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It Sounds Uncommon Nonsense

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Gideon has been a father figure to Spencer, and though it's new for him to have a strong male role model, Spencer appreciates the fact that he’s there. When he leaves, Spencer spends the first few days feeling confused and angry, projecting the same feelings he’d had towards his father onto Gideon.

Hotch has always been this brilliant profiler that Spencer looks up to, more reliable than Gideon in many ways, a second support in Spencer’s life. And at the same time that Gideon is running away, Hotch is wavering and Spencer doesn’t know how to make it all add up.

He’s finally found a place where he feels comfortable. He has people to look up to, has friends who don’t find it strange when he provides them with the history of grain-alcohol when they’re at the bar, has a life that feels normal. And then it seems to be falling apart so suddenly that Spencer is thrown, feeling like he’s ten again, with no way to stop the unraveling of the world around him.

When Hotch comes back, more tense than ever, Spencer realizes that he doesn’t simply dislike Haley, he resents her, selfishly, for the way she’s thrown Hotch’s life into chaos with her manipulative behavior. And even more, he almost hates her for the way she makes Hotch feel, the way Hotch's shoulders slump when he speaks to her on the phone, the way his expression falls when she gives him an ultimatum. Hotch is part of what gives stability to Spencer’s world, and it hurts to see him so helpless.

After a while, the mention of Gideon no longer makes his chest tighten. Rossi comes in, as experienced as Gideon but absolutely nothing like him. Spencer doesn’t feel the same connection between himself and Rossi as he had felt with Gideon, but he respects Rossi all the same.

As Hotch’s marriage falls apart, as he goes through divorce proceedings, Spencer realizes that when either of them find balance again it will be completely different.

...

Hotch remains a part of Spencer’s life that makes him feel like he's okay, like he’s normal. His team accepts him for who he is, and he loves that feeling. But even as he’s becoming more confident, more independent, he sees Hotch drawing back into himself.

He wants to help Hotch, wants to keep Hotch from pulling so far away that he'll be completely inaccessible, or end up being a detriment to the team. He looks at Hotch and he sees this amazing person who is so devoted to the team, so completely selfless that, even if he doesn’t realize it, he's given part of himself up and lost the chance for him to be truly happy with a white-picket fence American Dream.

Spencer wants Hotch to realize that the team appreciates him; that Spencer appreciates him. So Spencer does the one thing he knows he’s good at, and he just listens. Whenever Hotch needs a sounding board, Spencer is there, and the more Hotch tells him, the more Spencer respects him.

After a while, he realizes that part of that respect is attraction, and he knows that it’s inappropriate. He pushes it down, doesn’t acknowledge it except for a few stray glances once in a while. Hotch is a straight man who is newly divorced, and that line of thinking isn’t going to get him anywhere.

It doesn’t matter what he wants, Spencer thinks, so long as he’s helping Hotch. So, he listens any time that Hotch needs to talk, and every so often he offers to do physics magic, because that always seems to make Hotch laugh.

Spencer leans against the edge of Morgan’s desk, letting Morgan regale him with the story of his latest date. “Her hips, Reid. She’s a salsa dancer, you know? And the way she moves,” Morgan makes some sort of noise.

“You know, salsa dancing is actually a combination of French and African movement, though most people attribute it’s origin to Cuba. It’s…” He stops when he sees the look Morgan is giving him. “Her hips, right,” Spencer says.

Morgan smiles and continues giving details of club they went to, and Spencer lets his mind drift idly. When Hotch walks out of Rossi’s office, Spencer smiles a little and Morgan stops speaking.

Spencer snaps back to attention at the silence, schooling his features while he turns to prompt Morgan to continue.

Morgan is watching him, a confused smile on his face.

“What?” Spencer asks.

Morgan shakes his head, “Nothing, you just zoned out on me there.”

Spencer forces a laugh, “I haven’t had enough caffeine yet.”

Morgan, thankfully, lets it go. “You mean you haven’t had enough sugar, yet. The way you make it, it can barely pass as coffee.”

Spencer smiles. “The way I make it, it’s delicious.”

It isn’t uncommon for Hotch and himself to be the last people in the office at night. Spencer knows that Hotch buries himself in work in order to avoid going home to an empty house, and Spencer knows firsthand the feeling of walking into something that is supposed to be a home and feeling more alone than ever.

Over time it becomes normal for them to order late-night take out, for Spencer to curl up in one of the chairs in Hotch’s office, flipping through files and drumming his fingers lightly against his thigh. Sometimes they take a break and find themselves discussing whatever else comes to mind, things that aren’t case related.

Spencer learns that Hotch tivo's reruns of the West Wing, and that he can see bits of himself in the lawyers running the White House. Spencer questions him on that, citing the sarcastic, easy banter between the characters, and Hotch’s response makes his chest tighten, slightly. “Maybe if all I knew was politics, that’s how I would be,” he says, “but after doing this…” Hotch trails off.

Spencer clears his throat awkwardly and says, “I see you more as the Secret Service type, anyhow.” The corner of Hotch’s mouth lifts in an almost smile, and they move on to a debate over classical music. Spencer loves Hotch’s smile, loves when it’s directed at him, and he wishes he knew what to do to coax it out of Hotch more often.

It’s on one of these nights that Spencer first calls Hotch 'Aaron'. Nine-thirty pm, and with Styrofoam boxes of Thai food spread across Hotch’s desk, Spencer is flipping through old case files listlessly. Hotch calls Haley as usual; saying goodnight to his son is something he tries to do every night he possibly can. Spencer doesn’t think anything of it, and Hotch is comfortable enough with him that Spencer has been there to hear it several times.

Except this time Spencer hears the faint click of the someone answering, and Hotch’s face freezes. Spencer lowers the file, watching as Hotch closes his eyes for a moment before he speaks. “This is Aaron Hotchner, is Haley there?”

Spencer realizes that someone else has answered the phone, and that, based on Hotch’s reaction, that someone is male. Spencer bites his lip, wondering if he should leave. Before he has a chance to decide, Hotch is speaking again, his words choked off, “No, just tell her I called when she’s finished. Is Jack awake? Oh. No, it’s okay, don’t wake him. Just, tell Haley I called, please. Thanks.”

Hotch looks shaken as he sets the receiver down, and Spencer knows he’s staring openly.

“Hotch,” he says, “everything okay?”

“Yes, yes of course,” Hotch says, shoulders straightening and voice tight. He’s staring intently at the page in front of him, and Spencer knows it’s just a request for a long weekend from Garcia.
After Hotch doesn’t move or say anything for another minute Spencer leans forward in his chair.

“Hotch,” he says, and when Hotch doesn’t respond, he lets his voice soften. “Aaron,” he says, and
Hotch finally looks up at him. “Aaron,” he says again, “are you okay?”

Hotch’s expression is a cross between anger and shame, and he nods once sharply without answering. Spencer hesitates before he speaks, “I’m sorry. I, uh, I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you, but… Jack’s really lucky to have you for a father.”

Hotch’s eyes soften, something unreadable in them, and Spencer ducks his head back down and tries to focus on the file in front of him. He doesn’t say anything more, and Hotch doesn’t ask him to leave.

Rossi says something one day that seems to be completely random to Spencer, but Spencer always listens to what Rossi says with the same intensity with which he had listened to Gideon.

“It’s hard to profile a profiler,” Rossi says.

“We don’t profile each other, we promised not to,” Spencer says in return.

Rossi smirks. “Has that stopped you from doing it?”

Spencer feels a little ashamed, knowing he’s unconsciously been doing it to everyone for years now. “I never do it intentionally,” is what he says to Rossi.

“None of us do, kid. We do it instinctively, and in the same vein we try and protect ourselves from it instinctively.”

Spencer must look openly confused, because Rossi laughs quietly.

“But some of us protect ourselves,” Rossi says, “and some of us just hide.” Rossi is looking out over the bullpen, where Hotch is talking to Prentiss about something, presumably related to the file in his hands.

Spencer still doesn’t really understand. “I’m sorry, what?”

Rossi glances over at him and smiles softly. “You’ll get it one day,” he says, and then he walks back into his office.

Spencer is still confused, but he does like the familiarity of his teammates and the movement and background noise that constitute the BAU bullpen. He leans against the railing, just watching everyone for a few more minutes before he heads down to his desk.

He doesn’t know what Rossi meant, but he believes Rossi when he says that he’ll figure it out.

Hotch walks down to the bullpen, coming to a stop in front of Spencer’s desk.

“Hey,” Spencer says, “how’d it go with Jack?”

“I took him to the planetarium.”

“Did he like it?”

Hotch smirks “He did. In fact he was so enthusiastic about it that we almost got kicked out.”

Spencer smiles, “Children find everything in nothing whereas men find nothing in everything.”

Hotch mock glares. “I’m sure I would have found more in it if I hadn’t been wrangling a toddler the whole time.”

Spencer smiles, “Hey, I’m not criticizing you, Giacomo Leopardi is.”

“He should spend an afternoon with Jack.”

Spencer’s voice softens. “I told you he’d love it,” he says.

“You were right.”

When Hotch walks away, Spencer realizes that everyone is staring at him. He ducks his head and lets his hair fall over his face, going back to the old case files he’s been reviewing.

Spencer notices that the closer Hotch lets him get, the more Spencer sees the little ticks that Hotch has, like twirling a pen absently when he’s studying something, biting his bottom lip when he’s putting something together, tilting his head to the right when he’s incorporating something new to the profile. What Spencer likes about this is that he’s seeing the things when Hotch isn’t being SSA Hotchner, like when he rubs his hand over the back of his neck, or loosens his tie and arches his neck.

Every time he sees something new in Hotch, he wants to see more. He wants to see everything

J.J. calls them into the conference room on a Monday, pulling up pictures of the bodies of three young women, each of which is covered in dozens of tiny cuts and has been strangled. Each girl had been found five days after the last. She starts briefing them on the case, the Santa Barbara police requesting their presence after the department’s own detectives hadn’t been able to make much headway.

Rossi’s been gone a few days, attending his niece’s wedding, but the rest of the team is paying close attention to J.J. Spencer zones out, watching the way Hotch’s fingers slowly turn the pen in his hand. Hotch has great hands, he thinks, and he half-listens to J.J. for the rest of the briefing, not really paying attention until he hears Hotch’s voice saying, “Wheels up in twenty.”

He glances up and Spencer thinks that no one has noticed his distraction, but as they’re heading out of the room Hotch smiles and twirls the pen again, slowly and deliberately. Spencer is right behind him, and he must make some sort of noise because Hotch laughs without turning around.

Spencer ducks his head as he makes his way to his desk.

One thing Spencer had never expected to encounter in his life was an overzealous, overly sarcastic ‘psychic detective’ everyone referred to as… Spencer. His name, as it turns out, is actually Shawn, but as far as Reid can tell there’s no rhyme or reason as to who calls him Shawn and who calls him Spencer. The one exception is the head detective for the SBPD, a high strung man who tenses every time Shawn starts to move, and who sends heated glares across the room when Shawn even opens his mouth to speak.

Hotch is obviously not pleased by Shawn’s presence, but Shawn has an almost perfect record as far convictions go, and the SBPD’s chief likes to keep him around. When Chief Vick explains this, with a vague gesture to the thirty year old man sort-of wiggling and pressing his fingers to his temples in what seems to be an effort to ease the pain of a smoothie-induced brain freeze, Spencer can easily read the skepticism on the faces of his teammates.

“You’ll have to excuse Mr. Spencer’s… antics, gentlemen,” Chief Vick says, but before she can continue, Shawn cuts her off.

“My brain is literally trying to jump out of my skull, Chief. This is a very serious matter. If this were an antic, you’d know it,” Shawn says.

Chief Vick rolls her eyes before continuing on as though Shawn hadn’t even spoken, “but though he may be… unconventional at times, he’s proven himself to be an asset to our department.” Spencer notices the way that Lassiter’s mouth twitches at the statement, the way his eyes darken for a moment. “And this is Mr. Guster,” Chief Vick continues, gesturing to the African American man standing protectively close to Detective O’Hara, “Mr. Spencer’s associate. They’ll be around the station from time to time, but please feel free to ignore them-“

“Impossible, Chief! Have you seen Gus’ rendition of Hey Mickey? Neither man nor woman can resist, let alone ignore,” Shawn cuts in.

Vick continues as though she hadn’t been interrupted. “And try not to encourage them,” she says, glancing back towards the agents.

Shawn is still talking about Gus' dance moves, apparently not listening to the chief at all. “He does this thing with his hips, all swively and in time with the clapping and the—you’ve seen it, Jules, back me up. It’s amazing!” Shawn continues on as though he’d never been interrupted. O’Hara flushes and looks down, and Spencer is amazed at the dynamics within the group. Never before has he seen an officer speak to a chief like this, let alone a civilian, and here Chief Vick is letting Shawn continue on with something like a smirk on her face.

O’Hara chokes an embarrassed cough out, and Gus moves to place his hand on her back. Lassiter growls, “Spencer,” in an authoritative tone that makes Reid jump and Shawn shut up. Reid notices that Shawn and Lassiter have a silent argument, both of them glaring slightly and Lassiter’s mouth twitching again, before Shawn’s shoulders slump and he goes quiet.

Vick glances at Spencer before she continues, “As I was saying, feel free to ignore Mr. Spencer, and know that we’re more than willing to assist you with anything you may need in this investigation.” She pauses for a moment before looking at Hotch. “We really appreciate you helping us out here.”

Spencer doesn’t miss the way Lassiter stiffens slightly, how his eyes reflexively glance down. Lassiter obviously isn’t as accepting of their help as Vick is, then, but that’s not unexpected. Most of the cases they work they find themselves on tenuous grounds with the local PD.

J.J. is standing just behind him, and Spencer surveys the room, glances away from Lassiter and over to Gus, noting the way his hand has settled easily on the small of OHara’s back. He lets his gaze slide across Prentiss and Morgan, standing in the corner and trying to appear as neutral as possible. Between them and Chief Vick stands Hotch, his posture perfect, as always, and neither his expression nor the tone of his voice belying any of the exasperation Spencer knows he’s feeling.

He lets his eyes rest on the slant of skin exposed just above the collar of Hotch’s throat, tuning out Hotch’s overview of the BAU’s plan for a moment while he thinks. He’s been having moments like these more and more often recently; on the plane ride out Hotch had his suit-jacket off and his sleeves rolled up and Spencer had stopped paying attention to his book of classic historical speeches to watch that smooth area of skin just underneath Hotch’s wrist. His mind flashed rapid images of all the ways that he could make the small spot a part of intimacy between himself and Hotch, but the simplest still stands out the most: taking Hotch’s hand and kissing the spot just beneath his pulse point, lightly.

He flushes lightly and forces his attention back to the briefing, eyes flicking to Shawn quickly and noticing the way Shawn’s gaze glances away the moment Spencer meets it with his own.

The first hour working in the SBPD station starts the same as working with any other local police department. They’re going over the case files again, talking to the cops who initially worked the scenes, and Spencer is tacking up a map of the greater Santa Barbara area when Shawn’s voice cuts through the relative quiet.

“…Jules, come on. If you just let me in you’ll save me the hassle of finding an unethical and possibly illegal way of doing it behind your back. And if I do that then Gus will be mad at me for making you mad and then I’ll be mad at you for telling Gus, and Lassi will just be mad at everyone and this will all end with a defenseless hotdog vendor being shot in the knee.” Shawn is whining, and Spencer sees him stop in front of the doorway, O’Hara just out of view. Spencer wonders how a thirty something man in flip-flops and a bright pink polo shirt is allowed to roam free in the station.

O’Hara sighs. “At this point I’m just going to assume you’re going to try and do it anyway.”

“So, does that mean you’ll be more likely or less likely to be angry if I succeed?”

“It’s illegal, Shawn.”

“That term is really just a formality, it hardly even means anything anymore; I mean really it’s more like questionably legal. You can’t doubt science, Jules.”

“First, that made absolutely no sense, and second, illegal means illegal.”

“Well, agree to disagree.” There’s a pause. “Have I told you today how much you remind me of a fuzzy little kitten playing with a ball of yarn?”

“What?”

“You know, when the yarn gets wrapped all around it, with its little paws all tangled up and its adorable little meow.”

“What does a kitten have to do with anything?”

“Well, if you’ll recall, I once gave McNab a kitten.”

“Shawn.”

“I suppose, technically speaking, that this has nothing to do with kittens.”

“I’m leaving, Shawn. If I see you go near the records room I will arrest you.”

“I’ll be like a ghost, Jules. All eerie and wispy like, probably haunting Lassiter, maybe joining up with Patrick Swayze to joint-haunt Demi Moore. How awesome would that be?”

“Bye, Shawn.”

“Okay Jules, see you later! I’m definitely not going to break into the records room!” Shawn calls loudly at O’Hara’s retreating form. Everyone on the BAU team is openly staring at Shawn, who is still watching as O'Hara walks away. Shawn nods his head a few times, rocking back on his heels, before he turns and notices the room full of people watching him.

“I bet P. Sways and I could get Demi to make something way cooler than a pot. A sundial, maybe. Possibly a clay monkey,” he says before walking away.

Spencer doesn’t know, but if he had to guess he would say that Shawn is heading directly for the records room. Spencer glances at Morgan, who is smiling, and then at Hotch, who is not. He can practically hear the indignant monologue running through Hotch’s head, questioning why no one is going after Shawn or trying to stop a crime that Shawn had basically confessed he was about to commit.

J.J. clears her throat and they all turn back to the case at hand. Spencer’s mind drifts to the nonsense of Shawn’s words, and then to the way Hotch had probably perceived them. He likes the way Hotch tries to hide his disapproval but always lets the hint of a frown show through. It makes Spencer want to kiss it away.

The next time Spencer sees Shawn he’s on his way to the bathroom. Shawn kicks a leg out in front of him, effectively blocking his path.

“So I hear you’re some kind of genius,” Shawn says, perching on the edge of a desk— Lassiter’s, Spencer thinks-- and swings his legs out in a manner reminiscent of a small child whose feet don’t quite reach the ground.

“I, uh. Yes,” Spencer replies. Shawn has asked the question with the perfect air of innocence, his head tipped slightly to the side, his eyebrows slightly raised. He seems to be completely comfortable, but there’s something calculating in his gaze that throws Spencer slightly off. “I have an IQ of 187,” he says. He’s learned to cut his answer off around there, as it usually makes people uncomfortable when he recites his achievements.

Shawn, however, waits a beat before he prompts him, “And?”

“And I have an eidetic memory and can read 20,000 words a minute,” Spencer says. Shawn still seems perfectly comfortable, but Spencer can see him processing the information.

“An eidetic memory, huh?”

“People usually refer to it as photographic memory, though that isn’t technically accurate as it can often include the ability to recall sounds as well as images with extreme accuracy. But, yes.” Shawn just nods easily while Spencer speaks, smiling softly. Spencer shifts uncomfortably, realizing that Shawn already knows this about him, that he probably knows about his education as well. Spencer has the distinct feeling that Shawn is reading him, and he coughs lightly.

Shawn grins widely and hops off the desk. “Well, then. Want a smoothie?” he asks. Spencer shakes his head ‘no,’ trying to figure out what just happened. Shawn clasps Spencer’s shoulder as he walks away.

He hears Shawn behind him, “McNabb, my man, how ‘bout a delicious fruit smoothie to brighten your morning? Gus’ treat!”

Spencer stares at the map in front of him, his eyes scanning the routes between abduction sites and dump sites, his mind reciting statistics while he tries to make sense of the incongruous information it’s being presented. Two victims abducted within a mile of one another; the first body was found five miles northwest of the abduction site, the second nine miles northwest, both off of Route 154.

He hears someone move to stand behind him on his left side. “How’s it coming?” Hotch asks softly.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Spencer says. He knows a note of frustration comes through in his voice.

Hotch moves a little closer and Spencer swallows thickly, imagining what it would feel like if Hotch closed the distance and his body was pressed against Spencer’s own.

Hotch is silent for a moment while he studies the map before he reaches up and clasps Spencer’s shoulder. “You’ll figure it out,” he says, before moving away to look over the photos of the victims with Morgan.

Spencer remains in front of the board, slightly tense and unable to focus.

The profile suggests that they’re looking for an adult male, probably in his late twenties. He’s probably socially awkward, but people will just assume he’s shy. He cuts the victims along their abdomen and chest, but then leaves time for each cut to heal before inflicting a new wound. He wants the victims to feel the pain, rather than allow endorphins to help dull it.

The women all bear physical resemblance to one another, suggesting the aggression he’s showing is directed at a woman from his past, but based on the ages of the women it’s probably not his mother.
Spencer listens as Prentiss gives the local detectives the overview, trying to create a mental picture of their unsub as she speaks.

That afternoon another body is found. Hotch and Prentiss head to the scene, leaving J.J. and Morgan to start incorporating the new development into their profile and Spencer to try and make sense of the geographic profile.

When Hotch and Prentiss get back, they tack the pictures of the body and dumpsite to the board.
The identity of the latest victim is still unknown, even though Garcia has been running her description through missing person reports from all of Southern California for the past few hours, when the team is ready to give their updated profile.

Hotch has called all the officers into the room so they can revise their profile of the unsub, and he’s a little surprised when Shawn accompanies O’Hara into the room. Shawn stops a few feet away him, close enough to see the picture of the victim clipped to the board.

Shawn and O’Hara are arguing about something; it sounds like the best flavor of ice cream to use for a root-beer float. While she starts arguing the finer points of vanilla, Spencer notices Shawn glances at the picture, the way his gaze narrows quickly, no more than three seconds, and then relaxes as he turns back to his argument. He cuts O’Hara off mid-sentence with, “Mint chocolate chip, Jules. That’s all I’m saying.”

Morgan and Prentiss begin their explanation of what the discovery of the new victim means to their profile, the ways that it helps them further describe their unsub, to the gathered officers. They’re about a minute into it when suddenly Shawn makes a loud gurgling sound and clutches his head.

Spencer glances at Hotch and sees his eyebrows raised, obviously surprised. Shawn lurches forward, placing his hand on J.J.’s shoulder to steady himself before he starts convulsing, still making the noise, his eyes closed and the hand not braced against J.J. pressed against his temple. The BAU team all look stunned, but Spencer notices that the members of the SBPD don’t look surprised, merely anticipatory.

The gurgling noise abruptly stops and Shawn starts speaking. “I feel an earthquake, the ground is moving and I can’t control it and- no, no wait, the earthquake is over.” The room is silent for a moment and then Shawn starts again, “This isn’t the earthquake. The earthquake is over but my head is pounding and- and the ground is shaking again. It’s-it’s-“ he stops as though searching for a word, but it’s Gus who speaks next.

“An aftershock?” He guesses.

Shawn snaps his fingers and points at her, his eyes opening. “That’s it! Aftershocks!”

Spencer frowns, completely confused. From the reactions of the officers around him he gathers this type of display is a fairly common occurrence.

“What about them?” Lassiter snaps.

“Not them, it,” Shawn says, his hand dropping from his head and his face scrunching briefly.

After a moment of silence O’Hara’s face lights up and she speaks excitedly, “There’s a club called Aftershocks! Down on fifteenth! Could that be it?”

Shawn nods and shrugs slightly, “I guess, that’s all the spirits told me.”

“We’ll go check it out,” O’Hara starts to say before she realizes the BAU team is there. She stops, glancing over at Hotch who still looks stunned. After a moment he schools his expression into one of interest, but his gaze doesn’t move away from Shawn.

“What was that?” Hotch asks, and he knows everyone on his team is wondering the same thing.

“A psychic vision,” Shawn states simply.

“And how often do these ‘visions’ occur?” Hotch’s voice is neutral.

“As often as the spirits see fit to communicate with me.” Shawn’s voice is completely calm, as though it’s perfectly normal to have been convulsing violently a minute earlier.

Hotch looks over at Chief Vick, who is standing at the back of the crowd. “And they’re usually helpful?”

“More often than not,” Chief Vick says, shrugging.

Hotch looks thoughtful for a moment before he nods slowly, turning his attention back to O’Hara. “Then I suppose it can’t hurt to look into it. Morgan, Prentiss, accompany Detectives O’Hara and Lassiter, will you?”

Prentiss clears her throat and nods. “Of course.”

Everyone begins moving again as O’Hara, Lassiter, Morgan and Prentiss leave the room. He sees Gus cross the room to stand next to Shawn, lean in and say something quietly to his friend. Shawn says something back, voice low enough that no one can hear him, but Spencer sees what appears to be ‘I’ll tell you later.’ Gus nods, and Shawn turns his attention back to the case.

Spencer and Hotch sit side by side at the table, spreading the crime scene photos in chronological order and trying to make note of all the similarities between the victims. Spencer’s eyes flash across the bruising around their necks, the small lacerations that have begun to heal, the way their bodies are arranged.

Hotch checks his cell phone for what must be the seventh time that evening, and Spencer looks over when he sighs. “Hey,” Spencer says, quietly. The ‘what’s up’ is implied, leaving room for Hotch to avoid it. He’s actually a little surprised when Hotch turns to him, his expression open.

“Jack’s preschool presented their play, today. I was supposed to be there.”

Spencer doesn’t know what to say, so he makes a sympathetic noise, allowing Hotch the option of continuing.

“Haley’s recording it so I can have a copy of it later. She was supposed to call me before it started.” Hotch seems to hold his breath for a few seconds before he says, quietly, “I hate thinking that there’s some man out there doing all these father-son things with him. that he might be a better father to Jack than I am.”

Spencer doesn’t know what to say; to be honest he’s completely dumbstruck at Hotch’s words. Hotch tries to keep his home life private, though he does let his pride at Jack’s accomplishments show. Spencer thinks back to when he told Garcia that everyone tells him their secrets because they know he has no one to reveal them to.

He wonders if that has something to do with Hotch’s openness, or if it has to do with the fact that they’ve been spending more time around each other lately. He clears his throat before he says, “No one could ever be a better father than you, Aaron.”

He knows Hotch recognizes the use of his first name, something flashes in Hotch’s eyes when he hears it.

“Jack loves you, and one day he’ll understand it better. If he didn’t get to talk to you before the play started, it was because Haley didn’t let him.” Spencer pauses for a moment before he continues. “No matter what Haley does or says, or who she’s dating… you’ll always be Jack’s father because you love him more than anyone else possibly could.”

Hotch’s expression softens, and he smiles faintly at Spencer. “Thanks, Spencer.” Spencer notices that Hotch has used his first name, and he lets the corner of his mouth quirk up a little, before he nods and tilts his head to indicate the crime scene photos.

There’s a minute of silence as they study the images and compare them to the notes made by the first responding officers at the crime scene before Spencer speaks again. His voice is deliberately quiet, almost muttering, “plus, Haley can be a real bitch.”

He hears Hotch’s quiet laugh, but neither of them look up again.

The victim, it turns out, was a bartender at Aftershocks. Kaitlin Bernd, 21, an only child whose parents had died in a car crash two years earlier. She’d missed her shift at the club two nights ago, but it had happened before and no one had worried about it. Her boss and co-workers said that every few months Kaitlin would go MIA for a few days, usually back to her hometown where she would visit her parents’ graves.

As soon as Prentiss gives them the name, Spencer sees the way Hotch is watching Shawn. He knows Hotch is considering him as a suspect, trying to figure out if there’s a way he could fit the profile of the unsub. He knows the rest of the team is probably thinking the same way. Instinctively, Spencer also knows that Shawn had nothing to do with this.

When Hotch is alone, Spencer takes the chance to approach him. “Hey,” he says quietly. Hotch’s expression softens slightly when he looks at Spencer, waiting for him to continue. “You know Shawn didn’t do this, right?”

Hotch looks surprised for a moment before his expression turns incredulous. “Spencer, we’ve been here less than twenty-four hours. You’ve barely talked to this man, who, to be honest, seems to be a bit unstable, and you’re ready to rule him out as a suspect?”

“Hotch, think about it. Think about how many other crimes he’s helped solve in Santa Barbara. It’s highly unlikely that he’s been involved in fifty-some cases and helped bring them down from the inside.”

Hotch’s eyes flash, and Spencer knows that he’s put things back into perspective a little bit. “I don’t believe in psychics, Reid,” Hotch says.

Spencer holds his gaze before a second before he responds. “I don’t believe in them either, Hotch, but if he can help us find our unsub, does it really matter?”

After a moment, Hotch sighs and his shoulders sag. “I guess not,” he says. Spencer smiles at him slightly, his own shoulders relaxing. Hotch presses his lips together tightly and then asks, “So what do we know?”

Spencer is walking toward the bathroom in the nearly deserted police station, trying to dab the coffee he just spilled out of his pants with a napkin as he goes, when the sound of voices in the alcove just around the corner makes him stop.

“Shawn,” Lassiter bites out, and Spencer is a bit surprised; he’s never heard Lassiter refer to Shawn by his first name.

“Yes, Carlton?” Shawn shoots back in the same snippy tone.

There’s silence for a few seconds before he hears Lassiter sigh. “Shawn,” he says again, and this time his voice is low and intimate. “Please try not to get yourself kidnapped, or shot at, or chased by pirates—“

“Treasure hunters,” Shawn corrects, and his voice is just as quiet as Lassiter’s.

“--treasure hunters, whatever,” Lassiter continues, “or get yourself involved in an intricate game with a serial killer, okay? Please, just try not to get hurt.”

Spencer is intrigued. He makes a mental note to go through Shawn’s file when he gets a chance. Lassiter sounds completely serious, and Spencer doesn’t doubt that all of those things have happened to Shawn.

“I’ll do my best,” Shawn answers softly.

He hears Lassiter sigh again, as though he knows that’s the best he can ask for. “Just- if you’re going to do whatever- be careful, okay?”

“Okay.” Again there’s silence, and Spencer is imagining the look that Lassiter must have on his face when Shawn speaks again, his tone as light and playful as ever. “I’m going to get a churro,” he says, “can I interest you in a delectable cinnamon-sugar covered treat?

“No,” Lassiter says, and Spencer can almost hear him rolling his eyes.

“Your loss, Lassi-pants,” Shawn says, and Spencer doesn’t have time to move away before Shawn walks out of the alcove and around the corner toward the front of the station. He glances over at Spencer, not looking at all surprised to see him standing there, and shoots him a wide grin and a wink as he walks past.

Spencer flushes and turns around quickly, trying to move away before Lassiter realizes he was there. He has the feeling Lassiter would have a distinctly different reaction to Spencer having heard the conversation.