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Life, Death, and Other Catastrophes

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"You son of a bitch."

It was a mutter, and Elle finished picking her way across the thin grass of the cemetery. It was a blustery day, overcast with the threat of rain, a chill wind blowing through the leaves of the trees. Funeral weather. She'd come in from Birmingham, where she'd moved the year prior because she took a new job. No matter where she went, it seemed she would never really leave this place behind.

"You son of a bitch."

She said it again as she hovered on the far edge of the people gathered together under a portable awning. The awning was dark green, and the edges of it flapped in the breeze. The words Parker's Funeral Home were printed in white letters on the side, and Elle jammed her hands into the pockets of her coat, feeling a dozen different emotions all at once. She'd supposed she'd come to see if it was true, to satisfy herself that this wasn't some cruel joke, and it turned out to be the truth. She'd tried repeatedly to pinpoint how she felt, and couldn't do it.

"You absolute bastard."

"Do you mean me or Gideon?"

Her expression soured, but she kept facing forward. "Pick one, Aaron, you're going to be right." Pause. "And it's rude to come up behind somebody without warning."

Hotch looked at the line of his former co-worker's back, watched her tuck her hands more firmly into the coat's pockets. They hadn't spoken since she'd had such sharp words for him about Emily, and he'd had to pick up the phone and put it back down four times before calling her. Not out of guilt and not out of nervousness, but out of worry of the kind of reaction she'd have. The scene she might make. But he'd done it for Spencer's sake, because he'd doubted that Reid would inform her.

"It's real, then."

Her voice was softer now, and she was looking at the wreath where it sat on an easel near the closed coffin. In the Before, she'd respected Jason Gideon, admired him and wanted to learn from him. In the During, when she was flailing blindly and only Reid had seemed to notice, she'd begun to resent him. In the After, when it was over and she was trying to lift herself out of the crater her life had become, she'd hated him more than a little. In the Now, she couldn't decide which was worse - Aaron's gall in contacting her to say that Gideon was dead, murdered, or the fact that she'd had to come and make sure that it wasn't a lie.

"Yes." Hotch's voice was very quiet, and the wind continued to blow, ruffling Elle's hair. He'd moved so that he was standing to her right, and he knew that if she, like Reid, had ever thought of Jason, that she might one day see him again, it had likely not been a happy thought. They stood watching silently as the service progressed, and then she broke the quiet.

"How is he holding up?"

She was looking at Spencer from a distance, watching his posture and trying to make out the set of his mouth. He'd been the one, back then, to really 'get' Gideon, to understand him, and she imagined that he grieved the death as if he'd seen the man yesterday. Elle's lips tightened as the wind picked up. Next to her, Hotch made a noncommittal noise.

"As well as can be expected. I'm...keeping an eye on him."

She darted an annoyed glance his way, but it was a muted annoyance. Because she was too knotted up to know what she really felt about this, to know it solidly. And without that solidity, she couldn't get actively angry.

"You don't have to explain yourself to me, Aaron," she said tiredly. "Why start now?"

"Will you see him? If you don't mind me making an observation, I think he'd like that."

Elle paused, took one hand out of her pocket to rub her forehead. She'd forgotten her gloves, left them in the rental car. To see Spencer would be to prolong her stay, because she knew that once he was aware she was present he would want her to remain for a while. But it was like being here at all, she couldn't come here and not acknowledge him in some way. Her past, their past, demanded recognition. The former profiler nodded, squared her shoulders. Then she started to walk before she could change her mind. Hotch watched her go, mourning the things none of them could undo.

The service was just breaking up, and Spencer watched Stephen toss a handful of earth into the open grave, heard it thump onto the casket's wooden surface. "To dust you shall return," he murmured, and he knew that wasn't true. Gideon hadn't been dust, he had been a boulder with a hairline crack running through the middle of it. With enough pressure, that hairline crack had widened into a fissure, and then finally split the stone in two. And now he would lie under the earth with another stone marking the place where he rested, as much as the dead could ever rest. His jaw tightened. No tears now, not in front of everyone.

"Spencer."

He looked to his left at first, because the familiar sound of his name scattered his thoughts. Derek had moved off to speak to Gideon's son, and Rossi was still studying the freshly-dug hole. Spencer turned further, and when he found Elle hovering several feet to his right, his chin trembled once before he forced it to stop. She offered him a sympathetic smile, one tinged with something he couldn't name, then held her arms out.

"Bring it in."

He almost didn't do it, because he was too tired and too pissed and too hurt and Gideon was dead at the hands of some coward before he'd gotten the chance to say goodbye. There had always been the hope, no natter how small, that they'd see one another once more. At some other time, in some other place, they'd sit down and talk and maybe even play chess as they once had.

But it was Elle, and since he never forgot anything he remembered the smell and the feel and the taste of her. They'd seen each other through the roughest of rough patches, and he couldn't deny himself the animal comfort of 'bringing it in'. His hard-soled shoes made noises on the grass as he closed the distance, and he put his arms around her in kind when she embraced him.

"I'm so sorry, Spencer."

He shivered against her as a sudden gust of wind plucked at the edges of his jacket, and his expression tried to crumple but he fought it off. Her hands locked together more tightly at the small of his back, bracing his weight against her even as she let him support her. He'd let his hair grow out a little, and in the back of her mind Elle thought that the longer hair suited him better than the short. Spencer trembled again, repressed emotion trying to run riot, and without thinking about it Elle kissed the soft spot under the shelf of his jaw.

"Who is she?"

Kate's voice was querulous, because she'd felt vaguely like the odd woman out for most of the day, despite the mutual attempts at inclusion. She'd only known Jason by reputation and slight association, and even though she was one of the team she was still a step removed. Next to her, Morgan was also watching Spencer and Elle hold on to each other, and he let a sigh escape from his throat as he rubbed a hand over the top of his shaved head.

"It's a really long story. But I'll tell you later."

"I didn't think you'd come."

"I didn't think I would either."

The first drops of rain splattered on the canvas awning above their heads, and the group began to break up. Spencer gave the brunette a final squeeze, then let go. "Are you okay?" she asked as they started towards the cars where they'd been parked in the lot. His right shoulder went up and down, a shrug that told her nothing. He could feel her concern, but to address it would unravel the tenuous control he'd established on his emotions.

"I'm...handling it, I guess." He supposed he'd gotten to the resignation stage, although it came and went. He had no longer needed a father figure by the time he joined the BAU, but Gideon had mentored him, or tried to. To no longer have the possibility of a reunion was a thing Spencer felt down in his soul. Beside him, Elle kept pace with his stride.

Did she grieve? Grieve for Gideon, who had met his end as she once might have, shot in his own home? Who had been unable to help her, and she hadn't understood until later that it had been because he too had been damaged? She supposed she did, but the grief was mixed with a bitter, ugly curiosity, because she wondered if he'd known that it was the end, that as he fell he'd had a moment to realize he wouldn't be getting up. Elle looked over her shoulder at the grave, where the headstone had yet to be placed. Provided the rain didn't begin soon, the hole would be filled, covering the coffin. The ex-profiler shivered.

"Elle?"

Spencer had stopped walking, and he was searching her face as her expression shifted into something narrower. Despite the physical distance, he knew her, remembered that her feelings towards the others were not always kind. And it had taken him long enough to entirely forgive the subterfuge when Emily re-surfaced that he understood the occasional unkindness. He took her hand, and she seemed to return to herself.

"Sorry. I just..." She waved a hand around in the air, as if that would help her find the word to describe the way she felt. When nothing appropriate occurred to her, she shook her head. Her fingers had twined through Spencer's, and he squeezed them lightly.

"It isn't real yet." Her voice was muted, and he could hear the confusion and the hurt buried beneath the confusion, a pain she might not even have been conscious of. "It's not real. It should be, but it isn't. I thought that if I had....I don't know, proof, that would settle it. But..."

"Yeah," Spencer said, because he'd been keeping Gideon alive in his mind since he disappeared, and even having seen the body, the newly-dug grave to put the body in, 'Gideon is dead' had yet to become a solid fact. He held Elle's hand more firmly, and she turned and put her forehead against the lapel of his coat. He put his other hand on the base of her spine.

"I liked him once." She was not a woman who leaned easily, and even with Spencer's arms halfway around her part of her couldn't decide if she wanted to stay where she was or pull away. Her free hand bunched into the fabric of his jacket for a second, then loosened. He turned his head to the left and kissed her cheek.

"He liked you too. Liked us both. And it'll be real soon enough." He kissed her again, the corner of her mouth this time, because he was conscious of the presence of other people and that this was the most inappropriate place to initiate any intimacy, even casual intimacy. But it was Elle, and with Elle he was never awkward.

"It's getting cold," she said, but she kept hold of his hand as they started away again. "And it's probably going to ran soon. I'd rather not get caught in it."

"We're going to Hotch's," he told her. "Decompress, maybe talk. If you wanted to be, you're invited."

"I wouldn't mind if no one else does." Aaron had showed no tension at the sight of her, but his self-control was such that he might have dreaded seeing her and she'd never have known it. And she had yet to see JJ, who she presumed had left while she was talking to Reid. But she wouldn't cause a scene. She could respect the solemnity of the occasion enough for that.

"You can bunk with me if you'd like," he offered as they reached their vehicles. "Unless you've already got a hotel room booked."

Elle craned her neck, looked past Spencer's shoulder. No one else was around, so she went up on her toes and kissed him quickly on the mouth. What they had was private, although she suspected that Aaron and possibly Derek suspected. He allowed himself to touch her jaw, fingertips wandering over the sharp curve of it. If there was comfort to be had out of this shitty situation, they could find it together later.

"I'm glad you're here. I know it can't be easy for you."

She gave him the same one-shouldered shrug he'd given her earlier, unlocking the car with her other hand. "I can get through it if you can. It...helps knowing that you're still around."

She hadn't said either yes or no about crashing at his apartment, and he let her leave without confirming or denying. She would make a decision and let him know later. Even with the chill of the day, he could still feel the warmth of her pressed against him.

Spencer paused before getting behind the wheel of his car, looked towards the grave, where the cemetery workers were now shoveling earth into the hole. Putting Jason Gideon to rest, finally to rest. He looked up at the overcast sky, his heart half as heavy as it had initially been. He mourned his loss, but time would do its work and he'd heal. They all would.

Even Elle.