24 November 2011
Finally, after breakfast, they drove to Bennington Sanitarium to see if Spencer could see his mother. Children under the age of fourteen were not allowed, so Spencer had told Rossi to ask to speak to Dr Norman first.
“I’m so sorry, Dr Norman is on vacation this week,” the man at the front desk told them.
“Is there some other doctor I could consult, one who is hopefully very familiar with Diana Reid?” Rossi pressed.
“Is Dr Jesson here?” Spencer asked. “Rebecca Jesson?”
The man looked down at him in surprise, then looked over to Rossi for confirmation. When Rossi nodded, the man finally answered, “Yes, as a matter of fact, she is. I’ll contact her.”
Dr Jesson was the complete opposite of Dr Norman, female, not older than forty, with a head full of thick, auburn hair and a more open and friendly expression. Ushering them into her office, she asked, “Agent Rossi, what can I do for you?”
“Well, it’s rather complicated, I’m afraid, and it won’t be easy to believe,” Rossi began. “It’s about Diana Reid’s son, Spencer.”
“Dr Reid? Has something happened?” she asked, her expression changing instantly to one of concern. She glanced down at Spencer, obviously wondering if such a young child should be there for that kind of conversation, and why he was even there in the first place if this were FBI business.
“Yes, something’s happened, but not in the way you’re thinking. And let me assure you, this is not a joke.” Rossi indicated Spencer. “This is Spencer Reid. We were investigating a rogue SHIELD scientist and Dr Reid accidentally fell into the machine the man had built. It de-aged him twenty five years.”
“I retained all my memories, so I’m actually a thirty-year-old man in a five-year-old body,” Spencer put in. “And we’re telling you this because I’d really like to see my mom.”
“Okay,” Dr Jesson said. No doubt she’d heard a lot of strange things from her patients, because she remained professionally calm. “I’m not sure I can believe all this right now. Do you have any way of proving it?”
“My mother has paranoid schizophrenia and I had her committed in November of 1999, right after I turned eighteen,” Spencer said. “And, um, we needed her help on a case in May 2006, and I asked two FBI agents to bring her to Quantico even though I knew she was afraid of flying. Her absence from Bennington should be on her file.”
He gave her the exact date, and Dr Jesson checked, then raised an eyebrow as she looked back at him.
“I know you’re thinking that somebody could have told me all that,” he went on. “Like I said, it’s all on her file. Um, right before that, I came to visit her, and we actually talked in person for a few minutes. I don’t think that would be on any file, but maybe you remember? I hadn’t met you before then, but Dr Norman sometimes spoke about you. And my mom does, too. She likes you a lot. Anyway, you were telling me how Mom wrote about my cases in her journals, and how she referred to them as adventures.”
Dr Jesson just stared at him.
“I know it’s been a while, and you meet a lot of family members, so if you remember at all, you probably remember the older me, where I was taller than you.” Spencer realized he was starting to babble, and tried to think of what else he could say that would help prove he was telling her the truth. “You already know that I write a letter to my mom every day, and that I have an eidetic memory. If you want to borrow a letter from her, you can just tell me the date, and I’ll tell you what I wrote. Any date, any letter since she’s been here. Would that help convince you? There are hundreds of letters – my mom keeps them in her wardrobe in shoeboxes that the staff bring in for her. So, um, just go pick one. I’ll have no way of knowing which one it is.”
“Well,” Dr Jesson said. “I’m … uh … intrigued, so, okay. Why not?”
She took the file with her when she left, and it was a good fifteen minutes before she returned with two stamped envelopes.
“All right, let’s give this a try,” she said. Holding her hands under the desk, she shuffled them around, opened one, and looked at the letter inside. “May thirteenth, 2009.”
“Dear Mom, this will be a short letter because I am in the hospital with pneumonia,” Spencer recited. For security reasons, he hadn’t been allowed to mention anthrax. “I sleep a lot, and when I’m not asleep, I’m coughing. The doctors say I’m responding well to treatment and should be well enough to go home soon. I don’t like being in the hospital. There’s hardly anything to read here. Good thing I sleep a lot, otherwise I’d go stir-crazy. I fell asleep this afternoon and dreamed I was in a hospital bed in the library at Cal-Tech. It was so great, being able to just reach out and grab any book I wanted. But then I woke up. I get meals here, but I don’t have much appetite. Morgan brings me Jello and even ice cream from the cafeteria. Penelope brought me mocha-flavoured cupcakes, but the crumbs made me cough. Emily was nice enough to buy me a book in Russian, which I read even though it was a historical mystery. I’m so sick that it took me an hour to get through it. Even writing this letter is hard. I will give it to the next person who visits, and they will get a stamp and send it off for me. I hope you’re doing better than I am, Mom. I love you. Spencer.”
Dr Jesson raised her eyes from the letter, but didn’t speak. Rossi said, “I remember that. Those cupcakes were good, but you didn’t have to bribe me to get me to mail your letter.”
“I wanted Garcia to think I’d eaten all of them,” Spencer admitted. “Dr Jesson, may I please see my mother? It’s been a year since I came here, and ever since I got de-aged, I just miss her so much. I’d really just like to see her again and give her a hug.”
He heard a trace of a whine in his voice, and stopped before it became full-blown.
“It just seems so incredible,” Dr Jesson finally said. “I can hardly believe it, but this proof … and you did mention SHIELD ...”
“Strange Happenings in Every Last Doghouse,” Spencer said, and to his surprise, Dr Jesson leaned her head back and laughed. “Oh my G-d, you are so right! Except I always thought it was spooky, not strange.”
“I’ve heard spooky, strange, and supernatural,” Spencer said. “I suppose superhuman would work, too.”
“Especially ever since the discovery of Captain America,” Dr Jesson agreed, and then she shrugged. “All right, I guess you’ve convinced me that it’s you, Dr Reid, as strange or supernatural as this might be. But I’m not sure that you should see your mother.”
“Please,” Spencer said again.
“I just don’t know how this would affect her,” Dr Jesson went on.
“Please, just let me try,” Spencer said. “I know I can convince her it’s me if you’ll just let me have a chance. And I know SHIELD is working on reversing the de-aging, but nobody knows how long it will take, and if something happens … I just want to see her.”
Dr Jesson was silent for a long moment, considering, and then she sighed and said, “All right. But I will be with you all the time, and if I tell you to leave, you leave. No discussion.”
“No discussion,” Spencer agreed, unable to hold back a wide smile. “Thank you, Dr Jesson.”
They walked out of Dr Jesson’s office and down the hall to the large day room where Spencer’s mom was sitting in a chair by the window, looking a large book in her lap.
“Diana,” Dr Jesson said conversationally. “Are you looking at photos of your son?”
“Spencer, yes,” his mother agreed, smiling fondly. “He’s in Nevada now, having an adventure up in West Wendover. He sent me a letter.”
“I’d love to hear all about it, but right now, there’s someone to see you.” Dr Jesson stepped aside, and Spencer came forward. His mother’s gaze lingered quizzically on him for a moment, then moved up to Rossi.
“I’ve seen you before,” she said.
“Mom,” Spencer said, trying to get her attention. “I know this might be a little hard to believe, but it’s me, Spencer.”
“You’re from the government,” his mother said, ignoring him and addressing Rossi. “You said you work for the FBI.”
“That’s right, I’m David Rossi, and I work with your son, Spencer,” Rossi said, patting Spencer’s shoulder.
“I’ve been de-aged, Mom,” Spencer went on. “You remember how you used to call me Crash because I was so clumsy? Well, I fell into this machine and it made my body twenty five years younger. But I’ve still got all my memories, and it’s still me, Mom. Look, remember this picture? That was when –”
He indicated one near the top of the page that his mother was looking at, but she pushed his hand away. “Don’t touch that. I don’t know who you are, but if you think you’re my son, you’re crazier than I am.”
“Mom, look at me. Remember what I looked like when I was five?”
“You have different glasses,” his mother said. “The frames back then were bigger.”
“Yes!” Spencer exclaimed, encouraged that his mother had looked at him enough to notice the difference. “I had to get new ones because I was de-aged. And my hair isn’t quite the same. But it’s really me. Look at that picture. Remember how you got me those two Erector sets for Christmas when I was eight –“
“You are not my son, so don’t pretend that you are.”
Spencer blinked up at her, surprised. “Mom, you’re always telling me ‘a mother knows these things.’ Just trust your feelings, you know it’s true!”
“Stop quoting Star Wars at me, young man. I hate those films.”
Spencer didn’t bother to correct the quote he hadn’t meant to make, or mangle, in the first place. “Mom! Look at me, and look at the pictures. Just turn back a few pages, there’s a picture of me on my fifth birthday, with the chemistry kit you and dad got me, remember?”
“Get away from me,” his mother said, pushing him so that he had to take a step back. “Just get away!”
She stood up from her chair, backing away, and glared at Rossi. “I know what you’re doing, trying to smuggle that little robot into my life, that – that little, what do you call them, life model decoy, so you can use it to spy on me!”
“I’m not a robot,” Spencer protested, utterly shocked. “I am not spying on you!”
“Diana, calm down,” Dr Jesson said, and Spencer could tell she was just a sentence away from sending him out, no discussion.
“You thought I’d believe you were my son, let you into my life, let you stay here with me so you can spy on me every minute of the day?” Diana shrieked. “I’ll poke your cameras out!”
“Mom, please, no!” he cried even as Dr Jesson told him, “Dr Reid, out, now!”
It all happened quickly after that; his mother swiping furiously at his face, Spencer backing up, Rossi and Dr Jesson catching her and pinning her arms, the orderlies coming with a syringe to sedate her. He thought about running out of the day room, but there were too many people between him and the door, so he stayed where he was.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, Mom.”
With tears in his eyes, but trying hard not to sob, he directed his next apology to Dr Jesson. “I’m sorry, I just wanted to see her, I didn’t think this would happen, I’m so sorry!”
As the orderlies helped his mother away, Spencer put his hands over his face and held his breath, trying to hide the fact that he was crying. He didn’t want to upset anybody else in the day room – who knew how they might react?
“I can’t apologise enough for all of this,” he heard Rossi say, but then Spencer had to exhale, trying hard not to make noise, and didn’t catch what Dr Jesson replied. Then Rossi answered, “I’ll take him out.”
Rossi lifted him up and Spencer burrowed into the man’s shoulder, trying to sob as quietly as possible. Rossi carried him outside, all the way to the bench farthest from the building and closest to the parking lot.
“Mom!” Spencer wailed when it was finally safe to do so. “I want my mom!”
“I know you do,” Rossi said, sitting down and rocking him a little.
“Why is it that I – that I could prove to everybody – that it’s me – everybody else – but not my own mother?” Spencer sobbed.
“Because your mother is ill, Spencer, and I would guess her illness doesn’t allow her brain to make the leap of faith that the rest of us took.”
“But of all the people in the world – she should be able – to recognise me!”
“Yeah, she should.” Rossi continued to rock him for a moment.
“I just wanted to see her – in case something happens – I shouldn’t have talked to her – I should have just looked – and gone away –“
“Maybe it’s partly my fault,” Rossi suggested. “Maybe she wouldn’t have reacted so strongly if I hadn’t been there.”
“She’s always been – worried about the government – spying on her,” Spencer tried to explain. “That’s the worst – symptom.”
“Yeah,” Rossi agreed.
They sat together without speaking for a long time. Eventually, Spencer was able to stop crying and just leaned tiredly against Rossi’s shoulder, becoming aware of the differences between him and Hotch. Rossi was nice enough, but it wasn’t the same. And Spencer still hated crying. “I want to go home. Can we go home, Rossi?”
“I’ll have to book us a flight,” Rossi said. “In the meantime, do you want to go back to the hotel and have a nap?”
“I don’t need a nap.” Spencer tried not to snap irritably.
“It’s still a bit early for lunch, but do you want a snack?”
“I’m not hungry. Let’s just go back to the hotel.”
They drove back and went up to their room. Spencer sank down in one of the chairs, pulled his legs to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, then stared morosely out of the window. Taking the other chair, Rossi opened his laptop and tried to find a flight out of Las Vegas with two free seats. Finally, after much searching, he said, “Unless you want to stay and go to that atomic museum, we can drive to St. George to-morrow and fly from there to Salt Lake City, then back to Washington.”
“I don’t want to stay,” Spencer replied dully. He didn’t care about museums now. “I’ll pay you back for the ticket, and for the rental car.”
“Don’t worry about that.” Rossi made the booking, then looked up again. “Hey, want to play a video game? You might have fun with this Lego Pirates of the Caribbean thing.”
“No, thank you,” Spencer said, still lacking positive emotions. “I’m not really into video games.”
“I’m guessing you don’t have any books to read.”
“I brought some, but I read them already.”
“You want to read what I’ve written on my newest book so far?”
Spencer felt his mood brighten a little. “Can I?”
“Sure, come here.” Rossi opened the file while Spencer turned his chair back to the table.
He read rapidly and eagerly at the beginning, but then he found himself pointing out typos, and discussing certain concepts with Rossi. Eventually, he tried to move the curser down even farther, only to discover it wouldn’t go.
“Is that it?” he asked.
“That’s it,” Rossi said. “That’s all I’ve written so far.”
“Oh. Well, I can wait if you want to write some more.” Spencer pushed the laptop over to him in silent invitation.
“You’d starve to death before I finished the next chapter,” Rossi told him, smiling. “And speaking of starving, how about lunch? You hungry yet?”
Spencer considered. “Not really.”
“Want to go to the pool and work up an appetite?”
“Do you?” Spencer asked, surprised.
“Yes, I do. Come on, get your swimsuit on and let’s go.”
To Spencer’s surprise, Rossi wore a pair of trunks that went down to his knees, pink with little green turtles on them – completely different to the more conservative clothes he wore on the job. Just looking at them made Spencer smile.
It was the only thing about going swimming that made him smile. The hotel was pretty much full because of Thanksgiving, and the indoor pool was also full with parents and children either working up an appetite or working off brunch. Wherever Spencer turned, there was somebody in his way, and he was frequently bumped and pushed. Although it was always accidental, it soon became annoying.
“Nonno, can we go now?” he asked, but when Rossi didn’t respond right away, Spencer poked him in the arm. “Nonno! Can we go now?”
“It’s a bit crowded in here, isn’t it?” Rossi asked rhetorically. “Let’s go see if lunch is any better.”
But it wasn’t. There were long lines of people waiting at every restaurant and café inside the hotel. They joined the one that looked like it would be shortest, but Spencer was soon bored and impatient, and the noises of the slot machines in the lobby around them were starting to get on his nerves.
“I’m not really hungry, can’t we just go back to our room now?” he asked.
“I think you should eat something,” Rossi told him. “Tell me some statistics if it will make you feel better.”
“Did you know that up to three hundred thousand people are expected to visit Las Vegas every Thanksgiving weekend?”
“And they all want to eat at this hotel,” Rossi remarked.
“Actually, more than ninety percent of all the hotel rooms in this city are occupied, and Las Vegas is considered to be the number one Thanksgiving destination in the US.” Spencer soon branched out from tourism to the origins of Thanksgiving in general and was just starting in on immigration to the American continent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when a teenaged girl just ahead of them in line turned around and snapped, “Would you just shut up? You’re making this whole thing worse, you little midget!”
“Did you know that saying “little midget” is redundant, since both words mean approximately the same thing? It’s known as a tautology –“ Spencer started, but Rossi put a hand on his shoulder.
“Sorry, we’re all still looking for his off switch,” he said with a smile, attempting to defuse the situation with a little humour.
“Did you ever try putting both hands around his neck and –”
“Amber!” the girl’s mother said warningly, and the girl turned away, huffing in annoyance.
Spencer looked down at the floor. He tried hard to remain silent for as long as he could, but listening to the electronic whistles and bells of the slot machines, and the rattle of coins in the trays when somebody won, and with the memory of seeing his mother playing on a neverending loop in his mind, he was getting more and more irritable. It also seemed that the line for the restaurant was not moving at all.
“Nonno,” he finally asked, “Can’t we just go back to our room and have something later?”
But Rossi had been looking away from Spencer, and was obviously not used to be being addressed as Nonno, because he didn’t answer. Spencer took his hand and tried to pull him out of the line. “Come on, let’s just go back to our room and have something later.”
“If we lose our place in line now, ‘later’ will probably mean sometime around four a.m.,” Rossi replied, not letting Spencer move him.
“I can wait. I don’t really feel like eating. Please, Nonno.”
“I know we’ve been waiting a long time, but don’t whine, Spencer.”
“I’m not whining, I just don’t see why I have to stand in line for something I don’t even want!”
“Because I am responsible for you, and I am standing in line, and I am getting hungry. And I think you are hungry, too, you just don’t realise it.”
“I am not hungry!” If anything, the thought of having to eat made him feel vaguely sick. “Just give me the key and I’ll go back to the room and I won’t get into any trouble.”
“Not happening, kiddo.”
“Then take me up there, and I’ll stay while you come back down and eat.”
“No, Spencer, and I already asked you once to stop whining.”
“And I said I’m not whining!” Spencer denied it even though he technically knew that he was.
“Yes, you are!” the teenaged girl from before broke in. “You sound just like my step-brother, only worse!”
“Amber, ignore him,” the girl’s mother said sharply.
“Here I thought I could get away from whiny little brats, and now I’m stuck next to one in a line that will never move until all our brains have exploded from your talking!”
Spencer responded in kind. “Well, I don’t want to be stuck here, either, but Nonno won’t let me go back to our room!”
“Here, honey,” said the girl’s mother, looking at Spencer while digging in her purse. “Would you like a piece of gum?”
“No, thank you, I don’t like gum,” Spencer snapped.
“I’ve got a Jolly Rancher here somewhere, I think.” She found a candy and held it out.
“No.” Spencer belatedly remembered to add a very ungrateful, “Thank you.”
“Spencer, take it,” Rossi told him firmly.
“You’re not supposed to encourage me to take candy from strangers, Nonno!”
The girl grabbed the candy from her mother, tore it out of its wrapping, and tried to force it into Spencer’s mouth. “Just suck on it and shut up – ow! He bit me!”
Spencer spit out the Jolly Rancher and used his sleeve to wipe the taste of the girl’s fingers from his teeth and lips. When one of his teeth wiggled a little in its socket, he felt a distinct frisson of horror that it was loose. What if she’d knocked it out completely? Rossi said his name in a warning tone, and at the same time, the girl’s mother was remarking, “Well, you shouldn’t put your fingers in other people’s mouths.”
“Freak,” the girl hissed, but even though that was an insult that Spencer could usually deal with, it hit him harder this time. His lower lip quivered.
Rossi crouched down to Spencer’s eye level. “Would you like a hug? I think you’re having a hard day, and you could use a hug right about now.”
Spencer just nodded and reached out his his arms. As Rossi lifted him up and cuddled him close, Spencer could feel tears coming, but he tried his best to turn the feeling to anger so that he wouldn’t cry yet again. Quietly, not wanting the girl to hear and complain again, he hissed, “I wish we hadn’t gone swimming, and I wish we hadn’t gone to see my mother, and I wish we’d never come here!“
“I’m starting to wish that, too,” Rossi said with a sigh. Thankfully, just then, the line surged forward and they came within view of the restaurant entrance. “Do you think you can hang on until we get something to eat?”
“I want to go home,” Spencer whispered. He meant back in his old apartment, with his familiar books and his couch and his own bed, but even being at Hotch’s apartment would be enough. “I just want to go home.”
“I know. And we’re leaving to-morrow, we just have to get through to-day.”
“I really hate being a kid, Rossi. I hate it that everybody’s bigger than I am, and I’m not allowed to do anything by myself, and people can try to force-feed me candy that they’ve touched with their germy hands, and they won’t let me use room service, and I can’t even go to work without a supervisor … even though I really like Ally. It’s just the principle of the thing.” He tried to keep his voice low, and even glanced over his shoulder once to see if the girl were listening.
“I like Ally, too, but I can definitely see how you’d feel the way you do,” Rossi said. He had started to rock Spencer a little, like he’d done on the bench, and the memory reminded Spencer of something else he disliked.
“I especially hate how little things make me cry all the time, because I really hate crying, too.”
“What happened with your mother was not a little thing,” Rossi told him. “And if you want to cry, go ahead.”
“I don’t want to cry! I hate crying!” Trying to distract himself, Spencer poked his tooth with his tongue, feeling it move.
“Yeah, Hotch mentioned that to me. But you’re in the body of a child now, Spencer, and children cry. It’s just a fact of life.”
“Hotch talks to you about me?” That made Spencer feel even worse, and he heard himself getting louder because of it. It took a conscious effort for him to lower his voice again, in case the girl should try to stuff something else into his mouth. “Behind my back? About how much I cry?”
“Not about how much you cry, Spencer, just that you feel sensitive about it. And we don’t talk behind your back, either, not in the way that you mean. We just talk about you the same way we talk about everybody in the team, especially if they’re going through a rough patch. I gave Hotch regular updates on Emily’s ankle while she was staying with me, for instance, and we’ve discussed how he’s getting along while Jack is sick. We talked about how JJ was coping with Henry’s arm, that sort of thing. And of course we talked about how it affected everybody on the team when we found out Emily was still alive.”
“Oh.” That was slightly more encouraging.
“But tell me, Spencer. Isn’t there anything good about being a kid? Anything at all that you like? Tell me something fun that happened recently.”
“JJ made me chocolate chip pancakes for my birthday,” Spencer remembered. “And she took me out trick or treating and I got two books!”
“Books? For Halloween? Things have sure changed since I was a kid,” Rossi said, smiling.
“It’s a new thing,” Spencer said. “Garcia looked it up for me. There’s this fiction author called Neil Gaiman who came up with the idea of All Hallows Read, where you give scary books away for Halloween. It can be in addition to candy, or instead of it, or you can just give a book to somebody for fun. Mostly the books will be for children, of course, because who’s going to expect somebody to come along hoping for a free copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?”
“Because nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Rossi teased, but Spencer just looked blankly at him until he said, “Sorry. I guess you’ve never heard of Monty Python.”
“I’ve heard of them,” Spencer said. “They did a skit about Spam that later inspired junk e-mails to be referred to as spam. Did you know that Spam was created in 1937, during the Great Depression —“
“Stop, Spencer, you’re supposed to be telling me what’s goood about being a kid again, not lecturing about Spam. I already know everything that I need to know about Spam.” Rossi’s expression conveyed exactly how he felt about Spam, too.
“Oh.” Spencer worked to get his train of thought back on the right track again. “Well, um, being with Ally is mostly fun, especially when we play Run Past Ally Alligator, or Ping Pong Pals in the Pool.”
“You’ll have to explain those games to me, I’ve never heard of them.”
Once Rossi got him talking, Spencer quietly kept going until they got a table and were able to hit the buffet for a very late lunch. Spencer’s mood had brightened enough that he was actually able to eat, and Rossi had been correct, he’d been hungry without even realising it. They both went back to the hotel room feeling much better, and Spencer let Rossi persuade him to play a game of chess online, and even one of backgammon as well.
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