Spencer sat in the window seat of his D.C. apartment and watched the rain streak down the glass pane, rivulets chasing after each other in an endless race. In the distance thunder rumbled and usually he would have jumped but his forehead remained pressed against the cool glass, his unseeing eyes staring into the darkness. Images raced through his mind of the women with their hearts carved out of their chests, great caverns of blood and ragged bone gaping at him from autopsy tables, of a little boy winking at his father as he was led away with blood-stained hands, of the school nurse tied to a post in the basement her neck still warm as he held a hand to her pulse even though her heart was lying in a puddle on the floor. They hadn’t made it in time. They hadn’t understood that the Unsub was using his son as bait. No one had made the link to the school times and more women had died because they just weren’t quick enough. Spencer’s blunt nails scored into the skin at his elbow again and again. If he’d cared to look he would have seed red drops bleeding into the fabric of his white shirt. He didn’t care to look. He remembered from last time. He knew this siren call and that he was destined to answer.
A few weeks ago he would have called his sponsor. John’s number was still on speed dial right after Morgan's. He knew what John would say in a calm, even, encouraging tone: “Get to a meeting, Spencer. Call me when you’re done.” The imagined voice reverberated around Spencer’s head and he snorted in derision, his breath fogging up the glass. A meeting. He’d heard what had happened to Agent Donovan when it had been revealed that he had been attending NA. Of course, they couldn’t fire him but the sideways promotion into White Collar Crimes sent a clear message: “We don’t want no addicts on our front lines.” A meeting. No, that was no longer an option not if he wanted to keep his job. Did he want to keep his job? Was it worth the nightmares? If he left would there be anything to keep him from little vials of clear fluid that called to him from the corner of his bathroom cabinet.
Without conscious thought, Spencer was moving, running, fleeing his apartment. He grabbed his keys and toed on his shoes before slamming the door behind him and darting into the rain drenched streets where horns honked at him as he blindly stumbled towards the park at the end of the block. Within two minutes he was soaked to the bone, within five his feet were sloshing about in the puddles in his shoes, but he kept walking with his head bowed, his hair a curtain that did nothing to shield him from the bloody images in his mind. Nervously, his eyes darted around before he hopped over the iron fence but be was alone, the rain soaked streets deserted. The swings rocked violently in the wind as he shivered, his white shirt clinging to his frozen skin. Striding forward he headed off over the grass with no clear destination in mind. He just had to get away from the drugs and the death and stink of failure. He hopped another fence, ran across another street, ducked down an alleyway and just kept walking.
Another lightning bolt shattered the sky above his head, finally jerking his head up from his whirling reverie of self-loathing and recriminations. Looking around, he realised that he was in an unfamiliar part of the city. The streets were empty and a glance at his watch showed that it was just past one in the morning. The rain continued unabated and Spencer finally realised just how cold he was. He wanted to go home but he wasn’t even sure which direction he should head in. The houses here were small with patchy lawns. The streets lined with overflowing garbage cans. Thunder rolled and Spencer’s eyes were drawn upwards to the neon red cross down the block flashing intermittently into the night. A small sign, illuminated by the struggling streetlamps read Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation. The building was a dilapidated wreck of barred windows and an ajar door. Spencer glanced up and down the street again but there was no sign of a cab trawling for a fare. Feeling like he had little choice, he ducked into the building and out of the torrential rain.
The relative warmth of the church struck Spencer like a blow and shivered violently, shaking droplets of water out of his hair and onto the hard flagstone floor. The room seemed deserted until he noticed a benevolent mother in shades of blue gazing down at a small bundle in her arms, her warm smile illuminated by a scattering of flickering candles at her feet. The only other light in the room came from a swaying fixture bolted into the ceiling, the beautifully wrought iron at odds with the functional if somewhat cracked concrete. Rows of dark wooden pews lined at small aisle which led to an even smaller altar draped with a white cloth and a blood red runner. The colour made Spencer’s empty stomach lurch and he stumbled, his hip striking against the font of holy water and sloshing its contents onto his already sodden pants. An unseen door at the end of the room opened and Spencer found himself reaching for his absent gun as he plastered himself against the cold, chipped plaster. Glancing round the corner, he saw a young man emerge from the confessional. His shoulders were rounded and his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his hoodie. As he approached, Spencer took in his sunken eyes, the sharp caverns beneath his cheekbones. His hair was totally dry and Spencer wondered just how long he had been at the church or maybe he was just smarter and had brought an umbrella. When the boy reached Spencer, he looked up and a small nervous smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. Unconsciously, Spencer returned it.
“It’s raining,” the boy whispered.
“Yes,” Spencer croaked out, his voice ragged and hoarse.
“Your turn.” Before Spencer could ask exactly what the boy was talking about, he stepped out the door and, hesitating only slightly, disappeared into the rain.
“Have you come for confession?” A deep voice rumbled from the back of the church and Spencer was instantly transported to a graveyard in Georgia. Confess! Confess! Choose! Gideon hadn’t understood Spencer’s message. Gideon had never really understood anything about him and had left Spencer to save himself. Always left him to save himself as if his I.Q somehow disqualified him from struggling like every other human being. But he’d done it. He’d shot Tobias and dragged himself through the forest to a road where a farmer had nearly run him over with his truck before taking him back to his team, to apparent salvation. Perhaps, it wasn’t Gideon’s fault. Spencer had never really had someone who understood him. Not even his mother who’s mind warped reality into a dystopia of her own making.
He stared into the shadows and tried to make out the man’s face but all he could see was a strip of white beneath a strong jaw, the rest lost to the darkness of the cassock and the swaying light. Spencer swallowed heavily. “I don’t know.”
“I’ll wait here, then.” The man’s voice was warm and dark, soft and soothing as he stepped back into the confessional and closed the wooden door. Spencer took a step forward, his shoes squelching loudly in the sudden silence. The rain must have stopped. He glanced towards the door. He could leave now. He could ask for directions or just try to find his way home on his own. He could walk until he found a cab. He could walk until he collapsed from exhaustion.
Instead, he stepped quickly down the aisle, eyes alighting on the pained face of Jesus, strung up on the cross, rivulets of blood dripping into his eyes. The FBI would crucify him if his addiction ever came to light. Confess. The priest would never breathe a word to anyone at the FBI but maybe he would say the words that would quiet Spencer’s soul. Spencer Reid did not believe in the goodness of God but Spencer Reid, no matter what he saw, still believed in the goodness of man.
The wood was warm beneath his fingertips as he trailed them across the elaborate pattern of vines that covered the door of the confessional, separating it from the rest of the Church. Someone had clearly spent a great deal of time creating this beautiful representation of nature. A labour of love or piety. Spencer could appreciate both and the strength that they could give to a person struggling. His hand closed around metal handle and he hesitated. He didn’t believe. This would be nothing more than a sham. A desperate cry for help. Did he even really want to be helped? Wouldn’t it just be easier to go home and reach for the rubber tubing, the sterilized needle, to little vials that clinked together like tiny bells? And then what?
“They say confession is good for the soul,” Spencer hadn’t notice the priest open the door a crack, just enough to allow his voice to travel out. His deep baritone reverberated with amusement.
“I’m not sure I believe in souls,” Spencer murmured, his hand still pausing on the handle but that voice. That voice seemed to tug Spencer forward, seemed to warm him despite the cool air and his sodden clothes.
“Ah well, the heart then. I’m sure you believe in that.” Spencer believed in hearts. He’d seen one that very morning on the dusty floor of a cellar, still oozing blood. He choked back a sob. The priest’s voice was instantly sober, “Sit down, son. You don’t have to talk but it might do some good.”
Spencer nodded even though he knew it couldn’t be seen. Opening the door, he slipped into the confessional, pleased to see that it was lit by a dim light in its ceiling. There was a wooden grate between him and the priest who was also lit by half-light, his features still indiscernible beyond that strong jaw and a rather pointed nose.
“Hello,” Spencer stumbled over what to say now that he was here. He’d never done this before. He’d never imagined doing something like this.
“Hello,” the priest answered, a tinge of his previous amusement colouring his voice again. “I’ll assume this is your first confession?”
“Ah yes,” Spencer cracked his knuckles and shifted uncomfortably, aware of how even his boxers were damp with cold rain water. “I know what to say. I’ve read about it.”
“There’s no need to follow the script if you don’t want to. What brought you here tonight? It’s not exactly a night to be out wandering, although I suppose it is the weather for a dark night of the soul.”
Spencer hummed his agreement but he couldn’t bring himself to start talking. The priest remained silent, seemingly happy just to listen to Spencer’s ragged breathing. “I’m sorry,” he finally stuttered. “I don’t think I can do this.”
“You’re struggling with something. We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”
“Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Romans 5, 3-5. I don’t believe in God or the Holy Spirit. No offence.”
“Yet you know your bible.”
“I like to read and I’ve got a good memory.”
“I wish my congregation liked to read as much as you.”
“That’s rubbish advice anyway. Be proud of your suffering because it makes you stronger. Thanks but I already had someone tell me that. It didn’t do me any good then and it won’t do me any good now.” That constant anger at Gideon and his platitudes bubbled to the surface again. The coward who ran and left Spencer shaking with impotent rage and a measly letter.
“Then perhaps you should talk to me and I could offer something more useful.”
Spencer paused again, almost desperate not to speak but suddenly the words were pouring out of him in a torrent: “I saw a woman tied to a post today with her heart cut out of her.” Spencer heard the sharp intake of breath from the other side of the partition but continued. “She was the ninth victim of a serial killer and we didn’t get there on time. We didn’t know he was using his son as bait. I didn’t connect the dots until it was too late and there was another victim. Another woman who should have been going home to her family. She was still warm when I took her pulse.” His laughter was hysterical even to his own ears. “I took her pulse even though her heart was on the floor by her feet, even though I was standing in her blood. I took her fucking pulse as if there still might be a chance and she was warm. Ten, fifteen minutes earlier and we might have been able to save her but we didn’t get it. I didn’t get it.”
“You’re carrying guilt that is not yours to carry.” The priest’s voice was still even though thicker as if he was the one choking on emotion.
“Aren’t we all guilty? Aren’t we all sinners? That’s your thing, isn’t it?”
“The sins of that man are not yours. You are weighing his iniquities with yours and that truly is too heavy a burden.”
“Psalm 38: For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me. My wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness; I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all day long I go around mourning.” Spencer intoned his voice hollow. “Correct assignation of guilt does not change that fact that she’s dead.”
“No. Nothing can change that.”
“Are you going to tell me that she is in Heaven?”
“Would you believe me if I did?”
“What was her name?”
“I’ll pray for her soul.” The priest offered and Spencer huffed out an exasperated breath at the pointlessness of such an action. “It does no harm.”
“And that’s enough?”
“No, but there is nothing else I can offer her.”
Spencer sighed at the sadness in the priest’s tone. “Too often that’s the case. Nothing to offer the victims.”
“You caught her killer.”
“My team did, yes.”
“Why are you not turning to them for support?”
Spencer paused again as the conversation turned back towards him. “I – I don’t want to burden them and I’m worried about the consequences of sharing my struggle with them.”
“Surely they must all struggle.”
“I’m an addict.”
“Alcohol?” There was no condemnation in the priest’s tone. He didn’t even flinch.
“No. Narcotics. Primarily dilaudid.”
“How long have you been using?”
“No, I – um – I’ve been clean for over a year now.”
“Congratulations.” The warmth and sincerity brought a small smile to Spencer’s lips despite the subject matter.
“But this last case brought back the cravings. I just want to forget.”
“Understandable. How were you able to stop before?”
“I attended Narcotics Anonymous and I had a sponsor but that’s no longer an option.”
“And you can’t confide in your team because you fear losing your job.” Spencer nodded unseen at the unasked question. “So you came here.”
“Not consciously. I just wanted to go for a walk.”
“In the worst storm of the year, in the middle of the night.”
“I didn’t really notice the rain.”
The priest paused, seemingly weighing his words. “I am not a substance abuse counsellor but I’m glad that you are talking to me.”
“It has helped.” Spencer realised that he was no longer feeling that deep pull of his cravings, no longer feeling his skin crawling as buzzing.
“You can come and talk to me whenever you desire.”
“I don’t even know where I am.”
The priest chuckled softly. “You’re on Danbury St. in Bellevue. Do you have a way to get home?”
“Are you kicking me out?” Spencer asked, suddenly afraid to go back to his apartment and the temptation of the drugs in his bathroom.
“This is a church, son. Our door is always open.”
“Can I sit here for a few more minutes?”
“Of course. Would you like some privacy?”
“Yes, um. Thank you, um, father?”
“You can call me Hotch if you’d feel more comfortable. My name is Father Aaron Hotchner but some of the younger members of the parish call me by my nickname.”
“Oh, ok. Thank you, Hotch.”
“That’s not really a traditional ending for confession, I guess.”
“Not really. Would you prefer: Give thanks to the Lord for He is good?”
“For His mercy endures forever,” Spencer mumbled before adding, “I read it in a book.”
“If you need anything call out. I’ll be in the next room.”
Spencer watched as the silhouette in the adjoining box rose and he listened to the soft brush of cloth that accompanied the door opening and closing before the priest’s footsteps faded out of hearing. He slid to the floor with his back to the wooden partition and shivered. It was silly to sit here in wet clothes but he found himself reluctant to leave. There was something so comforting about the presence of Father Hotchner that Spencer found himself reluctant to think too closely about. He let his eyes slide closed as his head lolled forwards and the emotional turmoil of the evening finally overcame him. Silently, he allowed himself to cry.