It was his wild thrashing that woke her more than the ragged screams. Her sleep-slowed mind registered the screaming as more of a mild annoyance. His frantic tossing and turning, however, jerked her out of her lethargic state, and she sat upright, her hand immediately shooting out to tug on the lamp string beside the bed. The lamp cast a soft, serene glow on the bedroom, starkly in contrast with the jarring scene before her.
Her mind shook off the last clinging droplets of sleep and quickly registered what was going on. The nightmares , she thought, dread spreading throughout her like ice in her veins. It occurred to her that she had absolutely no clue what to do, but the sight of his flailing arms, his eyes rolling back and forth behind his lids, made her heart squeeze with distress. She sucked in a deep breath and did the only thing she could think to do.
“Spencer! Hey, Spencer! SPENCER!” She shook him frantically, trying desperately to tear him away from the horrendous scene that was probably playing out in his mind.
His eyes flew open and the tears that she had seen soaking his eyelashes now traced tracks from the corners of his eyes into his hair. His sides heaved and shuddered as he pushed himself up into a sitting position, his breathing as heavy as the tears streaming down his cheeks.
Hesitantly, she placed a hand on his shoulder. She could feel his entire body quivering beneath her fingers, and his muscles immediately tensed under her touch.
“Spencer?” she whispered. She didn’t mean for it to come out as a whisper, but she was struggling to keep her voice even. The less sound she made, the harder it was for him to gauge her emotions.
“Spencer,” she repeated. “Please talk to me.”
He breathed in deeply, loudly and shrugged slightly. She immediately understood this as a silent warning. Removing her hand from his shoulder, she placed it in her lap and tried to ignore the hurt that was clawing its way up her insides. Stop. He doesn’t mean it. Give him space. Let him be.
He muttered something that sounded like “handle,” more to himself than to her, but her ears caught it immediately and she looked up at him. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t think of anything to say to him, anything that conveyed the weighty sorrow she felt in the pit of her stomach
The guilt that she tried hard to squash down rose up inside her like bile as Spencer pushed himself off of the bed, still shaking, and walked to the bathroom.
“Don’t stay up for me.” he muttered. “I’ll be a while.”
Eyes focused on her fingers picking at the hem of her pants, her only indication that Spencer had returned was the creak of the bathroom door and the slight dip of the bed as he sat back down.
“I told you not to wait up for me.” His voice was ragged.
Still not meeting his eyes, she murmured, “You can’t hide forever, Spencer.”
“From my problems or from you.” She could hear that he was trying to be nonchalant, but there was a slight quaver in his uncharacteristic response.
“Both.” She replied, imitating his calm tone but much more convincingly. When she finally raised her eyes to his face, the sight of his puffy, bloodshot eyes boring into hers almost fractured her resolve. But her attention was drawn to another feature that caused her eyes to narrow in suspicion.
Spencer’s eyes were slightly unfocused, and looking closely, she realized that his pupils, although he should be looking directly into the lamp behind her, were unnaturally dilated. Her eyes flickering down to his nose, the slight dusting of white powder on the fine hairs at the tip made her stomach drop sickeningly.
“Spencer...” she said tentatively, her pulse beginning to speed up. “Were you doing lines in the bathroom?”
She saw him visibly tense, and the shock that flitted across his face was gone as quick as it came, but she had seen it. She had, she thought scornfully, been expecting it.
“What?” Then he recognized the anger on her face. “Would you kill me if I was?”
His response shook her to the core. It was cold and derisive and the complete opposite of the quiet, guarded Spencer that she knew. He unconsciously shifted away from her on the bed, and the subtle action only served to fuel her rising anger.
It wasn’t that she was angry at him. She didn’t think she could ever be angry at him for trying to forget his pain. But she was utterly furious at herself. Furious that she hadn’t seen his relapse coming, furious that she was unable to soothe him the way the drugs did, and absolutely, ineffably furious that she was so terrified of him not doing anything to help himself that she didn’t realize he might resort to the one things that had never failed him.
The bed creaked violently as she shoved herself off and stalked into the adjoining bathroom. Flicking on the lights, she wasn’t surprised when she saw no evidence of what had transpired only a few minutes ago. But she wasn’t stupid, and living with an FBI agent had taught her a plethora of investigative skills.
Like how, for example, the small streaks of water droplets arcing across the surface of the counter told her that it had been recently wiped down. Or that the small wall cabinet’s ajar door told her that it had been recently opened and hurriedly closed.
Almost hesitantly, she reached out, gently swinging the door open all the way. Her eyes were met with a seemingly innocent row of hair products, face washes, tubes of toothpaste, and medicine bottles. Then, an unfamiliar container caught her eye.
Dark blue, opaque, and the size of her thumb, it sat on the shelf like a silent soldier. She snatched it out of the cabinet and all but broke the lid off. An involuntary gasp was ripped from her lungs as she beheld the fine white powder that filled it to the brim. Several small, pinky sized dents in the surface revealed that it had been recently used.
Ketamine , she realized. Her stomach plunged as she recalled a conversation they had had not two days previously.
“Ketamine, classified as a ‘dissociative anesthetic,’ induces a trance-like state while providing, pain relief, sedation, and memory loss…”
He had been hinting to her, begging her, silently pleading her to understand, to help him. But she had been stupid, oh so stupid, and had simply ignored the signs. She had written them off as effects of the cases, or PTSD from being kidnapped, but the more she thought about it now, the more the pieces were fitting together to form a terrifying, sickening image. One in which Spencer had desperately needed help and she had done nothing. Absolutely nothing.
There was no stopping the tears now as they streamed down her face, little rivers of self-loathing and misery. Her cheeks once again burned with shame, and she didn’t even bother to wipe away the tears as she shuffled out of the bathroom and back towards the bed, coming to a stop a few feet from the bedpost.
He wasn’t looking at her, but she saw the telltale signs of a K high. His eyes were unfocused and his normally fidgety hands were unnaturally still. His posture had slipped into a relaxed slouch and his mouth was weakly forming words that she couldn’t understand.
The pitiful sight only served to fuel her misery, and she could barely suppress the shuddering sob that wracked her frame. Fighting not to avert her eyes, she choked out the question that had been wrestling with her tongue:
“What?” His speech was slurred.
“How. Long?” With more conviction this time. She was fighting to keep his focus on her, to stop him from slipping away into this goddamn “K-hole”.
Without even really thinking about, she flung the bottle at the wall. It smashed against the plaster, scraping off flakes of baby blue paint and falling to the floor in a hazy white cloud. Cracks spidered from a large dent in the wall, small pieces of navy glass embedded in them.
Spencer jumped and his head snapped up at the jarring crash, his eyes wide and eyebrows high on his forehead. She stared him squarely in the eye, not blinking, not looking away. He held her gaze for a long time before the steel behind his eyes vanished, and he was left looking haunted. His consequent sigh cracked in his throat, and it was followed by a small, almost inaudible sob.
To his credit, he didn’t push her way at all when she flung herself onto the bed and wrapped him in her body. Instead, he turned in her arms and buried his face in her neck. His warm, shaky breath sent shivers down her spine that increased tenfold the minute she felt hot tears join the mix.
She held him as he cried, holding her breath in intervals for as long as physically possible to prevent her own emotions from taking control of her. His soft wails would’ve otherwise sent her over the edge.
They sat for an immeasurably long time, his chest heaving with sobs and her fingers stroking through his hair. After a while his breathing calmed, but he stayed pressed against her, breathing into her skin and fidgeting with her shirt.
Around three o’clock she finally pushed him away gently and raised his eyes to hers with a knuckle. His eyes were bloodshot and wet, and dark shadows graced the skin underneath them, but he had never looked so beautiful her.
“You’re so beautiful,” she voiced. Or whispered. Her voice was still struggling to exit her throat.
He snorted quietly and looked away, but his small, sad smile was genuine. “No, you are.” he whispered back, and his hands pulled away from the hem of her t-shirt to grasp the one under his chin.
She brought her other hand to his and brought the bundle down to chest level, their sweaty palms sandwiched between each others. She took a deep breath, and opened her mouth to say something, but she faltered when his lips found hers. He kissed her softly, tenderly, and its underlying emotion caused tears to well up behind her closed lids.
Blinking rapidly, she pulled away, but he leaned forward again and simply pressed his forehead against hers. Eyes still closed, he whispered, “You were there.”
Her heart stuttered a little when she processed his words. She didn’t respond.
“You were there,” he repeated. “In my dream, you were there. It was dark and cold and you were there.” He couldn’t seem to say it enough. “This unsub, a man I hadn’t thought about in a really long time, was there. With you.” He took a deep breath, then continued, “I couldn’t move. He kept h-hurting you and I couldn’t mo-move. I c-couldn’t move. I-I couldn’t sa-save you. And then…” He trailed off and he was shaking and she was shaking and there were tears on both their faces. “And th-then he shot you. Just like that. Just… just pulled the trigger and you--”
She pressed her trembling fingers to his lips. “Don’t,” she whispered. “Stop. I’m right here. Right here.”
His glossy eyes stared into hers, and then the shaking became uncontrollable and he put his face into his hands and sobbed once more. She reached out with shivering hands and gently threaded her fingers through his hair. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his forehead, a chain of “right here”s whispered into the warm skin.
When his sobs calmed for the second time that night, he looked up at her. This gaze was different from the rest. His eyes were clear. Though red and puffy, there was no darkness, no sadness, no disgust, no fear. He simply looked at her with those beautiful eyes.
And then he murmured, “I love you.”
Her breath caught. He had never said it before. Sure, she had said it many times. But he had never responded with the same phrase. She had suspected it carried too much meaning in his life to be used casually.
And here he was, the look in his eyes repeating the words that had just left his lips, that hung in the air like an unspoken promise.
She blinked once, twice, then tried to respond, but all that came out was, “What?”
“I said, I love you. With all of my heart.”
It was too much for her. The tears spilled out all at once, but her face split into a tremendous smile. She took his face in her hands, and kissed him over and over again. He leaned into all of them, his fingers coming up to circle her wrists, brush away her tears, stroke through her hair, perform small, feathery touches that only made the tears come harder.
The moment was like a bubble. It grew and grew and then her eyes wandered to the spidery crack on the wall and it popped.
As she pulled away, her hands unconsciously moved from his face to her lap, extricating themselves from his grasp. His hurt was apparent when his brows knit together and his eyes fell from her face.
Her voice was barely a whisper when she said, “How do I know it won’t happen again?”
“You don’t,” he answered frankly, his eyes meeting hers once more.
She could still see the lingering effects of the ketamine in his blown pupils, but he seemed lucid enough in his speech and actions. Though she couldn’t be sure because he had just told her he loved her, which was blatantly uncharacteristic.
“Why won’t you let someone help you? Do you truly believe that filling your body with chemicals that will slowly kill you is going to reduce the pain? Does it?”
“It does, for a while. It’s not exactly like I have options to choose from. There are no other options. Aside from different substances.” He let loose a humourless chuckle that gave her chills.
“Have you tried… I don’t know, therapy?”
“Therapy doesn’t help when the person picking apart your brain knows less about it than you do. The BAU wrote most of the psych-eval questions, Maeve. Therapy would be an hour of someone telling me things I already know.”
“Ok, so maybe not a professional. But what about the people you work with? Like… like Hotch? Or Derek?”
“I think Hotch has enough to worry about without the burden of my issues. And Morgan….”
“He wouldn’t understand.”
“I think he would.”
He turned his body away from hers. “You don’t know him.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“I’m not afraid, I just don’t think I’m there yet. You know?”
“I kind of don’t, Spencer. You’ve worked together for over eight years. Isn’t that enough for you to trust him?”
He sighed and ran a rough hand over his face. “It’s not about trust. I don’t…”
He hesitated and she knew he was on the edge of revealing something that he had been holding onto for a long time.
“This job is my life. My entire life. If I didn’t have this, I’m not sure what I would do, who I would be. And if I tell someone at work, they might--” His qualms were evident. “If I tell someone at work, they might deem me… unfit.”
She scoffed. “Unfit? Unfit like Strauss? They didn’t fire her for drinking on the job! Unfit like Hotch, who witnessed his ex-wife’s murder and went on a rampage to kill Foyet? Unfit like Emily, who literally died and was hidden away from her best friends for a year? Unfit like Morgan?” She turned his face towards her at this. “Unfit like Morgan, who had to confront his abuser in front of the entire team? Your pain does not make you unfit. Your mental health does not make you unfit. You get help and then you fight through and then you come back stronger. There is not a single person on your team who doesn’t understand the trauma that comes with this job. They will not shun you for being human. You have to learn to trust others, especially your family.”
Spencer finally met her eyes and sighed once more. “Are you trying to outdo me with your level of intelligence?”
She smiled despite herself and took his hands in her own. “So, what’re you going to do?”
“Talk to someone.”
“And who might that someone be?”
He smiled a small smile and pushed himself off of the bed. Carefully stepping around the broken blue glass, he grabbed his phone from the nightstand on his way out.
Rubbing her face, Maeve’s eyes lingered towards the dent in the wall. Pristine white surface save for the jarring black scars. Just like him , she thought.
She laid back down on the bed and closed her eyes.