28 November 2011
It was snowing when Ally led Spencer outside for their break.
“Let’s build a snowman,” she said. “You roll up a big snowball and I’ll look for something we can use for eyes and a nose.”
Spencer took a handful of snow and packed it into a ball, then put it onto a fresh patch and began to roll it along, stopping every so often to press more snow into the sides. It got bigger and bigger, and harder to push, and he was just about to ask Ally for help when a man appeared from behind a tree, pointing a gun at him. Automatically, Spencer put his hands in the air.
“Are you Dr Spencer Reid?” the man asked.
“Y-yes,” Spencer stammered. His mouth had gone suddenly dry and his heart had started to hammer in his chest.
“SHIELD is taking you into custody. Kneel down.”
“Because I said so! Now kneel down!”
Spencer dropped to his knees in the snow,and as the man put his gun away and came around behind him, he asked, “No, I meant, why is SHIELD taking me into custody? I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“Those are my orders.” The man fastened a handcuff around Spencer’s right wrist, between the edge of his glove and the sleeve of his coat, then pulled both of his arms behind his back and clicked the cuff around his left wrist. At the feeling of being restrained, Spencer felt fear creeping slowly up on him. The agent lifted Spencer up, placed him on his feet, then frisked him, reaching up under Spencer’s coat to check for hidden weapons. It almost would have tickled if Spencer hadn’t been so tense. Finding Spencer’s phone, the agent wriggled it out of Spencer’s jeans and pocketed it, then said, “Come on.”
He kept a hand on Spencer’s upper arm, guiding him to the road, where a black SUV with SHIELD markings was parked. Another agent was loading Ally in the back seat behind the driver, and the first agent opened the door on the passenger side. Spencer was surprised to see they’d come equipped with a child safety seat for him, and the agent even uncuffed his hands long enough to get him into it.
“What’s going on?” Ally asked. “Why have you taken Dr Reid as well?”
“From now on, we ask the questions, so just shut up,” the other agent said, slamming the door on her. The first agent cuffed Spencer’s hands in front, effectively trapping him in the seatbelt, then got into the front seat. Not daring to say anything else, Spencer looked over at Ally and saw that she was just as bewildered and worried as he was. He felt guiltily relieved to have her next to him, he didn’t want to have to go through this alone.
They drove into D.C. and by craning his neck, Spencer was able to identify SHIELD headquarters before they drove into underground parking. Once inside the building, they were taken to different interrogation rooms. Spencer’s agent let him take off his hat, coat, and gloves before cuffing his right hand to the ring under the table. The man glanced down at the sweatshirt Spencer was wearing, the one with the glow-in-the-dark dinosaur, and said, “My daughter’s got that same shirt,” then went out.
It seemed like Spencer sat there forever, trying to control his fear. Had SHIELD contacted Hotch or anybody else in the BAU? Did anybody even know he was here? He distinctly remembered the other agent who had come with Dr Kapoor mentioning that SHIELD would take them into custody before prosecution, but he hadn’t done anything wrong! He’d never spoken to anybody about the project name or password, not Ally, not even Hotch If only somebody would come in and interrogate him so he could tell them the truth and clear up this big misunderstanding.
At long last the door opened and a man in a dark suit and tie came in. He could have been anybody from the FBI or any other agency.
“Dr Reid,” he said. “I’m Agent Podleski. Can I get you anything to drink before we start the interview?”
But the thought of liquid made a certain situation just that little bit worse, and Spencer blurted out, “I have to go to the bathroom!”
“I should have thought of that,” Podleski said, giving a half smile, then he reached down and undid the handcuff. “All right, come on.”
The bathroom was down the hall, and of course the urinals were too high for Spencer to use, so he had to go into a stall. Podleski remained next to the exit, probably following standard operating procedure, and silently watched him wash and dry his hands. Finally, he escorted Spencer back to the interrogation room. Spencer sat down, expecting the agent to cuff him again, but Podleski merely went around to the other side of the table and sank down onto one of the chairs there.
“Do you want anything to drink now?” he asked.
“Am I under arrest? Because nobody’s read me my rights,” Spencer said, glancing up at the camera in the corner of the room.
“You’re not under arrest, and the only right that you have at this moment is to know that SHIELD is allowed to hold you for twenty four hours under suspicion of breaking confidentiality before we make a decision about whether to charge you or let you go.”
“Is that why I’m here? Breaking confidentiality? Because I haven’t, and I also have not violated my non-disclosure agreement,” Spencer told him.
“That’s what we’re here to find out,” Agent Podleski said, then suddenly asked, “Do you know a man named Raphael Johnson?”
The name Raphael sent a jolt of fear through Spencer and he jerked involuntarily, only then realising that Podleski meant someone else. After a moment, he managed to squeak, “No.”
“The name isn’t familiar to you?” Podleski went on, watching him carefully.
“No,” Spencer replied, regaining some of his composure, but he already knew it looked bad.
“You’ve never spoken to anybody named Raphael Johnson?”
The second pronunciation of the name gave Spencer a slightly lesser shock. “No.”
“Agent Alleluia Johnson has two brothers. You might not know them by name, but have you ever spoken to either of them?”
Ally’s other brother was named Raphael? That would fit with her name and the name of her other brother Gabriel. Spncer relaxed slightly. “No, I’ve never spoken to either of them. Did something hap – ?”
Podleski interrupted, “Did Agent Johnson ever mention her brothers to you?”
“She spoke to me once about her brother Gabriel.”
“What did she tell you?”
“She said that he had Stage 4 prostate cancer, that he is thirty six years old, that he has a wife and three children under the age of ten.”
“And why did she tell you this?”
Spencer took a deep breath, feeling that they were getting closer to the mystery of why he and Ally had been taken into SHIELD custody. “Agent Johnson asked me about the de-aging machine. She was wondering if –“
“You told her about the machine?” Podleski broke in.
“Agent Hotchner and I had already mentioned the de-aging machine when we asked her to be my supervisor at work.” Spencer started to explain. “She asked about it again when she discovered that her brother Gabriel had been diagnosed with cancer.”
“What exactly did you tell her?”
Spencer concentrated on the knot of Podleski’s tie, then repeated verbatim the entire conversation he’d had with Ally. When he’d finished, Podleski stared silently at him for a moment, but if he’d heard about Spencer’s memory, he didn’t admit it.
“So you gave Agent Johnson a contact number for Dr Kapoor,” he finally said.
“Agent Hotchner did, yes,” Spencer agreed, hoping he wasn’t getting his boss into trouble.
“And was that the only time you spoke to Agent Johnson about the de-aging machine?”
“A few days later, I also told her that Agent Hotchner and I had spoken to Dr Kapoor and that SHIELD was not letting anybody else go through the machine. Is that what happened? Did Gabriel Johnson –“
“Tell me exactly what you said,” Podleski said, not letting Spencer finish his question, and when Spencer had done so, Podleski asked, “While you were sick? What do you mean, sick?”
Spencer explained about the norovirus, and about Hotch calling Dr Kapoor. “And that was the last time that I mentioned anything about de-aging to Agent Johnson.”
“What about to her brothers?”
Recognising the trap, Spencer avoided it. “I never spoke to her brothers.”
“But you talked to Agent Johnson about them?”
“I’ve already told you what Agent Johnson said to me about her brother Gabriel. I can repeat it if you like. I asked her once if she had other brothers besides Gabriel, and she said yes, she had one. She didn’t tell me his name, and she never mentioned him again.”
“Raphael Johnson!” Podleski suddenly shouted, and when Spencer twitched visibly again, Podleski demanded, “Why do you keep reacting to that name?”
“Because I was once abducted and tortured by a man with dissociative identity disorder, and one of his personalities was named Raphael,” Spencer said, wincing as he heard his voice squeak and shake even though he was trying to keep it calm and professional. “It was about five years ago, and it has nothing to do with Raphael Johnson.”
“Five years,” Podleski said. “And yet, despite you obviously suffering from PTSD to the point of having a panic attack at the very mention of that name, you have continued to work in the BAU for that entire time? Makes me wonder about your sanity!”
“I’m not having a panic attack, and my reaction to the names only started after I was de-aged,” Spencer explained, glad that his voice was sounding firmer and more confident now. “If you want confirmation of this, feel free to ask Agent Aaron Hotchner.”
“Oh, we’re asking him,” Podleski said, and Spencer’s heart sank. Podleski went on. “Now – you said names. What other names are you reacting to? The name Gabriel, for instance?”
“No,” Spencer said, but did not elaborate. Podleski was obviously able to see his lack of reaction.
“What other names?” Podleski demanded.
“Those names have nothing to do with Raphael Johnson, so you don’t need to know them,” Spencer said.
“I’ll decide what I need to know!” Podleski shouted. “Tell me the other names!”
Spencer took a deep breath in an attempt to remain calm, and repeated, “Those names have nothing to do with Raphael Johnson.”
Podleski asked him several more times, getting the same answer even though Spencer was starting to get upset and fighting to control it. Finally, Podleski made a show of giving up. “All right, then let’s start over. Aside from Agent Johnson, who else have you spoken to about the de-aging machine?”
“My team, obviously, because they were there when it happened. Dr Kapoor and his team at the SHIELD research facility in Rockingham County. Section Chief Erin Strauss.” Spencer skipped over Lars Henriksen because he hadn’t actually spoken to the man about the machine, only about chickenpox. “Dr Rebecca Jesson at Bennington Sanitarium –“
“And who is this Rebecca Jesson?”
After Spencer had explained about her and his mother, Podleski brought the conversation back to Agent Johnson’s family again, and again, and again. And Spencer answered his questions again, and again, and again. Eventually, the door opened and another SHIELD agent called Podleski out. Alone, Spencer slumped back in his chair in relief.
He was trying to use the few clues Podleski had given him to piece together what must have happened when the door opened again and a female agent came in, carrying a bag from a fast food restaurant.
“Hi, Dr Reid, you must be hungry.”
“Thanks,” Spencer said as he opened the bag. He ate slowly, because even though he knew he hadn’t broken any confidentiality or violated his non-disclosure agreement, worry was still killing his appetite. He was listlessly using a French fry to draw patterns in a smear of ketchup when Podleski came back in.
“You finished?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Spencer said.
Podleski came over to the table, removed the handcuffs from where they were still dangling from the ring under the table, and put them around Spencer’s wrists again. Gathering up Spencer’s hat and mittens, he stuffed them into the hood of Spencer’s coat, then pushed the bundle into Spencer’s arms for him to carry. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?” Spencer asked
“To the cells,” Podleski replied. They went down two levels in an elevator and emerged in a corridor that stretched far, far ahead of them, thick metal doors at regular intervals on each side. They had to go down twenty seven of them before Podleski stopped and used his badge to open one.
“You’ll be spending the night here, so make yourself comfortable,” he said. Spencer stepped in and looked around. There was a blanket and a mattress on a metal frame, a toilet, and a sink, nothing else.
“Give me your hands,” Podleski said, and Spencer extended his arms, coat and all. Podleski removed the coat and tossed it onto the bunk, then unlocked the handcuffs and went out. Spencer watched the door slam closed and heard the lock engage.
After an eternity, supper arrived; a chicken and cheese sandwich on wheat bread, a sliced apple turning brown, a mini bran muffin, and a juice box, haphazardly arranged on a flimsy paper plate. Half an hour after that, the agent came around to pick up the garbage, and aside from those two visits, it was eerily silent in the cellblock. Spencer tapped on the wall, but it was thick cement, and did not let noise pass through. He sat crosslegged on the bunk, staring at the opposite wall, and chose to repeat The Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake in his mind, silently reciting it while remembering his mother reading it aloud.
Without warning, the lights went out with a loud click, and Spencer screamed, first in surprise and then in panic. Even when he looked in the direction where he thought the door must be, there was not a single sliver of light; everything was sheer darkness, everywhere. A moment later, he thought to check his pocket, but his phone was gone, and he remembered that the agent had taken it.
“Turn the lights on, turn the lights on!” he shouted, otherwise paralysed by terror. “Please, somebody, I need some light! Turn the lights on! Don’t leave me here in the dark!”
The lights stayed off, nobody answered, nobody even banged on his door to tell him to shut up. Spencer lowered his head, then screeched again when he caught sight of something fluorescent that appeared to be undulating across his chest. He was at SHIELD, after all, it could be anything! After a moment of beating frantically at his ribs, however, he realised it was his glow-in-the-dark dinosaur, stopped screaming, and burst into tears instead.
Spencer didn’t know how long he sat there, sobbing in fear, staring down at the bluish-white sketch, and trying to smooth his sweatshirt so that he could see the entire dinosaur at once, but eventually, no more tears came and fatigue set in instead. He lay down on his side, but then his arm covered most of the glow, so he sat back up again. As he did so, his foot made something rustle at the end of the bunk, and he remembered his coat. Quickly, he reached over to find it, patting carefully along the blanket until his fingers felt the different material.
Once he had his coat at his side, Spencer pulled the pullover off and folded the sleeves back so that the dinosaur was completely visible. It didn’t really give off light and he couldn’t see by the glow, but it was enough to comfort him. Putting the sweatshirt next to him on the bunk, Spencer slipped into his coat and zipped it up, then pulled the blanket up to his armpits. His hat and mittens made a little pillow, and he lay down again, refolding his pullover and using the sleeves to prop it up so that he could see most of it without lifting his head.
Spencer slept badly that night, dreaming of shadowy things creeping around in the dark and waking up to find that the reality was almost as bad. Each time, he looked over to his glow-in-the-dark dinosaur, and even found himself reaching out and tracing his finger just below the luminous lines for comfort. By the morning, he had named it Bone-Apart, and when the lights came back on, and he was exchanging his coat for his sweatshirt, he imagined Boney giving his chest a little hug with its forelegs and long tail.
Soon after breakfast, Podleski came for Spencer again, accompanying him to the interrogation room and asking him all the same questions he’d asked the day before. Spencer felt irritated and impatient, but tried hard to keep his temper while repeating the same answers. Finally, close to the twenty four hour limit, Podleski stood up and went out, then came back in about five minutes later.
“Okay, Dr Reid, you’re free to go now,” he announced, and laid Spencer’s phone on the table. Once Spencer had stuffed it back into his jeans, Podleski walked him out to the lobby of the building. Ally was already there, standing tensely and staring at a potted plant without seeing it. She was also dressed in yesterday’s clothes and her expression was much more serious than Spencer had ever seen.
“Wait here, and an agent will drive you all back to Quantico together,” Podleski said, and walked off before Spencer could ask who else he meant.
Spencer went over to Ally. “Are you all right?”
“Hey, Sprout,” she replied dully, but didn’t answer the question.
Spencer looked up at her in concern. “What happened?”
Instead of answering, Ally glanced behind him, and when Spencer followed her gaze, he cried out, “Hotch!”
Hotch caught him as he ran over, lifting him up for a big hug. “Spencer! Are you all right?”
“Yeah, fine.” Away from the darkness of the cells and the stress of the interrogation room, he was fine. “Did they take anybody else into custody, anybody from our team?”
“No, just me and you and Johnson.” Hotch put him down, then looked over at Ally. “You okay, Johnson?”
Ally looked at Hotch without responding, then looked away again. An SUV pulled up outside and a young female agent came in, looking directly at Spencer in wide-eyed wonder. “Dr … Spencer Reid?“
“Yes,“ he said, and she looked beyond him to the adults. “Agent Hotchner, Agent Johnson? I’m supposed to drive you to Quantico.“
She held the back door open for Spencer, and struggled with the straps of the child safety seat until Spencer said, “I’ve got this,” and did it for her. Smiling a little in embarrassment, the woman went around to the driver’s seat, and soon they were on their way. After the darkness of the cell at night, Spencer had never felt so happy to see the low winter sun in his life.
“Hotch, did they tell you why they took us into custody?” Spencer aksed.
“They didn’t give me any details,” Hotch said. “What about you, Ally?”
“I’d rather discuss it privately,” Ally said slowly. She had her hands in her lap and started to massage her right hand with her left.
“I’ll call Morgan, tell him we’re on our way back,” Hotch said, and took out his phone, but after he’d ended the conversation, he said, “The team flew to Fort Wayne, Indiana yesterday.”
“What kind of case?” Spencer asked.
“Could be an angel of death,” Hotch said.
Ally made a slight noise that sounded suspiciously like the beginning of a sob that was abruptly cut off, and when Spencer looked, he saw that she had turned away to the window. Her hands were motionless in her lap; instead of massaging, she was now gripping her right hand tightly with her left. Hotch changed the subject. “We need to check in with Strauss when we get back.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence, and once they were back in the BAU, Hotch herded them both in the direction of his office. As though she had been watching for them, however, Strauss intercepted them on the way, and they went to the round table conference room instead. Once they were all seated, Strauss said, “Well, Aaron, it’s not every day that SHIELD takes some of our agents into custody. What happened?”
“SHIELD didn’t exactly share any details with me, but from what I understand, there was an incident with the de-aging machine,” Hotch said. “Johnson, can you tell us anything about what happened and why we were questioned?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied quietly, and then, staring straight ahead and using a calm voice stripped of emotion, she said, “My brother Gabriel was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 prostrate cancer. And my other brother Raphael tried to tandem-parachute him into the site, to put him into the machine and make him younger so that the doctors could catch the cancer earlier and keep him alive.”
“Well, that would be a good use for the machine,” Strauss announced. “A lot of people could benefit from that.”
“They’d have to build a lot of them,” Spencer mused. “They’d have to become more common than x-ray machines in order to benefit everybody. And that would cost –”
“Spencer,” Hotch interrupted him firmly, then softened his voice a little. “Johnson? What happened next?”
“It seems they landed on the roof and fell off, and naturally, the guards heard it, so … they … got caught,” Ally continued, successfully keeping expression out of her voice until the end. She took another breath and managed to regain control over her emotions. “I don’t know how Raphael found out where the de-aging machine was, but he always could connect with anybody to get anything he wanted. I never mentioned the machine to Gabriel, or anybody else in my family, so it wasn’t because of me. I hadn’t even spoken to Raphael since I got shot – we were never as close as he was to Gabriel, I was busy with therapy, and he was off living his exciting life in the skies. I told SHIELD that if anybody had said anything, it must have been Cousin Joe.”
“Joe? From the dining hall?” Spencer asked. “Of course! He would have heard the rumours even there.”
Strauss didn’t say anything, just made a gesture for Ally to carry on with the rest of the report.
“He’s always worshipped the ground Raphael walked on. Raphael even took him sky-diving for free a few times,” Ally said. “And Raphael could be an idiot sometimes, but he … would have done anything for Gabriel.”
Spencer noticed the use of the past tense, but Hotch was already asking, “What happened to your brothers?”
“Raphael tried to force his way in,” Ally reported, her voice even, but tightening the grip of her left hand. “He was killed.”
“Ally, I’m so sorry,” Spencer said quietly, but Ally did not acknowledge him.
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” Strauss said, but her voice was more business-like than consoling.
After an appropriate pause, Hotch prompted, “And your other brother? Gabriel?”
“Gabriel surrendered, but SHIELD told me he was wounded. They wouldn’t tell me how badly, or whether his wife and children would be allowed to visit him.” Emotion was becoming audible in her voice, especially when she said ‘wife and children.’ Shakily, Ally went on. “We were hoping he’d live until after Christmas, but now … And I don’t know if SHIELD has informed Raphael’s girlfriend, or if I have to do that …”
“I’m so very sorry,” Hotch said. He got up and lifted a box of tissues from one of the shelves along the inside wall of the conference room, then slid it towards her. Ally took one, dabbing at her eyes, and stifled a sob. Eventually, she lifted her head and gazed directly at him.
“Agent Hotchner,” she said, her voice shaking a little. “I apologise for the inconvenience ...”
“There’s nothing to apologise for,” Hotch said.
“But … I … won’t be coming back,” Ally stated, and her voice wavered again. She did not turn her gaze from Hotch as she continued, “I don’t blame … Dr Reid .. but in a way, it’s his fault … I can’t work with … I’m sorry!”
The last words came out as a wail as Ally jumped up and stumbled out of the room. Spencer stared after her, only belatedly realising he should probably follow and apologise for the whole situation.
“It’s not your fault,” Hotch said to Spencer. “You can’t blame yourself.”
“I don’t,” Spencer said sadly. “I just feel bad for her.”
“This is very regrettable,” Strauss agreed.
“If word of this gets out, there might be other, similar incidents,” Hotch mused, and looked like he was about to say more. Just then, however, there was the sound of a cell phone ringtone. Strauss pulled her phone from her pocket, and after she’d listened for a moment, she looked from Spencer to Hotch. “May I have the room, please?”
Hotch went into his office, and Spencer went down to his desk, finding a few new files there, on top of the old ones. As he went through them, he was vaguely aware of Strauss going in to talk to Hotch, then leaving the bullpen completely.
“Spencer,” Hotch said, and Spencer glanced up.
“It’s past lunchtime,” Hotch said, “and since Johnson isn’t here, I thought we could go get Chinese.”
“Chinese sounds good,” Spencer said. “Ally would have taken me to the dining hall and made me eat something super healthy.”
Then it really hit him; Ally wasn’t there, and she wouldn’t be coming back. Slumping a little, he added, “I miss her already.”
“We’ll pick something up and take it home,” Hotch went on. “Strauss has given us the rest of the day off.”
“Why?” Spencer asked, and then something occurred to him. “Is she suspending me because Ally’s not here to supervise me anymore?”
“No,” said Hotch. “No, she’s not suspending you, Spencer. Come on, get your things and let’s go eat. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry for something good after what I got at SHIELD.”
Spencer was hungry, too, but something about this seemed off. “Hotch, what’s going on?”
Hotch hesitated, then said, “I won’t lie to you, Spencer, so I won’t tell you that nothing’s going on, but I would prefer to wait until we get home before we discuss it.”
“It’s bad, isn’t it?” Spencer asked, but Hotch didn’t answer, just looked at him, keeping his micro-expressions carefully neutral.
It was very, very bad, Spencer thought. Getting his things, he followed Hotch silently to the car, and worried all the way to the restaurant. It had to be something to do with SHIELD, and probably with the de-aging machine itself. And not just that, but most likely the whole project, too. By the time they got to Hotch’s apartment, Spencer was fairly sure he had a good idea about what his boss was going to say.
Hotch made him wait until they’d unpacked the Chinese food and even tried to make him eat something, but Spencer refused. Finally, Hotch said, “Strauss got a call from SHIELD. The de-aging machine – the entire house, actually – has been destroyed. A group calling themselves Raphael’s Avenging Angels has taken responsibility, and SHIELD has put out a statement that Dr Sakenfeld was killed in the attack and all his research obliterated. There will be no more work done on Project Mustardseed.”
“Raphael’s Avenging Angels?” Spencer asked. “At the risk of sounding like my mother, this smells suspiciously like a government conspiracy.”
“It probably is,” Hotch said. “But the phone call that Strauss got from SHIELD was quite adamant that Project Mustardseed has now been cancelled.”
“If the de-aging machine has been destroyed, then it’s not economically feasible to continue work on the project for just one person,” Spencer said, nodding.
He took a bite of fried noodles, and when Hotch hadn’t responded by the time he’d finished swallowing, Spencer asked, “Are you waiting for me to start crying? Is that why you didn’t want to tell me until we’d got home?”
Hotch gave him a slightly sheepish smile. “You’re taking this better than I expected.”
“It’s because, deep down, I don’t really believe it,” Spencer admitted. “I mean, yes, I trust that you are telling me the truth as you’ve heard it, and Strauss, too, but when it comes to SHIELD, no. It’s been more than two months, Hotch, and even SHIELD wouldn’t have left all of Sakenfeld’s research in one place. Even if that site in Ohio was destroyed, and the de-aging machine with it, they would have back-up files somewhere. Also, if they were working on the re-aging part, they wouldn’t do it in the house that Sakenfeld bought out in the middle of nowhere, they’d want it closer to, if not directly in, a SHIELD facility. I think SHIELD is spreading disinformation again in an attempt to keep more people from doing what Raphael Johnson did. Remember how they started those alien rumours? Dr Sakenfeld might not even be dead, and the project might have been given a new name.”
“I’ve been considering that possibility, too,” Hotch said, finally digging into his own meal. “Let’s hope you’re right.”
“I haven’t seen Sakenfeld’s body,” Spencer said, and Hotch smiled for real.
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