“They can’t just replace J.J.”
“They aren’t going to, Hotch won’t let them.”
“But, what if they do it anyway?”
“I mean, I wouldn’t mind if they brought back Agent Todd.”
“Well, of course you wouldn’t , you two practically lovers.”
“Watch your mouth, pretty boy.”
“This is my fault, if I had just… done better! In Ohio! I should have been able to do it.”
“Oh, Penelope, we don’t blame you.”
“Yeah, Baby Girl, don’t sweat it.”
“It’s not your fault that the Brass doesn’t think you and Hotch can’t handle the work.”
“Guys, look, she’s coming out.”
Out, from Agent Hotchner’s office, comes Section Chief Strauss. She doesn’t even attempt to hide the smug look of satisfaction that is splattered on her face. Every time Strauss is able to get her way, especially in cases where it rubs Hotch the wrong way, it causes her mood to lighten exponentially. True, she isn’t always so heartless, but, this team causes her the most stress. Derek Morgan, Emily Prentiss, Dr. Spencer Reid, and Penelope Garcia try their best not to drill daggers into her skull with their glares.
David Rossi, who had been in his office during this ordeal takes a tentative peak out of his office, assessing how his coworkers are doing and if he should go talk them or Hotch down using his old profiler wisdom. The second he sees Reid and Garcia’s faces he knows that the younger members need it the most. He descends into the BAU bullpen. Derek and Emily taking their cue, scurring back to Emily’s desk and opting to pretend they aren’t listening to whatever Rossi is about to say to them.
“They’re replacing JJ,” Spencer informs the senior agent.
Penelope pushes up her neon pink glasses, almost visibly shaking with either sadness or frustration. “They can’t just do that! They’ve hardly given me or Hotch a chance!”
“Unfortunately they are, and they can.” Rossi’s shoulders tense with a sigh and he leans against Dr. Reid’s desk. “And from what I could hear from my office, she’s presenting our next case to us.”
“It’s a she?” Garcia balls her hands into fists, “Is she nice?!”
Spencer’s face tightens, voice lowering so that he can choke back whatever emotions are trying to bubble out of his throat right now. “Of course she’s going to be nice; she’s gonna be polite, and pretty, and brilliant, and everything that JJ is, but, she’s not going to be JJ.” He pushes past Rossi to get behind his desk, grabbing his jacket and his satchel not even bothering pack the books he brought to work with him.
“C’mon, Reid,” Morgan says from his desk, “where you goin’?”
“I need some fresh air,” he states curtly and starts to quickly pace away.
“Reid!” Emily calls after him, she starts getting up to go after him but is soon stopped by Rossi.
“Let him go,” he says. “Kid just needs some space. He’ll adjust soon enough…. we all will.”
“I’m still worried,” Emily sits back down, looking over to Morgan. “He’s gonna take it out on the new girl.”
“What makes you say that?” Garcia pipes up.
She leans forward a bit and shifts uncomfortably in her chair, “After…. after what happened with Tobias Hankle when I first joined the BAU, I tried to help him and he shut me out. There was a moment there where I kinda dreaded when Hotch would pair us up. Luckily, he turned around, but, I wonder if he’ll ever get along with new girl.”
“Don’t be like that,” Morgan’s tone of voice betrays his steady demeanor. “The kid will get used to her. Anyway, Rossi, mind telling Hotch Reid’s probably gonna be gone for a couple of hours?”
Rossi straightens up, preparing to leave his younger coworkers to their thoughts. “Yeah, I was planning on it. Let’s just hope the kid gets enough time to cool off.”
“ Not Fair ,” that’s all that Spencer can think. He can hardly even process as he enters the small, maze-like, used bookstore that is appropriately named Dante’s Labyrinth. He’s never been in here before, but, his mother always taught him that bookstores are the one place where it was okay to be lost. That it’s okay just to lose yourself in the musty mounds of stories that were no longer cared for. When the door behind him closes the bell on top dings weakly. It’s just loud enough for the elderly man behind the counter to look up from his Sudoku puzzle and peer at Spencer through the lenses of his oversized bifocals.
“Welcome, young man,” he wheezes out, “I’m Dante, welcome to my shop. Let me know if you need any help. My daughter should be around here somewhere as well, she knows better than I do where everything is at.”
Spencer mutters a brief thank you before sizing the first floor of store up. First glance it’s comic books and other toys and trinkets displayed on the walls, father back behind Dante’s desk there is a small maze of children’s books before there is an orange wall, he assumes there be the break room or offices back there as the dimensions of the building are longer like the townhouses next to it. He decides to ascend the shifty spiral staircase, feeling slightly anxious that the metal structure could fall with each step he takes.
The second floor is a little more his speed. At the very beginning of the isles were the “Best Sellers,” and to his surprise, Spencer finds Henry Lovelich, a 15th century poet, at the head of the display. Upon further inspection, he can see that a lot of these books are out of place. A welcome distraction, a part of his brain wants to help Dante to reorganize, no doubt it must be hard for him to get up those rickety stairs; and then, another part of him is excited to excavate this store and learn of its hidden gems. He picks up Lovelich and a few others that catch his eye. He decides to make a compromise between the two parts of his brain. When he sees something out of place that catches his interest, he’ll just buy it.
Spencer looks back towards the stairs, and a couple of beat-up shopping baskets are piled haphazardly near the railing. He goes over and takes one, and when he leans over the rail just far enough he can see the old man still leisurely working on his Sudoku. “Excuse me, Dante?” the good doctor calls down to him.
“Oh!” He jumps, almost losing grip on his pen. “Startled me, my boy!” The old man laughs good naturedly,it vaguely reminds Spencer of Gideon. “What can I do for ya?”
“I, uhm, ah, I’m most likely going to be getting a couple baskets of books! As I fill them up is it okay for me to bring them down to you?” He flashes an awkward smile. For a brief moment Spencer doubts himself, what a weird thing to do just to start randomly buying a horde of books. Sure, shopping for yourself is a pretty effective self-soothing mechanism, but, it can very easily become addictive. The last thing he needs is another addiction.
Then, all his doubts fade as Dante’s wrinkled and cherry-red face lights up, “Well of course, young man! Of course, of course! You get as many baskets of books as you please. Would you like some water waiting for ya when ya come down?”
“Would you mind brewing some coffee?” He asks meekly, a little taken back by this man’s enthusiasm.
“Not at all! But, I make mine with a lot of sugar!” He jeers whole heartily as he rises from the front desk. Spencer’s heart sinks slightly as he notices how hunched the old man actually is.
“I do, too! Thanks, again.” It didn’t take Spencer very long to fill up his first basket. He, of course, picked up classic authors like Gwendolyn Brooks and Leo Tolstoy, but the modern books catch his eye. JJ still wants him to read the Twilight series, as well as a couple of other young-adult titles that she loves to discuss with Emily. When Spencer does visit her, he thinks it will be nice to not just talk about BAU cases.
He deposits the first basket on the man’s desk, and is promptly greeted with a mug that was very obviously decorated by a child, the pale ceramic is largely colored with lopsided magenta and red hearts. A keepsake, Spencer can tell by the chips on the base and the slight discoloration on the lip. “Sorry,” Dante chuckles, “we ran out of foam cups.”
“I’m guessing your daughter made this? You mentioned her earlier,” Spencer asks between sips, he figures he should rest a moment before running back up those stairs.
“Yes, yes she did.” He replies while slowly sinking back into his chair. “Juliet was a real artsy kid. She’d paint, sing, learned the piano at age nine. Goodness, I remember when she gave me that mug, the whole bullpen gave me so much crap about it. But, I still used it every day until I retired. When you see her, make sure she isn’t over loading herself.”
“Will do,” Spencer sees the mug down carefully.
“What’s your name, son? I’ll try used the cellular phone to let her know to keep an eye out for ya.” He produces a beat-up flip phone from his jean pocket.
“Uh,” He hesitates, that small part of him telling him to never trust anyone. But, he can’t help but looking into this sweet old man’s eyes and feel compelled to tell him anything he wants. “Spencer…”
“Alrighty, Spencer,” he says the profiler’s name slowly as to spell it out, and after another thirty seconds he closes the phone triumphantly. “And… sent!”
Before Reid can thank him, there’s a shout from the third floor of the store, followed by a rumbling crash. Dante’s eyes fly open in alarm and Spencer’s heart quickens. His only guess is that this Juliet fell down while checking her phone. “I’ll go up, you stay.”
Dante can’t get out a word of protest before he’s already flying up the stair case, using his longer legs to take the steps two at a time. He reaches the top floor and doesn’t see her first glance. “Juliet?” He calls our cautiously, he doesn’t want to scare her father by sounding too panicked.
“In the back!” a distinctly feminine calls out and he half runs, towards it. When he finds her, she trapped under a book cart that is filled to the brim, and her face is bright red in embarrassment. “I’m okay!” Juliet insists, “I-I was just standing on the cart to get the upper shelf, my phone rang and made me jump…. Sir, I am so sorry, but, would you mind helping me lift this cart up?”
“Of course,” Spencer almost smiles at the fact that she felt the need to ask. The cart is exceedingly heavy, and it did take their combined strength to get it back onto its wheels. “Are you hurt?” He asks and extends a hand to her.
She moves a few strains of bleached hair from her face and examines the leg that was pinned. Bruises from the impact are splattered up her calf, they look painful. “I’m fine,” Juliet smiles, not taking Spencer’s hand as she hoists herself back to her feet. “Just a little banged up, it’s what I get for leaving the step-stool downstairs. But, thank you so much for the assist. Did you see where my phone landed?”
“Uh,” he scans the floor. Luckily enough, Spencer’s eye for detail manages to see the iPhone under a red leather-bound Collection of Edgar Allen Poe. He retrieved it for her, “I think it survived.”
“Oh, thank god,” Juliet sighs deeply in relief, the phone clicks as she unlocks it to view her messages. “My New Year’s Resolution was to go the whole year without breaking a phone.”
“Does stuff like this happen often?” Spencer can’t help but to smile at this woman. She looks like the disorganized type. A part of him feel relief at using the word outside of a crime, just an average person running on their own clock.
“Uh, yeah, you could say that,” she pauses and studies his face for a moment. Juliet’s she crosses her arms, and glances down at her feet. Spencer reads as insecurity, something he finds very odd. Women, especially ones that look like Juliet, very rarely show men that look like Spencer this kind of insecurity. “So, what brings you here, Spencer?”
“I pass by this store everyday before I go into work, just happenstance, I guess.”
She looks confused for a moment, face twisting in a brief look of contemplation. Then, as if she made some sort of confirmation to herself, she relaxes. Her arms unfurl from each other and she chuckles. “Oh, right, that was a weird question. So, can I help you find anything?”
“No, thanks. Your dad has been help enough.” He gestures in the direction he came from, “I, better tell him that you’re okay.”
“Good idea, thanks again.”
Spencer starts walking away from her as she turns back to the mess of books around her feet. But, as he reaches the end of the noticeably more organized isle, he hears her call out, “See you later, Dr. Reid!”
He glances back. When did he tell her his last name?