“You're going to die.”

The hospital. Spencer's eyelids are as heavy as stones, and there's an odd tingling along his right arm that he suspects will later be pain, but his subconscious has apparently been cataloguing the nearby beep of machinery, the IV taped to the top of his hand, the suffocatingly warm air. Hospital. Not dead after all. His mother must be worried.

“Your mother's still at Bennington,” Gideon's voice says, his warm hand covering Spencer's forearm. “Would you like for me to call her?”

Spencer grimaces, swallows. A concussion, then. Because Gideon isn't here, hasn't been for almost a year now. “You're late.” The words taste like dust.

“I know.”

********************************************************************

“You sustained a concussion and a sprained arm.”

“I know, Hotch; I heard the doctor. I'm concussed, not deaf,” Spencer reminds the Unit Chief with a small smile. The man's famous for his reserve, but the low set of his brows and intense stare speak volumes. “I can still help with the investigation.”

Hotchner frowns and folds his arms, looking every bit the prosecutor he used to be. His suit and tie are starting to wrinkle, and Spencer wonders if he went home last night. “There was a letter, Reid.”

Spencer blinks, tries to focus despite the dull pulse of pain radiating from the right side of his skull. His right arm, presently immobilized in a sling, isn't feeling much better. “At the scene?” Spencer's apartment. His home. Spencer remembers how odd it was, seeing his own blood on his fingers, smearing the hardwood floor; Morgan's shouts echoing in the small space.

“No.” Hotchner's eyes narrow, as if gauging Spencer's reaction. “Sent to Jason Gideon's attention at the BAU.”

Spencer huffs weakly from his pillow. “Good luck with that.” As if anything could merit the ex-Supervisory Special Agent's attention. None of them have heard from him for months. Spencer's brow furrows. “Are you saying I was attacked because of Gideon?”

“Not attacked; targeted,” Hotchner tells him. “If Morgan hadn't come back - ”

“Have they said anything about when I'll be released?” Spencer really doesn't want to think about what would have happened if he hadn't forgotten his scarf in Morgan's car last night, about what parts of him would have been returned to his mother for burial.

Hotchner nods. “Yes, about that. As Gideon's protégé - ”

“I'm not his protégé.” And if Spencer sounds like a petulant five year-old, Hotchner thankfully ignores it.

“As his former colleague, you've become the focus of the unsub. I'm putting you somewhere safe.”

“What?” Spencer asks, attempting to struggle to a more upright position when Hotchner's hand catches his shoulder, pinning him gently to the hospital mattress. “But what about the case?”

“Reid. You've just been through a traumatic event. You need some time to process. And to heal,” Hotchner adds, giving Spencer a meaningful look.

Spencer's finger lifts slightly. “Technically, Hotch, confronting one's fears has often been found to be - ”

“ - highly effective in treating various anxieties. I'm aware of that,” Hotchner informs him, releasing the young man's shoulder and straightening. “I've made arrangements for you to stay with a friend.”

“A friend?” Spencer's mouth twists wryly, in spite of the persistent headache. “Since when do any of us have friends?” Hotchner presses his lips together, but for Spencer, that's enough. He squints suspiciously at the Unit Chief. “Who?”

“Me,” says a familiar voice from the doorway.

“Gideon,” Spencer says numbly, wondering just when the other man entered the room. The former agent looks exactly as Spencer remembers, a long-sleeved navy jersey and jeans softening a physique still formidable in middle-age. The man's smile is unusually wary, and after everything that's happened, it certainly should be. Spencer's gaze swings back to Hotchner again. “How did you find – how did - ”

“I didn't,” Hotchner says, eyes never leaving Spencer's face. “He came to us.”

“I was here earlier,” Gideon tells him. “Do you remember?”

“I – I thought I was dreaming.” Spencer stares at the man, long enough to deem him corporeal. Long enough to remember he shouldn't be happy to see him. “I'm not staying with Gideon,” he tells Hotchner, two spots of color appearing high on his cheekbones.

“You'll do as you're ordered,” Hotchner says. “Jason knows more about this particular unsub than anyone; you'll be safest with him.”

“Until when?” Spencer demands, his voice sliding up a pitch. “Until he decides to write me another note?”

Hotchner turns to Gideon. “Jason, can you give us a moment?”

“Sure,” the man replies mildly, nodding once at Spencer before ducking out of the room. Spencer waits for the door to shut behind him before launching his protest.

“You can't ask me to do this, Hotch.”

“I'm not asking.” Spencer looks away, on the verge of a pout, and Hotchner's voice takes on a warning tone. “Reid; I need every person on the team working this case right now. Gideon has volunteered his services, and we're going to use him. Is that understood?”

“But, couldn't I - ” Spencer falters beneath the Unit Chief's stern stare. “Yes, sir,” he replies, sullenly plucking at the sheet with his fingers.

“Good,” Hotchner says, and gives Spencer's leg a brief but approving pat just as his cell phone rings. Hotchner flips open the phone. “What have you got for me, Garcia?”


********************************************************************************

Hotchner finds Gideon slouched in one of the uncomfortable hospital chairs, legs crossed at the ankle, thumb pressed thoughtfully against his mouth, as if speaking would be against his better judgment. The Unit Chief takes a seat beside the older man, his gaze locked on the nurses' station.

“Michael Wendt.”

“Tucson, Arizona, nineteen ninety-eight,” Gideon recites grimly. “Seven women executed and dismembered in as many months. When we found him he was about to kill the eighth; he was taken out with a single shot to the head.”

“From your gun,” Hotchner remarks.

The hand at Gideon's mouth waves noncommittally. “You were there; there was no choice. He was never going to surrender.”

“William Wendt was released last month after serving time for obstruction of justice,” Hotchner tells him.

“The father.” Gideon isn't surprised.

“His fingerprints were all over Reid's apartment. We think - ”

“He wants my son.” Gideon glances at Hotchner. “Either one.”

Hotchner frowns. “Have you called Stephen?” he asks quietly.

“He's safe,” Gideon assures him. “He's in Hawaii; on business. He hasn't gone by Gideon in years, anyway. Wendt won't have the resources or the skills to track him. But Spencer…”

“He's been in the public eye.” From the young genius's recruitment and tutelage under Gideon to his successes in the field, Reid's received more than enough press to attract an Unsub's attention.

“This is personal; I took something from this man,” Gideon says. “He isn't going to stop until he feels justice has been served.”

“We put a BOLO out on Wendt this morning,” Hotchner briefs, momentarily falling back to his old habit of reporting to the other agent. “Morgan and Prentiss are following up on leads, and Rossi and J.J. are on their way to Greensville to speak with Wendt's cellmate.”

Gideon raises a brow. “And Spencer?”

“He's with you.”

The man sighs. “Thank you.”

“We're taking advantage, you know,” Hotchner says, with a sideways glance.

“Yes.”

“The only reason I've agreed to this is because I believe it to be in the best interest of Reid. If you decide to walk away again - ”

“I won't.” Something Hotchner sees in his face must satisfy the man, because he nods once, then rises to his feet.

“I'll call you when we have something.”


*******************************************************************************

“I'd like to stop at my apartment, please,” Spencer says stiffly, his gaze carefully trained on the tree-lined streets and sidewalks passing outside his window. His right arm throbs within its sling, but at least he doesn't have to wear the scratchy hospital gown anymore. Gideon had brought his Go-Bag to the hospital, thoughtfully packing only Spencer's softest clothes to wear against his bruised body and his favorite books on tape, listened attentively to his physician's instructions. In the past, Spencer would have been touched by the man's anticipation of his needs, but just now the gesture seems presumptuous, as if Gideon knows anything about the person Spencer has become in the last year.

Gideon glances over from the driver's seat. “I don't think that's a good idea. Wendt might be watching for you to return.”

Spencer snorts. “After being chased by Morgan? I don't think so.”

“We can buy you anything you'd like,” Gideon offers magnanimously, as if Spencer is a child to be pacified.

“I want my pillow,” Spencer insists. “And my books.”

“You have an eidetic memory,” Gideon reminds him.

Spencer shrugs. “I like the feel of the pages.”

Gideon sighs and puts on his turn signal. “Fine. But I'm going in with you.”

***********************************************************************************

True to his word, Gideon follows Spencer around his apartment as he gathers up things for the road; his pillow, the vintage quilt from his bed. At one point, when Gideon seems particularly mesmerized by the bloodstain working its way out from the hardwood in Spencer's front room, Spencer quickly slides a worn copy of Babar and His Children from his night table and slips it in between the folds of the blanket.

Even the brief activity is tiring, and Spencer is relieved when he finally steps outside and into the fresh air. He closes his eyes for a moment while Gideon locks up, awkwardly hugging his things with his left arm. His head is starting to ache again, and he grimaces as he shifts the bedding in his grip.

“Here, let me help you with that,” Gideon says, pocketing Spencer's keys and holding his hands out.

“I can take it.” Spencer's fingers tighten in the soft cotton. He's gotten by without Gideon's help for nearly a year now, and he's done just fine.

Gideon's brows draw together, and his smile is tinged with confusion. “Don't be silly.”

“I'm not being silly,” Spencer snaps, causing Gideon to tilt his head slightly in inquiry. “I'm - I'm not,” he insists, heat flooding his face. “I can carry my own stuff.”

“Now, Spencer, is that any way to talk to your father?” Mrs. Rosenbaum shuffles over from her front step, peering at the pair from beneath her steel-gray hair.

“What?” Spencer asks, wide-eyed now. “No. I mean, I'm not – he isn't - ”

“What Spencer means to say is that I'm not around that often,” Gideon interjects smoothly, with a self-deprecating smile for the elderly woman. “I'm hoping that will change, though.” And Spencer knows the man is improvising, but resentment rises in his throat all the same.

Mrs. Rosenbaum's gnarled fingers flutter at her throat with obvious delight. “I think that's lovely. Even a young man as thoughtful as Spencer sometimes needs a little help.” She leans her head closer to Gideon's, lowering her voice conspiratorially. “Why, just the other week, when there was that awful storm, I saw him come home soaked to the skin, and not a coat in sight!”

The profiler is the picture of engaged interest. “Is that right?”

“Yes, that's right,” Spencer agrees quickly, shoving his things into Gideon's startled arms. “Soaked to the skin. Did you say something about taking these to the car?” he asks, a little too brightly.

“Of course,” Gideon says, recovering quickly and casting a warm smile in Mrs. Rosenbaum's direction. “Very nice to meet you.”

“What a nice man,” the woman beams, as Gideon carries Spencer's things over to the SUV. He tosses them into the backseat, all while surreptitiously watching his charge. “And he certainly seems to care about you.”

Spencer's doubtful. “Appearances can be deceiving, Mrs. Rosenbaum.”

“Pish. It's about time someone came along to look after you. Why, imagine you trying to carry all that in your condition – what are those things for, anyway? You're not moving away, are you?”

“No, Mrs. Rosenbaum,” Spencer assures her. “I'm just going away for a few days.”

“If you ask me, a vacation is exactly what you need; you'll forget all about that sordid burglary business,” she tells him, nodding sagely.

“Mrs. Rosenbaum, being trapped in the woods with Gi – my father – isn't exactly what you would a vacation,” Spencer says, wanting to roll his eyes as he notices Gideon gesturing discreetly for him to hurry the hell up. “Loomis isn't even a town; I'm pretty sure there's only a mercantile and a bait shop.”

“Oh, you.” Mrs. Rosenbaum waves off his lack of enthusiasm and leans around Spencer to squint at Gideon. The older man ceases his urgent signaling and gives her a friendly wave. “Ohhh.” She waves back, charmed. “Why, just look at him, Spencer. He can hardly take his eyes off you.”

Spencer's mouth screws into a smile. “Lucky me.”

*****************************************************

It's not a long ride to Loomis – all of ninety minutes – but to Spencer it feels like hours. Not that Gideon has said much; that's never been the profiler's style. But the older man's penetrating gaze falls like a steady weight upon Spencer's too thin skin. It's the same tenuous patience Spencer's seen him adapt in the field, the wait that draws confession. Spencer stares straight ahead and pretends not to notice. He has nothing to confess.

“You look good,” Gideon finally says. “Aside from the arm.” It's not exactly a lie. Dropped a little weight, maybe, but Spencer's always been a little on the skinny side. No, it's the shuttered look on the kid's face that bothers him. Gideon's seen it before. Just never directed at himself.

“You're going to die.” Spencer tries not to shiver, instead shifting to allow the fingers of his right hand to fiddle with his watchband, twisting it absently over the sleeve of his sweatshirt. But Gideon's too close, sees too much.

“Are you cold?”

“I'm fine,” Spencer replies tightly. He watches from the corner of his eye as Gideon switches on the heater. The older man's hands are strong, capable. Able to handle firearms and infants with equal confidence.

“Is there anything you'd like to ask me?”

Spencer immediately refocuses on the dashboard. “No.”

Another discerning glance. “So you don't have any questions about why I left?”

“Not anymore.”

Gideon nods, unsurprised. “Figured it all out, have you?”

“It doesn't take a genius.” Although this time, it's certainly taken Spencer long enough. He's never been well-versed in social cues, and it's frustrating how often he misses the subtle nuances coloring others' interactions. So it shouldn't be a surprise that he somehow misinterpreted Gideon's professional interest and grooming as something more personal. After all, he'd been a lonely child and an awkward adolescent, and the focused attention of someone with Gideon's training is virtually designed to make the recipient feel important and valued. Even if they aren't. “Do you mind if we don't do the small talk thing?” Spencer asks, forcing the words past the lump in his throat. “I'm a little tired.”

“Sure, you go ahead and rest,” Gideon says, trying not to sound disappointed. “I'll wake you when we get there.”

***********************************************************************

The cabin doesn't have the charm of Gideon's former refuge, but it's tucked away at the end of a winding, private road, hidden by trees flaunting their autumn foliage. In other circumstances, Spencer might appreciate the natural beauty and solitude. All it does today is remind him of other times, other visits; chess games and evenings sitting in companionable silence by the fire; things he won't be getting back. Things that maybe never were.

If Gideon notices his lack of enthusiasm for the place, he doesn't comment; simply ushers Spencer indoors, jerking his chin toward an old fold-out sofa as he carries in Spencer's things and sets them over by a cedar chest.

“Have a seat. I'll get dinner started in a minute here.”

Spencer's not ready to get that comfortable yet. Or ever, actually. “Don't worry about cooking for me; I'm not all that hungry.”

“That will change,” Gideon promises, already back in the kitchen area and rummaging in the cabinet for a pan. The one-room cabin isn't particularly luxurious, but at least it's well-stocked.

“I doubt it,” Spencer mutters, causing Gideon to glance up from his search, frowning to see the young man still on his feet. He sets the pan he's holding down on the stove and walks over to fetch Spencer's quilt from his things.

“Let's get you settled,” he says, nodding meaningfully at the sofa.

“I don't need settling,” Spencer replies, trying to square his shoulders and grimacing at the pain in his injured arm.

“Spencer,” Gideon says, in his most reasonable tone. “The doctor said you need rest and sleep these next few days.”

“I slept in the car!” Spencer takes an unconscious step backward. “Besides, recent clinical studies show that twenty minute power naps are equally good as a full night of sleep for performing certain memory tasks.”

Gideon raises his brows. “And for recovering from a concussion?”

“Did you know that 'concussion' comes from the Latin word 'concutere,' which means 'to shake violently'?”

“No, I didn't,” Gideon replies amicably, setting the quilt down on a nearby chair and pulling out his cell phone.

“Are you calling the team?”

“Hotch,” Gideon says, his thumb hovering over the button.

“About the case?” Spencer asks, brow furrowing.

“No.”

Spencer scoffs. “You're going to call Hotch while he's working a case just to tell him I won't take a nap?”

Gideon shrugs. “I'm sure he won't mind.”

Checkmate. “Give me the quilt,” Spencer snaps, dropping onto the couch.

Gideon smiles and pockets the phone. “Anything else you need?” he asks, picking up the blanket and tossing it into Spencer's lap.

“Coffee.”

“Ibuprofen it is.”

******************************************************************************

“How's the team?” Gideon asks, while Spencer picks at his plate of Sea Bass alla Fiorentina that Gideon's prepared. His eyes look bruised, exhausted, and the profiler guesses the pain isn't helping.

“Why don't you tell me?” Spencer asks, without looking up. The kid knows him too well.

“Saw Dave was back,” he says, and shakes his head. “Never thought I'd see the day.”

“He said the same thing about you,” Spencer says, stabbing at a piece of tuna with the fork in his left hand.

“Did he?”

“He can be kind of a jerk,” Spencer observes, pushing the bite aimlessly around his plate. “Sometimes I don't think he likes himself very much.”

Gideon's mouth curves wryly. “Occupational hazard.”

“At least he doesn't pretend to be anything he's not.”

“No, I don't guess he does.” No, Rossi can be a jerk at times, and arrogant as hell, but he's well aware of his failings, and doesn't see any point in hiding them. Gideon remembers that lecture he gave at Cal Tech all those years ago, and the way Spencer, still just a skinny teen with a growth spurt in his future, had caught up with him afterwards. How damn impressed Gideon had been with his intellect, the insightful questions from such a young kid. He'd been happy to encourage and sponsor Spencer's application to the BAU, to be the bold hero worthy of his shy admiration. And then Gideon left. No wonder the kid prefers Rossi.

“What?” Spencer asks suspiciously, as he puts down his fork and picks up his napkin. “Do I have something on my face?”

Gideon chuckles in spite of himself. “No. No; I was just thinking back to that lecture I gave at Cal Tech, when we first met.”

“Oh.” Spencer frowns at his plate. “I'm surprised you remember.”

“How could I forget? You were the most promising student I'd ever seen.”

Spencer winces, crumpling the napkin. “May I be excused?” he asks tightly, and Gideon nods. The kid pushes back from the table, and seconds later the cabin's bathroom door slams. Gideon stares at the empty chair, the plate of barely touched sea bass and sighs.

Back to the profile.

***************************************************************************

“You're going to die.”

“Spencer. Wake up.”

Spencer's eyes snap open, darting wildly in the darkness before he registers the firm grip of hands on his shoulders, the faded scent of Polo on the cool air. He blinks the sweat from his vision. Gideon. And Spencer doesn't think, just drops his forehead to the man's shoulder, tries to catch his breath. His shoulders are released and an arm wraps around him, warm and steady.

“Just a dream,” Gideon murmurs from his seat on the edge of the fold-out, his hand reaching up to smooth over the kid's hair. “Take a minute.”

Spencer does, the shadows of his subconscious slowly retreating into the cabin's walls. He can't remember the dream; never saw Wendt coming. If Morgan hadn't arrived when he did… “I'm okay,” he says, hoping Gideon doesn't hear the tremble in his voice as he surreptitiously extricates himself from the older man's comfort. He swipes at his face with his free forearm. “I'm all sweaty,” he explains apologetically, and mentally kicks himself. Spencer doesn't care what Gideon thinks.

“Sure you are,” Gideon agrees with a small, encouraging smile. He doesn't embarrass the kid by mentioning that the wetness on his face isn't sweat. “Want to talk about it?”

Spencer shakes his head. “No.” He makes a face. “I think I'm just going to stay up for a while.”

“Good idea. I have reading to do, anyway.” Besides, the armchair isn't a terribly comfortable place to sleep, and with Wendt's whereabouts unknown, Gideon would just as soon stay alert.

“Reading? What - now?” Spencer asks. It's the middle of the night; if anything, the profiler should be annoyed at being woken.

Gideon raises a brow. “Why not?”

Spencer watches warily while the man walks over and switches on a small table lamp, picks up his book and glasses from the rickety end table. Gideon sinks into the armchair, patiently unfolding his spectacles and putting them on. A moment later, the he glances over and sheepishly holds up the book.

“Birds,” he says. Then, “Unless you'd like me to read your book.”

Spencer flushes. He should have known; Gideon notices everything. “No, that's fine,” he says, more than just a little relieved to drop his face back to his pillow.

“Okay,” Gideon says. He clears his throat, just before his gruff voice echoes softly from the enclosing space. “'Yet evolution has not worked entirely in the bird's favor. They pay a price for their magnificence and their skill, and they seem to pay an even higher price than seems strictly necessary. Even the birds that no longer fly; even the birds that have all but abandoned wings altogether…'”

Somewhere between words, Spencer closes his eyes.

**********************************************************************************************

Gideon wakes to the buzz of his cell phone vibrating against the adjacent table. He unfolds himself from his chair, glances over at the fold-out. Spencer is sprawled out on his stomach, his injured arm tucked up against his side, the young face impossibly smooth and untroubled in sleep. A faint smile crosses Gideon's lips as he snags the phone on his way into the kitchen area. “Hey, Hotch,” he says, careful to keep his voice low.

“How's Reid?” The Unit Chief is brief and to the point.

“Sleeping.”

“Good. Listen, Jason; you may not have as much time as we'd thought.”

Gideon's brows draw together, and he glances back at Spencer. “You've caught him?”

“No, but we're close.” A horn honks in the background, and Gideon hears Morgan's distant shout. “We tracked him to an ex-girlfriend in Manassas; we can't be more than a couple of hours behind.”

“That's great.” Gideon thoughtfully taps the counter with his fingertips.

“I almost believe you.”

Gideon nods to himself. “It's not going as well as I'd hoped,” he admits.

“Welcome back.”

***********************************************************************************************

If Gideon could have chosen, he would have been a painter. Art and the creation of it, its beauty and its power to reveal and compel the human psyche and condition; it fascinates him. But he doesn't have the gift; nothing more than a token ability to comprise shapes and figures more aptly attributed to your average middleschooler. It was a surprise when he learned he could cook, and more than that, that he actually enjoyed it; it was an activity that somehow satisfied the creative urges he thought destined to remain unfulfilled.

He's kneading the dough with practiced hands when the clatter of falling objects echoes through the cabin. Ex-agent or not, the flesh has its own memory, and Gideon's sidearm finds its way into his floury grip as his eyes scout the empty cabin. There's only one place here for someone to hide; the expression on Spencer's face when he bursts into the tiny bath would be comical if Gideon wasn't prepared to shoot someone.

“Gideon!” Spencer stares at his former mentor with a mix of horror and chagrin, but the man doesn't seem to notice. The dark gaze sweeps the small space, narrowing on the scattering of bath products that have tumbled from the bathroom's narrow shelf to the cold tile floor. The man slowly tucks his weapon at the back of his jeans, his attention finally turning to Spencer.

“What are you doing?” Gideon asks, noticing the kid is only in his boxers and a sweatshirt he's somehow tangled himself in. Spencer's managed to get the sling off, but apparently that's the least of his problems.

Spencer blushes. “I'm – ah - I'm taking a shower.”

“How's that going?” Gideon's careful not to show his amusement.

“What? I - It was going fine until you broke the door down,” Spencer tells him, flinching as he discreetly tries to pull his injured arm from his sleeve. But Gideon's seen enough.

“Here; let me help you,” he says, stepping forward and reaching for the sweatshirt's hem, blinking when the kid practically jumps into the sink in an effort to evade him.

“No!” God, was his voice really that high? Spencer has a brief wish the floor would swallow him. “No, thanks,” he says quickly, and then at Gideon's doubtful look, “I'm fine.”

“Spencer.” Gideon holds his hands up, splayed in a nonthreatening gesture. “I'm just going to slide your arm free, okay?” The kid tenses, lips pursed mutinously, but he allows Gideon to reach under the soft cotton and gently maneuver the arm from the twisted material. “There,” Gideon says, satisfied that Spencer and the bath will remain intact.

“Uhh, okay,” Spencer says, still holding the sweatshirt over his chest like a shield. Because this is just uncomfortable, even if his injured arm is thanking him. “Don't you have – uh - something else you should be doing?” Spencer asks, heat still scalding his cheeks. “Um, no offense, Gideon, but I've been showering by myself for over twenty years.”

“Impressive,” Gideon remarks blandly, and turns to leave. But his departing words carry over his shoulder. “Leave the door unlocked.”

**************************************************************************************************

”How are you feeling?”

Spencer frowns at Gideon's back from where he's standing at the kitchen counter, craning his head slightly to see what the man is doing. “Better if I had coffee.”

“Juice.”

Spencer looks over at the counter next to him, suddenly noticing the poured glass of orange juice and ibuprofen already set out, and releases an agitated sigh. Doubtless a refusal will only have Gideon speed-dialing Hotch. He reaches for the ibuprofen and pops it into his mouth, then follows it with the juice. “What are you doing?”

“Baking,” Gideon replies, sounding quite pleased about it.

Spencer frowns. “I've never seen you bake.”

“Picked up a few new tricks on the road,” Gideon tells him, rolling the butter and cinnamon-slathered dough into a log with deft fingers. “These here are the best cinnamon rolls in South Carolina.” The profiler waits for a response, maybe a statistic on the incident of heart attacks in men of a certain age with a history of high cholesterol and blood pressure, but there's nothing but drawn out silence. He glances over his shoulder to see that Spencer's face is pinched, his left hand picking at the hated sling. “What's wrong?”

“You didn't just buy all this stuff.”

There's a world of resentment in the observation, and Gideon turns, resting his hip against the counter. “No.”

Spencer's jaw tightens. “You and Hotch, you planned all this before you even consulted me.” As if Spencer's nothing more than a child, incapable of making his own decisions.

“You were unconscious,” Gideon reminds him.

“So you and Hotch just assumed I would go along with whatever you wanted?” Spencer demands.

“I don't remember Hotch asking.”

“Well, maybe he should have,” Spencer snaps, hating the way Gideon is being so – so reasonable. He pushes a wave of still-damp hair from his eyes. “What's going on with the case?”

“Hotch called this morning,” Gideon tells him, hoping the news will calm the kid. “He thinks they're close.”

“Good.” Spencer glares down at his empty juice glass. “The sooner they catch Wendt, the sooner we can get out of here.”

************************************************************************************

It's late afternoon before Gideon finds another opening. He's been pretending to stir a marinara sauce for the last fifteen minutes, all the while watching Spencer reread the tattered dictionary he found in the cedar chest. The kid's headache must be back, because he actually seems to be reading at the speed of a normal person. Gideon frowns. Hotch and the team are the most efficient and skilled agents he's ever worked with; they'll find Wendt soon. And when they do, Gideon will be out of time and options.

Resolved, Gideon gives the tomato sauce one final stir and sets the wooden spoon down by the old stove, wipes his hand on an old dish towel. Probably just as well they'll be leaving soon; if he keeps cooking like this, Spencer may be the only one of them able to fit through the door.

“Spencer,” Gideon says, taking a few steps toward the couch where Spencer's sitting.

The kid looks up, pale and drawn in the fading light. “What?”

“The reading is just going to make your headache worse.”

“My – why do you think I have a headache?”

Gideon chuckles. “Profiler, remember?”

“Not likely to forget,” Spencer mutters, shutting the book he's been pretending to read in order to avoid Gideon's attempts at conversation.

“We've still got a good hour before dinner; what do you say we try something else?” Gideon proposes.

Spencer eyes him warily. “What did you have in mind?”

“How 'bout a game of chess?” Gideon asks, and immediately kicks himself when Spencer's mouth twists bitterly.

“I don't play chess anymore.”

“I see.” The older man wonders how soon after his defection Spencer gave it up “What about a puzzle? I brought one with me.”

“A puzzle?” It doesn't sound particularly ominous, and the truth is, Spencer can't remember being this bored since – well, ever.

“You game?”

“One puzzle,” Spencer clarifies, uncertain why the prospect makes him uneasy.

“Sure.”

*******************************************************************************************

“You're good at this,” Gideon says, as Spencer fits the fifth piece in what seems as many seconds into the frame of the puzzle. Should have brought a bigger puzzle, he thinks, although he doesn't know where they'd eat. The small kitchen table is covered with their efforts as it is.

Spencer shrugs off the praise. “Used to do them when I was waiting for my mom.”

“To get out of appointments?” Gideon asks, trying unsuccessfully to match another piece.

“To get out of bed,” Spencer replies, eyes darting over the ocean of tiny shapes. Gideon forces himself to keep a neutral expression. He can't imagine what it was like for a bright, sensitive kid like Spencer to grow up in that house, with only a semi-lucid schizophrenic to depend upon.

“I think I'm out of practice,” Gideon confesses.

“Did you know that up until the 1880's, jigsaw puzzles were referred to as dissections?” Spencer asks, still fixated on the task at hand. “But when the treadle saw was invented, they…” He flushes, realizes that he's fallen back on old assumptions.

“They what?” Gideon asks.

Spencer scrunches his mouth, avoiding eye contact. “It's not important.”

“I'm not important,” the kid might as well have said. And suddenly Gideon's had enough. He leans forward in his chair. “Spencer, we need to talk about what happened.”

From the way Spencer tenses, he knows exactly what Gideon's referring to. “No, we don't.”

“We do. Please, let me explain - ”

“There's nothing to explain,” Spencer insists, his left hand clutching a puzzle piece tightly enough to curl it in his palm. “Your letter said it all. You left the BAU for personal reasons. You didn't say goodbye to Morgan, or Emily - you didn't even say goodbye to Hotch, and you worked with him for years before I came along. Why would I be any different?”

“I can think of a few reasons. Would you like to hear them?” Gideon asks gently, even as Spencer shakes his head.

“I know why you left, Gideon; what I don't know is why you're back.”

“Why do you think I'm back?”

Spencer's open palm slaps down on the table, scattering puzzle pieces. “Would you stop trying to profile me?”

“If I was profiling you, we wouldn't be having this conversation,” Gideon informs him, an edge to his usually mild tone.

Spencer scoffs. “Who called, Gideon? Was it Hotch? Strauss?” He leans back in his chair, his face a mask of betrayal. “Did you worry that your contribution to the BAU might be compromised?”

“My contribution - is that how you see yourself?” Gideon wants to know.

“No, that's how I see you. Look, I know how it works,” Spencer says, taking a breath so Gideon won't hear the tremble in his voice. “From the time I was four, people were always interested in what I could do. Even – even when I didn't fit in, which was pretty much all the time, I always had that. What?” he asks, when the profiler actually looks stunned. “You don't think I notice how people look at me, like I'm some sort of freak? They're interested in me when I'm useful, and when I'm not – um, when I'm not - ” His voice breaks, and Spencer takes an angry swipe at his burning eyes with the back of his sleeve.

“Spencer, listen to me; I don't care – Spencer!” Gideon barks, leaning forward so that the kid can't help but hear him. “I don't care how damn useful you are. I just want - ” The smell of smoke finally registers, and Gideon turns and looks over his shoulder at the kitchen. Smoke is billowing from the stove. “Son of a bitch. Piece of…” He shoves back in his chair, about to head immediately into the kitchen, then thinks better of it. He points a finger at a belligerent Spencer. “Stay. Stay,” he repeats darkly, when the kid's jaw thrusts forward. One fire at a time...

Spencer gives him all of ten seconds before he heads over to the chairside table and scrawls the note.

*********************************************************************************************

It's the last time Gideon preheats an oven without checking to see if something's been left in there first. By the time he tosses the charred Tupperware and opens the kitchen windows, all he's left with is his still-simmering marinara and an excess of aggravation. He slaps the pair of oven mitts down by the stove and sighs, glances back to the kitchen table.

“Spencer?” Gideon asks, frowning at the empty chair where he'd specifically instructed the kid to remain. He raises his voice. “Spencer.”

There's no response. A familiar apprehension churns in Gideon's gut, and he reaches silently for his weapon as he approaches the not-quite closed bathroom door. With a nudge from his foot, the door swings open, revealing nothing more than an outdated bathroom.

“Damn it,” Gideon mutters, walking back into the main room. He looks around, not knowing what he hopes or expects to find. A folded piece of paper sitting next to his glasses on the end table catches his attention. Gideon snatches it up and opens it, reads with a scowl. “Damn it.” Spencer must have slipped out the back door. He glances towards the windows and into the nearby woods, about to head out when his cell phone rings. He flips it open impatiently.

“Gideon,” he snaps, uncertain if he's more frustrated with Spencer or himself.

Hotch's disembodied voice reaches him. “Listen, we have a lead on Wendt; he's in Loomis. He asked about you at the store.”

“What?” The tiny hairs on the back of Gideon's neck start to rise.

“There was a neighbor of Reid's – an elderly woman. She thought he was a friend; she told him Reid was in the woods.”

“Shit.” The man shakes his head, starts to pace.

“What is it?”

“I lost him.”

“What do you mean?”

“He left me a note,” Gideon tells him. “Do you see the irony?”

“Find him,” Hotch replies. “I'm on my way.”

**************************************************************************************

Spencer throws another stone at the creek, sighing when it immediately sinks. He brushes the dirt from the left hand and sits back on the bank again. He was probably the only kid who never could skip a stone, even when his dominant arm wasn't bound in a sling. Not that numb fingers help. The cold air sings against the back of Spencer's neck, bites at his fingertips. There's not a whole lot of time for wardrobe planning when evading an ex-federal agent.

Spencer makes a face. He feels a little foolish now about sneaking out on Gideon, indulging in some behavior more worthy of teenage rebellion than justified protest. But he doesn't want to talk about what happened all those months ago; it just doesn't matter anymore. He's over it; done. And maybe he wasn't as quick a student as usual, but he's learned his lesson.

“Spencer.”

Spencer jumps guiltily, darts a glance up at Gideon, but it's getting too dark to read his face. “I – ah, I needed some air. We've been holed up in that cabin for two days, and I don't see why I can't – hey!” he squeaks, as Gideon's firm grip on his upper arm hauls him to his feet.

“We're going inside,” Gideon tells him, wasting no time in tugging Spencer inexorably up along the path to the cabin. He's got his gun out, and Spencer feels the first stirrings of trepidation.

“What's wrong?” he demands, stumbling along in the older man's grip. “Did something happen to the team?”

“Inside,” Gideon repeats, still scanning the terrain for any signs of imminent danger.

“But if - ”

“Now, Spencer.”

By the time they reach the clearing, Spencer's nearly out of breath. He frowns when he sees the black SUV pulled up beside Gideon's, but by the time he thinks to ask he's already been yanked up the front porch. The door swings open, and Spencer's relieved to see the familiar, stern features of his Unit Chief.

“I got him,” Gideon reports.

Hotchner motions them inside. “It's clear.”

“Hotch,” Spencer says, allowing himself to be herded into the middle of the cabin. “What are you doing here?”

“Did you leak your location to your neighbor?” Hotchner demands, hands on hips.

Spencer's forehead crinkles. “Mrs. Rosenbaum?”

“Did you tell her where you were?” Gideon nearly growls.

“Ah, not specifically – maybe?” he qualifies, and winces at the twin glares the confession earns him.

“We've had a serious breach of security,” Hotchner tells him, just before his cell phone rings. He immediately picks up. “Hotch here.” Hotchner listens for a moment, brow furrowed, glances at Gideon. “We got him.”

Some of the tension eases from Gideon's face. “Where?”

Hotchner flips the phone closed. “A couple of miles down the road.”

“Great,” Spencer says, thankful for the timely intervention. “I'll just grab my stuff and catch a ride with the team back to the BAU.”

“No.”

Spencer blinks at Hotchner. “What do you mean?”

“What do I mean? Have a seat, please,” Hotchner tells him, nodding at the armchair. “I need a word with Jason.”

*******************************************************************************

Hotchner waits for Gideon to join him on the porch, then shuts the door behind him so his youngest team member won't hear them. “He just put himself and the entire investigation at risk,” Hotchner says, watching his former colleague wipe a hand over his face.

“I almost got him killed; again.”

“You did nothing of the sort,” Hotchner tells him, frowning at Gideon's obvious dismay. “You're not doing Reid any favors; ignoring his behavior is only validating his fears.”

Gideon is shaking his head. “I gave up any rights I had to him the minute I chose to walk away. A kid like Spencer - ”

“Needs to know you're committed. You fell off your pedestal; so what?” Hotchner asks. “Reid doesn't need you to be a paragon, Jason; he deserves more credit than that.”

“He won't talk to me.” Gideon rubs at his hand, something that used to help him think. “Spencer has years of defenses at his disposal; he knows how to shut someone down and how to shut them out. He'll intellectualize; he'll cite studies, quote statistics.” His mouth quirks humorlessly. “Hell, when it comes down to it, Reid has always been the real teacher in the relationship. He won't give me a second opportunity to betray him.”

“Then try something else. Reid is bright, but he's still young,” Hotchner reminds the other man. “Vulnerable. Use it. You have to address this on a playing field where you have the advantage.”

Gideon has to wonder just what field that is.

****************************************************************************************

“What went through your mind?” Gideon asks.

Spencer wraps his free arm around himself, shifting uneasily under Gideon and Hotchner's disapproving scrutiny but still determined to defend himself. There's no reason to be intimidated; they're not his father – fathers – not that Spencer's father was ever around to disapprove. “I agreed to this under duress, and you know it!” Spencer maintains. “There were a million other places I would have been safe.”

“You would have been safe here,” Hotchner points out, “if you could be trusted to follow orders.”

Spencer colors at the accusation, but Gideon isn't finished. “This man is incredibly dangerous, Spencer. He's patient and persistent, and he doesn't stop until he gets what he wants.”

Spencer shrugs unsympathetically. “I left you a note.”

The words hit Gideon like a blow, as he's sure Spencer intended them to. But this isn't about him. Not really. “I won't have you putting yourself at risk to satisfy your personal agenda.”

“You won't – sorry, but what do you care?” Spencer scoffs. “You left planning to never see Quantico or me again. Seems to me you'd be wishing Wendt had finished the job and saved you the hassle.”

“Reid.” It's a mix of censure and warning, but Hotchner needn't bother. The hurt that flits over Gideon's face is enough.

Spencer swallows. “Gideon, I didn't mean - ”

Without a word, Gideon takes him purposefully by his uninjured arm and steers him forward, and Spencer's pretty sure this is it, that Gideon's about to shove him out the door and be done with it, with him, and Spencer doesn't know why it should be so devastating the second time around. He's caught by surprise when Gideon suddenly takes a seat on the sofa, simultaneously yanking Spencer off balance. He flails momentarily, flinching at the anticipated pain to his sprained arm, but somehow Gideon is there to catch him, settling Spencer facedown over his lap like he's nothing more than a child.

“Your arm okay?” Gideon asks tersely from above him.

“Fine. I'd like to get up now,” Spencer tells him nervously.

“No.”

Spencer turns his head and appeals to his boss, who's observing with folded arms. “Hotch?”

“This isn't my jurisdiction, no matter how much I disapprove of what's happened here,” Hotchner adds with a pointed look. “Since you're not officially on duty, a formal reprimand won't be forthcoming. As your friend, I'd say the conversation that's about to happen is long overdue.”

“What?” Spencer practically shrieks, trying to squirm from Gideon's grasp, but with his left arm tucked against the man's stomach and his right immobilized, it's about as useful as swimming in sand. “You certainly can't condone this kind of – you're just going to let him – let him - ”

“You said it yourself, Reid, and I happen to agree,” Hotchner says dryly. “Facing your fears can be extremely effective, and subconsciously you've wanted and needed this confrontation for some time. I'll call you later; I have a report to write.” He nods at Gideon and heads for the door.

“You're a horrible profiler!” Spencer shouts after him, kicking at the couch in frustration. Statistically, the odds of this happening were – well, there aren't any statistics on this sort of thing, but Spencer figures it should be close to impossible.

“It's not like you, Spencer,” Gideon says, staring down at the kid with a mixture of resolve and regret.

“What's not like me?” Spencer asks. Gideon's still talking, and talking is good. It's certainly better than whatever else the man is planning.

“To be hurtful.” Gideon tightens his arm around Spencer's waist, pulling him in more securely and resting his right hand on the back of the young man's thigh.

“Maybe I've changed.” Spencer doesn't have to feel guilty; Gideon's the one in the wrong here, not him.

“I'm sure you have,” Gideon replies evenly. “Why don't you tell me about it?”

“Why don't you let me up?”

“I will,” Gideon promises. “When we're finished.”

“Finished? Gideon, you can't just – ow!” Spencer yelps, as Gideon's palm smacks his backside, stinging even through the thin cotton sweats. “This isn't - ah! - going to accomplish anything!” Spencer bites back a yip as Gideon starts spanking in earnest. “You can't – ow! You don't even believe in corporal punishment!” he yells desperately.

“Maybe I've changed, too.”

Spencer groans, screwing his eyes shut against the abject humiliation. And for a few minutes, it seems to work. He's survived worse, much worse – at home, whenever his mom experienced an ongoing episode, at school, where his classmates had ridiculed and hazed him. Certainly at work, where physical harm is a daily possibility. But this hurts in ways he couldn't have imagined. Every slap of Gideon's hand is a blazing reprimand, one he can't even twist to escape. Gideon, who as far as Spencer knows, has never laid a hand on anyone.

Hot tears squeeze from beneath Spencer's lids. How disappointed would Gideon have to be, to even think of – of doing this? And for Hotch to allow him to… Spencer's supposed to be a federal agent, after all; not some invalid or child who can't take care of himself. He gasps at a particularly sharp smack, his skin crawling with fire and shame. He can't do this, can't bear another minute of it.

“What – what do you want me to - ah! - say?”

“You're a smart kid, Spencer; you'll figure it out.” Gideon senses that's not much of a comfort to the kid right now. Or to himself, for that matter. But he's committed - isn't that what Hotch said Spencer needed? And this time the profiler agrees.

“I'm sorry I was – oh! Hurtful, okay?” And it's the truth. Hurting Gideon was much less satisfying than Spencer would have thought.

“It's a start,” Gideon replies.

“A start? Ow! Gideon! Just stop, okay?” Spencer pleads. “I won't do it again!”

“And?”

“What? Ah! I'll stay inside and follow orders. And, uh – ow - I'll rest, right? I'll be everything you want me to be this time, I promise, just stop!”

This time? It's almost enough to break the older man. Gideon stops spanking, shoulders slumping at Spencer's unconscious confession. The kid really does believe that it's his fault Gideon left, that Spencer hadn't given him any reason to stay, when in fact, Spencer had been his only reason to stay. And that was why he'd written that shitty, useless letter. Because he'd been too much of a coward to face the boy, too afraid that his resolve would waver under Spencer's trusting gaze, and he'd stay. Only he wouldn't be the same; he doesn't think he'll ever be the same, and he's not sure he can forgive himself any more than Spencer.

Careful of Spencer's injured arm, Gideon helps the kid up, settling him on the sofa and gently clasping his shoulder, grateful when Spencer doesn't push him away.

“Hey,” he says gruffly, as Spencer scrubs away tears with his left arm. “I've never wanted you to be anything but yourself.”

Spencer manages a quavering huff. “It's never good enough.” Not good enough for his father, the kids at school. Not enough for Gideon; not when it really mattered. He shakes his head, avoiding the older man's gaze. “You let go, Gideon,” he chokes. “You let go.”

Not a directive, but an accusation.

Fuck. Gideon reaches out a hand to cup Spencer's face, brushes away salty wetness with his thumb. Spencer is still looking anywhere but at him, but Gideon is a persistent bastard too when he wants to be, and he waits. Waits as the kid takes some shuddering breaths before making an awkward attempt to duck Gideon's grasp. The profiler holds fast, shakes his head gently when Spencer finally glances his way.

“I know. I'm sorry,” Gideon says sincerely. “You don't need to repeat my mistakes. And it was my mistake, Spencer. I convinced myself it wouldn't matter; that it was time, you were ready. And you were. You're a damn good profiler.”

Spencer sniffles, still flushed and off-balance, but Gideon sees a spark of curiosity in the tear-swollen eyes. “So what was the mistake?”

Gideon smiles sadly, drops his hand from the kid's face. “I wasn't.” It had just taken too damn long to realize it. Seeing Spencer's confusion, he continues. “I recruited you, I trained you, and I never doubted that decision, never questioned it.”

Spencer frowns. Was that guilt in the profiler's voice? Gideon never pushed him to become an agent; Spencer had wanted this life. “Until?”

“I don't know,” Gideon admits. “It's hard to tell sometimes where it all starts to go wrong. You do the job as long as I have, you see the things we see; sometimes it can wear a person down. I thought I had the answers, and I didn't. I didn't have anything to give anymore - not to the team, and not to you.”

Spencer considers, hesitates. He read all this in Gideon's letter, and yet… “What changed your mind?” he asks.

And on this one thing, Gideon is sure. “I'm more than just a profiler. And so are you; you and I - ” Gideon looks the kid in the eye, not wanting there to be any doubt. “It was never just about the job, Spencer.”

Spencer bites his lip, tries to focus. He's so close to believing Gideon, wants to believe him, and he can't decide if the man's declaration has him giddy or terrified. “What about your happy endings?”

Gideon shrugs. “I'm learning as I go. But it's looking hopeful,” he says.

A small smile crosses Spencer's lips, just before they settle into a pout. “You could have at least come and said goodbye.”

“No, I couldn't.” Gideon rubs at his hand again, searches for the right words. “I didn't know how to face you, tell you that somehow I'd failed.”

“But, Gideon, you've never failed at anything,” Spencer says, wide-eyed at the thought. “Well, maybe at your marriage, but if you go by the commonly heralded statistic that fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce, probability suggests that the success or failure of those relationships can be just as dependent upon luck as other factors,” Spencer tells him.

The generous absolution wrings a wry smile from the man. “Thank you for that. But I'm done running.”

“Done? What does that mean?” Spencer asks, a flutter of hope in his stomach. “Are you coming back to the BAU?”

“No. Not in any official capacity,” Gideon adds, eyes crinkling at the corners. “Thought I should give this retirement thing another chance, rediscover myself.”

“Oh.” Spencer swallows his disappointment. “Where will you be going?”

“I'm not,” Gideon replies. “D.C. is my home; I have family here.”

“Who?”

“Who do you think?” Gideon asks, watching Spencer's face carefully for his reaction. A flash of pleasure, then caution, doubt, and Gideon wonders if there's been anyone other than Aaron Hotchner who hasn't let the boy down.

“You don't have to say that,” Spencer says.

“No. I don't.”

“I've been taking care of myself for a long time now, Gideon,” Spencer continues. “I'm actually pretty good at it most of the time, too.”

Gideon nods. “I don't doubt it.”

“You have a son.”

“Why can't I have two?” Gideon asks. “Children aren't borne of our loins, but of our hearts.”

Distracted, Spencer tries to recall the author, but nothing comes to mind. “Who said that?”

“Me.” The kid is speechless, and Gideon's never been one to waste an opportunity. “I don't expect you to forget the last year ever happened, Spencer; there's a lot of trust between us that will need to be rebuilt. I'm just hoping you'll give me a chance to make it up to you.”

Spencer's brow furrows. His backside is burning and his nose is stuffy and it's taking him longer than usual to process all this new data. Thank god for his stomach. “Are you going to make me dinner?”

Gideon huffs, amused; feels something in him relax and unwind for the first time in nearly a year. “Lasagna?”

Spencer considers. “I'll think about it.”

***********************************************************************************

”Was that Hotch?” Spencer asks from his chair, as Gideon pockets his phone and walks back over from the kitchen.

“Yes.” Gideon pulls out his chair and takes a seat, eyes drawn once more to the chess game being played out on the small table. He rubs at his chin. “Hmmm…”

“Ah, did he sound mad?” Spencer asks, shoving his hair out of his eyes.

“No more than usual,” Gideon replies absently, still planning his move.

“You don't think he'll – uh – well, say anything about, you know,” Spencer says, warmth flooding his cheeks. “ - about what happened earlier, do you?”

Gideon slides on his glasses, glances up at Spencer momentarily. “Say anything? No.” The kid nearly slumps with relief. “No, it's his reports that are meticulously detailed.”

Spencer groans, and Gideon holds back a chuckle as he moves his bishop. What a difference a few hours could make. After their talk and a good meal, the strained look has left the kid's face, and he's showing a little color now; well, maybe more than a little color, and in more than once place. Gideon sits back, favoring Spencer with an indulgent gaze.

“How are you feeling?” he asks.

Spencer's fingers linger thoughtfully on his rook. “Better, I guess,” he says, sounding faintly bewildered. “Do you think that's weird?”

“Weird how?”

Spencer manages a faint roll of his eyes as he moves his piece into position. “Well, my head and my arm still hurt when I don't take the ibuprofen, and I just got my first spanking at the advanced age of twenty-seven - ”

“Twenty-six,” Gideon reminds him fondly.

“ - And I know I should be horrified or outraged or something, but really, I just feel…”

“What?”

“Relieved,” Spencer admits.

“There's nothing weird about it,” Gideon reassures him, with a vague spreading of his hands. “You've needed to talk about this for a long time; you just needed a little incentive to open up.”

“Yeah, well, your methods would be considered fairly unorthodox,” Spencer tells him.

“But highly effective,” Gideon muses, almost to himself as he leans forward and studies the board. “Might be good to keep that in mind.”

“What?” Spencer blinks. “What do you mean? Gideon?”

The older man smiles and moves his queen into place. “Checkmate.”

****************************************************************************************

“You're going to die.”

Spencer jerks awake, heart racing what Garcia would say was a million miles a minute, but at least this time he isn't drenched in sweat.

“Nightmare again?” he hears Gideon ask. Spencer looks over to where the older man sits in the armchair, the small lamp creating a pool of light in the dark cabin. His legs are crossed, his book open in his lap. His reading glasses dangle from his hand. Spencer guesses it must be close to midnight.

Spencer frowns, still trying to shake the images and voices of his subconscious. “Yeah.”

“They get better.” Gideon raises his brows. “Shall I read something?”

“That'd be great,” Spencer says shyly. He can't remember the last time anyone read to him, not even his mother. He guesses it's because he reads so fast; most people wouldn't see the point. It's only when Gideon slides on his spectacles and reaches for his book again that Spencer realizes what he wants. “No, wait!”

He ignores Gideon's surprise as he slips from the fold-out, padding over to his Go-Bag sitting by the chest and pulling out his Babar book. He slips the worn book into the profiler's lap as he passes, then climbs back onto the makeshift bed.

“You should – ah, try that one,” Spencer offers in explanation. “I think you might like it.”

Gideon nods, clearing his throat before lifting the gently-bent cover with careful fingers. “Let's find out.”

****************************************************************************************

A few days later, Spencer finds the bullpen hasn't changed a bit. Garcia and Emily fuss over him, hugging and kissing him and generally leaving Spencer flustered and pleased, while Morgan ruffles his hair and teases him about needing a haircut. He's just asked about the new profile they're working when Hotchner steps out of his office; probably to see what person or persons have upset the order of his tightly-run domain.

“Dr. Reid; a moment of your time, please?” Hotchner requests.

Spencer winces as his teammates put their heads down and return to their desks. He hurries up the stairs, quickly following the Unit Chief's gesture that indicates Spencer should enter his office. Hotchner's hardly shut the door before Spencer holds up his hands.

“Hotch, I was just going to pick up some case files to read at home, I swear,” he blurts, not wanting to invite another scolding from the man just yet. Fortunately, Hotchner appears vaguely amused.

“You're fine, Reid,” Hotchner tells him, settling behind his desk. “Have a seat.” He waits for Spencer to lower himself into one of the office chairs. “How are you holding up?”

“I'm good.” Spencer nods, presses his lips together thoughtfully. “My head doesn't hurt anymore and I've got full motion of my arm - ”

“I meant with Jason,” Hotchner clarifies, smoothing his tie with a steady hand.

“Oh.” Oh.

Hotchner peers at him from beneath lowered brows. “Everything okay between you?”

Spencer shrugs. “It depends on what you mean by okay, I guess. He's staying with me while he looks for an apartment.”

“How's that going?” Hotchner wants to know.

“He's a little less Charlie Chaplin and a little more John Wayne,” Spencer reports wryly, and Hotchner almost smiles. Instead, the man picks up a pen, regards the file sitting on top of his desk.

“You know, Reid,” he says conversationally, “if anyone were ever to question the way I lead this unit, I'll always say that I treat all members of my team equally. But I would be lying.”

Spencer blinks. “You would?” Aaron Hotchner is possibly the most straight-laced and ethical man Spencer has ever come across.

“As you know, the BAU acquires its agents from a multitude of fields, often other law enforcement agencies. Many of them have previous experience investigating violent crime.”

“But I am getting experience, Hotch. I - ”

Hotchner glances up. “Let me finish. I take responsibility for the wellbeing of every individual on my team. But there's a difference between the obligation you feel toward an agent you've hired, and the obligation you feel toward an agent you've raised. Do you understand what I'm saying, Reid?”

“Maybe?” Or maybe not at all.

“The obligation is different, as will be the consequences if something like this ever happens again,” Hotchner informs him.

“Ah, what – what do you mean?” Spencer asks.

“I think you know. Within recent months, you've been late, withheld vital information from the team, and have repeatedly jeopardized the security and safety of yourself and others.” The Unit Chief's tone softens slightly. “Anyone else would have been fired, but you won't be getting off that easily; Jason's tactics might be slightly less conventional, but in your case might prove very valuable.”

Spencer flushes at the insinuation. “You – you wouldn't.”

“Let's make sure we never have to find out; agreed?” Hotchner asks, raising a dark brow in Spencer's direction.

“Yes, sir.” On this, he and the Unit Chief are in perfect accord.

“Good.” Hotchner glances down at his file again, taps his pen uneasily. “I trust you're no longer angry about my putting you with Jason; I only had the best of intentions.”

“I know that,” Spencer assures him. “Gideon's your friend; you were just trying to help.”

“I didn't do it for Jason.” Hotchner begins signing his paperwork. “You're excused. And Reid,” he adds, just as Spencer's hand closes around the door handle.

“Yeah, Hotch?”

“Just the case files.”

Spencer nods and heads downstairs, excited to see that J.J.'s now sitting on the edge of Emily's desk, and Rossi is over talking to Morgan. Spencer's desk is there, too, now piled with folders that his team members think they're slipping him unnoticed. The thought makes him smile. This unit, the team; this is where he belongs. And despite any reservations Gideon or Hotch might have, Spencer's grateful. This is his inheritance. It's never been just a job; not to him.

This is home.

Back to more of Relic's Stories