What was any of this? How had he gotten to this point?

"You good?" Chaz looked a little concerned, eyes wide enough to show clearly the difference in colour.

"I'm..." Reid paused and pulled over a second box, heavier than the eclairs, opening it to reveal an assortment of hamentaschen, and staring at them until he spotted an apricot one. "What is this?"

"It's a hamentasch."

The look Reid gave Chaz could've set iron on fire. "Yes, thank you, I know my Jewish pastries. I mean, what are we doing?"

The hint of a smile tugged at the corners of Chaz's mouth. "Supposedly, working on a case that just keeps getting weirder."

"Okay. We're not talking about this." At least the hamentaschen were good.


"You're the one avoiding the question."

"You keep saying you're 'bad at this'. I think the longest relationship I've had lasted about two months, and I wrecked it with an entirely presumptuous text. You want to know what bad at this looks like? I'm sitting right here. Things like this last a few weeks, if they go longer than one night. What is this? Probably the most intellectually interesting fling I've had in years, but I have no illusions about it. It's a fling. And I'm really hoping things don't get more awkward at work, once we're through."

"Eyes on the door, already."

"You are... so in love with Frank -- don't tell me you're not. Don't even try to tell me you're not. You're so in love with him, I can feel it. And it hurts to watch, because I'm not the only one with their eyes on the door. What is he dying of?"

Reid blinked, sitting up straighter. "What?"

"You think of him like he's got one foot in the grave, and not the one he's already stepped out of. It's not contagious, or you'd have stopped me."

"It's not that. He's not sick." Reid caught Chaz's eyes. "You want me to show you 'irrational'? I love people, and it doesn't end well for them. A statistically significant number of them have been murdered, and I worked those cases. I know it's not rational. I know that doesn't make any sense. But, it's all I have to hold on to. And we've almost gotten killed, together, already. I can't commit to that. It doesn't feel safe."

"You love him so much, I've almost said it to him," Chaz admitted, not looking away, however much he wanted to. "But, I get it. Maybe it'll be all right, if you just don't say it."

"It's not even saying it. It's doing it, feeling it. And I can't make it stop. And I don't-- I just want a relationship where everyone survives and no one ends up ... permanently harmed." Reid wasn't going to mention his mother. It was enough that he'd mentioned her to Langly, and that was different, because Langly already knew.

"Then it's too late, isn't it? Whatever's going to happen is going to happen, whether you say it or not." It was a dick thing to say, and Chaz knew it. But, he was betting on Reid's desperate rationalising to turn it the right way.

"It's like admitting defeat."

"Hey, if you're going to jump off a cliff, do it with style, grace, and safety equipment. In theory, you'll miss the ground, but even if you don't, the rush is incredible. Much better than going unprepared. That's no fun at all."

"Am I supposed to be hearing the voice of experience, here?" Reid drawled, trying to pick another non-poppy seed hamentasch.

"Yeah, except with me, it's not relationships, it's totally literal cliffs." Chaz grinned. "It still applies. It applies to almost anything."

"I've always been cautious, reserved. Never a step until I'm absolutely sure."

"Got fucked anyway, didn't you?" Chaz could hear it in the phrasing, in the tone.

"Yeah. Yeah, I did." Reid's lips widened, like they might try for a bitter smile, but never got there. "Maybe it's time to try something new."

"You already are. This isn't what you're like, remember?"

It would've been a laugh, if Reid had opened his mouth instead of squeezing his eyes shut. "And now we're back to the original question: What are we doing?"

"I'm having an enjoyable fling. It'll last as long as it lasts, and I'm not going to take it personally." Chaz leaned over the table to get a look at the other box. "I am going to take some hamentaschen, though. Which ones do you not like?"

"Poppy seed." The smile made another push, turning up one side of Reid's lips. "You sound like Frank. Nothing but one-night stands and willing to try this, anyway."

"So, maybe you've got a type," Chaz teased, picking out two he was fairly sure were poppy seed and not fig.

"Otherwise intelligent men, with a taste for danger and no relationship skills?"

"Gammas. We're both gammas, too."

"And you both cook, but maybe that's implied."

"You'd think that would be a gamma trait, but you'd be sadly mistaken." Chaz bit into a hamentasch, made a face, and set the other half aside. "Prune. Point is, you definitely have a type."

"We're definitely not getting any more work done tonight, are we?" Reid sighed, tipping his head back and staring at the ceiling.

"I'm not sure there's any more work to do, tonight. Not with the information we have. We're waiting on Paul, and nobody's called you back, yet."

"You want to show me what it's like to jump off a cliff?"

"I thought you'd never ask."

Chapter Text

Perfect freedom, Reid learned, was perfectly terrifying. Even knowing that he would survive, because it wasn't his memory, even with Chaz's absolute joy pounding through him, even with Chaz's arms around him, grounding him in reality, the fall was an experience of pure terror. The whole thing was over in less than a minute, and despite Reid's panic, Chaz carried it all the way through -- cutting it off in the middle would reinforce the fear. A safe ending was something to hold on to, a shield against the rest of it.

Reid shivered, an icy numbness in his face, his hands, the backs of his knees. He couldn't get a breath that didn't catch in his clenching chest a few times as he drew it. Panicked tears streamed down his face, from his tightly-closed eyes. It was fine. Everything was fine. He was in his own apartment, sitting in Chaz's lap, in the chair Langly had bought him. None of it was real. And the ending was so smooth and simple, anyway. Nothing to be afraid of. Chaz really did know what he was doing.

"Okay. So. That is not... I am not..." Reid took a few breaths, until he could get one that started and finished without a hitch. "I think maybe jumping off cliffs for fun isn't really my thing." A few more breaths. "Are you wet? Because I'm pretty sure you just scared the piss out of me, and I'd be sorry about that if it wasn't entirely your fault."

Chaz laughed and held Reid a little closer. "If you peed, it hasn't soaked through yet. I'll remind you this was your idea."

"My idea, your fault. Great. Okay. I'm good with that." Reid untangled himself from Chaz, getting his feet on the floor so he could stand. "I'm just going to go vomit up my lungs and maybe change my pants. I'll be back in a minute. Maybe put up some tea? There's a ginger-catnip over the stove."


"It's calming." Reid punctuated the sentence by shutting the bathroom door with a certain finality.

Chaz rubbed a hand across his mouth, trying not to laugh, as he looked down at himself. No wet spots. Maybe that hadn't been the best jump to start with, but he'd wanted to use one of his favourites, to offer Reid the full experience. And that was a mistake he wouldn't be making again.

As he got up to sort out the tea, he realised this was unlikely to be an experience he'd be having again, mistakes aside. Who else would he be doing this with? Who else would he be willing to try this with? Even counting the years that only happened in his memory, he'd done this with only one other person and his own memories, and that had been a very different situation. That had been something he shouldn't have done. But, whatever this was with Reid, they both wanted it. He was excited by it. And the anomaly hated it, which made him love it even more.

Pity it wouldn't last, but what did?

Langly stared up at the supports for the ceiling that would go in... tomorrow, if nothing else went wrong. The floor and walls were finished, and some of the furniture had been moved back into place, which was for the best, because Byers couldn't be left by himself, and Langly was going to commit a murder if he had to spend another night sleeping on the couch. Even without the ceiling in, the crying was quieter, and he'd taken Byers back to his own bed, in his own half-remodelled room, just because it was bigger and softer than the coffin-sized platform bed Byers favoured.

For a while, Byers had been so pissed he wouldn't let anyone near him, and Langly could've blamed him, but it wouldn't have done any good. Frustration, betrayal, having finally found Susanne and being forced to give her up immediately. Having had to face the idea that she'd done some things to and with things that had been his, without asking, and however pleased he was with the results, the fact remained that he'd never known about any of it until maybe a month before. Having had to face the idea that she'd married him, once he was dead, and then gone off with another man she continued to speak well of, even after being abducted for his secrets.

Byers had been through a lot of shit in a very short period of time, and honestly, Langly could admit he'd contributed, by going along with the idea that Susanne might be a gamma. Which he wanted to believe, because everything would make so much more sense: Byers gets picked up by a cryptid, spends thirty years suffering for the privilege. Mulder, eat your heart out.

But, now, Byers was wrung out and exhausted, down half a bottle of wine, the other half of which had gone into Langly. Langly was pretty sure he'd tossed all the wet tissues off the bed, before Byers had finally gone loose against him, when the crying stopped. A few more snotrags, and his hair was no longer in danger. He pulled the blankets up and tried to get comfortable with Byers wrapped around him, but the easy positions just weren't happening. They'd done this enough times that he should have been able to do it tired and shitfaced, but Byers's hands weren't where he expected them, that wasn't where that leg went... something was off.

He glanced down to ask what the hell was wrong, now, and that's when Byers kissed him.

Langly grabbed Byers by the shoulder and shoved himself back. "No." He twisted around until he could wipe his mouth with his other hand. "What the hell, Byers? You're not drunk enough for this. I'm not drunk enough for this."

Byers looked confused, then dismayed, and then he started to cry again. "I don't know. I just wanted to remember what it was like. I was almost asleep, and I just... forgot what was going on."

"You're such a goddamn disaster, Byers." Langly sighed, taking his hand off Byers's shoulder to press his palm against his eye. "You wanted to remember what kissing was like?"

"It sounds stupid, now. It didn't sound stupid when I was half-asleep," Byers muttered, mournfully.

"Look, if I kiss you, will you go the hell to sleep?"

"Maybe." Byers looked down at his hands, no longer on Langly and clutched against his chest. "I don't know! Maybe I'll just get woken up by something else! Maybe it'll turn out to be just as stupid!"

Langly huffed and sat up, climbing over Byers to get out of bed.


Langly could feel the puppy eyes, even without looking back. "I'm getting a beer. I need one. I probably need three. Maybe I'll just get a beer and pour vodka in it. And then I'm going to come back here and kiss you until you fall asleep, okay? Because apparently this is what friends are for, now."

"Langly, don't--"

"Oh, no. No, no, no. You don't get to 'don't' me." Langly turned around in the doorway, wide eyed and thin-lipped, jabbing a finger at Byers. "You made this weird. I can probably handle that, but not without a drink stiffer than Reid's dick."

At some point, Reid had gotten his shoes off, but he'd otherwise remained fully dressed, buttoning his cuffs again, before he returned from the bathroom. Even with the tea, he was still badly rattled, and Chaz could see it. They sat at opposite ends of the couch, legs tangled together between them, and Chaz had finally stopped trying to apologise.

"Okay, so that was a bad plan. I've got a worse one." Chaz's lips twisted in a way rarely seen outside the Sunday comics. "Give me something that makes you happy. Something you wish other people understood."

"I'm not that exciting. We're both college-educated field agents. We grew up in the same city. The things that make me happy, you've most likely already experienced." Reid shrugged, watching Chaz over the rim of his cup.

"Not everything. There's no way--"

It took Chaz a second to realise the sound he heard was a phone ringing -- not the desk phone and not Reid's cel -- and by the time it occurred to him, Reid had put down his tea and swung his legs over the back of the couch, sitting up onto his feet and somehow totally missing the table Chaz knew was there.

"How the--"

"Lived here forever," Reid said, pulling a different phone out of his bag and answering it. "Hey. You all right?"

"I think I'm about to fuck Byers."

It was not the sentence Reid expected. It bore no resemblance to any sentences Reid expected to hear. "How drunk are you?"

"I'm not. That's why I'm calling you." Langly huffed, and Reid could imagine the hand pressed against his eye. "Look, if you tell me not to do this, I'm not going to do this. Otherwise, I'm going to have a few drinks so I can convince myself this is a reasonable thing to do."

"The fact that you have to be drunk to think it's reasonable might be a warning sign," Reid pointed out, trying to figure out how he felt about all this. Not just that Langly was probably going to have sex with someone else -- they'd gotten past that. Chaz was sitting right there -- but that he was calling for a second opinion.

"We already knew I'd have to be drunk. I've been that kind of drunk."

"And you're going to get that kind of drunk, intentionally, now, for... what reason?" Reid was still a little unsure about the sequence of events that had led to this point.

"Because he's crying in my bed, trying to kiss me, and I'm pretty sure we never got as far as sleeping because he was trying to grope me without actually committing to it." The sound of swallowing followed. "I'm having this drink, either way. I can't handle this without at least one more than I've had."

"How drunk is he?" Reid asked, trying to figure out what the hell would possess Byers to do something like that after so many years.

"Two glasses of wine long enough ago it doesn't count. I had the other two, and I'd drive, so..." Langly paused. "I would not drive after finishing what I'm holding. I'm going to drink this and then I'm going to sit down and hopefully stay there."

"If he's upset about Holly and acting out, this isn't going to be pretty, tomorrow. He's going to regret this, and you know it."

"And he's sober, and I'm about to not be, so that's entirely his problem," Langly snapped. "I will give him what he wants, and that is all."

"This isn't a good idea," Reid protested.

"Then tell me not to do it."

"No." Reid dropped into the chair, forehead in his hand, elbow on his knee. "This isn't my decision. This is between the two of you, and I really hope you know what you're doing."

"I don't. I have no idea." Langly laughed, a little hysterical. "But, I have a box of condoms, and I'm pretty sure nobody's getting test tube babies out of this."

"Langly, please be careful. He's under a lot of stress, and eventually he's going to realise what he's done."

"If I do this, are you okay?"

"Probably. I knew this would happen eventually. I understand why you're doing it." Reid took a slow breath and considered the next sentence. "And Chaz is here, so I don't really get to say anything."

"Yeah, except I'm doing Chaz, too," Langly pointed out. "Chaz doesn't count. I don't really think Byers swings that way. I don't even know what the hell he's thinking, but, whatever this is, we're going to bury it, once and for all."

"Do what you think is right," Reid decided. "You've known him longer. I'll be here."

"Hey." Langly paused. "Thank you. I'm... you'll see me as soon as I can be sure he's all right."

"I'm fine. I have work to do. Do what you need to and call me -- I'm waiting on a call from Prentiss, so I'm not sure where I'll be, but ... call me, whatever happens." Reid swallowed the next words and tried again. "I hope this works the way you want it to."

"So do I."

Reid dropped the phone back into his bag and just sat, face in his hands, for a few moments. Chaz waited until he looked up.

"It's not my business, and I'm not going to ask."

"You're sleeping with both of us, and you're working this case. It's your business," Reid corrected. "Fitz, who as far as I know hasn't made a pass at anyone, since Holly -- yes, including Garcia -- just decided to try his luck with Frank. And Frank's trying to get drunk enough to let it happen."

"That sounds like the lead-in to a disaster of epic proportions."

"Yeah, I said that."

"He's not buying it?"

"He's more worried that I'll break up with him, if he does it."


"Of course not." Reid shook his head, as if to shake the idea off like water. "I'm more worried about what it's going to do to their friendship. We're... We'll be all right. But, I'll tell you I'm going to feel a lot less guilty about anything you and I might decide to do with the rest of the night."

"Is that an invitation?" Chaz stayed very still, unwilling to have expectations.

"Yes. Yes, it is." Reid sat back in the chair, pushing the button to start the vibrations against his lower back. "You wanted to see what made me happy? Let me show you the easy ones, first. The ones I know you'll understand."

Chapter Text

Byers had gotten older -- they all had -- but, Langly remembered it as his hands found the softness above the sharp edge of Byers's hip he clearly recalled from the other night. Unlike him, Byers had gotten softer with time, just a little bit. But, after five drinks, Langly found him just as attractive as he'd been that night in... where the hell had they even been, that he'd gotten that drunk? Probably Nebraska, somewhere. He had a habit of drinking heavily in Nebraska. God, he'd been wasted, and he'd wanted Byers to take him slow and hard. But, he'd never said it. He'd just slouched in the corner of the window and glared resentfully, hoping no one would ask. The next day he'd been hung over and demanded that no one speak a word to him until they'd crossed a state line. Yeah, that had to've been Nebraska.

But, now, Byers was in his bed, pulling him down, breathlessly sucking at his lip. And Langly wanted to want him, wanted to take some pride in finally feeling the scrape of that dopey beard against his face. But, there was just something wrong with the idea. Something wrong with Byers. This was not a Byers thing to do, but Langly would go along with it, until Byers came to his senses. Reid was right -- Byers was having a rough time. And Langly was pretty sure pushing him away, however gently, would make things even worse, even more awkward in the morning. Like this, they could pretend they'd had a few drinks too many and done something stupid and neither of them would ever admit to it. He could at least support Byers in a stupid decision that probably wasn't going to get any of them shot at. And really, as far as Byers and bad ideas went, that was a nice change of pace.

"Tell me what you want, Byers." Langly pulled back just enough to give Byers room to answer.

"It's stupid."

"So is this entire goddamn situation. The last thirty years has been stupid. What makes this any stupider than anything else we've done?"

"It's going to sound stupid, if I say it."

"Byers, thirty percent of what comes out of your mouth sounds stupid anyway, which still puts you several percentage points ahead of me in the not sounding like a complete moron department."

Byers's fingers twisted nervously in Langly's hair. "Do you want me?"

And Langly couldn't figure out the intent -- was Byers trying to gauge his next request or trying to decide if he owed something? "I'll tell you if we get to something I'm not going to do. After this many drinks, if you can get my dick up, it's yours if you want it."

"Not... what I meant?" The strain on Byers's face was vivid, cheeks tight, eyes uncertain. "When you look at me, what do you see? I'm not that good looking any more, am I?"

This, Langly could handle. At least he was pretty sure he knew what to do with it. He leaned down next to Byers's ear. "I can remember being completely shitfaced, somewhere in Nebraska, oh... twenty-five years ago? I hate Nebraska. Had to be Nebraska. And all I wanted was for Frohike to leave the room, so I could get down on my knees and beg you to throw me against the wall and fuck me like I mattered to you. Obviously, he left the room and I didn't, because even if I don't have common sense, I have pride, but you were so gorgeous. And yeah, I have to be drunk to see it, but it's always true. You have the most amazing eyes. And yeah, you're older, now, but so am I. You look your age, Byers, and it looks good on you. So, if what you're asking is 'would I still get trashed and let you bang me like a cheap screen door', then yeah. Yeah, I would."

He drew back just enough to look Byers in the eyes. "And if Susanne doesn't think so, she can go take a flying fuck at the moon. She's lucky to get someone who looks like you, at our age."

Chaz sat with the chair tipped back and all the vibrations engaged. Reid sat sideways across his lap, leaning on an arm of the chair, head tipped back blissfully. They'd been batting memories back and forth -- just the good ones -- and Chaz finally felt like he had a clear view of what 'feeling good' meant. Not that 'nothing is on fire right now and it probably won't be before morning' feeling, not the 'I'm doing something I like right now and it's great', but just... good. Pointlessly pleased about nothing in particular. Like a manic swing, without the edge. And he knew that meant the anomaly was going to do something fucked up with the first thing it could get its... his... hands on, but he'd deal with that when it happened.

For now, he could mostly just let himself enjoy it, enjoy Reid, who seemed to have a strong attachment to the armrest, where it pressed into his lower back. He focused on it, inquisitively, and Reid flicked through a few memories -- the critical embarrassment of the first time he'd figured out that spot existed, curiosity and a pile of medical journals, Langly's hands right where he wanted them. And Reid shifted, the tension rolling through his body, as Chaz caught that last memory and opened it. Another inquisitive nudge.

"Do you want to?" Reid actually opened his mouth to ask. Once they'd gotten into something, words were nearly useless, but the transitions still felt safer when spoken. 

Chaz's eyes widened, pointedly, and after a moment's pause, he followed with an enthusiastic nod. "Just like that?"

"But, just like us," Reid replied, a sly smile on his face.

Chaz patted Reid's thigh. "Okay, then you have to let me up, because you're not going to like what I smell like if I don't eat something before we do this."

Langly was still a little unclear on how they'd ended up like this, but Byers was still mostly dressed, aside from his pants being shoved down around his knees, and gazing worshipfully up at him. Byers had wanted, and Langly was just a little too drunk and a little too uncertain, so out came the toy Langly had only ever used on himself. And Langly had expected some comment about the fact he even owned a buttplug, but Byers had smiled gratefully at him, asked Langly to tell him if he was doing it right. A few false starts and a lot of lube, and there was no question about 'right'. But, Langly said it anyway, recognising that look Byers got when he wanted someone to tell him he wasn't crazy.

And now, Byers was stretched under him, one of Langly's hands pinning both of Byers's wrists to the bed, the other tracing the soft edge of Byers's belly, teasing Byers's dick. And as long as Langly kept talking, Byers seemed to be all right.

"You are beautiful. And I don't care what anybody else says. They're wrong. I'll have them declared legally dead, if they say it in front of me. You were completely gorgeous twenty-five years ago, and you're still gorgeous now, and there's not a lot of people who can say that. And you deserve someone who's going to be good to you. Someone who's going to treat you like a goddamn person with opinions and feelings and a hot body. And right now, I think that's Penelope. And you tell her if she doesn't treat you right, I'm having her electric turned off, because you're my best fucking friend, Byers, and you can tell, because I wouldn't just do this for anyone."

"Tell me again?" Byers's voice was small, his eyes wide.

"Trust me, you're pretty. Those eyes are a goddamn menace to good sense." Langly's fingers curled, his touch becoming less gentle as he flicked his thumb over the head of Byers's dick. "But, why me? Why now?"

And Byers finally closed his eyes and turned his face away. "Because I just ... she almost shot Duke, but she's still leaving me for another man? What am I missing?"

"Time. You're missing time. Because otherwise you're a gorgeous piece of ass and she'd be lucky you even looked at her. She is lucky you even looked at her. She'd be dead." Langly thought about it, wondering when, exactly, Susanne had broken up with Byers and why it was only coming up now. His hand didn't need his attention to do something it had done for him a thousand times. "She'd be dead. My life would be a lot less complicated. And you wouldn't be getting off on the thought of me pounding you in the ass, which I'm still a little confused about, but I'm easy." His hand slipped down to nudge the plug, and Byers writhed.

"I could hear you," Byers gasped, grinding against Langly's fingers, shivering between the hand on his wrists and the hand between his legs. "The echoes... I could hear you. I wanted to be you. I wanted someone to want me like that. I wanted someone to tell me I was still worth having."

"You could hear us or you were listening to us?" Langly knew there was a distinction, there, and he wasn't sure how to feel about it. He wasn't going to bother to have an opinion until Byers picked one, though.

"The bathroom wall's the thinnest, and I could stand right against the sink so I wouldn't make a mess." Byers looked like he'd rather be anywhere else, but Langly knew if that were true, he wouldn't have said it.

He leaned in closer to Byers's ear again, hoping he'd picked the right response, hoping he could bring Byers off, so they could get some sleep. He'd always wanted this, somewhere in the back of his mind. He'd jerked off in a fair number of bathrooms thinking of how Byers would look, like this, wide-eyed and utterly debauched. But, something was wrong, here, and he knew it. He'd still play along. It was the only reasonable thing to do. Byers was hot, and he did care, however fucked up this situation was.

"You were listening to us fuck? Then you know how he likes it. Were you wishing you could be the one to come inside him? To watch his eyes roll back as you blew a load in his tight ass? And he's so tight. It's incredible." Langly moved his hand back up, stroking Byers roughly, squeezing in that way that made his breath stutter. "Or did you want him to bend you over the sink, so you could watch him in the mirror while he fucks you until he's done."

Byers arched and shivered, and Langly knew he'd guessed right.

Chaz knew he was going to have the worst long-burn hangover, in the morning, to go with the still-spreading bruise on his chest. He was coming up on three days of running on carbs instead of sleep, for the most part. He'd had some sleep, but not nearly a reasonable amount. Not nearly what he needed to support what he was doing. But, he'd never let that stop him before, and he definitely wasn't going to let it stop him, now.

He'd been playing with the mirror for hours, at that point, letting Reid push back against it, testing how far that resistance would take him, if Chaz let him have control. And that was interesting -- it wasn't really control, not the way Chaz had it, but it wasn't Reid's mind and it wasn't Reid's power. What he had was more like, to extend the mirror analogy, a flashlight and fantastic aim. And an uncanny ability to make sure he controlled the only relevant light, sweeping everything else back into darkness. And Chaz could feel the pull to go diving into that darkness, to see what would glow in the depths, but he knew better. Who else would he ever be able to stand... being, for hours on end? No, he wasn't going to go chasing the darkness.

Definitely not now, not with Reid naked and kneeling across his thighs, panting wordless sounds of pleasure against his ear. Not with the two of  them entwined in what was probably the most intimate embrace humanity had yet invented. Well, mostly. He supposed he could be a little more inside Reid, but Reid had balked at the idea, and Chaz understood immediately, which was really the benefit of this -- never having to explain. He wasn't that big, but he absolutely had the advantage on Langly, which Reid did not classify as an 'advantage' under the circumstances. A hard no, and one that had put them in a position Chaz couldn't find the least fault with, his fingers buried inside Reid, his other hand firmly pressed against Reid's lower back, and Reid's hand wrapped around them both.

Maybe they'd come at some point, maybe that was just the rush of memory from another time, and Chaz wasn't sure it mattered, which was probably dangerous and most likely a side effect of how little sleep he'd had. He wasn't sure how long they'd been twined together like this, time being the first sacrifice to memory, but he knew his sweat hadn't gone foul, yet, which meant he hadn't hit anything he wasn't supposed to. ... Like muscle... 

And then Reid's thighs tightened, dragging Chaz back into the vision they shared. Oh. This was it, then. There was nothing separating him from the rush of sensation, no distance to ease the sparks against the inside of his skin. As real and perfect as those memories had been, they had only been memory, and his body knew it, now.

Reid tried to stay silent, to let the press of Chaz's consciousness take his desire directly, but that only worked for words. His breathing turned ragged, tiny sounds of frustration breaking against his teeth, as he fought against the tension in his lower back, trying to keep his hips moving between his hand and Chaz's. And Chaz touched him exactly the way he wanted to be touched, without fail. Even when he'd have second-guessed himself, Chaz didn't.

And then he lost track of himself entirely. There was nothing but pleasure. He thought he might be a liquid. Distantly, he felt Chaz slip away from him, and the division of awareness put him back in himself, exhausted, soaked in sweat, and strangely content. He wanted a shower, but much less than usual. As he moved his hand and stretched out along Chaz's body, Chaz's fingers still inside him, he realised that the disconnect had been Chaz passing out.

With a small, disbelieving huff, Reid crammed himself into the space between Chaz and the arm of the chair, on the un-bruised side, letting that arm move with him as he settled. Really, neither of them had slept last night, and Chaz had needed it much more. What was it with him and sex while exhausted? Probably something about a loss of inhibitions.

"Tell me what you want, Byers. I can tell you're close, but I can't read your mind." This was weird, and it had been weird this whole time, but as long as he could get Byers to put things into words, Langly figured he wouldn't have misunderstandings making it more weird.

"I want you inside me." The words were so quiet, they were nearly a whisper. Obviously something Byers was still a little ... for lack of a better word, weird about.

"We've already established that's not going to work," Langly reminded him, gently.

"Then pretend," Byers demanded, his arm twitching as he reflexively tried to cover his mouth, but his wrists were still pinned tight in Langly's grip. He looked horrified at himself, but still hopeful, somehow.

Langly sat up straighter, looking down at Byers, for a long, silent moment, in which Byers squirmed uncomfortably. "You want that?"


"Byers." Langly waited until Byers would meet his eyes. "Do you want that?"

"Yes." It was the smallest word, yet.

Langly moved his hands, freeing Byers's wrists, and the disappointment and betrayal in Byers's eyes was immediate. "I'm not that much taller than you. Move your hands down." He folded his arms above his head as a demonstration, and Byers caught on at once.

After a quick study of the disaster that was the rest of the situation, Langly pulled Byers's pants off and threw them off the bed. He wanted about four more drinks. He wished neither of them was sober, or that being drunk was actually going to help more than it had. With a deep breath, he settled himself between Byers's thighs, hauling Byers's hips into his lap. The fly of his jeans pressed against the base of the plug, and Byers squeaked.

"Like this?" Langly asked, leaning forward again, Byers's ass propped on his thighs.

Byers nodded, and Langly pinned his wrists, again.

"Tell me how you want it." Langly started slow, grinding himself against the base of the plug and realising that even if he couldn't get it up, he could probably still get off. He wasn't quite sure how he felt about that, but in this position he was going to find out pretty quickly.

"Show me you want me. Make me believe it."

Langly almost called it off, right there. This wasn't the way this was supposed to go. This was not at all the way this relationship worked, even when he was five beers down and jerking off in a truck stop bathroom. But, he knew Byers was going to take it personally, if he backed out, now. Twenty-nine and a half years in, and Byers had lost his mind in a new and interesting way, and Langly knew he had to fix it, he had to make this not a big deal. He owed Byers that, at least.

"God, Byers, I've wanted you for half my fucking life, and now you're half-naked in my bed with my buttplug in your ass. I don't know how much more 'show' there is."

But, he did know, and he closed his eyes and thought back, picking through the handful of drunken wank fantasies involving Byers, until he found one he could hold on to, now, something that would spark lust low between his hips instead of the uneasy nausea that had been in his gut this whole time. He worked himself into it, imagining Byers actually wanted him, and not just a pity fuck, hips hitting harder with every thrust, the grind hard and slow as he rubbed himself off against the plug in Byers's ass. His other hand moved back up, and he spit into it before he wrapped his fingers around Byers's dick again, stroking in time to his thrusts.

By the time Langly opened his eyes again, Byers writhed under him in open-mouthed bliss. That was a good look. That was something Langly could almost be comfortable with. "Do you want to feel me come? Because I'm going to..."

Byers made a ragged sound, arching in Langly's lap, and Langly bit the tip of his tongue until he tasted blood, trying to hold himself back until he brought Byers over. But, he was too drunk and too tired and, gasping and shuddering, he felt the wet spot spreading in his jeans, probably finally soaking through.

And that was what put Byers over -- that was what he wanted, what he'd been waiting for, begging for without being able to put it into words. That was the desire he'd wanted to see and to feel, and the wave of sensation broke over him, leaving him shivering and stunned in the aftermath.

Langly wiped off his hand on the tail of Byers's shirt. "You all right?"

Byers nodded, not quite willing to look Langly in the eye.

Chapter Text

Reid woke up to the phone, and it took him a minute to figure out which one, Chaz blinking blearily up at him as he leaned over the arm of the chair and dug through his bag. Langly's, he realised, as he finally got it into his hand.

"You okay?"

"I have no idea. I'm standing at your door, calling so I don't wake the neighbours."

"Two minutes. My foot's stuck in the chair."

Chaz helped Reid untangle himself, handed him the right pair of pants, and then pulled his own pants on, before Reid could get to the door. It was one thing that Langly knew what had happened. It was another thing to see it, after showing up in the middle of the night, with no warning. Chaz was pretty sure that whatever was happening, he wasn't supposed to be there for, and he kept pulling clothes on, as he figured out which ones were his.

Langly put his arms around Reid and pushed the door shut with his foot. "I just need to be here, right now. I'm so sorry. I know it's the middle of the goddamn night, but ... Tomorrow, everything's going to be fine, again. It's always fine in the morning."

"If you're sorry for waking me up, I'll remind you the nightmares would've done it soon enough." Reid put one arm around Langly and leaned past him to lock the door with the other hand.

"I don't even know. Right now, I'm just sorry." Langly held on tighter, resting his chin on Reid's shoulder.

"Chaz, go put on some tea," Reid said, slowly, realising that Langly was anything but all right, and not wanting to let go until he was sure he wasn't going to make anything worse. "How's Byers?"

"Asleep in my bed. I shouldn't have left him. I should be there. But, I just..." Langly froze, looking for words, and then gave up. "I left a note that I had to go play fibbie for a while, and I'd be back when we had an ass to kick. Tell me we have an ass to kick, because someone's getting punted for this."

"Sorry, no ass to kick, yet," Chaz called back from the kitchen.

"Tell me she's one of us." Langly looked up, glaring toward the kitchen door, still clinging to Reid. "Tell me she did this to him."

"I have no context for 'this'." Chaz leaned out and made finger quotes. "I'm pretty sure she is, but I'm also pretty sure she needs to be writing to make it happen, and he might need to be asleep. Or he's at least going to have dreams about it."

"We should sit," Reid suggested, tugging Langly with him as he took a step back, further into the room. "The couch, so I don't have to let go of you to drink tea. You should have some. It's a very good blend."

Langly nodded and stepped back, nudging his glasses up, as he let Reid lead him to the couch, let Reid pull him down to sit at just a slightly different angle, because they were much too close to the same height.

Chaz brought out tea for all of them, in mismatched cups. "Kind of surprised you even have three cups."

"With the number of times I've walked out of here without turning on the dishwasher, in the morning..." Reid shrugged with the shoulder that wasn't pinned behind Langly's spine.

"I'd have expected a matched set of four, but no. Two match and one doesn't." Langly rubbed his eye, tiredly. "You didn't save me an eclair, did you?"

"Actually I was hanging on to it for breakfast, but you look like shit." Leaving the cups on the coffee table, Chaz went to retrieve the remains of the pastries.

"The third one was a gift," Reid admitted, after a moment. "I used to have four that matched, but then my mother moved in. She's... not very good with the breakables, sometimes."

"I did wonder." Chaz laid the boxes on the table, picked up his own tea, and sat on the arm of the couch. "They match the plates, and you have service for four."

"It seemed like the thing to do, when I first moved in."

Langly reached over and took the last eclair, getting a few bites of it down, before he tried to say anything else. "I've had two glasses of wine and a beer with four shots of vodka in it, since the last time you saw me, but I haven't eaten since the steak. Haven't been messing with the network, either."

Reid didn't mention that Langly had started to shiver. "So... what... happened? You're looking a little shocky."

"Just still a little drunk." Langly shook his head. "Byers needed someone to give a fuck, for a bit. An entirely literal fuck."

Chaz sat up and back, with his next breath, otherwise motionless, his face blank.

"I mean, I always think it when I've had a few. More than a few. More than enough. And I do care. I've been cleaning up after his nightmares longer than he's been cleaning up mine. It sounded easy. All I had to do was get drunk."

"I can follow the line of logic." Reid adjusted the arm around Langly's waist, gave his hip a reassuring squeeze.

"I really don't want to talk about this." Langly licked the chocolate off his fingers and pulled his knees up. "I did what he asked. I did it because I wanted to. And I really don't have a good feeling about it. Something was wrong with that entire thing. That's... not the way that's supposed to work. That's not a Byers thing to do, but I know she just broke up with him, and I really can't tell any more."

"She broke up with him? When? I'm going to leave a quick text for Allie," Chaz decided, trying to figure out which pocket he'd left his phone in. "Just going to ask if her mother did any writing, tonight. I'm not telling her what happened. I don't think she needs to know."

"Tell me what you need," Reid said, quietly, putting down his tea.

"What, so you can do what I just did, and we can all be fucked up together?"

"There's no correct answer to that. 'Yes' is a confession of stupidity. 'No' is an insult."

Chaz was impressed with that answer, but Langly still looked suspicious and offended.

Reid tried again. "There's three of us. We'll figure it out."

Langly still looked tense. "I just want to be with you. I just want to know how pissed at me you are, because this was stupid."

"I'm not pissed. I said I wasn't going to be upset, and I'm not. You were trying to do the right thing. You were trying to help a friend who's been there for more than half your life. And I say 'trying' because I don't know if it worked. I am no part of what happened. I don't know." Reid could feel Langly's glasses digging into his cheek. "What I do know is that you hurt yourself doing it, and I want to know if there's any way we can help you. Do you want breakfast? Should I just hold you?"

"Thanks." Langly finally seemed to relax. "This is good."

"Is there anything to cook with?" Chaz asked, with a faintly guilty look. "I... you said breakfast, and there's two of us hungry, whether or not he wants to eat yet..."

"Check the pantry," Langly said, tossing his glasses onto the coffee table. "I hope you can do apocalypse food."

"There's instant hashbrowns and some bacon that shouldn't taste that good out of a can. It's not great, but it's ... definitely bacon." Reid shrugged his free shoulder.

"Bacon. In a can." Chaz looked horrified. "I was once so hungry, I ate an entire jar of mayonnaise with a spoon. Canned bacon is still wrong."

"Just have a look in the pantry. I'm sure something will suit your fancy-ass tastes," Langly scoffed. "I'm still trying to teach Special Agent PhD, over here, that coffee does not count as a full breakfast."

"I eat lunch!" Reid protested. "And I'm pretty sure there's a twenty-five pound bucket of peanut butter in there, somewhere, if you're at all into that."

"Four. There is a four pound can."

"And what does that rehydrate to?" Reid looked up at Chaz. "I'm pretty sure there's a twenty-five pound bucket of peanut butter."

"Can't stand peanut butter," Chaz admitted, edging between the table and the edge of the couch. "Or apples."

"That's like... a childhood staple!" Langly leaned forward enough to see past Reid's face.

"Yeah. I know." Chaz's bland smile discouraged further questions, as he disappeared into the kitchen.

Reid and Langly stayed as they were until the sky began to lighten, and Chaz finally managed something resembling food. Langly drifted in and out of sleep, tiredly snickering at Chaz's complaints about available ingredients, but he finally began to relax, and Reid could feel the difference in the way he half-sat along the couch. What finally brought Langly back up far enough to reach for his glasses was the smell of Chaz edging past him with a plate of raspberry pancakes.

"Powdered eggs?" Chaz huffed, sitting back down on the arm of the couch and putting the plate on the table. "Seriously?"

"Did they or did they not produce fluffy pancakes?" Langly grabbed one and folded most of it into his mouth.

"They worked fine. They're just an offence against nature."

Langly held up a finger until he could swallow. "So are we."

"I-- That--" Chaz gave up and picked up a pancake. "I'm eating powdered eggs."

Reid stared out the window through the gauzy drapes for a space of about six pancakes disappearing down the pair of gammas sharing his sofa. "I realise this is a completely inappropriate time to do this, and I accept responsibility for any consequences, but if I don't do this now, I don't think I'm ever going to have the nerve to try again."

Chaz raised an eyebrow, mouth full of pancake, trying not to look like he knew exactly what was coming. And Reid was right -- this wasn't the time. But, the three of them were weird enough that it might work out, anyway. He hoped. Because he really didn't want to see this go wrong.

"Before I say anything else, I want you to know this is a gift, not an obligation. You owe me nothing. Nothing changes."

Langly sat forward to look at Reid. "What the hell did you do?"

Chaz covered his mouth, eyes sparkling with amusement.

"I... I fell in love with you." Reid paused. "And I mean it, this time."

Langly blinked and then looked down the couch at Chaz. "Would you get him a cup of coffee? There's a single on that little table in the corner -- it should be loaded. Just hit the button."

Reid cleared his throat. "I deserved that."

"Look, I'll believe it when you've eaten, slept, and had a cup of coffee. The last time you said it you weren't exactly in your right mind."

"I'm still not in my right mind, but it's true, this time. I mean it. I love you, and it scares the shit out of me." Reid had a thought and pointed down the couch. "Look, ask Chaz! He'll tell you! ... He told me. Apparently, I think it a lot when you're ... less dressed. I mean, I think it a lot when you've got all your clothes on, too. I just... I'm so afraid you'll die. You know why."

"Psssh. Me. Die." Langly rolled his eyes and shook his head. "If it hasn't happened yet... Which I'll remind you it absolutely has. Too god damn late, Reid's curse! I already died. I have a tasteful headstone in Arlington and everything."


"And the thing you're afraid of? It's already happened. We were both right here. She shot at me, and I'm still here." Langly snorted. "Because I'm already dead."

"It's really not funny," Reid protested.

"It really is, though." Langly shrugged. "But, that may also be because I've spent the last fifteen years dead, and it's completely fucked up my sense of humour."

A strangled laugh slipped past the hand Chaz had once again clapped over his mouth, and they both looked at him.

"See? He agrees with me."

Chaz struggled to regain his composure. "He really does love you. And he really is afraid you're going to die. I... we had this whole conversation last night, because I basically asked him if you had cancer."

"You what?" Langly's eyes rounded as he turned back to Reid. "He what? What?"

"I have had one significant relationship that didn't end with murder or an institution. One. And that ended because I wasn't enough." Reid cleared his throat. "And... I just... for all that I want this to be another lucky one, it genuinely feels irresponsible to let myself love again. And now that it's started, I can't seem to make it stop, so... better you should know. Better we should get some light out of it, before anything goes wrong.

"Everything already went wrong. And by 'everything' I mean that entire night with Narcisse and no goddamn pants."

"Hey, I was naked. You had a towel."

"And she had a gun, and then we kicked her ass," Langly said with firm finality. "Because I told you I rate a better death. Invasion of the space turtles. Federal sex vampire, at least. It's gotta top the last one."

Chaz looked at the two of them, curiously. "Do I--"

Reid tried to get it into one simple sentence. "It was ... something that shouldn't have been possible, involving sharks."

"I threw up in a body bag. While I was in it. Never again."

A phone rang, and Chaz grabbed for his pocket, before realising it was Reid's. Reid glanced in the direction of his bag and held out his hand, not wanting to have to move Langly, and after an impossible-looking stretch that made noises Langly didn't want to think too hard about, Chaz managed to put the satchel in Reid's hand.

Reid looked pleasantly surprised as he answered the phone. "You got my message." A pause. "Agent Villette and I have been working all night, so we're still together. I'm going to put you on speaker."

'Working', Langly mouthed at Chaz, making finger quotes, and Chaz nearly swallowed his lips not to laugh, one hand prodding at the bruise he'd almost forgotten until he stretched.

"You guys are crazy. I just want you to know that," Prentiss announced. "So, yes, we do have Paul Asher. He got in yesterday, but I didn't tell him anything we weren't sure of, at the time -- including that we'd located Ms Fitzgerald. I assume you've placed her somewhere with appropriate protection?"

"She's safe, yes."

"Agent Prentiss," Chaz cut in, "we'd like to question Asher. I'd like to question Asher."

"We have some... unusual information that may place Ms Fitzgerald well within the jurisdiction of the ACTF, rather than our own," Reid offered. "Personally, I'd like to see Asher protected until his work is publicised and acted on. Holly Fitzgerald is not the only person being held in that facility, and Garcia, last I spoke with her, was going to query a few other agencies to see if the names we have for them are attached to any outstanding investigations. If not, we need Asher alive to deliver his recommendations and have this place shut down."

"Have the project terminated," Langly corrected. "Morning, Agent Prentiss."

"That's quite a party you've got going, Spencer."

"It's really not a party."

"Not enough of us had our shoes off at the same time." Chaz flashed the tip of his tongue at Reid.

"Either way, the three of you are on this case, officially -- insofar as an official case exists. You found a suspected terrorist facility and rescued an American citizen from it -- a family member of a State Department employee. In the process of doing so, you managed to identify the group as operatives of the same project Paul Asher is trying to shut down with his budget recommendations. It's clear someone went rogue and ordered attempted blackmail of Paul Asher, to prevent the project being terminated. That's the official report, so far. Does that sound right to you?"

"Yes, ma'am," Chaz replied. "The... three of us?"

"I spoke with Falkner, while you were in the field, yesterday. I've been able to bring Agent Reid back to full time by assigning him as the ACTF liaison. If you need our help, please ask Agent Reid."

"You what?" Reid sputtered, stunned. "I mean, that's... an honour. Thank you."

"Go dump your mountains of paperwork on someone else's desk for a while, Spencer. And try not to get shot or shoot anyone, just for a few months." Prentiss laughed tiredly. "But, Agent Falkner and I agree: we can spare the two of you and Mr Arroway to work out the details of this case, without putting either unit in an awkward position. You may still be called to contribute to other cases, if this stretches out, like I think it's going to, but this is a serious problem, and I'd like to think we can put a stop to it."

"It's career suicide," Chaz pointed out, as he had so many times already.

"Not with Asher on our side. Not if we can pull the blame off the upper links in the chain of command and offer a clear sacrifice."

"I'm not stopping short of Helmsman," Langly warned. "No matter who he is."

"I wouldn't ask you to. Find out who the prisoners are, and we'll see how likely prosecution is for anyone not directly involved in Holly Fitzgerald's abduction." Prentiss paused. "And, Reid? Take the day off and sleep in. I'll call you later today, to let you know when and where you can meet with Asher."

"I'm fine. I don't need--"

"Sleep, Spencer. It's something humans do."

"But-- I--"

The time stopped counting up, and the call ended.

"Sleep." Chaz looked contemplative. "It's something I should probably do a little more of. I'm going to call Falkner and beg for mercy, and then I'll go sleep in my own bed and leave the two of you to ..." He glanced around. "Figure out what's reasonable to sleep on, in here."

"The chair," Langly said, immediately. "I should finish rebuilding this one, so it stops being shitty when I'm not expecting it to be."

"You should have another pancake and get some more sleep," Reid suggested.

Langly leaned back against Reid's shoulder. "So, you're serious, this time?"

"That you should sleep? Definitely," Reid teased, eyes sparkling.

"Yes, he loves you. I swear. I get a stomach ache, just thinking about it." Chaz rolled his eyes as he got up and pulled out his phone.

"I do. I'm serious."

"Please don't be Byers," Langly sighed. "I've had enough of that kind of love, just from standing next to it."

Chaz cleared his throat obnoxiously and muttered, "Don't start writing letters and he'll be fine."

"Nothing's different," Reid promised. "There's just a word for it."