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The Weight of Being Human

Chapter Text

 

Spencer Reid:

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Matthew Gray Gubler

 

Veronica West:

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Naya Rivera

 

Kate Perez:

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Gina Rodriguez 

 

Maria Fumero: 

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Sofia Vergara 

 

 

Chapter Text

 There were many aspects of the job that Dr. Spencer Reid excelled in, but if there was one area where he lacked, it was public speaking. Due to this, presentations were something Spencer rarely agreed to, as it almost always ended in embarrassment for him that would keep him up in the middle of the night. He wasn’t sure why he agreed to guest-speak at this lecture. He knew the most probable answer was because he understood the point of these outreach programs. The goal was to recruit promising students into law enforcement, the FBI, or somewhere in between. He knew the reason why he went around with Rossi to these things was because he was the youngest recruited agent in FBI history, and it was supposed to inspire kids that they could join too and rise through the ranks. But Spencer realized after the first couple of visits to universities that his presence hurt instead of helped. 

     At best, these students were intimidated by him, as Spencer had accomplished much more academically than them while being in the same age bracket. At worst, they looked at him like he was speaking a foreign language, to the point where the longer he spoke the more he felt like a Martian than anything else.

      If he was completely honest with himself, the main reason why Spencer agreed to this is because his girlfriend had made a much-needed getaway out of this trip to New York. Veronica was a New York native, so they planned to visit her sister’s after he was done with his presentation. Spencer was thrilled to spend a long weekend there. At this point, he talked to Kate more often than her own sister did. It was something Veronica teased him about, but she was secretly happy that Spencer felt so comfortable with her. Spencer would get so excited, when Kate put her three-year-old daughter Stella on the phone to talk to him.

    Veronica knew just how much Spencer loved her family. It made her feel a bit guilty, because without him she wouldn’t be nearly as attentive to them.  She knew that for a fact, because before Spencer she wasn’t. She’d go six months without seeing her own niece, with minimal guilt. Now things were a bit different.

    It almost made the point of the trip worth it, that he had to stand up and talk in front of a class of seniors at Columbia University to promote the FBI. It went as usual. He rambled and then Rossi would pick up where he left off, taking the rich but cool and approachable uncle angle. Even that couldn’t smooth things over this time, as students asked how many degrees Spencer had.

  “I have PhDs in Mathematics, Engineering and Chemistry. I also have a B.A.’s in Psychology and Sociology.”

  Everyone looked at him with stunned faces.

     A girl in the front row scrunched her nose. She was brave enough to ask the question everyone was thinking, “How old are you?”

     “Twenty-eight. I just turned twenty-eight twenty-five days and four hours ago, actually.”

     Spencer saw a couple of students whisper to each other, and he could only imagine what they were saying. 

     A different girl’s hand shot up. She clearly wanted to divert the attention away from him and to something more attainable, “Agent Rossi, what are the most common crimes you guys deal with?”

    Rossi went to pull up the statistics on the PowerPoint of Reid’s computer, when instead a photo of Veronica and Spencer from a couple of months ago flashed up on the screen. He noticed it as one from their tour of France, where they went for their first uninterrupted vacation as a couple.  

     Reid’s face grew red, as a few students chuckled. 

    “My bad,” Rossi said, in a way that proved he wasn’t that sorry. He flipped through more photographs, getting to the vacation photos of Veronica on the beaches of Normandy in a bikini, “Oops, sorry kid.” 

     “Get those off! Those are personal!” Reid said in a high-pitched voice.

    The class went into an uproar of laughter. One guy raised his hand, and Reid pointed at him to ask, “That’s your girlfriend, Dr. Reid?”

   “And it’s back.” Rossi said, finally getting it to the statistics PowerPoint.

    Reid cleared his throat, “That’s Agent West who also works at the FBI. And yes, she’s my girlfriend.”

    A more confident, attractive student chuckled, speaking out of turn, “Man, if you really wanted to sell us on this FBI thing you should’ve started with that you’re dating Jessica Alba because of it.”

    A ball of rage fell into Reid’s stomach. He didn’t like it when other men talked about Veronica like this. Even if he knew it was true, “If you base your decision to join the FBI on how attractive Agent West is, that will not be a wise choice. I did not join the FBI expecting to meet someone like West.”

    Another male student spoke out of turn, “Come on, dude. You really think that we think some sexy Latina is going to be there for us if we join? But you have to admit you hit the lottery here.”

   Reid felt his face get hot, as all eyes were on him, “Yes, I did, but I would rather discuss the importance of the FBI instead of my personal life.”

    The lecture ended a few minutes later, and the class flocked out. Veronica entered at the same time; her bag equipped with a surprise for her boyfriend that she was rather excited about. She noticed a few of the girls looked at her a bit curiously. 

   One even came up to her, “Dr. Reid is so cute.”

   Veronica smirked. She summed this interaction up to a fan girl, as Veronica noticed better than Spencer that so many young women seemed to form a crush on him, “That he is.”

  “You’re so lucky.”

    Veronica was confused, but she went along with it because she understood what she was saying. Everything about her boyfriend was gorgeous, from his soft curls to his delicate features that she swore glowed when he was happy. Just the sight of him made her heart stop, even after two years of dating.

    “I know I am.”

  She went into the classroom, to see Reid and Rossi bickering. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but she still stepped in to ask, “What’s the Boys’ Club arguing about this time?”

    Her boyfriend pointed at Rossi. It was hard for her to take him seriously when he was mad, on account of how adorable she found it, “Rossi switched the PowerPoint over to our private photos!”

     Veronica stopped dead in her tracks, “You mean…”

    He understood what she was insinuating, and corrected her, “No, not those. Our vacation ones.” 

     Rossi glanced at Reid, surprised but amused, “You kids have those kinds of pictures?”

    “Not important.” Veronica dismissed, as Reid began to open his mouth, “Why’d you feel the need to show a bunch of undergrads pictures of us?”

    “You know why, West. We have to sell this stuff, and nobody’s going to listen to statistics on murder or tirades on how we do this for the benefit of others. What a bunch of sad, horny kids hooked on Adderall will listen to is an example of two attractive, highly intelligent kids not much older than themselves finding each other at the BAU. It’s something they can relate to, unlike Boy Wonder here.”

    She nodded slowly, “So you pimped out half-nude pictures of me to convince these sad, horny kids to join the FBI.”

   “It was for the greater good,” was Rossi’s response.

   She rolled her eyes. She wanted to say she couldn’t believe it, but on a reaper note she could, “You suck, Rossi.”

   He chuckled, “You won’t be saying that when I write your holiday bonus.”

   He patted Reid on the shoulder, “I’m going to head out. Have fun, kids. It’s nice that you’re visiting family for a change.”

     As Rossi left, Spencer looked a bit sad. Veronica could detect it from a mile away, and took a hold of his hand, “What’s the matter, cuteness?”

    “It’s not my family, technically.”

   Veronica hated it that he felt like this, “Would you stop that? They’re every bit as much your family as they are mine. I think Stella’s more excited to see you than she is me.” 

    His big brown eyes darted around, before settling on her, “Do they really want to see me?”

    “It’s only all they’ve been talking about,” She dug in her bag, getting out the tickets, “I thought instead of getting a rental car we could ride the train.” 

     His face lit up at this, as he bounced a bit on his heels. His free hand reeled in and out, as Veronica could sense an infodump was about to happen, “We’re riding a train? Did you know that train travel was made popular by Abraham Lincoln’s assassination? The body was put on the train, and it was draped in a black cloth, as it traveled 180 cities to his home state of Illinois for his burial.”

   She let out a short breath, squeezing his hand. This was her way of communicating that he was safe with her, that he could talk about these things as much as he wanted to, free of judgment, “That’s morbid.”

  “Yeah, it certainly is. The body traveled 1,700 miles and lasted about ten days. His remains were re-embalmed after every stop. Roughly one-third of the US population at the time participated in some kind of memorial for…”

        She grimaced as she checked her watch, “Baby, I hate to stop you, but we need to go if we want to make it to the station on time. You can tell me more train facts on the go. Sound good?”

    He nodded, holding her hand as he continued to spit out facts about Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession. Then as they boarded the train headed to Kate’s apartment in Long Island City, Spencer went on a different tangent. 

    “The longest direct train route is found in Russia. It is the Trans-Siberian Railway and it is approximately 5,778 miles. This railway’s construction started in…” 

    “Can you shut him up?” A bitter old man who sat on the other side from them asked, looking up from his newspaper.

    If looks could kill, Veronica would’ve sliced this man in two. Spencer felt embarrassed but justified it. Everyone felt this way when he talked for a while, “Sorry, sir.”

    “No, don’t say sorry,” Veronica cut in, glaring at the man, “He’s not hurting anyone. Just mind your own business.” 

   The man just scoffed, “You clearly weren’t held enough as a child.”

    “And you’re clearly an asshole,” Veronica shot back, “If anyone needs to be quiet, it’s you.”

    The man slumped over, grumbling something about Damn Mexicans. Veronica ignored him, as her head went to Spencer’s shoulder.

    “I’m sorry about that, baby.”

    He didn’t speak for a moment, looking out the window. He was eerily calm when he spoke, “He is right though, I wasn’t held a lot as a child. And there’s the refrigerator mother theory…”

    She stopped him there, kissing his shoulder, “You know better than anyone else that wildly sexist theory was disproven in the 80’s, but that’s beside the point. There’s nothing wrong with you.” 

    “There’s something wrong with everyone.”

    She rolled her eyes, “Fine, but yours is because you’re a smart ass. Otherwise, you’re perfect.”

   Spencer didn’t understand how she was always able to make him feel better. He really didn’t know what else to say to that, besides the obvious, “I love you.”

   She kissed his hand, squeezing it again, “I love you too, 187. More than anything.”

   Without fail, she told him she loved him every day. She had over the last twenty months and two days. With every day, it became easier for him to believe her. Before her, he didn’t think he was worthy of being loved. Especially not from someone like Veronica West, who was so beautiful, so strong, so bold and brave that the whole world seemed to bow to her. She accepted everything about Spencer and loved him just the same, taking care of him in ways no one else did. 

   At twenty-eight years old, he was working his dream job. He lived in a nice home with the love of his life. He was finally happy. With every passing day, it was getting more and more easy for Spencer to bury the past.

He hoped it would stay buried.

Chapter Text

   The woods shrouded every shred of light in darkness. Her coat was old, tattered and ill-fitting. She was scared. She was cold.

    “Step back, Kate.”

     It was Veronica’s voice.

  There were tears in her own small voice, “Ronnie, what are you going to do?”

    There was a low growl. A sliver of moonlight revealed a fox, wild and foaming out of the mouth. Her sister, only nine years old, held a shotgun meant for a fully-grown man. 

   “Just plug your ears. I don’t want you to seize on me.”

          Her sister guarded her, as they slowly backed away from the rabid animal, “Ronnie, no!”

        “Plug your ears! Trust me.”

        “Ronnie!”

        The shotgun went off in a blaze, as the seven year old fell back. When she looked over, she saw the blown-up remains of the animal, obliterated by the bullet.  

       Kate woke up on the couch in her living room, breathing rapidly. It was just a flashback, she had to tell herself. She was safe. She must’ve dozed off, after putting her daughter down for a nap. She was probably up by now, reeking havoc. Kate went to investigate. 

         Kate Perez’s house wasn’t nearly as large as the Reid-West residence in DC, but it was a home that was well-loved. The brick townhouse was a fixer-upper that she bought with Marco when they first got married. Now with him overseas, it was up to her to make it a comfortable place for her young daughter. 

      Kate often wondered what her life would be like, if she didn’t grow up in a military family. If she could even call her family that, because in reality it was an entirely different breed. It wasn’t until middle school when she realized that other fathers didn’t grab their children out of school for apocalypse training or wake them up in the middle of the night for military drills and target practice.

     She also learned quickly that she couldn’t pick up a gun and shoot, at least not like her older sister could. If anything, Veronica took to it too well, as Kate would witness her do everything to ensure her own perceived survival. It was how they were able to survive in the woods for five days, when their father “tested” them when they were nine and seven. At least, before they were found by a search team. This is what gave their mother full custody of them. 

     Kate didn’t mind, as she was never the object of her father’s affection. She was told she was weak. She would later find out this weakness was because she epileptic and suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Perhaps that’s why she found a man who could provide that protection for her, even if it meant he’d be shipped out through the military too. She thought that he would be able to protect her from the insanity, but the older she got the more she realized there was no escape. 

     It wasn’t just that her husband was in the army. Her father was in and out of prison. Her mother was on her fifth husband now. Her sister was an agent in the FBI. So was her boyfriend, who Kate had grown to love like a brother. Every day, she anticipated the call. Something would go wrong, and she’d lose somebody. 

    Stella leaned over the coffee table, taking a crayon to a piece of paper. The little girl hummed to herself, only speaking when her mother came into the room, “I’m making a present for Uncle Spencer, Mommy.”

     Kate chuckled a bit to herself, “What about Aunt Ronnie?”

    “She can have it too, I guess,” Stella said a bit disappointedly, scribbling red wax all over the white canvas.

    Kate leaned over, to see the incoherent lines and colors, “What is it, pequena?”

   “It’s the bird from the story.”

    It was a story that Spencer once told her over the phone on her birthday. She was upset, because they were out of town on a case and Marco couldn’t even get on the phone to talk to her. Now Kate had to repeat it every night. It was about a homing pigeon, who left his nest to save all the other birds, but he came back to the nest at the end. She wasn’t sure if she loved him or hated him for that.

     When they were at the door, Stella jumped up and ran over. She couldn’t contain her excitement, as she hugged Spencer’s legs, “Uncle Spencer! I made something for you!”

    Veronica shook her head, shooting a smile to her sister as Spencer hoisted the toddler up in his arms. Kate looked apologetic.

    “Don’t be sorry,” Veronica said, “The same thing happens with our friend JJ’s kid.”

    “That reminds me,” Spencer began, bouncing Stella, “We have to stop by and get Henry’s Christmas gift.”

      Veronica groaned, “Spence, we’re not getting a two-year-old a Chemistry set.”

     “It said on the website it was for kids,” Spencer defended. 

       “For older kids. Not two-year-olds. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say that.”

      “We could give him a copy of The Canterbury Tales for JJ to read to him at night. That was my bedtime reading when I was a toddler.” 

      Kate was confused, but Veronica flashed Kate a look to not press it further.

      “Why don’t you just let me pick out the gift?” Veronica said.

      “Okay, but it has to meet all the recommendations for what is necessary for the social, physical, and emotional growth of his age range.”

     Veronica smiled a bit, “I think I can handle it.” 

      When the bickering stopped, Stella spoke up, “Uncle Spencer, can you show me how to make a rocket?”

      “A rocket?” Kate repeated.

       “It’s not a rocket. It’s a physics principle,” he put Stella down, “I’m going to get some special ingredients for the rocket. You can come with me, but it won’t work if you peek and see the magic.” 

      As Spencer left the room with Stella, Kate turned to Veronica with concern in her eyes, “What is he going to do with my daughter?”

     Veronica shrugged, “He puts a few things in a small capsule like a coffee pod and it makes a chemical reaction. So it shoots up like a rocket.” 

     She didn’t like the sound of that, “What does he put in there?”

     Her sister laughed, “You think he tells me? He does it around the office all the time though, so it’s not dangerous if that’s what you’re wondering.”

    Kate squinted, “You work in a federal building.”

   “Yes, but it’s a federal building full of people who enable him,” she gave her sister a soft, wistful smile that only appeared when she talked about Spencer, “The problem is that he’s so cute that nobody can say ‘No’ to him. Those aren’t even my words. They’re Garcia’s.” 

    “The tech girl?”

    Veronica shoved her a bit, similar to how she did when they were children, “Only my best home girl. Sometimes I think you don’t listen to me.”

    She shook her head, rubbing her temple, “Sorry. I’ve just had a lot on my mind lately.”

    “Oh yeah? You can tell me about it over a beer.” Spencer and Stella came back into the room, with some Elmer’s glue, contact solution and pink glitter.

   “We couldn’t find the magic for the rocket, so we’re making unicorn fetuses,” Stella explained.

    Kate was taken back, but Veronica just looked at her boyfriend, “Really?”

    “It’s an anatomically correct term.”

     “Okay, fine. Have fun with your unicorn fetuses,” Veronica said, kissing him on the cheek. She turned to Kate, “Want that beer?”

     “Yes please.”

      The sisters went into the kitchen, listening to Stella’s excited little voice as Spencer helped her make the slime. Even though some of his methods were a bit questionable, Kate had to admit that Spencer was very good with her daughter. So much that she wished they were around more often to help out. 

      Veronica opened the bottle with her bare hands, “So, what’s up?”

     “Mom’s been hitting me up for money,” Kate explained, “Her divorce lawyers picked her clean and she’s racked a ton of credit card debt. I tried to explain that I’m barely scraping by as it is, but she won’t listen.”

    She knew what Veronica’s response would be to this dilemma. It was always the same advice, “Just do what I did and cut off all contact. It works wonders.”

     Kate groaned, “It’s not that easy.”

      Veronica leaned over the counter, her eyes still on her, “Look, you knew what I was going to say. You know my stance. I get you’re a naturally caring person. I admire that about you, but you can’t let people walk all over you. Not when you have a daughter to worry about.”

    “It’s hard. I feel like she’s my responsibility,” Kate admitted.

   “I know, but she’s not,” Veronica said, somewhat sympathetically. 

     Veronica had always been impossible to read. Her emotions were either deep or shallow. They were nonexistent or too complex. Perhaps it was why she was such an amazing profiler, because she had so many different pieces of herself that she could find those parts in everyone else. There were only a few subjects that Kate knew Veronica’s definite stance on. Their parents were one of them. 

    She tried to find her stance on another.

  “How’s his mother?” Kate was cautious in her question.

    This was a subject that Veronica showed a bit of emotion to, although she tried to hide it. She took a sip of her beer before she answered, “The same. About four months ago we had a case in Nevada and when it was over we visited her. She was lucid for about half of it. Then I had to pin her to the ground because she tried to claw my eyes out because I was quote-on-quote ‘peering into her soul’. The rest of the time we spent in the doctor’s office, discussing her treatment. I… I added my name to the emergency contact list.”

    Normally this footnote was something so small, but Kate was still shocked. This was her sister saying this. As long as she knew Veronica, she was someone who had run from commitment her whole life. She refused to show the slightest interest in her own mother or father, because she refused to be tied down by anyone. Not even her parents. 

    Veronica took another drink, “Look, I know what you’re thinking. Spencer cares so much about her, and he’s been doing this alone his whole life. He’s my partner. I’ve finally admitted to myself that we’re most likely going to get married someday, and she’ll be my mother-in-law. As crazy as she is.” 

    “Do you think she’ll ever get better?”

    Veronica shook her head, and Kate frowned, “Poor woman.”

     There was contempt in Veronica’s voice, “I don’t feel sorry for her. She did it to herself by refusing help for a decade. Spencer didn’t get to have a childhood because of her.” 

    Veronica looked over, watching Spencer play with Stella. The ice in her heart visibly melted a bit, “The good news is that Spencer’s twenty-eight and hasn’t had a psychotic episode yet, which means if it was going to happen it already would have by now.”

     Kate nodded in agreement. Her next statement slipped out, without it meaning to, “Sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy.”

    Veronica knew where this was going, “You’ve been dreaming about the fox again, haven’t you?”

  “I know you think it’s stupid. You’ve seen so much worse.”

    “Yeah, but you haven’t,” Veronica said simply. She sighed, “When we were kids, there’s so much I tried to protect you from. I’m sorry I didn’t do a very good job.”

    Kate felt a tight knot in her stomach form, “No, Ronnie… I’m alive because of you.”

   Veronica processed this,  “You should try talking to someone about all of this. Spencer and I have both started seeing therapists. After a while our job pretty much requires it.”

     “How do you do it? Both of you?”

      Veronica clenched her jaw, “It’s not a question of how we do it. One thing we have in common is we were trained to do this. We didn’t have a choice. Not really. It’s a game of survival.”

     “Has been since the fox,” Kate commented quietly, as she watched her sister polish off her beer.

     Right then, Veronica’s phone buzzed, and she groaned internally when she saw it was from JJ. She answered her phone, “Please don’t tell me you’re pulling us into a case right now. We just got here.”

     Her tone was apologetic, “I know. I’m so sorry. I tried to get Hotch to let you guys sit this one out, but we need you.”

     Veronica sighed, “I know you need us. Reid and I will be there as soon as we can.” She hung up, looking at Kate, “I’m so sorry. Psychos don’t take breaks.”

      “Can’t you just stay the night? You could go back to DC  tomorrow morning.”

      “I wish. We have to go now. Lives depend on it.”

     Spencer came in, his hands covered in glitter, “We have a case. Hotch just said a jet’s coming to take us back to Quantico.”

    “Good thing we haven’t even unpacked our go bags yet,” Veronica grumbled. 

    Kate didn’t know what else to do, besides hug the two of them and watch as a police escort came up to her small place to drive them to the airport. She clenched the door frame, just as she did when Veronica was recruited into West Point at 16. Then came the NYPD. Then it was the FBI.

    All of it started with one dead fox. 

 

Chapter Text

 In a run-down California apartment, a twenty-year-old Spencer Reid bent over the cracked mirror to apply concealer on the fresh bruising under his left eye. There were older bruises, all in variation of size, color and healing on various parts of his face and body. This wasn’t something that was new to him. First, it was his father, whose form of discipline included trying to wipe out any neurodivergent trait of Spencer’s, and getting irrationally angry when that didn’t happen. Then after his father abandoned him it was his mother, who hit him because she was too deep in psychosis to know any differently. She thought he was an intruder, a conspirator, anything else besides her son. Somehow, that was worse than what his father did. 

Spencer knew the psychology behind it. He knew that after his upbringing, he was within the group of people most susceptible to being in an abusive relationship.

         It also didn’t help that he showed attraction to both men and women. The LGBT community was more likely out of any minority group to face violence, he knew. Along with the mentally ill. Spencer finished his degree in psychology, and was knowledgeable enough to point out the classic symptoms of mental illness. He also couldn’t help but apply them to himself, as it was hard not to see all the irregularities of his mind. He hoped that he wouldn’t be a statistic, but the hope was worthless. 

   It had been since he met Dr. Noah Steinman three years ago. Noah was twelve years older than him, a professor in the doctoral program at Cal-Tech when they met. He was the one who reached out to Spencer, complimented him on his intellect, looks, just about everything. He’d tell him how much promise he showed, that he was special. Behind closed doors, he’d even go as far as to say he was beautiful, which was something no one ever told him before. Then, one night when Spencer came in for office hours, Noah made advances. The then-seventeen-year-old didn’t know anything but to accept them. Soon enough, his virginity and Noah’s position at Cal-Tech were both gone. The termination wasn’t only because of the inappropriate nature of his relationship with the teenager, but also because of what Noah’s emails with other students revealed. 

     Spencer didn’t know why he stayed after he learned about it. He didn’t know why he stayed during that first screaming match, the first black eye, or the first ER trip where a doctor carefully pulled out shards of a dinner plate that Noah threw at his head. A social worker came that night, and gently asked if he needed to go to a safe house. The next time it happened, he was told he needed to get the police involved. But he wouldn’t. At this point, he didn’t know if he ever could leave, and he was painfully aware why.

   This was the only consistent thing he had. As twisted as it was, as trapped as he was, he still had love for him. The kind that would never go away no matter how badly he was hurt. He wished it wasn’t that way, but it was. 

   The fully bearded man in his thirties came around the corner, to look over at the boy, “Are you going to say you’re sorry now?”

    Spencer stopped applying the makeup because his hands started to shake, “Why do I need to say I’m sorry?”

  His tone was condescending, “Of course you don’t remember. You never do. You left the oven on last night.” 

   That’s what the black eye was for. 

   “I said I was sorry last night.”

    He did, multiple times. Most of the apologies were through tears. 

    “You never said that,” Noah said back, arrogantly sure of himself. He approached Spencer, taking him and spinning him so their eyes met, “You’re always doing something wrong. It’s either the oven, or you don’t do the dishes, or you’re all upset over something that doesn’t matter.”

     “I was upset because you told a few of your friends I was one of your students.”

    “And that’s not a lie.”

     Fresh tears wanted to fall out of Spencer’s eyes, “You know what I mean.”

     “Come on, you know what you’re saying is bullshit. I never did that. And now you’re going to cry over nothing again.”

     “No I’m not.”

     He shook his head, still smug, “You’re pretty stupid, you know that?”

     Spencer looked down, breathing deeply, “Yeah I know.”

   Then Noah told him something that he heard every day, in all kinds of different variations. “You’re lucky you have me, you know? No one else would put up with you.”

    That hurt worse than any punch he could give him. The worst part was, Spencer had no reason to believe otherwise. 

      Noah then wrapped his arms around him, kissing his cheek, “Okay, fine. I’m sorry. I love you.”

     Spencer fell into the embrace, as he wondered how anyone could feel so safe and terrified at the same time. 

     “I have to go. Work thing. You know the rules.”

     He did, and he hated them, “Don’t leave me here alone.”  

     “Don’t start this again. It’s for your own good.”

      He left him in the dingy place alone. It was an apartment that Noah paid for him. Spencer wasn’t allowed anywhere near his house. He’d never even stepped foot inside of it. The rules were simple. Spencer could go to class and Noah could come over to visit, but otherwise he wasn’t allowed contact with the outside world.

      After hours of solitude, Spencer hugged himself, rocking back and forth as he repeated in his head how weak, stupid and worthless he was. And how there was nothing to prove that theory wrong, and no one seemed to care. By this point, he thought he’d never find someone who cared about him. 

       In the four-year time period where Spencer finally left Noah and met Veronica, he didn’t really date anyone. He had a couple of one-night-stands and relationships that fizzled out quickly, because he found he just couldn’t be open to them. It was hard for someone like him to connect to people anyways, and after everything that happened to him it was impossible to find someone who would take the time to learn his triggers and be patient with him. He started to think that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. He was unlovable, and there was no one who would ever be able to understand the way his brain worked. 

    Sometimes, he still got caught up in that thought. 

    One Sunday night, a few months into dating, Veronica was in her sweatpants on the couch, watching a football game as Spencer checked the oven again to make sure it was off. He knew she had an oven that turned off automatically, but he still couldn’t help himself. In his life, too many fights were started over a running kitchen appliance. He knew Veronica didn’t understand it. She just didn’t say anything about it.

    “Babe, that’s like, the third time you checked it,” Veronica called from the living room, “Could you bring me a beer while you’re in there?” 

    He didn’t know if there was a slight annoyance in her tone or if it was an innocent request. Either way, it set him off. It was a question Noah would always ask, before he would drink until Spencer was curled up inside the closet, hiding until he passed out. Still, he grabbed a can of Coors Light from the fridge and handed it to her.

    She smiled a fraction, taking it, “Thanks, 187.”

    Spencer sat down besides her, trying to focus on the game in front of him. As his lack of luck would happen, a player from the Patriots (a team Veronica hated) illegally tackled a player from the Giants (her home team) causing an injury. 

  She flew into an outrage, expletives everywhere. The line that set him off the most was, “My one-year-old fucking niece could play better than that, you worthless piece of shit!” 

    Logically, he knew this wasn’t directed at him. It was at the game. Veronica loved sports, and Spencer loved Veronica. That meant he was okay that she got so aggressively passionate about football games. 

   The part of his brain that had PTSD did not care about that, and he was terrified.

   He curled up in a ball, away from Veronica. 

   “What the…” Veronica began. Her demeanor changed when she saw the state her boyfriend was in, “I’m so sorry, baby. That was towards the game, not you. Honey, I could never be mad at you.”

    He couldn’t stop shaking, as he removed himself from the ball and forced himself to look at Veronica. She turned the game off and placed her beer on the coaster. Two things that were very unlike her.

   “You’re shaking like a leaf, baby. Come here,” she said, stretching out her arms.

   Spencer fell into them, letting her stroke his hair. For a few minutes, she just reassured him that he was safe. She made her promise that no one would hurt him ever again. Her voice was soft and repetitive. 

     There you go, sweet boy. You’re doing so good. I’m never going to let anything come near you. As long as I’m here, you’ll be safe. That’s it. Just let it out. You’re safe here with me. 

   After a few minutes, Veronica said something else, “You should let me track him down, you know.”

    “What?”

    “Spence, you know the profile that this bastard fits. He’s a preferential pedophile that grooms young boys and then bleeds them dry. If he hasn’t offended again, he’s going to.”

    The hard part is that Spencer knew all of this. It was something that kept him up at night. On a realer note, he knew the truth of the situation, “Most of the young men he’s been with are eighteen or older, which is the age of consent in California law. Even if they weren't, I'm too close to the situation.  I… I don’t want to relive it. Please don’t make me.”

    As there was a crack in Spencer’s voice, a little piece of Veronica’s heart broke off, “Okay, okay. We don’t have to. I won’t make you go through that again, baby. I just…” She sighed, “I wish I could take it all away.”

    “There’s no way to take it away,” Spencer mumbled, “I understand that this is a lot for people to handle so if this is too much for you…”

    “No, don’t do that,” Veronica cut in, she squeezed his hand, as a sad look formed in her eyes, “I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can speak for myself. And I can say with certainty that you’re never going to be too much for me, Spence.”

     His lower lip trembled, “I’m not?”

     “No, and whoever said you are needs to go to hell,” Veronica leaned in, to give him a quick kiss. There was a moment of hesitation, before she spoke, “I’m in love with you, Spencer Reid.”

   As Spencer opened his mouth, only a small sound came out.

   “You don’t have to say it back. You don’t have to say anything. I know this might be sudden but I’ve known for months. Probably the first time I saw you. I just need you to know that, I love you so fucking much, Spence. And that means I love all of you.” She looked up, to see her boyfriend in tears, “Oh, sweetie.”

    She held him tighter, pressing kisses into his forehead and side of his head. After a moment, Spencer spoke, his voice shaky, “Are you real?”

    She was slightly confused, “What do you mean, baby?”

   “Every night since the first time I saw you I’m afraid I’m going to wake up and realize you’re not real. That you’re something I made up. Because I’ve loved you since we first met. I don’t want you to be something I made up.”

   Veronica’s tone was calm, as she stroked his cheek, “Look at me, baby.”

     Spencer’s eyes met hers, and she continued, “I’m real.”

    She held his hand, kissing him again, “This…This is real. I’m here, 187, and I’m not letting go of you. Not now, not ever.” 

     Spencer nodded, cementing this speech into his memory, “Can-can you stay here with me?”

     “Of course, baby,” she said immediately.

     They sat on the couch, his head on her shoulder. He had to admit that it was the safest he ever felt. So safe that he asked another question, “Can we watch Star Trek?”

     He thought she’d say ‘No’, but to his surprise she opened up the DVR on her TV. As she started the episode, she kissed his temple, “Anything for you, Spence.”

    As Spencer wrapped his arms around her contentedly, Veronica’s heart fluttered. No one, she vowed to herself, would ever lay a finger on him again. He was going to stay safe, loved, and protected. As long as she was here. It would be a vow that she would make, whether it was on a case, in the office, or just when things were rough. No matter what, whatever it took, Spencer would stay with her, safe and sound.

   Veronica hated commitment because when she did commit to something, she would die by it. She learned that, when she made a commitment to keep her sister safe. She learned it time and time again, to the point where she knew that she would be doomed if she was to ever fall in love. After twenty-eight years spent guarding her heart, the last thing she expected was a scrawny little genius to scale down her walls. But he did, and now she was finished.

     One thing she was sure of was that now that she fell, Spencer was never going to feel alone again. 

***

    The team traveled to Seattle, Washington this time, on account of a strangler who lured young, beautiful women through the power of Internet chat rooms. Garcia found that the picture posted on these websites was fake, of an attractive man who lived in a different state in complete ignorance of these murders. She also found, to the team’s frustration, that this unsub was smart enough to cover their tracks. All of the messages were sent from places with public Wi-Fi, such as coffee shops and libraries. It was hard to track down an IP address, but Garcia was doing everything in her power to make it happen.

      So far, three women were attacked. Two were pronounced dead on the scene, but the last one survived the ordeal. Her name was Eliza Warner. The twenty-five-year-old was currently in the hospital, and had yet to wake up. On their arrival, the team split up. Prentiss and JJ went to talk to the detectives working the case. Reid and Rossi went to the crime scene. Hotch, Morgan, and West gathered all the evidence up on the board from the multiple files, to do a brief overview of the case. 

     At least they were, until there was an officer nearby, just a beat cop, that took an interest in Agent West as she studied the case files,  “I get what these men are here for, but what’s your job? To just stand there and look pretty?” 

     Morgan and Hotch almost said something, but they knew West would be angry if she wasn’t allowed to handle her own. 

    West’s eyes met his, with a vicious nature, “Try a Masters in Biochemical Engineering and Applied Psychology. As for my role in the BAU, I’m the expert in forensic science and weaponry and you will report to me as such.”

   This is when Hotch stepped in,  “Agent West is an asset to this team, and we ask that you treat her as such.”

    The officer seemed unamused, as he went back to his desk job. With him out of her mind, her eyes went back to the crime scene board. Her eyes analyzed every agonizing detail, as she deduced every possible action that could have created the images before her.

     “What do you see, West?” Morgan asked after a couple of moments. 

     “I’ll need to go over to the M.E. to be sure, but judging by these pictures our unsub is a man around 5 '6”-5’8” and in the 250-300 pound range. As for age… I’m agreeing with you and Prentiss that we’re dealing with someone between 30-35. Even if he was overweight, this guy would have more strength if he was younger.”

    The overhearing officer was skeptical, “Come on, you can’t tell that from a few pictures.”

    West turned towards him slightly, pointing at the board, “The asphyxiation of these victims was long, drawn out and painful. It is by nature for sure, but here it seems to be prolonged. That could mean one of two things. We have a sexual sadist, which has been ruled out by the lack of sexual assault, or we have an unsub who is able to overpower these women in short bursts but tires out easily.” She pointed to the positioning of the ligature marks, “I can deduce that this is a shorter man because he is killing taller women, no shorter than 5’ 10”. If he were taller, the marks would be a bit higher on her neck, instead of closer to her chest. But because he’s short, the positioning is just awkward.”

    Morgan felt a surge of pride towards his coworker, as he shot a look to the officer, “Any more questions? Or are you going to let us do our jobs?”

    The officer just went back to his work without another word, stunned. Veronica smirked, whispering to her team members, “I didn’t even mention my theory about the ligature.”

    “Because it is that. Just a theory,” Hotch reprimanded, “When Prentiss is back in a minute I want you to go with her to the M.E. Morgan, we’re going to the hospital to interview Eliza Warner’s parents.”

    “She doesn’t live with her parents, Hotch. Shouldn’t we wait for her to wake up?” Morgan asked.

     “We need all the information we can get,” was Hotch’s response.

       West saw Prentiss and JJ come in out of the corner of her eye. She went over towards them, going with Prentiss to their assigned location. 

     Meanwhile, Reid and Rossi made it to the crime scene, where the latest body was found dumped along the banks of the Green River. She had been identified as Isabella Montego, who was reported missing by her fiancé two days prior. Reid felt a chill go up his spine at the sight of the body, as this woman was the same complexion, height, and bone structure as Veronica. After investigating the body, he went back to the station, to make the geographical profile. JJ was there, on the phone with the press. 

    “Where’s West?” Reid asked, when she was off the phone.

   “I think she’s with Prentiss. They went to see the body of one of the victims. We just got word that Eliza Warner woke up, so I’m guessing Hotch will have them get a statement from her next since they’re already on the go. Why?” That’s when JJ’s eyes went to the latest victim, “You know she’s okay right?”

     Reid nodded, “I know we have to remain objective. I don’t know why I’m not.”

     JJ placed an arm on his shoulder, “Because the woman you love is the one with the target on her back. It’s okay to have feelings about it, but we have to use them to do our job.”

   “I know you’re right,” Reid said, blinking a couple of times.

    She patted his back, “You get back to work. I’ll brew you some coffee.”

    “Thanks, JJ,” Reid said quietly, as he went back to the detailed geographical map in front of him. 

    In the time that it took for him to discover that all the attacks were within a ten-mile radius and then moved to the Green River afterwards, a white man who couldn’t be over thirty entered the station. This young man was obviously upset,  pacing around the bullpen. Reid squinted, quickly able to make an identification of the man.

     “That’s Danny Simmons, Isabella Montego’s fiancé,” he muttered to JJ.

      Reid did not listen to what JJ had to say next, as he approached Danny, “Hello, I am Dr. Reid with the FBI…”
      “I heard you found Izzy,” Danny cut in, “Where is she?”

       JJ hurriedly walked over, her voice growing soft. Like she always did when she would deliver the news to friends and families. Reid had no idea how she was able to do it, even if it was in her job description. Talking to the families was the most emotionally exhausting part of the job. 

       “I’m Agent Jareau with the FBI. I’m sorry for the wait. We were about to get a hold of you and her family…”

       “That doesn’t answer my question,” he said, more panicked. 

       JJ sighed, before giving the blow, “Izzy’s body was found a little over an hour ago,” she gritted her teeth, as the tears came, “I’m so sorry.”
    He covered his wet eyes with his face, wiping tears away, “Who-who would do something like this to her?”

    “That’s what we’re trying to find out,” JJ said, a perfect mix of empathetic but calm, “If you’ll let us, Dr. Reid and I would like to ask you a few questions, so we can find who did this.”

    Danny nodded instantly, still emotional, “Of course. Anything.”

    The agents took the man into an isolated office, with a couch for him to sit on. They took the chairs opposing him. Reid messed with his thumbs, trying to avoid Danny’s eyes because if he did, the situation would be more real. He had to desensitize himself to it, so he could help him in the best way possible. 

     “Do you know of anything that Izzy did online? Did she talk about meeting up with anyone before she went missing?” JJ asked. 

     Danny nodded, taking a tissue that was on the coffee table, “She talked about meeting this guy she met online. He was going to show her a wedding venue. I told her to wait until I got off of work, but she insisted she would be fine to do it alone. She said…'' His voice broke, “She said I needed to be more trusting. So I let her go.”
      Reid leaned in, looking him in the eye, “None of this is your fault. Now, did she mention a name? A location? Anything that could be identifiable?”

      “His name was… Marcus Smith, I think. They met at… at Glenfield Park. That’s where she told me they were meeting. And at four in the afternoon.”

       He used the same alibi and location range that he did with the other victims. That meant he had a specific comfort zone, along with a preferred type of victim. There was no report of screaming and she met him in daylight, which meant he abducted these women from the site and took them to the dump site, where he killed them. Reid knew this, because it would not fit the profile for the unsub to be this bold. 

    While Reid figured this up in his head, JJ asked him a couple more questions as gently as she could. Danny tried to maintain his composure, but after she brought out a picture of Isabella to aid in questioning, he broke down again. 

   “This isn’t supposed to be happening,” he sobbed, “We were supposed to get married in May. Last week we were arguing over flower arrangements. Now my fiancée’s dead.”

   Usually it was so easy for Reid to detach himself from cases, but not right now. For a moment, he wasn’t Dr. Reid, an agent in the FBI. He was just Spencer, a young man in the same age range who also had a significant other he loved this much. He went into his jacket pocket, feeling the case that was in there. He thought the feel of the smooth, leather case could ground him for a moment, before he had to get back into character. 

     Danny noticed, sniffling, “What do you have in your pocket?”

     It was an off-hand comment, simply to distract himself from the grave reality of his situation, but Reid still pulled the case out. When he opened the box, JJ lost her composure, gasping at the engagement ring inside. 

     Reid brushed his thumb over the cold, sizable rock, “I’ve been carrying this ring in my pocket for the past six months, waiting for the perfect time to propose to my girlfriend. Cases like these, they put things in perspective of what’s important.”

    Danny nodded slightly, “What is important?”

    “I know without a fact that you love Izzy, and from the analysis of her messages she loved you. If I lost Veronica the way you lost Izzy, I would want someone out there to make sure she received justice for the way she died. That is why me and my team will do everything they can, to make sure that this unsub is caught before he can hurt anyone else.” 

   Danny pursed his lips, his eyes watering up again. He squeaked out, “Thank you.”

  A few minutes later, Danny left the station. Reid was about to go back to his work, to analyze everything to the best of his ability, when JJ pulled him aside. 

    “When were you going to tell me you were going to propose?”

    He shrugged, trying to hide embarrassment, “In the United States 65% of adults between the ages of 30 to 34 are or have been married. Why does it matter if I want to be married as well?”

    She gave his arm a squeeze,  “Spence, I’m only asking because I care about you. Also because I know there’s no way she’s not going to say ‘Yes’.”

    He’d been agonizing this in his head for so long, that it was unusual to hear another opinion, “Do you really think she’ll want to marry me?”

    She gave him a reassuring smile, “I know she wants to.” she then reached for her phone, “I need to call Hotch.”

    When JJ was done calling Hotch, she told Morgan and Garcia the information she’d found out, because they had a wager placed on when Spencer and Veronica were going to get engaged and who was proposing. When Garcia called Prentiss and slipped up, she was in the hospital.

     She could see that West was in with the victim, running a sensory recall interview on her. Prentiss smiled to herself, because she knew along with the rest of the team that this news was a long time coming. It wouldn’t be too much longer now.    

Chapter Text

Veronica West made the vow years ago. 

       The twenty-three-year-old was at Kate and Marco’s wedding reception, dodging the questions of when she would find someone herself. After a few drinks, she looked at her mother and her fourth husband, and the absent chair where her father should’ve been. She kept her lips sealed and stomached the champagne until her mother came up to her. Maria Fumero was the type of woman who would rather see the world freeze over than let anyone look at her without lipstick on. Growing up with her as a mother was hell for Veronica, and she already knew where this conversation would go. However, there was no escaping it, so she braced herself.

   “It really is a shame, mija. That you turned out the way that you are,” her mother would say to her, sitting down beside her. 

     Veronica looked at her defensively, “What do you mean?”

     “Oh, de nada ,” she quickly dismissed. She didn’t plan on saying anything else, until her daughter’s eyes still burned into her, “A mother just worries, comprende ?”

      “No, I don’t,” Veronica spit out, her blood boiling, “What do you mean, I turned out the way that I am?”

     “ Muy bien ,” the older woman sighed underneath her breath, sarcastically, “One of my daughters is the pride of my life, and then there’s you.”

    Veronica stopped taking the things her mother would say personally years ago, but she still tried to hide how offended she was, “What is that supposed to mean?” 

    “What do you mean? Just look at you. The tattoos, your hair. I know you carry a gun in your purse…”

    “You went through my purse?” Veronica erupted.

    “I always held out hope, since you were a little girl and you’d walk around the neighborhood with that boys’ haircut and BB gun. I thought someday, you’d listen to me and I could change you. I tried to be understanding. I even tried to understand when you said you like women too. But now here you are, your younger sister is married and you still have no one. I’m afraid no one will ever want you, mija. Not like this.”

    She stood up, grabbing her purse, “I’m not a kid anymore. I’m not going to sit around and let you talk to me like this. I don’t need a man, woman, or anyone. I am fine by myself. The only thing I need is to get away from you.”

     Afterwards, she’d step out, with tears in her eyes and vow to herself that she’d never prove her mother right. That she’d never stoop down to care about her opinion. That would mean she’d live life on her terms. She wouldn’t need anyone else, and no one would need anything from her. She would never get married. She would never even fall in love. That’s something her mother would want, so she was against it. She could build a better life for herself, on her own. If she had to change for everyone to love her, she was better off on her own, anyways. 

    She kept that vow as if it was sacred. Nothing else mattered, except for maintaining it. All she knew were one-night-stands and shallow connections that could be easily severed. Everything was easier that way, and really Veronica had nothing to lose. 

     Until one day, when the now twenty-seven-year-old was in her NYPD office looking over the files for a murder case and a gangly boy with unruly hair and a pistol placed poorly on his hip walked in. He was cute, sure, but that wasn’t her first impression of him. She wondered why he was bothering her, in all honesty. She didn’t think much about him, except that he was an object in the way of her working alone. Then she sized him up enough to make a comment.

  The first words she ever said to him were, “I hope you’re here to ask me about how to holster that gun properly.”

   He blushed, then adjusted his gun placement ever so slightly, “No sorry…” Veronica’s eyebrows raised at the apology, “Lieutenant West, I am Dr. Spencer Reid with the FBI. I would like you to answer some questions about the murders that have been happening in your precinct.” 

    She squinted, noticing how his eyes wandered to her bookshelf throughout this exchange, “Looks like you're more curious about my books, but I’ll entertain you. There’s not much to question. We have a disorganized killer, a white man between the ages of 25-30. I know this because his M.O. is of every one of my boyfriends in college. All about control and power. My guess is this is a guy who’s been rejected, so now he takes it out on every woman he sees. He’s low-functioning, unsuccessful, possibly suffers from mental health issues. I’m one step away from catching this guy, but since sexism exists my captain thought it would be wise to get an outside opinion instead of listening to me.” She grabbed the chart she made, and passed it to him, “Here are my notes. Feel free to share them with your colleagues.”

    Spencer scanned them, “He won’t stray far from his location. Every kill’s within a two-mile radius. It’s back alley ways, bars and clubs.”

   “Yes, and they’re frenzy kills. It’s clear he does not think them through, as he left his knife in a trash can not far from the scene of the crime. It was just confirmed as the murder weapon. Also…” she pulled out a gruesome photo of one of the victim’s bodies, “We have a leftie.” 

    Spencer’s mouth gaped, as he scanned the picture himself, “You’re right. So do you have any suspects?”

   She slid over a list with a smirk, “Go nuts. My money’s on the third one down. He fits the description the best.”

    Spencer nodded, trying to avoid eye contact with this beautiful and intimidating woman. His eyes went back to the books, where he made his original thought known, “You’re the first cop I’ve seen… Who has copies of The Divine Comedy and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight on their shelf.”

   She looked up at him, scoffing, “Most cops can’t tell their rights from their lefts, much less read Italian and Middle English.”

   “Why’d you join this profession, then?”

    She didn’t think twice for a response, “Let’s just say at a certain point in my life I realized I either had to fight the system from the outside or the inside. How about you, Dr. Reid?”

    He bit his lip. He knew why, but he couldn’t tell her. “I don’t know.”

     “I don’t believe that.”

     He didn’t respond to her, instead scooping up all her files. He looked down, his bottom lip trembling a fraction, “I will give these to my supervisor.”

     Veronica studied him, as a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach formed. Something had changed, and she wasn’t sure if she liked it. This was the one reason she had reservations of joining the team after the offer was extended to her when she almost single-handedly solved the case for them. Of course, it was the offer of a lifetime and she couldn’t deny it. She’d try her best, to fight it with all her might for almost a year, before she gave into it. Veronica never regretted it. There was never a moment where she had to change for Spencer. He loved her, exactly the way she was. Sometimes she wanted to call up her mother, just to rub it in her face. But she didn’t.

    She hadn’t talked to her mother since Kate’s wedding. 

    Veronica just got out of her interview with Eliza Warner. The girl confirmed the profile that they set up for the man. They were ready to deliver it.

     This was a man who was overweight and felt shunned by society, who was not confident in his everyday life. He carried an office job, something that was sedentary, but he was at a lower position. This was a man who would barely be seen or heard. Prentiss suggested that he recently was rejected, possibly his girlfriend or wife left him for someone he perceived as more attractive. His failed relationship most likely was with a brunette the same build as the victims. This, combined with his feelings of inadequacy, left him to go behind the keyboard and seek out attractive brunettes of a certain build, in order to charm them and convince them to meet him in person. 

    “When they reject their advances, that’s when he kills,” Morgan said, as a closing note.

   “Keep in mind, this unsub still shows some degree of morality. He did not turn on Eliza Warner until she rejected his advances. In his delusion, he has a relationship with his victims, and their rejection is a reminder of the stressor,” Hotch continued.

  “This is a man you would see in your everyday life. At a grocery store, in the office. You would generally think of him in passing as a quiet, nice guy. It would be the last person you expect,” Prentiss said.

   “So what, are we just going to go around accusing every guy?” A reporter asked.

    West refrained from rolling her eyes, even though she wanted to, “You have the profile, so that you don’t go on a witch hunt. Yes, this unsub is someone you wouldn’t expect, but there are some distinct features in his profile to help us catch him. We can’t reiterate to you enough that this man, although easy to sympathize with, has done horrible things. Do not hesitate, any information is helpful.”

    As the camera went off them, West took a step back, checking her phone. She could feel Prentiss’s eyes on her as she did this. Prentiss tried to be subtle, but the smile that still crept up on her face every once in a while unnerved West. This was unusual behavior for her.

   West put her phone down, to make eye contact with her colleague, “What’s up? You’ve been acting weird since the hospital.”

     Prentiss shrugged, trying to remain casual, “I just heard some good news earlier… About my mom. I can’t say anything yet.”

   West narrowed her eyes, “And you’re happy about that?”

   “Yeah, I mean. I know our relationship is complicated but it’s still my mother,” Prentiss defended.

    West scoffed. She didn’t really buy this, but she knew she wasn’t going to get the truth out of Prentiss, “I prefer the no contact approach myself when dealing with difficult parents, but to each their own.”

    Prentiss knew she was overstepping, but she felt her question slip out, “So if you ever got married your mother wouldn’t be at the wedding?”

   West’s head turned back around, as she eyed her curiously, “Why are you asking me that?”

   “A wedding’s an important event and…”

   West interrupted, not able to hear her explanation, “Why a wedding specifically though, Emily?”

    Prentiss tried to think about how she’d respond to this, even if she didn’t know what she knew, “Come on, West. You and Reid have dated for two years now. You’ve been living together for over half of that. It’s the next step. Have you really not thought about it?”

    West was quiet for a moment, too stunned to speak, “So what, the whole office is counting down until Spencer and I get hitched?”

    “Only Garcia. I think she made a website,” Prentiss joked, trying to get a laugh out of her.

     West just rolled her eyes, “Look, we all know that if Spencer asked me I’d say ‘Yes.’ I don’t understand how it’s everyone else’s business, though.”

   Prentiss softened a bit, her eyes on the road as she gave her answer, “Spencer has been through so much. Everyone just wants to see him happy.”

   West let out a small laugh, “Nice to know that if we ever broke up, you’d all take his side.”

   Prentiss returned the laugh, “You didn’t know that already?”

    That’s when Garcia called West’s cell phone. She put it on speaker, “Have something for us, Garcia?”

   “Sugar, I hate to do this to you, but my sweet ass is on thin, thin ice. I have not been able to trace back any addresses from anywhere. It’s like this guy uses a magic eraser to each hard drive afterwards. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

    “Which means he works in technology,” West finished, eyeing Prentiss, “Cross reference it with men who have been recently divorced.”

   “Already did, sweet cheeks. I also weeded out men who were with brunettes, just as the profile said. Also looked at men with hospital bills, Washington natives, and your specific height and weight estimates. I have six names, which I will send in a short list over to Hotch.”

     West chuckled a bit to herself, “Did you just call me for validation?”

     “Always, beautiful. You know I’m half in love with you.”

    “In another life, my tech wizard,” West said, hanging up. She shared another laugh with Prentiss, already forgetting about the conversation before.

     ***

     Meanwhile, Reid was restless. Hotch had asked him to go through all the recovered documents found from the prime suspect on Garcia’s short list. Marvin Wheeler. Thirty-four. IT technician. Divorced four months ago. Wife took the two kids in a nasty court battle. Had treatments for sleep apnea and Type 2 Diabetes. He had all the makings of the unsub, but after a manifesto was recovered from his hard drive Hotch made sure to put Reid to work.

    Reid, however, could barely focus on the ramblings of a psychopath. Not when everyone knew he had an engagement ring in his pocket. He still did his job, giving back the document to Hotch where he reported what he read.

     “Where is he now?” Hotch asked, mainly to Garcia, who was on the phone.

     “It looks like he left work. His cell phone last registered there. Wait…” She paused, typing on the keyboard wildly, “The last tracking on him is one mile away from Glenfield.”

     “We know that’s his comfort zone,” Morgan commented.

      “We have to go. I’ll get a hold of Prentiss and West, to tell them to head that way too,” Hotch ordered, already dialing the number to tell his other employees what he discovered.

     When the BAU team arrived, equipped with bulletproof vests and guns, it was clear that every second would count. They all dispersed, running through the woods as they tried to listen to the muffled screams that came from the potential victim. When Reid caught sight of the man, hunched over the crying, alive girl, he was quick to communicate.

    “I’ve got a visual.”

   Morgan’s voice responded,  “Okay, Reid. I’m close by. So is Prentiss. Stay where you are.”

    Reid already knew he couldn’t do that, when he saw the girl. Another dark-complected brunette, about ready to take her final breath. In one second, another Veronica would die. Reid couldn’t allow a few more seconds to go by, for his teammates to arrive.

    “FBI! Step away from the girl!”

     The unsub was startled, but the shoelace he used to choke the girl dropped. Instead, he kept his arm grasped firmly around her, as he placed a gun to her temple, “I’ll kill her! It’s just one of you. It’s filth, all of them!”

     Reid used his low, understanding voice, as he always did while negotiating, “I know that you’ve been hurt, Marvin. Your wife cheated on you, and left you. That’s not this girl’s fault. You don’t need to hurt her. She hasn’t done anything to you.”

    From opposing sides of this exchange, Morgan, Prentiss, and West were all trying to find a clear shot, just in case things went wrong. Marvin didn’t notice this, as he kept his attention on Reid, “All women have done it! All of them have hurt me, and they need to pay.”

    “I understand what it’s like, Marvin,” Reid reasoned, “I have been hurt too, so much. I have had my heart broken time and time again, and never thought there was any hope. But I swear to God, Marvin. There are good people out there. There is love out there. This girl, she doesn’t deserve to die. Please let her go. You’ve already caused enough pain, enough heartbreak for others. It will never be enough.”

     Marvin tilted his head, looking at him calculating, “Are you in love?”

    “Yes,” Reid responded instantly, his finger grazing the trigger.

     “And she loves you back?”

   “She does.”

    From the bushes, Morgan felt his stomach drop. He still couldn’t find a good shot from his angle. He could tell that Prentiss couldn’t either, “No, kid. Don’t.”

   “So much that you would take her place?”

   “Yes,” Reid answered, his heart racing.

   Marvin released the girl, and instantly she fell to the ground, in collective sobs. Marvin chuckled, raising the gun to Reid, who began to open his mouth, “You shouldn’t try to kill me, because…”

     Marvin didn’t want to listen anymore, as his finger pulled the trigger. The bullet took a detour, however, as a bullet of his own went through his head. Reid still fell back, unaware that he was unscathed. Morgan and Prentiss sprinted towards the scene, as Prentiss embraced the girl and Morgan was left baffled at where the shot came from. 

   Until he saw West climbing down from a tree. 

   As Reid stood up, he was almost knocked down again by his girlfriend, as she was in tears.

“Never do that again!” She yelled, pushing him back in the vest.

  “I saved her.” Reid said, still a bit stunned.

  She let out a sob, hugging him again. She kissed him in a frenzy, “Do you understand how scary that was? Do you have a death wish? I can’t lose you like that, Spence. I can’t.”

   She went into hysterics, holding him again. Reid just held her back, as he realized this was the first time he had ever seen her like this. Afraid. At this point, Reid thought she wasn’t afraid of anything. They faced everything imaginable, and she never flinched. Until now. 

    She was afraid of losing him. 

     Reid realized that tonight was as good a time as ever. There would never be a perfect opportunity, so he had to just ask. Especially since the whole team knew, and it was hard to keep them quiet for long.

    “Do you want to go out with me to some of the museums and the Space Needle?”

    “If that’s what it will take for you to never do that again,” she mumbled against his shoulder.

    Reid smiled a fraction, kissing her hair.  He had to do it tonight, before he lost his nerve. He finally arranged the location, date and time. 

  Now all he had left to do is hope to god she’d say “Yes.”

Chapter Text

  “Trick-or-treating didn’t actually become popular until the 1950’s, along with the commercialization of sugar-based products, television sets in every household, and costumes made in factories that promoted popular characters. Now Americans spend over 350 million dollars a year on costumes alone. Of course, in the 1500s before Halloween was capitalized Celtics would leave food offerings outside their houses to appease the spirits,” Spencer let out a laugh, “They also began to include costumes and house-to-house visits, which mimics modern-day American…”

   “Good God, kid,” Morgan interrupted, throwing his completed file on his desk, “Remind me to never ask you what you’re doing this weekend again.”

     Spencer looked down, as he realized that he missed yet another social cue. His newest coworker West was sitting on Prentiss’s desk, not far away from this exchange. Before, they were having their own conversation, laughing amongst themselves. At this, her head shot up, “Go easy on him, Derek.”

     Morgan shot his hands up, pointing at Spencer, “You’ve been here with us for almost a full year, West. You know how he is.”

      West furrowed her brow, “What I don’t understand is that you’re a FBI profiler but you don’t understand ‘how he is.’”

     Spencer’s face grew hot, as he realized. The girl he developed a hopeless crush on was not only his co-worker and way out of his league, but she also knew he was autistic. He had no chance now. 

     This, of course, went over Morgan’s head, “So you’re saying I can’t join you ladies tonight?”
    Prentiss laughed, “Sorry, this won’t exactly be your target audience.”

    “Look, that can be rearranged.” 

     “Our rules,” Prentiss said. She tapped the desk, “I’ll see if Garcia’s ready.”

      She chuckled back, “Good. It isn’t a party without her.”

      It was 6:45 and JJ hadn’t popped by to announce a new case yet, which meant Spencer was at his desk, filling out his last bit of paperwork before he would go home to an empty apartment. JJ, Rossi, and even Hotch had left. He realized it was October 12th. Emily’s birthday. He wondered why it was just West and Garcia celebrating with her, and tried to not get hurt that an invitation wasn’t passed his way. 

     Spencer was alone a lot more than other people were. Usually he didn’t mind it, but October had always been hard. Not only because his birthday was the 28th, but because he loved Halloween with every synapse in his brain. From an early age, he was obsessed with all of it. The origins, the mythology, the culture… He read somewhere that his obsession was to the level that Halloween was considered to be a special interest of his. Unfortunately, no one else cared. No one else wanted to share all the random facts and trivia he acquired, or wanted to dress up in costumes like he did.

    He could see Morgan and West speak to each other, and that Morgan said something to him as he walked out. He was too caught up in his own world to respond. There were very few things that could bring him out of his small, enclosed world when he was in it.

    Veronica’s voice was one of them. 

    “Are you alright, Reid?”

    He shook out of it, trying to maintain eye contact with her. She seemed genuine and concerned. There was no reason to lie to her. Except that he wanted to, “I’m okay just engrossed in thought. Did you know that… Nevermind.”

     Spencer could tell this didn’t make her too happy, “You’re all in your head now because Morgan was a dick to you?”

    “He wasn’t wrong,” Spencer defended, “He didn’t want to listen to me ramble. No one does.”

    West grabbed Prentiss’s chair, moving it over to Spencer’s desk, “Do you like talking about Halloween?” 

    Spencer nodded, suppressing a stim at what this insinuated, “Very much so.”

     “Look, you know how when we’re on cases you come to me when you have information about something that doesn’t exactly pertain to the case? From now on, you can talk to me about this too, okay?”

     A smile crept up on Spencer’s face, as his hands started to move as he spoke, “Did you know that the phrase ‘Halloween’ first appeared in Christian writings around 1745? It was a shortened form of the term Hallows evening, referring to the vigils and activities that occurred during the night before All Hallows Day. All Hallows Day was a celebration of saints and martyrs. There were parades, festivals, people even made soul cakes marked with a cross.”

   He expected for her to tell him that she made a mistake, but she softened, “That’s very interesting, 187. Anything else?”

   “Also a popular Irish folktale explains the origin of the jack o’ lantern. The contents are about how the jack o’lantern contains the soul of a person who was denied entry from heaven and hell, so they were trapped in a pumpkin to roam the Earth for eternity.”

   West cracked a smile, “So Pumpkin Purgatory?”

   This caused Spencer to laugh, and his hands flapped. This embarrassed him, and he avoided eye contact with her. 

   She obviously noticed, but she changed the subject, “So, do you have any plans tonight?”

    He shook his head, explaining it nonchalantly, “I don’t have any plans for this month, besides work. And there’s an observatory exhibit I want to go to.”

    He didn’t understand why she frowned a little, “Your birthday’s coming up. So is Halloween. You’re not doing anything for that?”

   He shrugged his shoulders, “I suppose I’ll go see a showing of the original Bride of Frankenstein that I saw in the newspaper.”

   Spencer’s heart sank a little, when he saw Emily and Garcia make their way over. If he was honest with himself, talking to Veronica was the highlight of his day. He could always be open with her, and she never judged him. Veronica was incredibly tough on the surface, but Spencer knew by now she genuinely cared about him.

    “Are you ready to blow this popsicle stand? I promised Kevin I wouldn’t do anything at this lesbian bar, so that takes away some of the fun. He didn’t say anything about watching, though,” Garcia said.

     Veronica rolled her eyes at her friend, before directing her attention back to him, “You should come, Spence.”

     Emily just smirked, how she always did when she knew something others didn’t. What he really didn’t understand was Garcia’s reaction, “Yeah, come with us, Boy Wonder. You need to get out of your head. Into society.”

    “I don’t know if a lesbian bar is a great place to start,” he mumbled.

    All three of the women laughed. Emily was the one to say, “It’s my birthday, and I say you come.”

    On arrival, it was obvious that Veronica was the only person familiar with the place, as the bartender seemed interested in her. She was an attractive black woman, with a short Afro and tattoos. She served Veronica a neat whiskey, as soon as they sat down at the bar.

   “Are you here because you’re crawling back?” She asked, with a trace of malice.

   “Not today. I’m actually here for my girl Emily,” she placed an arm around her, “She’s curious about how these all work.”

     Emily nudged her back, “I just haven’t seen one before. I’m not… you know? And it’s my birthday, so I get a free drink.”

     The woman let out a laugh, “We’ve all been there at some point. Happy birthday, though. How about the others?”

     Garcia held out her hand, “Penelope Garcia. I am tragically heterosexual, but I do enjoy drinks and observing awkward situations.”

     The bartender took her hand, laughing, “It’s amazing to meet you. Don’t tell me you’re back on the stick, Veronica.”

     The last comment was addressed to Spencer, but Veronica was the one to answer it, “This is Spencer, my coworker. And it’s none of your business.”

   There was an underlying tension, as the bartender, Abby, made drinks. 

    “We’re not sexually involved,” Spencer finally said, “However, the terminology you used had a microaggression towards Veronica’s bisexual identity, as you implied that intercourse with a man is a crude act. Which insinuated that you have to choose. I’m bisexual myself, so I also would appreciate if you wouldn’t speak like that to either me or her.” 

    “Spence,” Veronica said under her breath, squeezing his wrist to get him to stop. 

    Abby scoffed, rolling her eyes at him, “You really have everyone wrapped under your finger, don’t you?”

She plopped the drinks down, “You’re lucky I didn’t spit in them.”

    She left, leaving Garcia and Emily to burst into laughter.

    “My sweet baby girl, what did you do to her?” Garcia asked, taking a drink.

   “It was only for a few weeks. I thought she wouldn’t be working tonight.” Veronica responded, obviously angered by the ordeal.

   “Which means she was head over heels for you and you didn’t return her calls? Serves you right,” Emily said, she eyed Spencer, “Nice little speech, by the way. I didn’t know you were bi.”

    Spencer realized he hadn’t told anyone that, “Sorry I didn’t mean to make anyone uncomfortable.”

   Veronica shook her head, “No, that was very much warranted. I just wanted you to stop before she poisoned your drink.”

    The rest of them watched, as Emily talked to a woman and wondered if she’d be able to pick up that she was hideously flirting with her. Garcia and Veronica took a couple of shots, as Spencer cleared his throat. There was a question that was bugging him.

    Only two drinks in, he asked, “Why didn’t you deny us having a physical relationship, Veronica?”

    Veronica’s eyes darted up. She was taken off guard, “Spence, I wasn’t really thinking…”

   “I don’t believe you. You’re always thinking,” Spencer interrupted. He remembered why he rarely drank. He hated losing control of himself like this, “It has to mean something.”

    Veronica pursed her lips. Of course it meant something, but she didn’t want to admit it. 

     “I have to go to the bathroom,” Veronica whispered to Garcia. 

     As Veronica left the table, Garcia groaned, “Can’t you guys just rail each other already?”

     “She doesn’t feel that way about me,” Spencer mumbled, “It’s improbable for her or anyone else to ever have feelings about me.”

    “Am I the only person here who’s an actual profiler?” Garcia complained, “Veronica’s like, a freaking school girl over you, Boy Genius. I know I’m not supposed to say anything but it’s not cute anymore.”

    “She… she likes me?” Spencer asked, a bit muted.

    “You two, as sexy and brilliant as you both are, have the emotional maturity of middle schoolers,” Garcia took another swig of her cocktail, “I’m not sure if you’re a match made in heaven or hell.”

    “So she didn’t actually go to the bathroom. She’s in there ruminating about everything because I haven’t made my feelings known and she doesn’t want to make hers known?”

     Garcia leaned over, smiling, “Bingo.”

     Spencer stood up, “I’ve got to fix this.”

     Garcia chuckled, “You can thank me by having a bunch of badass, genius babies.” 

     Spencer found Veronica not in the bathroom, but outside. She wasn’t talking to anyone, but instead appeared to be in deep thought. That ended when she saw Spencer.

     “Spence, what are you…”

      She was interrupted, with his lips on hers. Veronica only came up for air for a second afterwards, before kissing him back hard, her hands in his hair. She wrapped her legs around him, as her back was against the wall. Their lips kept meeting, and everything was perfect.

     “No sexual relationship my ass. Screw you, Veronica!” 

     It was Abby. She took her keys, sliding it against the passenger’s door. 

     “You do realize we’re federal agents, right?” Spencer asked, still holding Veronica up against the wall. 

    Veronica got in her pocket, to flash her credentials, “I might have let that one slip.”

    Abby just ran away, even though she still had an hour left on her shift. Spencer turned back to Veronica, “We can deal with that later, can’t we?”

   “Of course,” Veronica said, as she already drew her lips back into his.

    He spent his birthday at Veronica’s apartment, where she surprised him with a cake marked 26 with candles . Halloween was spent with her too, and it was the best he’d ever had. Next October, they would celebrate Spencer’s birthday, Halloween, and their first anniversary rolled up all into one. A month earlier, they signed the papers to a new house; in time for Spencer to go crazy on Halloween decorations. They watched scary movies every night, where Veronica listened to all of his facts and tidbits. That’s all Spencer really wanted, was to be heard. Veronica would do more than just hear him. She cherished him.

      Spencer couldn’t contain his excitement, as she opened the gift he got her for their anniversary. She opened it carefully, squinting as she saw what was inside.

     “A necklace?” 

         Spencer’s heart dropped, as he wondered if she didn’t like it as much as he thought she would. That’s when she opened up the center, to find what was inside. She was left speechless.

     “It's the oxytocin molecule on the left. On the right, if you look into it in different ways it will show the stars on different nights that are important to our relationship. The first time we met, first kiss, first date… If you don’t like it I can exchange it…”

    “Spence, stop,” Veronica said, looking at him with slightly damp eyes, “I love it. I love you so much.” She leaned in to kiss him, “What did I do to get this lucky?”

   Spencer hugged her back, “Technically it’s a one in trillions chance that we would meet and the events would work out in our favor that we could be together. The fact that both of us are in the same age and intelligence bracket is astounding. Also, when you take into account that we grew up on different sides of the country with different upbringings, all data would suggest that our relationship would be unlikely.” 

    Veronica smiled at this, kissing his cheek, “I’m pretty damn lucky then, aren’t I?”

    “We both are.”

***

    Penelope Garcia sat in her chair, knitting Spencer another scarf out of his favorite type of fabric. She considered this one an engagement present. She hummed to herself, as she wondered if it would be too cliche to make Veronica a matching scarf with a Mrs . sewn in. That’s when her phone rang. It was Morgan. 

    “You’ve reached the Mecca of technology, my darling stud. How may I help you?”

   “I’m helping you with some great news, baby girl. Instead of coming back with the rest of us, Reid and West are staying an extra day. We’re pretty sure he’s going to propose tonight.”

     “Peer pressure really is a thing, isn’t it?” She went to her keyboard, placing in the correct information to track his phone and credit cards, “Looks like they went to a few museums, ate at a cute little bistro, and now they’re at the…” she gasped, “They’re at the Space Needle.”

    “I hate to admit it, but the kid’s got game,” Morgan said.

   Garcia tried to keep her eyes from watering,  “Our baby bird has grown up right before our eyes, hasn’t he? Remember the first time he entered the bullpen in those highwater pants and that huge jumper?”

   Morgan laughed, “He looked like a little kid playing grown-up. I guess he kind of was.”

   “I’ve got Kevin, Spencer has Veronica. Now we just have to get you settled down, you wild stallion.”

    Morgan let out a laugh, “I don’t know about that, pretty lady. I do like riding solo.”

   In the background Garcia could hear Prentiss make a comment about Morgan being a man-whore. Garcia chuckled, “You might want to be on your best behavior, Agent 007, if you want to find a date to the Reid-West wedding.”

   While this conversation ended, Spencer and Veronica had reached the top of the Space Needle. As they walked hand in hand, Spencer did a quick assessment at the crowd of people that were on the observatory deck. A public proposal was risky. He was putting himself on the line, where he could be publicly humiliated. For a moment, he speculated if this was a bad idea. He could postpone the question just one day more, couldn’t he?

    Then he looked over to see Veronica was still wearing his necklace. A year or so into dating, she got a new tattoo on her forearm, the infinity symbol for autism awareness. She loves me, He had to remind himself. If she was going to reject me, she would’ve done it already. 

   She smiled at him, squeezing his hand, “How far up are we, Spence?”

    “Six hundred and five feet,” Spencer responded back. 

    It was dark enough that the stars lit up the sky, over the landscape of Seattle. The only noise came from the low whispering of others, as Veronica just observed the sight above her, “I’ve seen my fair share of places, but this is gorgeous. You could almost fit the palm of the city in your hand.”

    “That would be impossible. Seattle is roughly 83.9 square miles…” He stopped, when he saw the corners of her mouth shoot up, “You were speaking figuratively, weren’t you?”

   Veronica laughed, kissing his cheek. She hugged his arm, leaning her head on his shoulder, “You’re a dork, but you make me so happy.”

    Spencer swallowed deeply, “Would you like to spend the rest of your life with me?”

    She scoffed a little, “I wouldn’t have bought a house, adopted a dog, and sat through that ordeal with Strauss if I didn’t want this to be permanent.” Then, she caught on, “Why do you ask?”

   He took a deep breath, “I’ve always thought I would be alone for the rest of my life. Everyone always said that, and I had no reason to believe otherwise. But when I met you, something in me knew that you were the love of my life. You are the most brilliant, brave, and beautiful woman I have ever come across. The fact that you even love me even during my worst, like with my Dr. Who marathons.”

    Veronica chuckled, “Where is this going, baby?”

    This is when he decided to be bold. He pulled the ring out of his pocket, kneeling on one knee. People’s attention turned towards the couple, as Veronica gasped. She covered her face.

    “I have always been able to come up with an explanation for everything, but I’ll never be able to explain how much I love you. Veronica Hope West, will you marry me?”

    She didn’t say anything for a split second as she let out another gasp. She removed her hands from her face, where he could see there were tears.

    Then came the smile, and then the nod, “Of course. Of course I’ll marry you! I love you so freaking much, Spence!”

    The people around them applauded, as Veronica leapt into Spencer’s arms, kissing him full on the lips. She whispered in his ear, “I have something I need to do, before we get married, though.”

   Spencer’s heart leaped in his chest, “What?”

   “Send my mom a postcard, saying she was wrong after all.”

   Spencer laughed, holding her close to him. An older woman came up, her hand over her heart, “You two are just too precious. Do you need someone to take your picture?”

   A few minutes later a message was sent to the BAU group chat, with Spencer and Veronica posed together. The first thing everyone noticed was the ring on her finger. 

 

Chapter Text

   The bedroom to the resort was in shambles, as the couple who rented it was still twisted up in the sheets. They had to “consummate the engagement” as Veronica joked a few hours prior. She was the first to stir, as sunlight peaked in through the room. The first thing she took note of was the young man she woke up next to, and then the ring on her finger. Only then did she focus on the clock.

    They’d slept through their flight back to Quantico.

    “Shit,” she breathed, shaking her fiancé, “Spence, we missed our flight back.”

     He groaned, only stirring slightly, “We can reschedule.”

    “Yes, but that would mean missing work. Hotch is going to be pissed!” 

     She flung herself off the bed, realizing all she had on was a pair of underwear and the window was wide open. She covered herself until she could throw some clothes on. Only then did she check her phone, to see the missed call from Hotch. She called him back immediately.

   Hotch answered it with a question of his own, “You kids missed your flight, didn’t you?” 

   “I’m so sorry, sir. I swear we’re going to get a flight back to DC as soon as possible.”

   She was surprised, to hear him chuckle just a fraction, “There’s no need for that, West. Just make sure you and Reid are back in the office this Monday.”

   She squinted, “Today’s Wednesday.”

   “Yes, but I believe you both have earned a few days off. Congratulations on your engagement.”

   She furrowed her brow. It was impossible not to read into how casual he was acting, “Thank you, sir.”

    “Just do me one favor, alright?”

    “What is it?”

    “I don’t want to rehash our shovel talk from two years ago, but promise me you’ll take care of him. The commitment you’ve promised to make with him, it’s not one to be taken lightly.”

     Veronica knew what he meant by that. She knew better than anyone else that sometimes Spencer would get stuck in his head, and it was very hard for him to get out of there. Veronica knew she didn’t just agree to marry the thoughtful, kind young man they all saw when talking to families, or the excitable, chatty boy who’d talk anyone’s ear off about whatever topic interested him at the moment. Veronica knew that she was marrying the darker parts of him, too. She was marrying his heroin addiction. She was marrying his horrible childhood. She was taking in the situation with his mother, and the fact that his father was never there for him. She agreed to spend the rest of her life with someone who was taken advantage of for years, and it still left a lasting impact. She knew that if she said ‘Yes’, she’d be saying ‘Yes’ to the healed track marks that were still visible on his arms, the relapse on a bottle of Oxycontin that Veronica thought she’d hidden very carefully, breakdowns in the middle of the grocery store because someone in passing looked like that monster, and long, sleepless nights because it wouldn’t never go away. Veronica knew this much better than Hotch did. 

    She also knew better than anyone else that all of this was worth it. She barely batted an eye, when any of the above happened. She never even entertained the thought of leaving, so she knew by now she never would. Spencer would always be worth it. 

     That’s what made it easy for her to say, “I know, Hotch. It’s still the easiest decision I’ll ever make.”

   What came next was unexpected, “Good. He’s lucky to have you.”

   A smile crept on her face, as she was dumbfounded, “Thank you.”

   The next moment was a bit awkward, as neither was accustomed to this level of emotions before. At least not in their dynamic. Hotch was the one to break the silence, “See you next week.”

    “Of course. Thank you,” she said, hanging up.

     When she was off the phone, she looked over to see Spencer was still wrapped in his blankets, with his weighted blanket covering most of his lithe frame. The blanket was always brought with them while traveling, as Spencer needed the pressure to sleep at night. There were at least five others at their house, just like this one. 

    Veronica sat down on the bed, leaning over to kiss his wild hair, “Rise and shine, gorgeous.”

     Spencer groaned as his eyes fluttered open again, “Lights are too bright.”

    Veronica realized that she had in fact turned on all the lights as she’d frantically gotten around,  “Do you want me to turn them down?”

    “Please.”

    When that task was accomplished, she regained her seat on the bed. She stroked the side of his face, “Is that better, baby?”

   “Much better, thank you.” His eyes were wide now, as he scanned his surroundings, “Hotch gave us the week off?”

   “You heard?”

    “A bit. Also your demeanor is much calmer now than when you first woke up, so I’m assuming whatever Hotch had to say remedied that,” he then yawned, nuzzling his head back into his pillow,  “I want some coffee.”

    “I know I’ve said it before, but you are the by far worst caffeine addict I’ve ever seen,” Veronica said, running fingers through his hair.

    “That’s impossible. More than half the population consumes more than 300 milligrams of caffeine a day. We’re also in Seattle, so everyone we’ve come across is more addicted than me.”

   She rolled her eyes, “A perk to being in Seattle is there’s at least ten shops in walking distance, so let’s get cleaned up and stop at one of them.”

  They got around for the day, and stopped at the nearest coffee shop to them. Truth be told, the shop was much busier than they expected. To make things worse, the shops around them had lines going out the door. The harsh lights, loud, beeping sounds, the child throwing a tantrum next to them was uncomfortable for most people, but it was hell for Spencer. Veronica couldn’t help but notice how the barista’s eyes went to the way her hand didn’t leave the small of Spencer’s back while they were in line. 

   “Do you want your usual, baby?” Veronica asked him. 

   Spencer just nodded, his eyes darting around.

   Veronica scanned the area more thoroughly, “You can go ahead and sit in that corner table and put your headphones on. I’ll come over with the drinks.”

   Spencer nodded again, squeezing her hand, “Thank you.”

   As Veronica ordered, Spencer leaned back in the chair in the corner. He reached in his bag, to pull his noise-canceling headphones out. Placing them over his ears provided him some relief, as he got out a book to further distract himself from his surroundings. He briefly thought that five years ago, it wouldn’t have been a possibility for him to feel so comfortable. When he went out with Noah, it was never a priority for things to be accessible to him, to say the least. He had no idea that touch wasn’t supposed to be forced, or a system of reward and punishment. Sometimes it was so easy to forget that it used to be his life. Other times, it was impossible to forget. 

    Veronica touched him on the shoulder, coffee in each hand, “How are you feeling now, angel?”

    “Better,” Spencer said, sliding off his headphones as he took the coffee, “This book is very interesting. It’s the one that Rossi gave me for my birthday. It’s overtly political, but also quite humorous.”

   Veronica smiled, taking a sip of her latte, “I still can’t believe you haven’t read Slaughterhouse Five before. I thought that would be up your alley.”

    “I can’t believe it either!” Spencer exclaimed, “It’s reflective, metaphorical, and just a masterpiece of twentieth century writing. Did you know that it’s a satirical interpretation of the Vietnam War?”

    She chuckled, “Yeah, I know. I read that book in college. We can get some more of Vonnegut’s books for you, if you like it that much.”

   He eyed her for a second, before saying, “I love you.”

   Veronica’s face softened, as it always did when she heard those words, “I love you too, baby.”

  There was another pause, before Spencer spoke, “I want to tell my mom we’re getting married. In person, not over the phone.”

    Veronica tensed up inside, but she still nodded, “We have a few days off. We can pay her a visit.”

   “I’ll call and see how she’s doing. If she’s up for visitors.”

   After their coffee was consumed, Spencer made the phone call to Bennington Sanitarium.

Doctor Anderson was kind, but honest with how her condition was, “She’s better than the last time you visited, but she still comes and goes. Visiting her would be very touch and go at this point, I hate to say. Is there any special reason you want to see her?”

     Spencer took a deep breath, “Veronica and I got engaged. Now, I know I could send her a letter, but this is something I wanted for us to tell her in person.”

     The doctor’s tone changed direction at this news, “I know it will be difficult and I can’t promise she’ll remember, but I’m sure she’ll like to hear that.”

   “Thank you. We’ll make the arrangements to drop by.”

   He looked at Veronica, giving her a thumbs up. They made all the reservations, scheduling a flight and a hotel in Las Vegas. The next day, they were in Nevada, picking up essentials from a convenience store before they headed over to visit Diana.

      Spencer grabbed a newspaper off the rack, flipping through it, “Love, do you have a pen? This crossword is fascinating.”

    Veronica chuckled, digging a pen out of her purse, “I’ll get the snacks. Enjoy.”

    Spencer went up to the register, to pay the clerk for the paper. That’s when he stopped dead in his tracks, at a man who’d preoccupied himself between the beer and lottery scratchers. The man was bald, bearded, and overweight by now, but he was still Kent Davis. The quarterback who made his high school experience hell.

   He quickly gave the clerk the fifty cents for the paper, hoping to turn around and find Veronica before he was detected. Kent wouldn’t recognize him, could he? Spencer was twelve years old the last time their paths crossed. Now he was in his late twenties, where he discovered contacts and wore clothes that fit his body. No one could know it was him.

    That’s when Kent’s head turned, to see the young man, “Spencer Reid? Is that really you?”

    Spencer’s face turned red, as he turned around. He clenched the newspaper. He had no idea what to say. In all actuality, he’d rather disappear than deal with this.

   “Still quiet, I see,” Kent said, somewhat disapprovingly, “So, how have you been?”

   Spencer’s jaw clenched, “You were never one for small talk. Not in high school.”

  He scoffed dismissively,  “Come on, that was forever ago. You really didn’t understand locker room talk. I guess it didn’t add any character.”

    Spencer bit his lip, “Well, statistically…”

    He cut him off with a rich laugh, “You really haven’t changed, have you?” He looked forward, “Look, there’s a hot chick coming this way and I don’t want your pathetic ass to scare her away.”

   Spencer was just about to cut his losses, to just run away and find a place to break down, when he realized the girl he mentioned was Veronica. She must’ve checked out at the other station, because she had two bags of groceries in one hand.

    She wrapped an arm around him, oblivious to the overweight man for a second, “Did you make any headway on that crossword puzzle, baby?”

    Kent was too stunned to speak, as Veronica looked towards him, frowning, “Who’s this, Spence?”

   Spencer gulped, “This is the guy who tied me to the goalpost.”

   As Veronica’s eyes went to the man, Spencer noticed it as the look she reserved for unsubs, “I’ll give you two seconds to step away from my fiancé before things get ugly.”

  “Fiancée?” He repeated, “I always thought you were a fag.”

   Spencer couldn’t say anything to that, because technically he wasn’t wrong. He was still a queer person, even in a heterosexual relationship.  

   That’s when Veronica lost it, lunging forward, her credentials in her hand, “You used that slur at an FBI agent. Now, the first amendment covers you for that. What it won’t cover you for is when I make a couple of calls to uncover what fraud you’re pulling off. Fake Rolex, thrift store suit, tan line where your wedding ring should be… I’m guessing you’re either scamming people through insurance or at casinos. Or you could just walk away right now.”

    Fear registered on Kent’s face, as he realized how badly he screwed up. He expected him to still be small and defenseless. Someone he could pick on again, “I didn’t mean anything by it, honestly.”

    This is when Spencer realized that this man didn’t have any power over him anymore. His life looked miserable from just a quick glance, while Spencer was a federal agent who was now happily engaged. He surprised himself, when he opened his mouth, “You didn’t mean anything by it now or back then? Because it would take a lot of ignorance, for you to not mean it. I don’t believe even you could have that little insight.” 

  Veronica smirked a bit, her hand cemented in his, “I think we’re done here.”

  As they walked out of the store, Veronica was still noticeably furious, “I’m calling Garcia up. She’s going to dig up some dirt on that guy.”

  “Is it really worth it?” He tried to reason.

  “Yes!” She said in an instant, “That piece of shit made your life a living hell! No one deserves to be treated like that, especially you.” She eyed him for a second, “I don’t understand how anyone could do that to you, of all people.”

  “Baby,” Spencer said, grabbing her arm so she’d stop and look at him, “I’m okay. Seeing him like that, to see how his life is going versus how mine is… It was rewarding enough.”

    She just processed this, nodding to herself, “Fine, but if you change your mind I will unleash Garcia on him, to end his misery once and for all.”

   This caused Spencer to chuckle, “I’ll remember that.”

   They checked into their hotel room, and then they took a cab over to Bennington. There was an air of nervousness between them, as there always was when entering the mental hospital. When Spencer used to come here alone, it was different. Now he had support, but at the same time he had someone else’s opinion to rest on. He knew how his mother was, but he didn’t want other people to have negative opinions on her. Perhaps that’s why only he visited her, up to the point where Veronica offered to come. His mother was unpredictable, and he didn’t want to subject Veronica to that. However, Veronica had proven herself. She was a part of his life now, and this was something she wanted to share with him. It’s what he had to remind himself when these visits happened.

     Doctor Anderson approached the young couple, “It is so nice to see you again. Congratulations on your engagement.”

    “Thank you,” Spencer said, “How is she doing today?”

   “She seems to be in better spirits lately. It could have a lot to do with you coming.” Doctor Anderson eyed Veronica, “She’s spoken quite a bit about you, too.” 

   “She has?” Veronica asked, surprised.

    That’s when a nurse who overheard the conversation chuckled, “Oh yes. She talks all the time about how her son managed to find a lovely girl and that they’re coming to visit her. It annoys the other residents.”

   Doctor Anderson just nodded, “She’s not wrong. Your mother should be in the common room, when you’re ready to visit her.”

   “Alright,” Spencer said, taking Veronica’s hand as extra support. 

   It was always hard for Veronica to be inside mental hospitals. Her father was institutionalized a few times, and Veronica stopped visiting him because she couldn’t handle it. The smells, the screams… It was all too much for her. 

    When they entered the common room, they saw Diana Reid, in her usual robe and bedraggled hair. She was reading a book of some sort, muttering to herself loudly. This muttering stopped, when the couple sat down in front of her. 

   “I see you’re not eating what Veronica makes for you. There’s still nothing to you.”

    Veronica almost rolled her eyes that his mother would have this archaic mindset, but Spencer gave a little smile, “Hi, Mom.”

    “It’s nice to see you again, Diana,” Veronica spoke up. 

     “Please, call me ‘Mom’, dear. Unless you don’t want a crazy woman as your mother.”

     Veronica thought it over for a second, “No… You’re actually more sane than both of my parents, to tell you the truth.”

 This made her laugh, “They must be some lunatics, then.”

   That’s something Veronica didn’t want to get into. Diana studied them, her affect flat and her eyes indistinguishable, “So what made you decide to visit me? Is this about another case?”

   Spencer cleared his throat, “No, actually. We came to tell you… that I asked Veronica to marry me.”

   In response, Veronica held out her hand, showing off her ring, “I said ‘Yes.’”

   Diana gasped, her eyes going to the two people in front of her. Veronica didn’t know what to do, when tears started to fall out of her eyes. 

  “Hey,” Spencer said, sitting on the couch to pull his mother into a hug, “I know it’s scary, that you probably think now I’m going to leave you but…”

   “Honey, I’m not upset about that,” she interrupted, “It’s about the baby.”

   Spencer furrowed his brow, “What baby, Mom?”

   “That’s why you’re getting married, right? For the baby?”

   Veronica let out a nervous laugh, “I’m not pregnant.”

   “I asked Veronica to marry me because I love her and want to spend the rest of my life with her,” Spencer explained tentatively, “Besides, Veronica can’t…”

    His face grew red, as he bit down his lip hard. He shot his eyes at Veronica, “Sorry.”

    “It’s okay, Spence,” Veronica said. Her voice was firm, as she looked at who would be her mother-in-law, “I can’t have kids.”

     Diana’s mouth gaped, “You mean you don’t want to? Because I didn’t, until I had Spencer…”

     “No, I meant I physically can’t,” Veronica elaborated, “I’ve known since I was nineteen. I was in college, and I had a miscarriage. I found out I have a unicornuate uterus.” 

    This is when Spencer chimed in, as he’d moved back over to sit next to her. He held her hand, talking with the other, “Women with this condition only have a half-formed womb and at most one fallopian tube and ovary. Conceiving with this condition is very rare and almost always ends in miscarriage. In Veronica’s case…”

    She patted his hand, “Spencer, I love you, but I should say this part,” she sighed, “I ended up having an ectopic pregnancy, where they had to remove my one fallopian tube. So to answer your question. No, we’re not getting married because of a baby.”

    Veronica had heard it all before from her own mother. That she was broken now. There would be no chance that anyone would ever want her. She wasn’t even a real woman because she couldn’t have children. Not like her sister could. She didn’t need to hear it from Spencer’s mother as well. Because she knew that in truth, she wasn’t good enough for him. It would only be a matter of time before he realized that. Even if she could push out his babies. 

    Diana’s response wasn’t what she expected, “You both work too damn much for a baby, anyways. Now, Spencer. Could you be a dear and get me a glass of water?”

     “Of course,” Spencer said, squeezing Veronica’s hand before he got up.

      That left the two women alone. Veronica had no idea how to respond to her, besides the obvious question that was in her mind, “So you’re okay with this?”

     “We both know I haven’t been the best mother to Spencer, but I do know my son. He’s always spent so much time taking care of me, that now he tries to fix broken people. You’re the first person he’s been with that you don’t take advantage of who he is or what he would do for you. That’s all I care about. Now, let me look at your ring.”

    With the last hour or so of Diana’s lucidity, they spoke in low whispers about their cases, the proposal, and a couple of preliminary wedding plans. Afterwards, they sat in the back of the cab, with Veronica’s head on Spencer’s shoulder. 

    Spencer’s voice was hushed, “I know my mom can be a handful. I’m glad you came with me.”

    “I’m glad we could tell her,” Veronica sighed, “Babe, listen. If you…”

     He interrupted her with a kiss, “I know. I’ve known for over a year. I’m not going to change my mind.”

    Veronica nodded, leaning back into his neck. She took a few breaths, blinking, “I think… I think we should fly to New York next.”

    “Perhaps we can have that weekend with your sister,” Spencer suggested.

    Veronica couldn’t believe what she was about to say next, “Yes, but I also think it’s time you meet my mom.”

Chapter Text

As soon as Veronica called Kate to confirm they could stay at her place for the rest of the week, New York was the next destination. Although the constant lines in the airport were annoying, it was nice to know that this time around their stay would be uninterrupted. This time, they could really enjoy quality time with their family, without the eluding anxiety that they would be called into a case. 

      Stella was antsy, apparently, as the disappointment of their last brief departure had not fully rubbed off of her yet. Spencer thought he could solve this by buying her a stuffed animal from the Las Vegas gift shop, a small, pink unicorn with a sparkly mane. 

   “It’s a unicorn foal, carried to full-term,” He explained.

   “Right, the unicorn fetuses,” She laughed in spite of trying to maintain a serious expression, “Is your intent to teach her about female anatomy and the pregnancy process?”

   “It wasn’t my intent, but it is valuable information. However, the creation of the unicorn is something unique in itself, as…”

   Veronica smiled a bit, as Spencer went into a tirade of the origin of unicorn mythology while they boarded the plane. It was a small, bittersweet smile, that slightly stung her cheeks. 

   This was someone that was so perfect, and she would never be able to give them everything they deserved. Then she corrected herself. These weren’t her thoughts. These were the thoughts that her mother implanted in her from an early age. 

   Veronica cleared her throat, kissing the top of his head as the plane was in the air, “Maybe I should call her, to let her know we’re wanting to see her. I just… I don’t know what to say.”

  It was rare to see Veronica shaken up like this. “Do you want me here with you?”

  “Yes please,” Veronica said, with no hesitation. She groaned, shaking the phone a bit in her hand, “What’s wrong with me? I can look at the most greuesome murder scenes on American soil without blinking an eye but I can’t call my own mother.”

    Spencer talked with his hands, as he always did when he tried to keep up with the rapid stream of thought in his mind, “That may be true, but we’ve both determined your mother fits the profile of a clinical narcissist. You were the classical scapegoat child growing up, so therefore even small interactions with your mother are marred with resentment and self-loathing.”

    She sighed, “I know, but I need to just tough it out. I’ve always put too much meaning into the words she says to me. It made me waste a lot of tears when I was little.”

    This reaction made Spencer a little uneasy, as he couldn’t understand how Veronica could never not be enough for someone, “You don’t have to be strong all the time, love. You especially didn’t have to be strong when you were a child.”

   Veronica bit her bottom lip, “We both know you’re right, but I don’t know if I’m ready to process that yet.”

   He rubbed her back, squeezing her hand, “That’s okay. As long as you know it’s right. I will be right here, holding your hand. It’s going to be okay.”   

    Veronica’s stomach dropped, when the phone call went straight to voicemail.

     She took a deep breath, wishing the words would just compose seamlessly in her head,  “Hey, Mama, it’s me. I’m just calling because I’m going to be in town for a few days to visit Kate and Stella…” 

      She let out another shaky exhale, as she fought a tear from rolling down her cheek. She dug her hand further into his, “I’m getting married. His name is Spencer Reid. We met at work three years ago, and we’ve been dating for two years. He’s so beautiful, but he’s more than that. He’s so intelligent, like I will never stop wondering how his mind works. And he’s so kind… He’s just overall amazing, Mama. And I would like for you to meet him. So hopefully you will. ” 

   She ended the message, feeling oddly vulnerable as she looked over at Spencer, “I’m sorry you had to hear that.”

   Spencer didn’t respond with words at first, but instead took her in his arms, kissing the top of her head, “Don’t say you’re sorry. Not for something like this.”

    He held her like this until the plane landed.

 ***

   They dated for five months before they slept together. Veronica wanted it the night they first kissed, but Spencer wasn’t ready. He told her that he had trauma he had to work through in order for them to be intimate. Otherwise, it wasn’t fair to both of them. The relationship wouldn’t last if they rushed into things. Veronica did everything in her power to be understanding. She waited. She appreciated the little moments. At this point, she’d already told him that she loved him. What they already shared was deeply intimate, but Veronica wondered if it would ever happen.

   Then one night, Spencer showed up at her apartment with tears in his eyes. Veronica couldn’t think straight about what happened. One minute, he was on the couch, sipping tea and stimming. Next, their lips were crashing into each other, as Spencer used all of his strength to carry Veronica into the bedroom. Not that Veronica complained. Every moment of it was amazing. So amazing that all she could think about was how worth the wait it was. 

    She woke up, quick to notice the presence of Spencer next to her. 

   “Morning, Spence,” Veronica whispered, kissing his temple. 

    Spencer groaned beneath her, hard to stir as his arms stayed around her. Veronica sighed. She didn’t realize until she was in bed with him that he had so many scars. The boy wore long sleeves all the time, so she had no idea how many track marks were on his arm. It was something she’d seen multiple times, on the junkies she arrested from her days as a beat cop. They were all healed, so it looked to be an old problem. To think Spencer wrestled with this… Veronica didn’t want to think about it.

     She ran a hand through his curly mess of hair, listening to him breathe. Then she wondered what was wrong with her. 

    She tried again, “Spence, baby.” 

    He stirred slightly, his eyes opening a bit, “Do we have a case?”

    Veronica chuckled, “No, we don’t.”

     He relaxed, his eyes closing again, “Then I want to sleep. Please let me sleep.” 

   “Of course,” Veronica said, not sure why he pleaded with her to sleep in longer. It made her heart hurt a little bit, since she knew the situation behind it. 

    As he drifted back into unconsciousness, she went back to running her fingers through his hair, contemplating what all this meant. At least, she was going to, when she received a call from Garcia. 

    She was quick to answer it, and responded in a hushed voice as she peeled herself away from Spencer and went into the other room, “What is it, girl?”

     “Nothing,” Garcia said in an insinuating voice, “Just checking in on you and Reid.”

    Veronica’s heart dropped, “How’d you…”

    “I have a tracker on Reid’s phone, sugar. I usually don’t use it but he was upset yesterday so I looked at it last night, to see he was at your place.”

    Veronica took a deep breath, “His dealer called. Found out where he lives. This… this fucker was harassing him, and Reid came to me… I don’t know why.” 

    Garcia chuckled, “Yeah, it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s your boyfriend. So, how was it?”

     Veronica grimaced, “I’m not ready to go over details.”

     Garcia outright laughed, “That good, huh?”

      “The best I’ve ever had,” Veronica admitted.

    “You slept with someone you have an emotional connection with. It doesn’t take a profiler to see why that would be better than all your one-night stands. Just a warning, sugar. I love you like a sister, but if you ever hurt that pretty little thing I will unleash hell on you through the Cyberspace.” 

   Veronica knew this would be the most light-hearted shovel talk she’d receive, “Spence… He’s not like the others. The last thing I want to do is hurt him. I just want to keep him safe.”

     Garcia’s tone softened, “I know, babe. It’s ‘cause you love him. For now, your homework will be to find the name of that dealer, and I’ll work my magic.”

     “You’re the best, love.” Veronica said, hanging up.

     The next thing she did was look in Spencer’s phone. She knew it was an invasion of privacy, so she only looked up the name and number of the dealer to send it to Garcia. Quickly, she found she couldn’t help herself, and looked at the messages.

 

    UR WEAK. U KNOW U CANT STAY CLEAN.

    STOP BEING A TEASE. BE A GOOD JUNKIE.

 

     Veronica felt like she was going to throw up, as she put the cell phone down before she could read any more. She wanted to track this waste of space down personally and put her military training into use. There was no need for Spencer to go through all of this. It was heartbreaking that he did. He was what, twenty-six, and he’d already gone through enough for a lifetime. He didn’t need any more pain. 

     Veronica went ahead and brewed some coffee, sitting on the couch to watch a rerun of Friends on TBS. It was her way of decompressing on weekends. An episode and a half later, Spencer came out from the bedroom, still in his Star Trek pajamas and bed head. The sight of him made her heart swell.

    She paused the show, “Hey, Spence. Would you like some coffee?”

    “Please.”

    After she poured him a cup and put the right amount of sugar in there, they sat down on the couch. It was a moment before Spencer asked, “Did you give Garcia the information?”

    She looked at him grimly, “Yes, I did.”

    She could feel his anxiety, as his lip quivered, “Am I going to lose my job?”

   As he began to rock back and forth, flapping his hands uncomfortably, Veronica took the cup out of his hands and placed it on the coffee table so he wouldn’t spill it. “No, no, Spencer. Honey, you’re not going to lose your job. No one’s going to let that happen. We all just love you and want to help you.” 

   He nodded a bit shakily, looking at Veronica. She sighed, letting her emotions take hold of her, “Come here, baby.”

    Spencer fell into her arms, his head on her shoulder. His voice was shaky, as he breathed out his words, “Thank you.”

   She kissed the top of his head, “It’s no problem, Spence. You worked so hard to get clean, and no one’s going to ruin that.”

   “I don’t feel safe at my apartment anymore. Now that they know.”

    Veronica couldn’t blame him. She wouldn’t feel safe if a bunch of drug dealers knew where she lived, “You can stay here as long as you want. I mean it.” 

   He bit his lip, “Are you sure? I don’t want to impose.”

   “You’re not imposing. You can move in for all I care. I just want you to feel safe.”

  He nodded a bit against her shoulder, “Where you live is a lot nicer. Are you sure?”

  She chuckled, “You keep asking me that. I wouldn’t be saying you could stay here if I wasn’t sure about it. You’re over here all the time, anyways. You’ll never have to double-lock your doors or ride the metro ever again.” 

     He didn’t respond with words, but instead hugged her tighter, his nose buried in chest. She paused, realizing just how right this felt. How he fit perfectly in her arms. 

    She took a deep breath, knowing she had to go for this. 

    “Spence, there’s something else I want to say to you. I’m putting all my cards on the table, so I want you to listen.”

    He looked up, nodding. A glimpse of fear was in his eyes, and she wanted to quench it as quickly as possible. 

    “I’m not good at commitment. I’ve run from it my whole life, and I’ve spent the last few months denying the inevitable. If we do live together… I want you to know I’m in this for the long haul. I love you, and that’s something I don’t take lightly.”

    Veronica didn’t know what to expect, but immediately a smile lit up Spencer’s face. He asked, rather shyly, “You want to spend the rest of your life with me?”

    She laughed a little, “You said that like a high school kid who just got asked to prom by the prettiest girl in class.”

    He looked down, “I-I’m sorry. Yes, of course I want that. There’s just… something I need to tell you. All cards on the table, right?”

   The sadness in his tone told Veronica this would be something heart-wrenching, but it was still a no-brainer. She held his hand, squeezing it as a reassurance, “Of course, baby. You can tell me anything.”

    Spencer ended up telling her more than he expected to. At first, it was rambling about all the different things Noah would say to him, or what he would do if he got remotely angry at Spencer, which she already knew a bit about. Then, he went into some of the details that he hadn’t shared with anyone. How Noah would beat him when he had meltdowns, forced him to give up contact with the very few people in his life, would never respect his boundaries, forced things when he didn’t consent, and told him that he wasn’t worth respecting. 

     Veronica just listened, and held onto him. She couldn’t understand it, how anyone would want to hurt this angel. She didn’t refrain from comforting him, whispering affirmations that everything this monster said to him wasn’t true. That he was worthy and so, so strong. By the end, Veronica’s eyes were wet. Which was weird to her, because she rarely cried.

    Spencer finished his monologue with, “I can understand if you don’t want me anymore.”

    Veronica pressed a kiss to his cheek before she began, “Listen, angel. I’m convinced by now there’s nothing you could do or say that could make me not want you. That… that piece of shit never deserved to even touch you, and it’s taking everything within me to not track down this guy and put a bullet in his head. You were a child. You were raped . Nothing that happened was your fault. You know that right?”

    He shook his head, tears coming to his eyes, “No one’s ever told me that. I don’t think I deserve this.”

    She gave him a soft smile, “You deserve everything under the sun, Spence. I’m just trying my best to give you a little bit of that. I’m in love with you. That’s not going to change. Now I know why it took a while for you to be open with me in that way. I wouldn’t change a thing.” 

    This time, he flapped his hands happily, “You wouldn’t? You were okay with waiting?”

   She nodded, smiling, “I would wait another five months. A year. Hell, forever.”

   She kissed him again, and they relaxed in each other’s arms. It was no use, Veronica thought. She was done. She couldn’t fight anything anymore, as he was in her arms. It was impossible to not love Spencer Reid. 

     Veronica was painfully self-aware, to the point where she knew everything that was wrong with her. She was quick to anger. She had a problem with holding her tongue, and it often got her in trouble. She was a dangerous mix of hypervigilant and impulsive. 

    She blamed it on her father, who made her run apocalypse drills when she was six years old. Or her mother, who would criticize everything about her. Her whole life, everything was war.

   Here, with this sweet boy, she didn’t feel like that. It was peaceful, as he took a few gulps of his coffee, “Can we watch Planet Earth? It should be on right now.”

    “Babe, don’t get me wrong but… You want to watch a boring British guy drone on about the grass?” 

    “Sir David Attenborough is a universal treasure. And also, the documentaries cover all topographies and species of animals. Saying it’s only about grass is a generalization that I wouldn’t expect my intelligent girlfriend to make.” 

     Veronica laughed, leaning into his arm, “So he’s got jokes now?” She flipped the channel, to see a view of the ocean, and a pod of orcas swimming in it, “Babe, what do you know about those?”

      He went straight away with explaining everything there was to know about an animal that Veronica never thought about, and she couldn’t help but marvel at how amazing he was. 

     She still couldn’t believe yet that this was hers. 

***

    “Uncle Spencer!” Stella cried out, as she all but catapulted into the young man’s arms.

    He caught the toddler, tossing her in the air, “I’m so glad I get to see you again.”

    Spencer turned to Stella, whispering in her ear, “Do you remember what I asked you to do?”

    The little girl nodded, smiling. She was rewarded with the stuffed unicorn, which Spencer kept in his bag. She hugged him again, and then he let her down. 

   Kate came around the corner, squealing as soon as she laid her eyes on the ring. She engulfed her sister in a huge hug, “I’m so happy for you guys! And on the Space Needle? So romantic.”

   Veronica squeezed her once more, before pulling back, “You’re just finding another way to be upset because Marco proposed in a Sonic Drive-Thru.”

    “I was upset.”
    “You could’ve rejected it. Made him work harder,” Veronica said, rolling her eyes. She’d said the same thing so many times over the years. 

    “Mommy, look what Uncle Spencer got me!” Stella yelled, showing off her unicorn, “Isn’t she pretty?”

    Kate smiled, taking it in her hands, “She’s beautiful. What do we tell Spencer?”

    “Thank you!” She all but yelled it, hugging his legs again, “I’m going to take her to meet my other stuffies. Do you want to meet them, Spencer?”

    “Of course I do!” Spencer said, in the voice he used to talk to kids. She grabbed his hand, taking him to her room.

    Veronica just laughed, shaking her head, “I still don’t know what I did to get a man that great.”

   Kate chuckled, “Me neither. And I’m kind of mad at you for it.” She hesitated, as she eyed her sister, “Mom called. She got your message, and asked me if it was true.”

   Veronica took a breath, wringing her hands in and out, “What did you say?”

    “That he is every bit as wonderful as you described. I, um, I told her how he’s a doctor. That he’s been helping out with Stella. Just all the blanks you left out.”

    Veronica nodded slowly, “And then she asked what the hell he’s doing with me?”

   “Ronnie, you know that’s just how she is.”

    Yes. It was how she was. That didn’t mean Veronica had to like it, or want something better. She wanted a mother who would be genuinely happy for her, instead of seeing her fiancé as a reward that she didn’t earn. She knew by this point that it was too much to ask. 

    “So is she coming over or what?”

     Kate nodded, “For dinner at seven.”

     “It’s 6:30 right now,” she said, slightly panicked. 

     “The tamales are in the steamer.”

      She groaned internally. Of all the heated family affairs that Veronica had been through in her life, the one common thing that they all shared was the presence of her grandmother’s tamale recipe. That’s because it was the proper dinner for celebration, according to her mother.

   “It’s going to be okay,” Kate assured.

   As Spencer came back downstairs, he noticed the concerned expression that Veronica held, “What’s going on?” 

   “My mom’s going to be here soon,” Veronica said flatly.

   “I see. Do you want to watch football?”

    She shook her head, “We don’t have to…”

   He took her head, “It will get your mind off of things.”

   She just nodded, cuddling into Spencer as he turned the TV on. Her mind went to a different place, as she focused on the game in front of her. It was one of the “normal” activities she used to do with her dad, watching football games. It was comforting to her, although she knew any of her colleagues would have a field day to profile why. 

    She stayed until this safe place, until the doorbell rang. She was the one to answer the door.

    What she saw in front of her was something she feared, probably her whole life. She’d faced life-threatening situations before. A handful of times a gun had been placed at her temple. Somehow, this was worse. This meant a lot more. Now, she was facing it dead-on. 

    “Hello, Mom.”

Chapter Text

 It was a moment before either mother or daughter said a word to one another. Veronica was caught dead, as she tried to find the right words to break the years of silence. Her mother was visibly older, as she could no longer lie about the lines that formed on her face. Veronica guessed that her hair was graying as well, but that was concealed by a bottle of hair dye. It seemed as if she had on an extra layer of makeup, but the clothes were still high-end and revealing.

   “Mama I…” Veronica began. 

   “That is quite a big rock on your finger,” her mother interrupted, stepping inside the door frame, “Let me see it.”

    She obeyed, as her mother took her hand and examined it, “I have been going to the wrong daughter for money, I see. So where is this doctor? Out saving lives, I take it?”

    Spencer, who was right around the corner, approached her, “I’m actually not that kind of doctor. I’ve got PhDs in Mathematics, Engineering, and Chemistry. Actually, Veronica’s degree is closer to a traditional doctor as it has the biological component. Did you know that only 15% of engineers are women, and that your daughter is one of them?” 

   When he was met with a blank expression, he felt his face grow hot, “I’m Dr. Spencer Reid, your daughter’s fiancé.”

   She sized him up, as she always did when she ran into someone unfamiliar. As great of a profiler Veronica thought she was, she couldn’t even tell what her own mother was thinking, “Now tell me, do you never look people in the eye when you speak to them, or are you just scared of what Veronica has told you about me?”

   Something in Veronica snapped.

   “We’re not doing this,” Veronica said firmly, “If you’re going to act this way, you can leave.” 

   She reached over, to fold her arm into Spencer’s, “Now, if you promise to be civil, you can come inside.”

  Her mother let up, mumbling, “I forgot how abrasive you are, mija.”

  However, she relented, as she took a seat in the recliner, grabbing onto an old photo album, “I wonder if you know how to keep family memories like your sister does.”

   I keep the ones that are worth remembering, Veronica wanted to say, but she stayed silent. She sat on the couch with Spencer, feeling a bit of relief with how his arm was around her. 

    Her mother looked down at the photo album, as she spoke, “Don’t mistake my comments earlier for malice, amor. I didn’t mean anything by it. You are a very handsome young man, and I am glad my daughter has found someone to settle down with.”

   Veronica shot her eyes at her, not sure where this compliment came from. Spencer cleared his throat, able to remain neutral, “Thank you.”

    She laughed, looking through the pictures. Although they couldn’t see it due to the angle, she pointed at a photograph of nine-year-old Veronica, “You should see this picture of Veronica, darling.”

   She stood up showing Spencer the picture of his fiancée as a child, with a cropped haircut, holding a large fish. He didn’t have time to speak, before she started talking again, “My ex-husband used to take her on these fishing trips, as a sort of bonding experience. It was either that, or those dirt bikes. I really thought for a time, mija, that you were going to be one of those transgenders you see on Oprah.”

   Veronica’s mouth gaped, “You’re not seriously joking about that again, are you?”

   “Don’t be like that. It’s all in good fun.”

   This didn’t settle down Veronica any, “Transgender people shouldn’t be at the butt of your jokes. But what do I know? I’m just the one who has an IQ of 159 and has an extensive knowledge of human behavior and anatomy.”

   “I am not trying to fight with you, hermosa. Now tell me. How did you two get together?”

   Veronica was antsy by this question, “I already told you. We met through work and we got together there.”

   Maria was energetic, as her manicured fingers drummed against the laminated pages, “Yes, but you left out the details. Were there sparks? Who made the first move? I want to know all of it.”

    Veronica narrowed her eyes at her mother, about to open her mouth when Kate walked in, “Dinner’s ready, Mama.”

   “Where’s my darling granddaughter, mija?”

   Kate offered her a smile, “Passed out. She didn’t sleep when she was supposed to nap. She was too excited about her aunt and uncle coming back. I’m sure she’ll be up in a bit.”

   Kate turned towards Spencer, “I also have some buttered noodles in the microwave, if you decide you don’t like the texture.”

  Spencer was appreciative of how Kate always thought of his sensory issues. The little things she did all went a long way, “I think I will try what you made first, but thank you.”

    Maria pulled her back, laughing a bit. She made sure that Veronica was out of earshot, before she made her comment, “Do you think the boy is too white to eat my mother’s tamales? That’s not very progressive of you.”

   “No, it’s because Spencer’s autistic. He can’t eat certain foods because of sensory issues, and I wanted to make something he could eat,” Kate explained firmly.

   Maria was taken back by this, and it filled Kate with anxiety. She was surprised, when her mother gave her a simple nod, “That is why Veronica got so defensive about my eye contact comment. Is there anything else I should know?”

   “What do you mean?” She asked, uneasy. 

   “I mean, what other things does he do because of his autism? So I can be aware of it. I don’t want to say anything else that might hurt their feelings.”

    Kate was shocked. There were a few words to describe her mother, and accommodating was not one of them, “Most of it is that he sometimes doesn’t understand social cues and he infodumps. Which means he’ll talk a lot about a specific subject that interests him. Usually that’s Sci-Fi, physics, mathematics. She understands it, of course, but to us it’ll sound like a foreign language. Ronnie will get mad at you if you cut him off or act disinterested. I made that mistake the first time I met him, when he talked my ear off about laws of physics and I yawned. That may be the only time she’s ever called me stupid.”

   “She cares about him that much,” Maria quietly noted, knowing that even though her two children were of different intellects, Veronica never made Kate feel less than, not even when they were growing up. 

   “He’s only her entire world,” Kate said with a quick laugh. She grew serious after a moment, “Spencer is like a brother to me by now. I wasn’t lying, when I said he’s become a part of my daughter’s life.  I won’t tolerate anything but kindness towards him.”

   “Why do you think so little of me, mija?”

   “Force of habit,” Kate said, shrugging her shoulders, “Let’s eat.”

    Maria went around the corner to see her daughter laughing softly as she kissed the boy’s cheek. She whispered something to him, playing with his hair. Never in her life had she seen a daughter look at anyone like this before. She knew by then that she had to be on her best behavior, if she ever wanted a relationship with her eldest daughter again. 

    As everyone sat at the table to eat, Maria was quick to ask, “So Spencer, where did you grow up?”

   “Las Vegas. We actually just came from there. I wanted to tell my mother about our engagement in person.”

    Spencer wanted to leave out the details of Bennington and his mother’s illness, as he didn’t know how this woman would react to them. It appeared that Maria thought nothing of it, and didn’t press further.

   “I worked in Las Vegas for a time. That’s before I met Mr. West, of course. Lovely city. How did you get your job with the FBI when you were all the way over there?”

   Spencer took a bite, waiting to chew and swallow before he spoke, “I met Agent Gideon when I was sixteen, when I was in college at Cal-Tech and scored hundreds on a few psychological profiling tests within an hour that were apparently almost impossible to pass. He, um, said I was too young to join, but took me to lunch and gave me his contact information. I threw it away, because I didn’t want to do that at the time. Then when I was twenty-one, Gideon and our boss, Hotch, ran into me again at a diner while they were on a case. A week later I moved from California to DC.”

   Maria could detect the holes that were in this story, but she knew not to question them any further, “You were so young. Practically a child. How old were you, when you graduated high school?”

    “Twelve years old.”
    “I see. I wouldn’t let Veronica graduate until she was sixteen, although she wanted to test out sooner. I wanted her to have a normal teenage experience.”

   Veronica scoffed, “Yeah, don’t kid yourself. You needed someone who was willing to do your budgeting, mortgage payments, and taxes. That’s the reason why Dad had to sign the form for me to graduate early. You would’ve kept me in that house forever.”

   “No, I wouldn’t have. And I had you help out because numbers are not my strong suit, honey.”

   She dug her fork into her food, not eating it but instead maiming it, “It’s a wonder you’re able to keep the lights on without me, or maybe you aren’t. Since you keep hitting Kate up for money.”

  Kate gaped, “You know you weren’t supposed to bring that up.”

  “I know I’m not supposed to , but you’re living off of a check from the military, Kate. And she’s trying to bleed you dry. Now she’s trying to play nice with me since she knows Spencer and I make good money. Otherwise, she’d want nothing to do with me.”

    “That’s not true, mija.”

    “Then what is this?” Veronica exclaimed her question, throwing her napkin down, “I’m done. I tried, but I’m done.”

   When Veronica left the table, Spencer was quick to go after her. Veronica really didn’t want him to follow her, as she would much rather wallow in her own anger. However, she knew this wasn’t an option anymore. Not ever since Spencer entered into her life. She wondered for a second, if she should’ve chosen someone who would be less attentive to her needs. 

   It was quiet for a moment, before Spencer spoke, “Did you know that neuroscience has discovered that the mother-daughter bond is more powerful than any child-parent relationship? The amount of dopamine and oxytocin that is released into the brain from a healthy bond is thought to cure depression, anxiety, and even illnesses…”

   Veronica groaned, “Babe, now’s not the time.”

   He rubbed circles into her back, as he continued, “What I’m saying is that even though you don’t like it, she is trying. She’s your mother, Veronica, and that’s important to you. I am not saying by any means that you need to make regular contact, but you haven’t given her a chance to be a better person.”

   This made Veronica heated, “Just because she’s taking an interest in us doesn’t mean she’s going to change.”

  “I know, and I’m not saying you have to forgive her. I am simply suggesting that if she is willing to work to be a better person, to not completely shut her out. You don’t talk about it, but I know how much it hurts you to not have a relationship with your mom. Maybe that could change.”

   Veronica scoffed, “I hate that I’m marrying a profiler,” she met Spencer’s eyes, “Fine, but once she starts acting like herself again, this is over.”

    Spencer just nodded his head in agreement, his arm still around her. They went back in, to have a conversation with Veronica’s family. It wasn’t perfect. They all knew it would never be perfect. Things didn’t change overnight. Veronica had no idea when the next time it would be when she talked to her mother. But it was a start, and the more Veronica leaned into things the more she realized she already had everything she wanted out of life. With that in mind, this no longer seemed so frightening. 

Chapter Text

  Veronica’s first official case with the BAU was four months after Spencer was kidnapped and tortured by Tobias Hankel. She was in the briefing room with everyone else, when Reid came in lethargic and disheveled. It was how her dad used to look, the rare times she’d see him before he’d disappear again. She knew what he was on then, and it put her stomach in a knot.

    She glanced over at Morgan, who shook his head at her. That telepathic communication was enough to know that the people around her were also aware of this. Still, she couldn’t help but notice as he nodded off during the briefing, or the sarcastic comment he made under his breath. 

    Still, it really was none of her business. She had just gotten here and was nowhere near as close as everyone else. No one else said anything, so why should she? 

   That’s when she boarded the jet to Houston, Texas, taking the spot next to Emily. The women had formed an alliance, since they were both new to the BAU. Already though, Veronica found she enjoyed Emily’s company. They had already gone out drinking a couple of times after hours, with JJ coming with them on their next outing. Since they had a similar sense of humor and wit, Garcia and her had hit it off just that morning, as well.

     Veronica hated to admit it, but she was already fitting in better here than at her last job.

   She discussed the case with her coworkers, quick to notice the tiff that happened between Reid and Emily over the geographical profile. 

    “I can handle it.”

     “I wasn’t suggesting that you couldn’t.”

      “Isn’t that what ‘I’ll help you with it’ means?”

      Hotch was quick to break into this, “Reid. Prentiss will help you with the geographical profiling and victimology.”

    “Fine,” Reid murmured, in a way that let people know it wasn’t fine.

  Hotch changed direction in order after that,  “West, go with Morgan and Gideon to the latest murder scene. See if you can pick anything up.”

    “Of course, sir.”

    The rest of the day, everyone couldn’t help but notice how on edge Reid was, and how he’d seem to disappear when it was time to go back to the hotel. Emily was quick to tell her about what happened at the homeless shelter, hoping that she wasn’t crazy for confronting him after his demeanor towards that sweet woman. 

    “Of course not, Em. He gave information he didn’t have. Information that wasn’t even correct, and it just scared her in the process,” Veronica took a sip of the mini bottle of hooch on the table, “Just ‘cause he’s some kind of freaky kid genius doesn’t mean he gets to know everything. You don’t see me bragging.”

    Emily chuckled a bit, “You could have three doctorates too, if you wanted.”

   “I’m two credits away from my biochem doctorate. I stopped when I got an invitation to join the force at twenty-two. I meant to go back to it, but I kept climbing the ladder so fast that it didn’t make sense.”

   Emily scrunched her nose, “So you prefer the thrill of things over being holed up in a lab all day?”

  “So do you. Just came from a desk job, didn’t you?”

   She smirked a bit, “Yeah, I just wish people would give me respect, you know? After what happened to the last girl who worked here.. I’ve not received a warm welcome, to say the least.”

  “Are you kidding me? Half the guys at that precinct see me as the personal Spanish translator, nothing more. I even had to correct one that I’m Colombian, not Mexican.” She grimaced, as she took another sip, “This is not top tier tequila.”

    Emily looked at her slyly, “There’s a bar across the street, want to try it out?”

   “You’re speaking my language. As long as we drink responsibly, right?”

   “With this job, you need to unwind a little.”

   The ladies grabbed their purses, and Veronica was quick to go over to Derek’s room to invite him out, “Sure, but my mojo’s going to be off from where Gideon stuffed me in that sewer.”

    Veronica laughed, “I’m pretty sure even that won’t put your mojo off. You’re like a life-size action figure.”

    “And you’re a comic book heroine come to life, pretty lady.”

    Veronica rolled her eyes, knowing by now that Derek Morgan flirted with everything that breathed. She got closer to him, smirking as she felt his heat rise, “That would be charming, if only I was trashy enough to sleep with my coworkers.”

   “For someone so smart, you are a tease.”

   There was another chuckle, as Veronica turned away, “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

   Neither West or Prentiss could hear, as Morgan laughed to himself when he grabbed his hotel key and wallet to head out, “You two women may be the best thing to ever happen to this team.”

   The next day, they were on their feet with new leads. A little girl and her father were attacked overnight, but luckily both of them were alive. As Veronica was the one who comforted the girl in Spanish, she pieced everything together. It sounded similar to something her father would do, when he got into his dissociative states. Other clues, such as the SOS on top of buildings out of dirt and leaves, confirmed that. 

   “How’d you know that so soon?” JJ asked her. 

   She shrugged her shoulders, not wanting to get into the real reason, “I’m a West Point Alum, you know.”

   Even though it was clear JJ didn’t fully buy it, she nodded, her eyes going to the wife and best friend that came in, “We need you in the room, to talk to them. No one knows this better than you.”

   The case didn’t turn out as they wanted. Veronica realized that there would be a lot of cases like this. She sat on the plane, trying to read, when Hotch came up to her.

    “You know that there’s a chance we wouldn’t have solved it nearly as fast without you. You did good.”

    Veronica grimaced, making eye contact with her boss, “I wish we could say the same about his widow.”

   “I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but it’s okay to feel. Especially with the background of your father.”

   Veronica squinted, “I didn’t say anything about my father.”

    “Do you really think you would have solved a case of a war veteran with PTSD that quick because you went to West Point? There are some things you can’t hide from us. Get used to that now.”

    Veronica nodded, as the man patted her shoulder and returned to his spot next to Gideon. She was about to go back to her book when she saw Reid. The young man was deathly pale, with deep circles under his eyes and white lips. To put it short, he looked like death walking. 

   “You know everything,” Veronica repeated quietly, shaking her head to herself.

    The next case, Reid didn’t meet Emily, Morgan, and West on the jet like he was ordered to. All three of the coworkers left multiple calls to their colleague’s phone, all of which went straight to voicemail.

  On the fifth call, Veronica dropped her phone in frustration, “We’re all in agreement he’s bailing, right?”

  Morgan huffed, “I guess there are three of us, but it’s not like him to do this.”

   “Really? Because it’s all he’s been doing lately,” Emily grumbled, trying to call him another time.

   The three of them exchanged looks, as the jet took off. 

    After their assignment, Veronica confronted Spencer at the first opportunity. It was in that musty bar, as he sat there, nodding in and out of consciousness, “Why’d you miss the flight? We could’ve used you.”

    He opened his lips, as his pupils were pinpricks, “All people do is use me.”

   Something deep in Veronica’s gut went off, “Is that why you’re doing this? So we can’t use you? Lives are in our hands, day in and day out. Do you know what would happen if word got out we had an FBI agent strung out on heroin?”

    He looked at her, but was rendered speechless.

    “I just got here, and I know. Everyone knows.”

     He transfixed his eyebrows, slightly slurring his words, “I guess it’s lucky for you, then. You can take my spot as the team genius. Miss I Could Cure Cancer but Dropped Out.” 

     This triggered Veronica, as it brought forth a personal shortcoming. She could’ve very easily graduated with her doctorate, but she didn’t. She often wondered what could’ve been if she’d just gathered the discipline to write that dissertation. Instead, she felt like a failure because of it. 

   “I may not have an eidetic memory, but I can speak eight languages and know everything about forensics, psychology, and biochemical engineering that you do. Maybe more. On top of that, I was in the top of my class in marksmanship and even helped teach the self-defense class. When Hotch and Gideon recruited me, they didn’t have to pull any strings. I belong here. Maybe even more than you.”

    She stormed away, realizing that what she said to Reid was a bit harsh. Still, she didn’t fully understand yet why everyone felt the need to baby and shelter him as much as they did. Sure, the kid was quirky, but they were supposed to be FBI agents. There was no room for weakness.

    Still, she wasn’t surprised when Gideon wanted to see her. In fact, she’d been dreading it.

   She sat next to the old man in the office, ready to be chewed out for her actions. Instead, Gideon took a different approach, “So I noticed some tension between you and Reid.”

   “You noticed correctly,” West replied, “I was just upset because he didn’t show up on the plane.”

   “Of course. You have been proving yourself so hard, so it upsets you that you feel Reid gets an easy ride?”

    West thought it over for a second. That very thought had crossed her mind, even if she didn’t like admitting it, “I suppose so.”

    “Do you have family, West? Friends you can turn to if things were to get rough?”

   “I prefer to keep to myself, but I do have people.”

    Gideon nodded, knowing that was what she was going to say, “The reason why we’re being quiet about his drug addiction is because as you pointed out, if the bureau found out, they would strip him of everything. And unlike you, me, or our other colleagues, all Reid has is this job. As bad as things are, they could always get worse.”

    West nodded slowly, “So we’re just going to let things get worse?”

   “Of course not. After the stunt he pulled today, we had a conversation. You’re not to tell anyone else, although they will figure it out, when we get back to Quantico, Reid’s checking himself into a detox center.”

   West was stunned, “He agreed to this?”

   “What you said had a real impact on him,” the old man chuckled, “I knew the two of you would butt heads. Sure, you’re both intelligent, accomplished, and driven, but both of you are kids who were handpicked for this work. And when I think about it, I wonder how much say both of you had in the matter.”

   West sat back, as she never thought of herself as a pawn in a larger game. However, the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. 

   “Now, go back to the briefing room and try to help Prentiss and JJ.”

   West simply nodded, going on her way. 

   ***

   It was a quiet night in the West-Reid household, until Veronica was woken up by screaming next to her. This wasn’t something unusual, and she was quick to action in comforting her fiancé, wrapping her arms around him.

   “Shh, Spence. You’re okay, baby. It was only a dream.”

    Their rescued pit bull, Leia, howled as she jumped up to lick Spencer’s face as well. Veronica didn’t shoo her away, as the weight of the dog added extra sensory input that he needed.

    As Spencer buried his face into Veronica’s chest, she played with his hair. He’d cut it about a month or so for their engagement pictures, but it was already starting to have a mind of its own again. Not that Veronica cared.

   “I’m so sorry,” he cried into her chest, obviously still not awake.

   “You have nothing to be sorry for, angel. Nothing,” Veronica reiterated, already aware of what this particular nightmare was about, “You dreamed you relapsed, didn’t you?”

    He nodded, looking at her, “I don’t want to again. I swear I don’t.” 

    She kissed the top of his head, “I know you don’t, Spence. How long has it been since your last relapse?”

   He glanced at the clock, “One year, eight months, twenty-two days, three hour, and seventeen minutes.”

  “And even when you did, I was there, wasn’t I?”

  Spencer nodded, “Yeah, you were there. You uh… You held back my hair and rubbed my back as I was throwing up.”

   Veronica didn’t like remembering that day, but she was unphased, “I will never stop loving you. Not because of an addiction. Not because of anything else. I’m so proud of you and how far you’ve come. Just how strong you are. You understand that, right?”

    Spencer nodded again, growing more calm, “Yeah, I do.”

  She motioned over to turn her desk light on, to find the books on her bedside table. As Spencer had naturally horrible vision, she’d gotten into the habit of reading to him when they were cuddled up in bed together, “Now, would you like to read Kafka or Proust?”

   “ Metamorphosis sounds nice. Is it your copy in the original German?” 

   “You want me to speak it in German?”

   “Only if you want. Just pick up where you left off.”

    Veronica smirked, as she opened up and began to read in the language. She continued to do so, until he began to drift off. She carefully placed the book back where it was, and kissed the top of his head. Then she curled up next to him, to get some more sleep as well.

    The next morning, Veronica stopped by her best friend’s office to find a board that was packed full of wedding ideas, from floral arrangements to bridesmaid dresses to tablecloth selections. 

   Penelope was stunned, but faced Veronica head on, “You don’t look well rested, lovey. Was it a rough night?”

   “You can say that,” she mumbled. Her next question was more direct, “What did I tell you about the wedding planning, Penny?”

    “I know but just humor me, okay? I don’t like to think that two of my favorite people in the world aren’t going to have a beautiful, jaw-dropping ceremony.”

   Veronica cocked her eyebrow, “We aren’t really the kind of couple that wants much of a wedding.”

   “But why not? It would be amazing and fun and you’d look so great in white!”

   Veronica rolled her eyes,  “You do know that weddings weren’t a huge thing until royalty decided to use it as a display of wealth.”

     “So? They’re fun,” Penelope dismissed, “And look at these floral selections.”

   Veronica shook her head, laughing, “Spencer and I both agreed not long after getting engaged that we didn’t want a huge ceremony, and we stand by that. Besides, Spencer’s family and my family meeting? That is a nuclear explosion waiting to happen. Diana Reid and Maria Fumero are two women who are never supposed to meet and I stand by that. And if my dad would decide to show up, it would be game over.”

   An idea formed in Penelope’s eyes, “Want me to track down his dad to liven things up even more?”

   “Only if it means I can put a bullet in his head,” Veronica grumbled. 

     She couldn’t help herself. She’d made her peace with Diana, but William Reid was another story. 

  “Don’t joke about that, my sweet habanero pepper. You’re going to scare me one of these days.”

   “I really hate that you just called me a habanero pepper.”

   This just made Penelope more cheerful, “You know you love me, you beautiful sunflower.”

     Veronica was about to make a snarky response, when Hotch came in to see what his employees were up to, “West, Garcia, we needed you both in the briefing room five minutes ago. Henry has a fever, so JJ’s going to meet us at the loading deck. I assume you’re familiar with the case, Garcia?” 

   “I’ll go right there.” Veronica said, immediately taking her leave.

  Hotch held Garcia back, observing the wedding board, “Carnations? Really, Garcia?”

    Penelope didn’t respond, but just went to the briefing room herself. 

    Everyone groaned at the case even before it was presented to them. They all knew it was a particularly brutal case, even before it was delivered. But it was also in Florida. It seemed all the worst cases were in Florida. 

    Veronica noticed Spencer’s discomfort, and placed her hand on his, “Want to bet we’ve got a sexual sadist?”

   Spencer nodded, looking down at their intertwined hands, “Perhaps if we finish up before the weekend, we can go to Universal Studios.”

    “I’m more into Disneyworld myself. Love the Epcot center,” Prentiss commented, looking over the case. 

    Spencer did the same, squinting as he nonchalantly spoke, “There have been a number of deaths at Disney-themed parks, actually. Dating back to 1977 when a four-year-old boy drowned in the moat surrounding Magic Kingdom. In 2004 an employee who was dressed as Pluto was trampled under a Beauty and the Beast Float in the Disneyworld parade. However, it is expected with an average of 58 million visitors a year and over 77,000 employees. You know, an interesting fact about the Magic Kingdom exhibit, there’s…” 

    Morgan gave a light chuckle, “You really know how to make things light, Pretty Boy.”

    Spencer was embarrassed, looking down, “Right.”

    Rossi exchanged a look with Hotch and then  Veronica. He smiled a little, “I wonder how you’d be able to ruin puppies.”

   “Actually, the common practice of puppy mills…”

  Veronica patted his hand, giving her fiancé a look of adoration, “You can tell me on the plane if you want.” 

    Garcia came in, with her files in hand, “Okay, my lovelies. I’m not going to sugar coat it. We’re in for a rough one this time. We’ve got rape, murder, some weird mutilation. Jacksonville is desperate, that’s why we’ve been called in.” 

     Garcia went over the three victims who were dead, all women in sex work who were found in a dump site in the same swampy area. These killings happened within the past month, but no one pieced it as a serial killer until one specific connection was made.

   “Oh God,” Prentiss said, gasping as she saw some of the evidence photos.

    “Is that…” Morgan trailed off.

     “Female genital mutilation is most common in  African countries and the Middle East. Western civilizations have all but shunned the practice,” Reid said. 

    “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen,” Hotch grumbled, “West, what do you think?”

    “I hate to give the unsub credit, but they know what they’re doing. The cuts are clean, with removal of the vaginal organs without severe blood loss. This is the work of someone with an extensive familiarity with female anatomy. He has a medical background, most likely a gynecologist.” West narrowed in on the picture. She almost went green, “There’s scarring along the ridges of her labia. It’s hard to see, but it’s there. That couldn’t have been formed postmortem. Whoever did this, did it while she was alive.”

   Garcia shook her head, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

   “We’ve got a sexual sadist who derives pleasure from torture. He’s intelligent, unassuming, and has a deadly double life,” Morgan said. 

    “It’s only a matter of time before he finds a new victim. Wheels up in 30,” Hotch said, grabbing his briefcase. 

    “We really do deal with the worst humanity has to offer,” Rossi said. 

    “And to think, I wanted to go to Disneyworld,” Prentiss grumbled.

     West let out a chuckle, “I vote for a corporate trip after this.”

   “Yeah, sell that pitch to Strauss,” Hotch said.

    “If West and Reid were to get married there, there’s a chance she’d approve it,” Rossi joked.

      “If it will get her off our backs, I’m in,” West said, looping her arm with Reid’s.

      As the team boarded onto the jet, everyone braced themselves for yet another glimpse at the darkest humanity had to offer.

Chapter Text

As the team arrived at the Jacksonville police station, they did not receive a warm welcome. The cops of the precinct sat around in the bullpen, drinking coffee as they muttered amongst themselves about the federal agents that debriefed with their captain in the conference room. 

    Officer Malduke, who was a particularly arrogant, loud-mouthed officer, spoke up, “If we can’t solve this, what makes Rogers think that two old suits, a black guy, and three women can?”

   Another officer laughed, “At least the FBI has some fine women. The blonde is pretty cute.”

   “Yeah, she’s cute. But the Latina,” Officer Malduke fanned himself, “I’m glad the feds don’t have regulations on bra size. She would not be as fun to look at.”

   The men laughed amongst themselves. Another officer, Officer Perez, sipped his coffee, “You forgot about the little guy in there.”

   “Oh, I thought it was take your son to work day for the FBI,” Malduke joked. Everyone around him laughed. He observed Reid for a minute, “The fact that they let a kid like that on their team proves that the feds are a joke. In school, I used to own kids like that every day. Now we have to respect them? This kid needs to be put in his place.”

   While Malduke spoke, the debriefing in the conference room came to an end. There was a cipher on the table, so elaborate that the unsub wanted to make it clear that he outsmarted everyone. Only the BAU had someone smarter. Two people, actually.

    “I can stay with Reid to work on the cipher,” West offered, “By the looks of it, this is something that will require at least two sets of eyes.”

    Hotch dismissed this, “We need you in the field, West. If Reid isn’t done with it by the time you get back, you can help him with it.”

   Captain Rogers felt something was amiss, “Are you sure about this? My boys have been trying to crack it for a month and we’ve not gotten close. You really think the kid will be able to in a couple of hours?” 

   Hotch nodded firmly, “I have full confidence that Dr. Reid will be able to solve it on his own.”

  West knew the real reason behind this. Rural areas were always quick to scrutinize a task force when it came in to help with a problem such as this crime spree. People would look for any weak link, any sort of scandal that they could use to discredit the BAU’s work. If anyone were to find out that Agent West and Dr. Reid were a couple, their credibility would be ruined with this police force. Everything had to be strictly professional, and even working together could allow others to detect that there was something in between the two of them. She didn’t think it was fair, but there wasn’t much she could do.

   “West, go with Morgan to the ME. You’ll be useful there,” Hotch commanded. 

   West huffed to herself, but she turned around and clapped Morgan’s back, “Guess it’s you and me, big guy.”

   “Always a pleasure,” His eyes went over to Reid’s direction, “I’ll wait in the car for you.”

    Before West left with her colleague, she went over to speak to Reid, who had begun his elaborate process on the whiteboard to decode the unsub’s message. 

 It took a moment for West to get his attention, “This sucks. You shouldn’t have to figure this out by yourself.”

  Reid nodded, “You know the investigation will be most effective if you go to the ME. Chances are, you will pick up on something from the autoposies that they missed. I’ve run the probability ratio. It happens 79% of the time.”

   West smiled a bit at this, “Impressive, Doctor.” She then looked down at the codes that laid in front of them, “Looks like our unsub likes to tell stories in hieroglyphics. These look like they’re old, from the Early Dynastic Period.”

    She trailed her finger over the pictures as she interpreted them, “Man is God to woman. Woman must… bow to the throne. Sounds like a real charmer, this one.”

   Reid thought over it for a second, to make sure her interpretation was right, “That means we’ve got a man who profiles as emasculated, and has a background in Ancient Egyptian studies. That is fairly uncommon around here.”

    “I do what I can to help,” West shifted her eyes around, “I shouldn’t leave Morgan waiting much longer. If you have something else to run by me, let me know.”

   Reid smiled a fraction, knocking on the table in Morse code. I love you. 

   West responded back. I love you too. 

     With that, she left to meet with Morgan and go to her assigned location. Before she could, Officer Malduke stopped her. West internally groaned, because she already knew everything this man was going to say to her.

    “Well, how are you doing today, gorgeous? Would you like to take a little break from all this hard work? I’m sure it’s racking your pretty little head,” He drawled, leaning forward as he gave her another one-up.

   West flashed her engagement ring as quickly as she could, “Even if I wasn’t spoken for, it’s not going to happen.”

   “A girl like you? He must be something very special.”

   “He is,” West reiterated, “Now, if you excuse me, officer, I’m here to catch a serial killer. Maybe you should do the same, or at least work on your observational skills. That way you won’t hit on another woman who’s wearing a ring.”

   West did not stop to see the look on the man’s face. She just turned around and left him behind. However, she could understand what this interaction would do to him. He would be humiliated, because in his delusional mind he thought he had a shot with her. It was the least of her concern, but for her this analysis was as simple as Psych 101. The one thing she didn’t think about though, was what Malduke’s outlet would be to this rejection.

    While West was with Morgan at the ME’s office, Reid worked away on the cipher, using West’s quick observation as a blueprint for the rest of the hieroglyphic portion. He mumbled to himself, chewing vigorously on his pen, as he tried to find the meaning behind the Charles Dickens novel quotes, Biblical verses written in Hebrew, and excerpts out of Arabic from the Quran. None of the phrases, even when interpreted, lined up to anything that was noteworthy. It was all so confusing for him, and he hated the feeling of confusion. Out of frustration of a particularly difficult verse, he bit on his pen so hard that ink exploded all over his white shirt. He hoped the men outside wouldn’t notice, but all did and were quick to laugh at him.

   “If that’s their genius, we’re in trouble,” one said, cackling. 

    “Hey guys,” Malduke said in a rushed whisper, “I have an idea. This is going to be great!”

    A couple minutes later, Malduke came in with a cup of coffee, “I saw what happened with the pen, buddy. How are you doing?”

    “I don’t need to be overly concerned,” Reid said, wiping the rest of the ink on his face off with a napkin, “According to the World Health Organization ink from pens, markers, and highlighters is considered to be minimally toxic and in such a low quantity that there is virtually no risk to my physical health. Statistically, it is more dangerous to get a tattoo. As many as 6% of those who get tattoos experience skin infections, a portion of which is so severe that the tissue has died due to necrosis. That may not seem like that much, but it is significant because 15% of men and 13% of women have tattoos in the United States. And according to statistics, in the near future it’s just going to grow as the percentage has risen from…”

   Malduke tried his best to let Reid finish his tangent, but his minimal patience ran thin, “Okay, I get it kid. Jeez, are you like this all the time?” When Reid didn’t respond, he handed him the cup of coffee, “Here, this will wash the taste out of your mouth.”

    Reid was wary, but against his better judgment he took the cup and thanked the man. As he took a huge gulp, he immediately spit it everywhere, adding more carnage to his already soiled shirt. Malduke, along with the other officers who watched the scene, all lost their composure and burst into laughter.

   “You put salt in there?” 

    “I don’t know, you tell me, genius,” Malduke said, mockingly, “Did your dad hit you on the head too hard or something?”

    Reid’s bottom jaw clenched, as he tried to not let this comment bother him. His tone was small, “Please just leave me alone to work the case.”

    Malduke scoffed, “I don’t know why you’re here. You’re not a real cop. You’re not even a real man. I bet those hot bitches on your team don’t even give you the time of day.”

   Reid didn’t respond, or even make eye contact for a moment, “Do not speak of Agents Prentiss, Jareau, and West like that. Especially Agent West. Now, just let me work.”

   Malduke gave another chuckle, turning away, “You have a little crush on her? Man, she shot me down. You have no chance in hell with her.”

   Reid wanted to speak up, but instead he went back to the cipher, trying to block this interaction out of his head as he went to work. People’s lives depended on this, so he couldn’t screw this up.

***

  Captain Aaron Rogers was at the dumpsite of the newest body, with Rossi and Hotch. Hotch was on the phone with West and Morgan, and when he was done he gave the findings to the captain. 

    “West personally looked at the mutilation of these women, and found that the weapon was not a razorblade like the ME suggested, but a sharp stone, like flint. She believes these killings are a part of a religious ritual, and I have to agree with her.”

   Rogers did a double take, “You got that from a piece of rock?”

   Rossi explained this more, “In religious ceremonies in Eastern civilization, FGM is performed with that sort of method. Also, the fact that these women were tied up for days and died of dehydration suggests that the unsub thinks he is cleansing them of impurities.”

   “I don’t see how there’s anyone like that here,” the captain said, “So that girl, she’s been right like this before?”

   Rossi scowled, as an air of defense came from his breath, “Do you not trust Agent West’s judgment?”

   “I mean no disrespect agents, but you have two agents under thirty-five on your team. I have children older than them. The amount of pressure you put on these kids… I’ve never seen anything like it.”

    Something in what the captain said resonated with Rossi, but before he could make a comment Hotch stepped in, “The reason why we rely on Agent West and Dr. Reid is because they are very valuable agents to our team, with a combined IQ of nearly 350. They have accomplished more than many who are double their age, and deserve your respect. Am I clear?”

    “Crystal,” Rogers said back.

    The men dropped the conversation until Hotch and Rossi were in the car together to drive back to the station. That was when Rossi spoke, “He isn’t completely wrong, you know. We put that much pressure on kids. Hell, we trained them to kill. No wonder others are turning their heads.”

   Hotch thought at the wheel for a long second, “You know as well as I do the type of lives these kids led before the BAU.”

   “Of course. Reid was what, eighteen when you met him?”

   “Sixteen,” Hotch corrected, “I took him out to lunch, as we talked about crime statistics and his doctoral program. Then I told him that he could get anything on the menu that I was paying for his meal. He ordered chocolate chip pancakes, with extra whipped cream. Then he ate like he’d never see a meal again, which back then that might have been true. I don’t know why, but that made me realize just how young and vulnerable he was. That we were wrong for wanting to subject him to this kind of thing. Then, as I got to realize how he was living, I knew it was the right thing.”

    Rossi nodded in understatement, “That’s how I felt, when I came in and saw West at the BAU.”

   This piqued Hotch’s interest, “You met her before?”
    “I’m from New York, you know. It was all over the news there, how a nine-year-old girl survived in the open woods for a week with only a rusty shotgun. She was twelve when I interviewed her. As I talked to this belligerent little girl who had better survival instincts than me, I knew that her life was going to go one of two ways.”

   Hotch fully understood what he meant by that. The conversation would’ve lasted longer, but his phone rang, “Looks like there’s someone who wants to talk to us. She thinks her ex-husband is the unsub.”

   “Let’s hope she’s right. Makes our job easier,” Rossi commented, as they drove off.

 

   Meanwhile, Reid was not making as much progress as he wished with the cipher. Everything was displayed on the board, all decoded. Still, it was hard to determine what it all meant without a second set of eyes. All Reid could figure out was a bunch of misogynistic text, and whichever way he flipped it in his mind did not heed any results that would give away the identity of this killer.  He was so lost in thought, trying to figure out what the hidden secret this disturbed man was trying to tell him. That was when he heard snickering in the other room.

    Then he realized his satchel was missing. A wave of panic rose in his chest.

    He carried everything in his satchel, from books to his journal to his letter for his mother. The contents of the bag right now were dumped all over Malduke’s desk, as everyone got a chuckle in. Letters that his mother wrote for him were ripped up before his eyes. They tore his books, Then, they took out the thing he dreaded them finding. His stuffed Chewbacca, that he kept with him since he was a kid. Veronica would joke with him, call it his “blankie” or “emotional support Wookie”, but this was something he hid from everyone else. She didn’t tease him further than that, because she knew the meaning behind it. 

    “Give that back!” Reid exclaimed it, burying his face in his hands.  

     All the men looked at him, laughing up a storm. Malduke’s facial expression was of every bully that Spencer had ever encountered, “Do you need directions to the short bus?”

    Reid made his way into the other room to have his breakdown. He was in a ball on the floor, rocking back and forth. He could still hear their laughter, and it was all the same. More often than not, he seemed to be the butt of every joke. He thought it had changed, but now he could see that there was no end in sight. Maybe that was just how it had to be, with someone like him.

    It was a few minutes later when JJ came into the conference room to find him in this state. Her motherly instincts kicked in immediately, as she kneeled down next to him. Her tone was soft and nurturing, “What happened, Spence?”

   Spencer just pointed to the desk, where all of his belongings were ripped and discarded carelessly. JJ felt a ball of rage in her stomach. She tried to extinguish it, so she could keep comforting him. She rubbed his back, speaking in a slow whisper, “Who did that, Spencer?”

   “Officer Malduke, Officer Adams, there were a couple others that I don’t know the names of. They.. also put salt in my coffee.”

    JJ just nodded, gritting her teeth slightly, “Anything else?”

   He shook his head, “They tore up letters from my mom.”

  “I’m so sorry, Spence.”

 His tone was pitiful, like he didn’t want to admit the last part, “They took my Chewy.”

   JJ furrowed her brow, “Your what?”

   “My dad gave it to me, 54 days before he left. I kept it in my bag but they found it and took it.”

   At that moment, Morgan and Prentiss arrived at the station. JJ realized they both overheard this last bit of their conversation. They turned away to have a discussion amongst themselves. 

   “Let me guess, it was that cocky guy. Malduke? I’m going to put his head on a stick,” Morgan said.

   “Maybe it’s more effective if Veronica pulls the blows, Derek,” Prentiss advised, “She’s terrifying when she’s angry.”

    “Can’t we kick them together?” Morgan asked.

    “All of us can,” Prentiss looked back at her colleague, “Hotch shouldn’t have left him alone with all of them.”

   “He had no reason to doubt it. Every other time, it’s been fine,” Morgan processed it, “That officer who was the ringleader, I think he was the one West was talking about in the car. He flirted with her and she rejected his advances.”

   Prentiss nodded slowly, “So there’s a motive. Looking for a weaker target, beta male that he can take his aggressions out on since she emasculated him. This should be fun, when she gets back.”

    It was only a couple minutes until West returned, to see the scene in front of her. She automatically noticed her fiancé’s satchel and the contents inside. She was even more furious, to see how everything was destroyed.

    She stomped into the conference room, to see Reid now sitting in a chair, as JJ had her arm around him, “Who do I need to kill?”

   Reid shook his head, “It’s okay. They were just messing around.”

   “Who do I need to kill, Spence?” She asked again, with more emphasis on every word. She was beside herself, as she pounded her fists together. 

  She softened, as Spencer shook his head, tears coming to his eyes, “Don’t hurt anyone, please.”

  She exchanged a look with JJ, who stood up and let Veronica take her spot. She wrapped an arm around him, “You know I’m not going to actually kill anyone, but I want to know what happened.”

  She sat and listened as he told her the events of the day, trying to not boil in rage. By this time, Hotch had been informed of what happened and was speaking with the precinct’s captain. Veronica was unaware of this, so when she saw Malduke she sprung into action.

    As she stomped towards him, he gave her a smirk, “Did you change your mind?”

   She was absolutely disgusted, “No, not in a million years! You are a chauvinist, pig-headed, and I’m not sure there’s a woman on earth that would want to sleep with you. That man in there that you’ve been harassing all day, that’s my fiancé!”

    Malduke’ jaw dropped, “What…”

    “Yes. Fiancé. As in, I’m going to marry him. I’m planning to spend the rest of my life with him. He is the love of my life. So since you consider me a prize, who’s won here today? Definitely not you. All you’ll ever be is an arrogant prick who is so miserable that he has to bully the one person who can single handedly solve these murders, as innocent women die! You’re just as bad as the unsub, and if it was illegal to be a dick I would lock you up right here on the spot!”

   Veronica turned around, to see that her boss had witnessed this full outburst, “Are you done?”

   “I’m sorry, sir, I…”

    Hotch interrupted her, sighing, “Just take Reid and go to the hotel, West. He deserves a break, anyways.” He turned to Malduke, “Your captain is waiting for you in his office.”

   As it turned out, rummaging through an FBI agent’s bag and destroying their property is a fireable offense. Malduke was suspended, and had to give up his badge and gun over the incident. 

    “We can handle a lot, but we draw the line at one of our agents being harassed. The same would’ve happened with the others,” Hotch explained to Rogers, as Malduke was seen out. 

    Rogers looked down at all the paperwork he’d have to fill out for the other officers, “I am sorry about my men. What they did crossed a line.” He chuckled to himself, “Your team, I haven’t seen anything like it before. They all really care about each other, stick up for each other like it’s their own family.”

    “We’re a family,” Rossi said, coming into the room, “It’s not just work for us.”

    Spencer and Veronica went back to the hotel after everything was recovered and back in his bag. Veronica listened to Spencer complain the whole time.

    “This is unnecessary. I need to work.”

     Veronica rolled her eyes, “You’d be saying that even if you got shot, Spence. You need to take a break.”

     “But I haven’t solved it yet.”

     “You’re not going to be able to if you don’t rest your brain just a little bit. We’re a team for a reason, because it’s too much on one person.” 

     “Too much on one person,” He mumbled under his breath. After a second of processing, he said, “What if there’s more than one unsub?”

     “That… That actually makes more sense,” Veronica said, after consideration, “I’ll call Hotch and Garcia, run it by them.”

   After making the calls, and they agreed that the profile fit better with two people, Veronica turned back to him, “They think it’s the woman who turned her ex in, they’re working together. Now can you call it a day?”

    Spencer nodded, his mind going a million miles a minute. Veronica noticed this, “What’s on your mind, baby?”

   “What happened today, it’s gotten me thinking. Why do you love me?”

   Veronica scowled, “Is this about Malduke? Just forget what he says. He’s a loser.”

    “It’s not just that. From my observation, Morgan, Prentiss, maybe even Garcia have had crushes on you at some point. And that’s just on our team,” Veronica could catch Spencer looking at her. His next words were vomited out, “You are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen and I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t want to be with you. So why me? What makes me special?”

    Veronica had to admit that she blushed a bit at this exchange, as her heart swelled in a way that it only did for him. That’s when she was able to easily give a response, “Because Spence, you challenge me intellectually. You drive me crazy half the time, but at the same time you inspire me to strive for change. You’ve made me a better person, just by knowing you. You make me laugh, cry, just this whole rollercoaster of emotions I never thought I’d feel for someone. From the moment you entered my life, it was always you. Even before I knew it. Plus, you are, per verbatim, the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen.”

   This made Reid smile, “Is it insane that I want to kiss you as you’re driving?”

   “Yes, it is,” Veronica said, as she pulled over. She held his face in her hands, “It’s also crazy that there’s a serial killer on the loose and all I want to do is test out the hotel’s mattress.”

    Spencer didn’t speak, but instead kissed her, hard. They got lost in each other, as Veronica pulled his hair in the way he liked. It was unclear how long this went down, as they were interrupted by the phone.

    Veronica answered it, huffing, “We need to go down for backup. They’re cornering the male unsub. He’s just abducted another girl.”

    Spencer nodded, “I know we have to go, but first…”

   He leaned in, kissing her again, “I love you.”

    She grinned, “I love you too, Spence. Now let’s catch a killer.”