- Death-Minor Character
- Explicit Sex
- Ménage or More
- Science Fiction
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Episode 1 – At Loose Ends
“It means that you must do what you really and truly want.
And nothing is more difficult. […]
It’s your own deepest secret and you yourself don’t know it.”
(Graógramán in The Neverending Story, Michael Ende)
“Stop. Sidelining. Me.”
The whole team stopped on their way out of the little conference room they were using. That tone was not at all what they were used to from one Dr. Spencer Reid and his frustration had hit them in the back almost like it had become a physical thing that he’d thrown after them. And they were all caught unprepared.
“What are you talking about?” Morgan asked carefully.
“About the fact that you never let me go out in the field anymore and I have no idea what I could have done to warrant such a punishment.”
Derek’s eyebrow climbed up his forehead. “But you are in the field. You are here with us.” He added a vague hand gesture to encompass the rest of the team.
“I may not be left behind in Quantico, but I don’t go anywhere with you anymore. You always make me stay at the station. You do remember that I’m a fully qualified, armed federal agent, don’t you?”
There were some thoughtful expressions and looks of sympathy on the faces of the others but Derek only sighed. “Is this really the time? We finally have a solid lead and a chance to catch this bastard. Or is your disagreement with my orders more important?”
Dave narrowed his eyes at the dangerous challenge in the last sentence but didn’t interfere.
Spencer looked at the man he had called one of his best friends for more than a decade and wondered how a simple promotion could have changed so much. Or maybe it hadn’t. Maybe what had been there all along was just coming more evidently to the surface. He sighed and slumped against the table behind him in resignation. “Go. Catch our UnSub.”
Everybody did just that, though there was more than one slightly worried look thrown back at him. Looks he didn’t notice.
When the others were already heading out the door to their SUVs he finally looked up again. “Go and be agents,” he murmured and then went back to what little work there was still to do, sorting through the papers and prepping them for an interrogation and all the documentation required for the prosecution.
When they boarded the jet, Spencer settled into the corner seat at the back and immediately buried his nose in a book. Everyone was in a light mood, going home after a case that went relatively well. But Spencer didn’t feel like joining the easy banter.
The seatbelt signs had barely turned off when a fragrant mug of coffee appeared in his field of vision. Following the arm holding out to him with his eyes he came to Prentiss’ slightly concerned face and just raised an eyebrow in question.
“You sit down furthest from the coffee maker, I start worrying.” She prodded the mug further in his direction and he took it with a half-smile.
“Thanks. I just want to be on my own a bit, have a lot on my mind.”
“Okay then. Are we still on for the ultimate Star Trek marathon next weekend?”
“Of course we are. Why would I give up Star Trek on your extra comfortable couch?” The lightness in his voice was a little forced and they both knew it, but he did look forward to it and Emily let it slide.
He went back to his book and his coffee but his peace wasn’t to last.
When Morgan plopped himself down in the seat across from Spencer, the others were trying to be subtle about listening in, but Spencer thought them quite obvious. Not that he cared.
“So, pretty boy, wanna tell me what that was all about earlier at the station? Since when do you have a problem following my orders?”
Spencer sighed and closed his book. “I don’t have a problem following your orders. I have a problem being stuck with files and case boards all the damn time. I almost feel like you are hiding me away, Derek.”
“What are you talking about? Why would I hide you? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Then why don’t you let me do any task outside of the police stations? Why don’t I ever get to talk to victims, witnesses or suspects anymore? Did I do something to warrant this? Because if I did, you have to help me out here. For the life of me and all my excellent memory, I can’t think of a single thing that could have possibly earned me this treatment.” Spencer had tried to keep his tone neutral, not wanting to push this into emotional territory, but he knew his frustration was shining through.
“You didn’t do anything. I’m not hiding or punishing you! What the fuck?! Why would you even think that?” Derek was getting more and more agitated and Spencer was sure it would only get worse. Maybe the confined space of the jet wasn’t the best place to do this. Well, he hadn’t started it, but he wouldn’t back down.
“Tell me, Derek, how many places have I gone to during the last six cases that weren’t our assigned working space or my hotel room. Hm?” Derek’s eyebrows rose at the challenging tone but Spencer could see him thinking, searching his memory.
“I don’t know, genius, you tell me, you have the super memory.”
“One. It was exactly one. And that was the ME just across the street, the one who we were warned had no patience with people who didn’t understand medical terminology. You haven’t assigned me a single task that wasn’t file or map related. Not even when I suggested I might have a better chance getting through to that shy geeky girl three cases ago. Not even when I asked to see the dump site in person two cases ago because I couldn’t make out the lay of the land from the pictures. You know, the view that turned out to be so important to the UnSub?“ He could see a mixture of shock and denial spread over Derek’s face but wasn’t at all sure on which side the coin would fall, so he powered on.
“You’ve essentially confined me to paperwork since shortly after you took over as Unit Chief. You do remember that I’m an agent, not a consultant or analyst, right?”
“He’s right, Morgan,” Rossi said from behind Derek. “I hadn’t really noticed, but thinking back, he’s right.”
“Yeah,” Emily joined in, “you are sidelining him and I can’t think of a reason either. Doesn’t seem fair.”
Spencer could see the stubbornness rise in Derek and resigned himself to not reaching a solution to this issue.
“I’m not sidelining anybody! I’m just utilizing the strengths of each team member to the greatest advantage for the case, that’s my job in case all of you forgot. And sorry, Spencer, but you are the best and the fastest when it comes to files and maps. We are doing criminal investigations, not make a wish, I thought you got that.”
“Of course I do. And I know my strengths and weaknesses, believe me. I know I’m nobody’s first choice to bust down a door, I wouldn’t want to be. I know I’m the one best suited to work through the stacks of written ramblings collected during years of delusions. I don’t mind. I enjoy doing the geographical profiles. But I can do more and I am more than that. I’ve put a great deal of effort into developing and rounding up my skills over the years. And all of you have helped with that.
“And now you are ignoring all that and pushing it aside, treating me like I’m still the overly awkward, clumsy kid that joined the BAU more than a decade ago. You are selling me short, Derek, and you aren’t doing the team or our investigations any favours focusing on a narrow part of my skills. We are as successful as we are because everyone in this team looks at things differently, hears different nuances and asks different questions. You keeping me away from large parts of the investigation just means that you are cutting away one point of view. And I honestly don’t get why.”
“You just do much better in an office than out in the field.” Derek seemed at a loss for words but no closer to giving in than when he sat down.
Emily narrowed her eyes and cocked her head to the side, as she often did when she was close to figuring something out. “Are you trying to keep Spencer safe?”
“What?” Spencer’s face wasn’t the only one to turn to Prentiss in surprise.
She must have seen something in Derek’s expression that the others missed. “Oh god, you really do, don’t you. You have protectiveness and worry written all over your face, so don’t even try to deny it.”
Spencer looked back at Derek and saw him swallow.
“Can you blame me? Reid is awfully prone to get himself hurt or into dangerous situations. Looking out for all of you is also part of my job.”
“Derek, our job is dangerous.” Spencer tried to stay calm and not let his mixed feelings of hurt and annoyance show. “I knew that when I entered the Academy, when I signed my contract, and every single day since then, when I put on the badge and my weapon. It’s a risk we all decide to take and it’s a little insulting that you think I should be singled out and I alone should be protected from the possible consequences of a choice we all made. I don’t think I’ve been reckless in a very long time. I’m a grown man and nobody gets to make decisions for me. That includes you.”
“First case under my lead, you get your arm broken by an UnSub. I should have been there, should have had your back.”
“We all agreed to split up to cover the large terrain. It wasn’t ideal for any of us, but a necessary and calculated risk. It was pure chance that I was the one to come across him. You may also remember that despite a broken arm I had the guy in handcuffs and on the ground by the time you got to us. And that was largely your training, Derek. That’s your job, to take all reasonable precautions, to prepare us the best you can for any danger, and then you just have trust that we all do out job. But you haven’t been letting me do mine.”
“It’s just… with you, pretty boy…”
“I’m not your little brother, Derek. I’m not the innocent, clueless nerd that joined the BAU, I’m not sure I ever was to the extent you think. You’ve put me into a box and never let me out and it’s hurting me, you, and the team as a whole. And something has to change.”
Derek narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not sure yet. But this can’t go on like it has, it isn’t good for anyone, least of all me. You are trying to protect me, I can acknowledge the sentiment. But if your protection is hurting me, then I’ll have to draw my own consequences.” He got up to get a fresh coffee and received a pat on the shoulder from Rossi as he passed.
When he returned to his seat, Derek was back in his own and staring out of the window. Spencer wasn’t sure their talk would change things.
He could only wait and see.
Spencer was looking over the boxes he had stacked beside his coffee table. Rather than tackling them right away, he went into the kitchen to make himself some coffee and then stood leaning on the high counter, sipping from his mug and staring at the boxes in apprehension, not really seeing them.
When his very large mug was empty, he poured another and told himself to quit avoiding the inevitable.
Settled on his couch he opened the first box and slowly unpacked its contents.
It was difficult to comprehend how much of his mother was still there, here, in her things.
When he had received the call months prior, that she had died in her sleep, he had been numb and all over the place at the same time. He had lost his mother little by little ever since he was born. Her schizophrenia, him going away to college at a young age, committing her to Bennington and her initial anger over that. Then he had moved even further away to join the FBI, an organisation she was deeply paranoid about, seeing her way to rarely and only keeping the contact through letters.
And just when it looked like the new meds were helping and he might get more of the wonderful woman his mother truly was back, the Alzheimers had shown up and started to destroy all that was left of her beautiful mind and personality.
The thought of losing her altogether had been devastating, but like with everything else he’d learned to adapt.
When the possibility arose to have her participate in a clinical study for a new treatment, Spencer and Dr. Norman had talked to her multiple times in her clearer moments before deciding to follow her wishes and give it a try.
There was, of course, an investigation into possible side effects from the combination of meds she was taking, but the autopsy report had labeled her death as a natural, random heart failure.
That she hadn’t lived through losing more and more of her self, that they both had been spared the day she didn’t recognise him at all – it was a small mercy and solace. He had still lost his mother, the only parent he had ever felt truly close to and the grief was difficult to deal with.
At the time he hadn’t felt at all capable of sorting through her things. It had been a phone call with Hotch that had given him a solution. Then just don’t. Pack everything up, rent some storage over here and have it all shipped over. Do it a little at a time when you feel up to it. That things need to be done doesn’t always mean they need to be done right now. And I mean it, if you need something, anything, I’m here. You can call me anytime, no matter if you need help carrying boxes or just somebody to listen to you. That’s what friends are for.
It had helped. Looking through all the things that had been his mother’s life still hurt. But setting his own pace made it easier, less overwhelming.
He could easily acknowledge that he was also holding on. He simply wasn’t quite ready yet to let her go completely and not throwing away her possessions was a not so subtle outside representation of this internal holding on.
One step at a time.
There were astonishingly many things left. When he had put her in Bennington and given up the house he grew up in, he had put everything of hers she couldn’t take with her into storage. At the time he might have had some naive hope that she might have need of them again in the future. Later he had simply never found the time or strength to sort them and get rid of the surplus. He had to do that now.
Every piece brought up memories, good and bad. Clothes she’d worn at outings while they still could do them. Books she’d read him. Little things he’d rescued during her worse episodes.
And letters. So many letters. She had kept all of them, every single one he wrote her, even the ones from when she didn’t acknowledge him in any way. They all carried the signs of having been read over and over again.
He would keep them all as well. It didn’t matter that he could remember every word he had written her. Just like it didn’t matter that he could remember every word in the letters she had sent back to him. He had kept all of those as well. They were a tangible proof of their connection through all these years.
He flipped through yet another stack back from his university days and pulled out one. The day he’d written this hadn’t been anything special but it still marked a significant decision for him.
I am almost done incorporating what I think will be the last comments from my advisor into my thesis and I plan to hand it in by the end of the month. I received two more job offers this week and it is a little weird to be scouted like that before I am even turning sixteen.
I am not all that sure if I really want to stick with math for the rest of my career, there is still so much else out there to learn and explore. I would not have any problems getting more scholarships and I am thinking more and more that I want to pursue another degree. I have been sitting in on lectures in various fields and one subject seems more and more interesting to me, chemistry.
I feel like studying chemistry would give much more opportunity to apply my knowledge to concrete problems. There is so much potential in the various fields of chemistry, so many problems in our world that chemistry could find solutions for.
I find, I quite like the idea of picking a career that truly makes a difference, that has a tangible positive effect on people’s lives. Maybe I could even help you, Mom.
Anyway, as promised I will bring a copy of my thesis in its final form with me when I come home the next time.
Lots of love
He remembered his mother’s reply, that she was proud of him, no matter what he decided to do. She had also insisted that he should pick the path that felt right for him and that her situation was not his responsibility.
The FBI had certainly not been what she had preferred for him but even when she questioned his choices, she had never truly criticised them.
The memories brought back old doubts.
The last time he’d seriously asked himself whether or not the FBI was the best use of his talents and education was around his 30th birthday. It had been a weird twist of fate to be confronted with one prodigy who set out to save lives and two who destroyed them within days.
Back then he had come to the conclusion that his work made a big difference and that he simply felt at home among the BAU.
Right now he wasn’t so sure anymore.
So much had changed over the last months and nothing felt the same anymore. He didn’t feel the same anymore.
After the death of his mother, with his only bit of biological family lost, he had needed the family of their team even more. He had let them all take care of him, a little at a time, and it had helped ease the pain of the loss.
But then that family of choice had been shaken up and eventually changed. And even with still mostly familiar faces, everything was different, just a few degrees off and Spencer wasn’t sure anymore, if this felt right, if he could make a difference like this. If he still belonged.
“Yes, Henry?” Spencer looked up from his lunch preparations to where his godson was putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
The little boy was contemplating the piece in his hand before he turned it around and slotted into its place in the picture. He picked up the next piece but just turned it between his fingers, not really looking where it might fit.
“How many children do people normally have?”
Spencer frowned at the odd question. Not that he didn’t know the answer, but why would an eight-year-old boy ask it?
“That differs between different cultures and has changed over time. Currently the average worldwide is for a woman to give birth to 2.5 children. In the US it’s 1.8.”
Henry looked up at him with a furrowed forehead. “How can you have two and a half children?”
“Nobody has half children, of course not.” Spencer smiled and walked over to sit beside Henry. “But averages are funny things. Let’s say a woman called Ann has two children. And then there’s her neighbour, Bella, and Bella had three children. How many children do they have together?”
“Very good, you’re paying attention. Now, you can’t really divide five evenly between two people. What would you do if we had five cupcakes and both of us wanted to eat the same amount?”
“Hmmm, I’d ask you very nicely and beg until you let me have three?” the boy offered cheekily and both ended up laughing.
“But they are Aunt Penny’s cupcakes and they are super yummy and I don’t want to let you have more than I get. So what could we do?”
Henry scrunched up his face, clearly unhappy that he didn’t get away with a third imaginary cupcake. “We could cut one in half so we’d each have two whole cupcakes and half of the one we cut.”
“Exactly, very good. Now, you can’t cut children in half, that would be horrible, so Ann will always have two and Bella will have three children. But the people who collect all this data and make long lists and statistics and charts from them, they cut the numbers in half or into even smaller pieces so they can assign the same number of children to every woman all over the world. Even people like Aunt Penny or Emily, who have no children, have two and a half children according to these statistics. And the mom of your friend Giselle, who just had triplets and now has eight children… for the statistics she only has two and a half children as well. That’s the weird thing about an average. It’s sort of true for a large group, but it is not true for a single person in the group. Does that make sense?”
“I think so.” Henry fell quiet and absorbed the explanation. “You said in America it was a different number, not two and a half.”
“Yes, in the US every woman gives birth to 1.8 children on average.”
“That’s less than two, right?”
“Yes, it is a little less than two.”
“Then mom already has enough kids.”
“Your mom has slightly more kids than the average. I’m not sure that automatically means that she has enough. Remember your friend Giselle and her seven siblings.” Spencer let Henry think for a little while, still curious where all of this had come from in the first place. When no explanation came he decided to ask. “So, why do you want to know these things all of a sudden?”
“Last night I woke up and I was thirsty. So I went downstairs to get a glass of water, I’m too old to call Mom or Dad for something like that. They were still in the living room but they didn’t hear me. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, honestly, but when I had my glass, I had to walk slowly so it wouldn’t spill and I heard… there were a lot of kissing noises and stuff and then Dad asked ‘Do you want us to try again? Maybe we’ll get a little girl this time around. A little princess as beautiful as her mom.’ I went upstairs and back to bed, so I didn’t hear mom’s answer. Do you think they want to have more children? Why do they need more than two?”
Spencer sighed. At least Henry already knew the basics of how babies came to be, so he didn’t have to navigate that minefield. “I really can’t answer that, Henry.”
“But you know everything!”
“No, Henry, I know a lot, but nobody can know everything.” Spencer smiled fondly at the unwavering trust his godson had in his knowledge. “And I can’t know what your parents want or plan to do unless they tell me. And if they are thinking about another baby is a very personal matter that they won’t talk to me about. But one thing I know for sure. If they’re thinking about another baby, then that isn’t because you and Michael aren’t enough in any way. If they want another baby, then it’s because they are so happy to be your parents and you two are giving them so much joy that they just want a bit more of that.”
“Hm, I guess.” Henry went back to doing his jigsaw and when he didn’t seem to talk about the subject any further, Spencer ruffled his hair and went back to fixing them lunch.
They came home from the park in the late afternoon, soaking wet from a sudden rainstorm. They changed out of their wet clothes and Henry declared movie time.
“Okay. You go and pick out a movie, I’ll make us hot chocolate. Deal?”
Of course, Henry was more than happy with their division of labour and Spencer resigned himself to watching The Secret Life of Pets for the umpteenth time.
They were cuddled up on the couch with their mugs already half empty when Henry dropped the second completely unexpected question of the day into Spencer’s lap. “Why don’t you have kids?”
“Ehm, the answer to that question is a little complicated. For one, you normally start a family with two parents, not just one. You know that it doesn’t always stay that way, but that’s how it usually starts.”
“But couldn’t you find someone to start a family with? I mean, if you wanted kids, you could find someone to marry and make a baby or adopt one, right? You could ask Aunt Penny! She doesn’t have anyone either and you two are great godparents, so I’m sure you’d be awesome parents as well.” Henry was getting really excited about his perfectly logical plan. The movie was, at least for the moment, forgotten.
“Slow down, Henry, it’s not that easy. For starters, people want to be in love with one another when they get married and start a family. And while Aunt Penny and I like each other very much, we aren’t in love and wouldn’t be a good match.”
“Oh.” Henry slumped in on himself and Spencer had to control the smile that wanted to stretch over his lips at how crestfallen the little boy looked on his behalf. “But… why don’t you have somebody to be in love with? You are clever and funny and nice… I think you should have somebody in love with you.”
“Oh Henry, that’s very nice of you to say, but I guess, I just haven’t found the right person for me to fall in love with.”
“Have you been looking?”
“What do you mean?”
“You say, you haven’t found them yet. Maybe you have to go looking for them. Mom always tells me I’m not allowed to complain that I can’t find something before I have really, really looked for it. Only after that will she help me searching. So, have you been looking for someone to fall in love with? Because if you don’t search, you can’t find them.”
Henry looked at him with eager expectations but Spencer wasn’t sure how to answer that. The longer the silence lasted, the more the eagerness dulled in Henry’s eyes.
“Or don’t you want to find someone? I do that sometimes, not searching because I don’t want to find something, like my school books for doing my homework. But don’t tell mom.”
Spencer swallowed hard. He wasn’t sure just what it was Henry saw in his reaction, but the little boy had always been good at reading those around him. Henry’s face turned sad as he snuggled back under Spencer’s arm, looking at the screen again.
“I think you deserve to be happy. And I think you should have someone to be in love with. But you have to want it, I guess.”
Spencer took a deep breath and kissed the top of his godson’s head. “I’m very happy to have you in my life, Henry. And thank you for caring.”
When he was lying in bed that night he was still thinking about what Henry had asked and said.
Didn‘t he want someone to love in his life? Of course, he did. Everybody did, right?
He just had a difficult time finding the right person. Someone he could relate to and that understood him and wasn’t bored or weirded out by his quirks.
He wasn’t good in social situations, so new acquaintances often got stuck before they could turn into a proper friendship or more. He found the whole process highly stressful so he didn’t pursue it by going out or – god forbid – using a dating site.
But that didn’t mean that he didn’t want to fall in love.
He had had feelings for people over the years. At times there had even come something of it, at least a little bit.
He had been completely surprised by Lila Archer’s attraction to him but he’d been beyond flattered and found her interesting. They had kept in contact for a while, flirting back and forth – or at least he hoped his attempts had qualified as flirting – but ultimately he’d known that nothing would ever come of it. There was just too much distance between them, least of which was a continent.
He didn’t want to look too closely at his crush for Hotch. The list of reasons why the man was out of reach was long, including married (initially), fraternisation rules, age difference, Jack, superior, the fact that Hotch saw him more like a younger brother, and the minor detail that the man was as straight as they come.
None of that had ever quite negated that Spencer found Aaron Hotchner attractive far beyond his physical appearance. And throughout their growing friendship, the crush persisted, always neatly tucked away in the back corner of his mind.
That Hotch had left the BAU after they had recaptured all the escaped serial killers had made Spencer sad, but he also understood and respected Hotch’s decision to leave, before their work could do even more damage to his family.
Maeve. Touching those memories still hurt even though the wound had closed years ago. The unfairness of them never having a chance, of Maeve being killed so pointlessly, of him losing her before he properly found her. No matter how complicated things had been for them, how limited their contact, he knew he’d found something truly special with her. Something that could have been it.
But he’d also gone into their relationship, whatever they had managed to be to one another, knowing the likelihood that he might never actually meet her. He’d tied his heart to a person that would potentially be never more than the penmanship of a letter and a voice on the other end of a phone line.
It was almost ironic how similar the situation was to that with his mother, if for entirely different reasons. Maybe that’s why it hadn’t felt strange or empty to him.
He’d loved her. For all he knew about romantic love, he had loved Maeve, been in love with her.
But he also had to admit that his hope that something might become of this love was slim at the best of times.
He groaned and covered his face with his hands. He couldn’t deny the pattern now that he had thought through the people that had awoken his interest over the years. It was pretty obvious that he always fell for people that were out of his reach, one way or the other.
In Henry’s words that would probably qualify as only pretending to search and looking in the wrong places on purpose.
In adult words, he had been sabotaging his own love life for more than a decade.
No matter it wasn’t much to speak of.
That brought him back to Henry’s question. Did he want to be in love? Did he want to find someone?
For the longest time, his answer would have been that it wasn’t that important to him. That his work and friends filled his life out very nicely and that he wasn’t missing anything.
Now, he wasn’t so sure that was still true.
The next day was Sunday and found him on Emily’s overly comfortable couch with popcorn and the complete collection of Star Trek movies.
They had agreed to start with the original and work their way through, seeing how far they made it in one day and continuing the following weeks, cases permitting.
He had cuddled into her side during The Search For Spock and she had wrapped her arms and the throw blanket around him without a word. That was one of the things he truly loved about Emily and had missed the most while she was with Interpol, she got him like few other people, just like Hotch did. But she was also much more open about it.
She’d slowly and carefully wormed her way into his personal space and had worn down his defenses, not by ignoring or disrespecting them, but by earning his trust.
Many described JJ as his big sister, but he rather thought that Emily fit into that slot much better. Spencer felt more comfortable and at home with Emily, no matter that he cared a lot about JJ.
JJ wanted to help him. Emily understood him and was perfectly fine accepting him as he was.
There was never any notion of romance or sexual attraction between them, which made things so wonderfully uncomplicated.
The closing credits were running over the screen when she finally spoke. “Should I put in the next or do you wanna tell me what’s going on?”
He stayed silent a moment longer but she was as always happy to let him sort his thoughts.
“Do you remember the talk we had in that café in San Francisco during the Zodiac copycat case?”
She took a moment to answer. “Was that the one about living up to expectations and what Tesla had accomplished at 25?”
“Yes, that one.” He chuckled, both about her tone now and the things she said back then about her fate as a socialite.
“Are you reevaluating that question for yourself?”
“In a different way, yes, I guess.”
“Hmm.” She left it at that, waiting him out.
“Why did you come back?” he blurted out what had been puzzling him.
“I missed you guys. I still don’t know quite how it happened, but we grew into a family and even though leaving was the right decision at the time, I just kept missing all of you more and more and it made me feel lonely all the time. So I decided to come home.”
“But you took essentially a demotion. You worked so hard and lead your own team successfully. Now you’re back as one of us, doing the same job as the rest of the team. Doesn’t that bother you?”
“Honestly? It was part of the appeal. I never wanted to play political games – hell, I hate politics! But the higher up you are, the more responsibility you hold, the more you have to play these games. And there is an awful amount of administrative work involved with being in charge. Seriously, I often asked myself how Hotch managed to be as much in the field and involved in actual investigations and custodials and everything else we do and still keep on top of all the administration stuff. No wonder he stayed late so often. And being a single dad that must have been difficult.
“With all the different coordination meetings and panels and what not they wanted me on, all of that was even worse at Interpol. And I just came to miss the actual work. Being out there. Catching the bad guys, helping people. Making a difference. I went into law enforcement for that and I wanted it back. I’m an investigator, not an administrator, that became more and more clear and I was losing that part of me. And so I gladly came back and took back my old position as a plain, ordinary agent.” The last was said in jest and they both chuckled.
“Emily Prentiss, you couldn’t be plain or ordinary if you tried.” He fell quiet and let her words percolate a little. “Are you happy now?”
“Yes. Things aren’t perfect, they never are, but I’m much happier now and don’t regret this decision at all. Does that help with your current crisis of faith?”
“I don’t know yet. Maybe.”
“Do you want me to talk to Derek?”
“No. Thanks, but no. This isn’t about Derek, not really. If my issues were just with how he runs the team I would address that with him myself or go to Cruz if our esteemed leader was stubborn.”
“But he isn’t helping, is he? I’m sorry I hadn’t noticed before. I guess I was still adjusting to being back. But you’re right and his behaviour is unprofessional. Hell, if you were a woman, he’d have accusations for misogyny thrown his way in heaps.”
“You saying I should wear a skirt to work?” He twinkled at her with mischief.
Emily laughed heartily. “No. Though I would pay good money for first row seats if you did that.”
“You and Garcia as well, I bet. But I don’t need any more weird rumours about me flowing around Quantico. People are ridiculous.”
She hummed in agreement. “The Voyage Home? Or do you wanna talk some more?”
“No, I’m all talked out as far as my feelings go for now. Let’s watch the highly implausible kidnapping of two whales through time.”
It was only a few days later that Spencer walked into a quaint little café AD Evans had a soft spot for. Mostly because they served delicious cakes.
Spencer couldn’t say he minded. The coffee was good and he didn’t need much convincing when it came to sweets.
“Hello, John. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Spencer greeted the man casually, seeing as this was definitely not a work meeting.
“Spencer, have a seat. I already ordered your coffee. We haven’t talked like this in quite a while and with everything that has happened I thought we should.” He gave the younger man an assessing look. “How are you doing? I know you don’t like changes and you had plenty of those, some of them rather difficult.”
Spencer ran a hand through his hair and gave a smile to the waitress who put down a large mug of coffee in front of him. “It’s a mixed bag, really. Losing my mom like this… sometimes it still hasn’t registered properly and when it does, it hurts. I miss her terribly and at the same time, nothing has really changed all that much for me. It makes me feel a little guilty for how little she was a part of my life.”
“That’s part of growing up, Spencer. We raise our kids to grow into their own, find their own paths, live their own lives. Letting go is a necessity on both sides of the equation. It doesn’t mean that the love is any less, it’s just part of the process. Even if things were a little more complicated in your particular situation. It was still good that your life didn’t revolve around your mom all the time. And I’m sure she felt the same.”
“I guess, I just wish that I had more time with her. And more time where she could properly be my mom… and that makes me feel selfish.”
“I think it’s natural, Spencer. Children should be able to rely on their parents and you had that taken away from you too early. Kids also shouldn’t have to take responsibility for their parents and you had that thrust upon you. There’s nothing wrong with wishing these things had been different. Losing a parent in any way is always hard, no matter which age we are.”
Spencer didn’t really know what to answer to that. It all felt like water under the bridge. “I still write her letters almost every day. I stopped for a little while but… it just had become this way to sort through some of my thoughts about the things that happened throughout the day. I missed it. I tried doing it just as a sort of diary, but it felt awkward and so I went back to writing letters to my dead mom. Letters I can’t send. Does that sound crazy?” He looked up at John, honestly worried about the reaction he might see in his face, but all that was there was understanding.
“It’s not crazy, Spencer. It has been your routine for years and it gives you comfort, that’s a good thing. And I can’t see the difference between writing Dear Mom or Dear Diary on top of a page. And how many people go visit the graveyard and talk to the people they loved there or in a church? We keep them with us in our memories and how we connect to these memories is up to personal preference. I think you’re doing just fine.”
Spencer sipped his coffee for a while and tried to believe the words.
“How are you dealing with the changes on the job? I heard rumours, you know.”
Spencer closed his eyes and sighed. He really hadn’t wanted to take his current issues outside the team. Was he mad at Derek? Yes. Did he want him to get in trouble for how he treated him? No. At least not so soon after just taking over as unit chief.
“There are… growing pains I believe is a fitting term.”
“From what I’ve heard that might be an understatement. Spencer, if your new team leader prevents you from doing your job, you don’t have to accept that. Not even when he’s your friend as well.”
“I called him on it, okay. I’m not just taking it but… I’m not sure I even want to fight this battle with his preconceptions about me.”
“What are you thinking?”
Spencer took a deep breath, about to say out loud a sentence that had been slowly taking shape in his mind over the last weeks. “I’m thinking about leaving the BAU, actually the FBI altogether.”
John looked at him for a long time and Spencer wished the man didn’t have one of the best poker faces he’d ever encountered. “I‘d like to say one thing as the AD before I go back to talking about this as your friend and sponsor. The FBI would hate to lose you and the bureau as a whole but especially the BAU would be poorer without you. That being said, as just John I’d like to hear the reasoning that led you to this decision.”
“It’s not quite a decision yet, just something I’m contemplating.”
“Spencer, you and I both know that this is splitting hairs. If you are contemplating it serious enough to mention, you’re not far from making the decision. So, wanna talk me through it?”
“It’s not a completely new thought. There have been times over the years when for one reason or the other I have wondered if the FBI really was the right career for me. Sometimes I’ve doubted if I was cut out for it and could handle it. Sometimes I seriously asked myself if I was utilising my talents to the max. Was I living up to expectations? My own expectations, that is. I know I’ve grown a lot in this job. It made me stronger, even if I had to go more than one hard way. And in the past, I’ve always felt satisfied knowing that I helped make a difference with the work, that I was improving the world a significant little bit.” Spencer stirred his coffee just to have something to do. It wasn’t lost on him that the swirling liquid made for a rather good representation of his thoughts recently.
“And now? What’s changed?”
“I admit that Derek is part of the problem. It makes me feel useless and while the job shouldn’t be about me, it makes everything we deal with more difficult to deal with.”
“I agree that our job should never be done as some sort of ego trip, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get some sort of satisfaction from it. The cops and agents that go home with nothing but frustration every single day are the ones that burn out, one way or another.”
“I’m not there yet, but I’m thinking that if the situation stayed like this for a longer time, I might.”
John just nodded in understanding.
“But, the more I think about it, I believe that the bigger issue that I feel stuck,” Spencer continued. “It’s not that I don’t learn something new with every case because there’s always something, but overall I don’t feel like I’m growing anymore, as a person or an agent. I’ve come into this job very young – many would say too young. And I still have so many years of work before me and I’m just not sure I wanna do nothing else. It feels weird that I could never settle on a specific academical field, my degrees are so widely spread, and yet I settled on a career in my early twenties and just stuck with it.”
“And if this was anybody else talking I would be offended that you are calling the life of an FBI-agent boring in a roundabout way,” John teased with a smirk. “But I get where you are coming from. You are still young Spencer, you still have so many opportunities open to you. You aren’t stuck if that’s what’s bothering you.”
“I know. But I’m not getting any younger and while my experiences have their own worth, there will come a point where I can’t just go into research or teaching in whatever field I’d like.”
“And is that what you want? Go back to a university or college? Teach spoiled millennials or spend your days in a lab?”
“I don’t know… No. What am I thinking?! I’d be bored out of my mind!”
They both laughed.
“Look, Spencer, I know you are used to having many opportunities open to you at all times. I know the amount and kind of offers you get in any given month. And if you’re worried that that number could dwindle, it’s likely to make you feel more trapped in your current situation. Do you know what you would want to do?”
“No, I haven’t gotten that far.”
“Then I think that’s what you have to figure out first. There’s little point in changing routes if you don’t know where you want to go. Make a list or something, figure out what you’re looking for. And you should probably also define what is bothering about your current situation, so you don’t end up in something similar.”
Spencer nodded and took another large gulp of his coffee.
“I’m just so stuck in the role our team dynamic has assigned me. Not just on the job, but all the time. I feel like I’ve done most of the growing I can do on the job, I spread out from the narrow focus I started with, learned a lot. And while I have also grown as a person, I feel that I’ve fallen behind on that front. Like I’m so stuck in how the people around me see me, that I stopped spreading my wings in my personal life. And that feels incredibly dissatisfying.”
“Anything particular you feel like you’re missing?” the older man pushed a little deeper.
“For starters, I’m 35 years old and haven’t had a single proper, romantic relationship in my life. If that doesn’t sound sad, I don’t know what does.”
“And how are your teammates holding you back from that? I thought they were trying to drag you out to clubs and get you to date all the time.”
“They want me to get out, have fun and ‘get laid’. As if sex was the difficult part. In their picture of me as the clueless, awkward, innocent virgin is no room for me wanting something serious. And in the beginning I didn’t want something serious, I didn’t feel ready for that. Though I was never this blushing virgin they saw in me.”
“And now you want a serious relationship?”
“I guess, yeah. Not entirely sure yet. But I’ve noticed that I attached my heart to people in the past, but always those that were not realistically in reach. Like I wanted the big feelings but not follow through with it. And I don’t know why.” He fell quiet again, trying to pinpoint not for the first time where all of this was leading him.
“Spencer,” John eventually interrupted his thoughts. “As I see it, you need to figure out, what you want out of your life, right now and for the future. And then to pick a path that will get you there. You owe it to yourself to try and be happy. Content is all nice and well, but don’t sell yourself short by not even trying for truly happy.”
Spencer was sitting in his favourite reading chair but the book lay forgotten in his lap. His eyes were looking out the window, not really seeing anything as he was turning his job, family, feelings, and life in general over in his mind yet again.
Spencer felt ready for a change.
As much as he loved his teammates like they were family, he also felt certain that their relationships would survive if they weren’t working together anymore – at least if they were really as strong as he thought. Being among these people had long been a strong factor in staying with the BAU and it now it was losing some of its strength.
But he wasn’t willing to type up his resignation letter quite yet either and what that came down to was the lack of a goal.
He’d given all the more recent job offers sent his way an honest look and did some research beyond that. None of the options seemed to offer him the challenge he was looking for, the chance to make a true difference, or a sense of adventure.
He had reached an impasse.
Spencer was startled out of his musings by an impatient knock on his door (however a fairly simple knock could sound impatient).
Looking through his peephole the sight was a little confusing. He recognised the man in the front, even if they had never met in person. But what was an Air Force officer doing there?
“Dr. McKay, I presume. To what do I owe the honour?” he greeted after opening the door.
“Dr. Reid, pleasure to meet you. And I do not say that lightly or often. That one answers to Sheppard.” He gestured vaguely over his shoulder.
“Rodney,” the colonel just shook his head in exasperation and held out his hand to Spencer. “Lt. Col. John Sheppard, it’s nice to meet you.”
Spencer just gave him his customary wave. “Sorry, Colonel, I prefer not to shake hands with strangers. Would you like to come in.”
“Absolutely,” McKay barrelled forward and Sheppard followed with an apologetic half-smile. “Do I smell coffee?” came out of the Canadian’s mouth before Spencer had even closed the front door.
“Yes. I guess at this point it would be illogical to ask if you want some. Let me fetch a tray and please take a seat.”
He used the few minutes of puttering around his small kitchen to mentally brace himself for all the possible implication of the duo in his living room. Once McKay had taken the first sip of his coffee and hummed contently Spencer leveled an assessing stare on him.
“You want to tell me what this visit is all about?”
“How happy are you at your current position?”
“What?! I just want a rough idea how much effort it will take to lure him away.”
Spencer had to suppress a smile at the interaction between his two guests. It spoke of a well established and strong friendship, which was saying something considering McKay’s reputation.
“I’m actually at a point where I’m somewhat open to new propositions. So why don’t you just tell me what you have to offer?”
“Before we can do that, I’m afraid you’ll have to read and sign these.” Sheppard produced an insanely thick stack of confidentially agreement papers from a bag he’d sat down by his feet.
Spencer picked them up and read through them, quickly flipping through the pages.
“Erm, Doc, not to insult you or anything, but you should really read those properly,” John cautioned.
“I can read 20,000 words a minute and have an eidetic memory, Colonel. There is a rather unfortunate typo on page 73 and a missing comma on page 120. But beyond that,“ he set the completely read stack down on the table and got up to find his fountain pen, “this is a very thorough but essentially standard agreement.” He signed, dated and initialed on all the necessary lines and pushed the papers back to the other man. “And I’ve been keeping secrets since I was ten years old. I’m intrigued.” The last was directed at McKay who took it as the prompting it was.
“What would you say if I told you that there are other intelligent lifeforms out there, that we had access to alien technology and were using it to explore the universe?”
“I’d say it would explain why a scientist of your calibre and ambitions had practically vanished from the public stage for well over five years.”
“You look supremely unsurprised, Dr. Reid,” Sheppard remarked.
“I have an ear in various circles and over the years there were rumours. Hearing them from different directions allowed me to make certain conclusions. Conclusions that I never shared with anyone.” He noticed how Sheppard’s shoulder relaxed ever so slightly. “But rumours tend to lack details. So what exactly is that project of yours and what job would you want me for?”
McKay smirked with a gleam in his eyes. “Five years ago we found Atlantis, a space-worthy city, build by a species we call the Ancients. It’s currently floating under an invisibility shield in San Francisco Bay, but we are taking her back to Pegasus, her home galaxy. There are humans there, scattered over a large number of planets, brought there by the Ancients. But there’s also the Wraith, a horrible enemy that we need to stop or they might become a threat to earth again.”
“That’s why we brought the city here for the time being,” Sheppard took over the explanation. “A Wraith fleet was sent to Earth and we only just managed to destroy them in time. Better we stop them back in Pegasus.”
Spencer nodded slowly. “As exciting and important as all of that sounds, I’m neither a weapons expert nor a strategist or even a cosmologist. I’m not sure how I fit into that picture.”
“But you have a unique combination of talents,” McKay said emphatically. “You see, the Ancients were brilliant but also kind of ridiculous in many ways. That has left us with a huge database we can’t decipher or properly access.”
“Then how have you managed to live and work on that city for five years and even fly it to Earth?” Spencer was seriously puzzled.
“Manuals and individual research journals found with equipment and in specific labs, mostly. Though that came with a few nasty surprises, I’ll admit. And then there are people like Colonel Supergene over here.” He pointed at Sheppard who only made a ‘bite me’-face in answer. McKay continued as if he hadn’t noticed.
“Seems when the Ancients were on Earth, they mixed their genes into our gene pool. We all assume they simply formed relationships with humans and had offspring but nobody knows for sure. As a result, there are a number of people who have traces of Ancient genes in their DNA, particularly what we call the ATA, the Ancient Technology Activation gene. Most Ancient technology only works for people with that gene and we have since developed a gene therapy to bring forward dormant expressions of it. But there are also a small number of people who have a naturally strong and active expression of this gene, Sheppard being the top of the bunch we found so far. And the way Ancient tech, especially Atlantis, responds to these gene carriers is almost obscene. They seem to have an instinctual understanding and the tech practically bows to their will. It’s annoying as all hell if you’re not one of them but it has saved our asses plenty of times.”
“Gee, thanks, McKay. Tell us how you feel, why don’t you,” Sheppard quipped, but there was no real heat behind it and it sounded like an old argument.
“The point is, we’ve scraped by so far but we need the bigger picture when we want to succeed. Fighting the Wraith in a proactive way requires historical data, we could utilise the technology we’re finding way better if didn’t have to carefully guess what it’ll do and if it ever even worked as intended. It’s ridiculous how lax these people were about letting failures laying around. Energy is a constant problem that we’ve so far only solved temporarily with sheer dumb luck. And the soft scientists desperately want to know all kinds of things about the Ancient society and philosophy and what not and I’d really appreciate it if I could just throw a huge bunch of files their way and get them off my back.”
“You are aware that I have degrees in quite a few soft sciences myself, don’t you?” Spencer asked in a slightly teasing tone.
“Yeah. I’m trying to ignore that in favour of your serious PhDs, though I have to admit that your broad range is what makes you the perfect candidate for this job.”
“Which you still haven’t told me about. So what exactly do you expect me to contribute to this madhouse?”
McKay opened his mouth but Sheppard talked right over him. “To get to the point: We hope that you can crack the database. It’s not a language problem, as Ancient is fairly close to Latin and thus easy enough to learn for most of us. It’s not a problem of the coding, seeing as we have some of the most brilliant minds in that field on the city. We think what we’re missing is someone who can figure out how the heck the Ancients thought and how that translates into the structure of that database.”
“Exactly!” Rodney jumped back in. “And I have been convinced that whatever it is you do in profiling would give you an edge on that front. And we’ve tried pretty much everything else we could think of.”
“What a ringing endorsement and declaration of trust.” Spencer couldn’t help the sarcasm but he figured McKay could take it. “Does the project have a military or civilian lead?”
“Civilian leader for the overall mission but a significant military contingent and I have the last say when it comes to security and defensive measures,” Sheppard provided.
“Would you want me to stick to my lab or office or whatever or how exactly do you imagine my role on the mission?”
“We have a couple of hundred people out there and TPTB haven’t settled on how many more we are going to get, yet. Things happen. It might be petty crime compared to what you’re used to but I wouldn’t mind at all if you helped with that. I’ve been trying to get an agent afloat, but the vote is still out on that. And there are also the off planet missions. I wouldn’t want to assign you to a team as a full member, but there are missions and negotiations with locals that sure could profit from your experience as a profiler and if you’re willing, I plan to utilise those skills. At least I don’t have to worry about your ability to shoot straight under duress if things go south.”
McKay was practically vibrating in his seat. “So? What‘re you saying?”
Spencer narrowed his eyes. “Is this a now or never offer?”
“No,” Sheppard said decisively. “We’d like you to join us and our time before we’re heading back to Pegasus is limited. We do have regular contact with Earth and you could join us later but moving you into the city while it’s actually on Earth would be much easier. Also,” he looked around the many filled bookshelves, “no real packing constraints while we’re still here. But take your time to think about this. Ask any questions you feel you need answered. It’s a pretty big step.”
McKay seemed a little frustrated but nodded his agreement.
Spencer’s thoughts were chasing each other around his head while the two man got ready to leave. Alien technology. Another galaxy. Millenia old puzzles.