The first guest arrived ten minutes before Jack’s birthday party was scheduled to begin. Hotch had been hanging some balloons and streamers from the ceiling of the living room, but as Jack raced to the door to open it, Hotch got down from the stepladder and quickly followed. Spencer watched from the couch. He was no longer tall enough to hang balloons, not even with a stepladder, and Hotch’s sister-in-law Jessica had kindly shooed him out of the kitchen when he’d offered to help there. He hadn’t even been able to concentrate on reading because of all of Jack’s manic activity in the apartment.
“Happy birthday, Jack!” a boy shouted from the doorway. “Here, open it!”
“Let’s take it inside first, Jack,” Hotch said, and Jack and the other boy raced into the living room. Jack immediately started to rip the wrapping paper off his present, but the boy’s attention was caught by something else.
“Oooh!” he cried in excitement, immediately swarming up the stepladder and jumping off. He landed on the couch next to Spencer. “This is fun!”
“Don’t do that, please, Paul,” Hotch said, even as Paul ran around to do it again. Spencer scrambled out of the way just as the older boy slammed into the cushion where he’d been sitting.
“Yay!” Paul shouted.
“Paul. No jumping on the couch,” Hotch commanded, packing up the stepladder and carrying it away.
“Wow, look, Spencer, just like Dad’s!” Jack exclaimed, showing Spencer a child’s policeman kit including a fake badge, fake gun, and a pair of plastic handcuffs with the key. “Now I can catch the bad guys, too!”
Paul pointed to Spencer. “He’s the bad guy! Put the cuffs on him, officer!”
Spencer backed away as Jack tore the package open to get to the cuffs, but then the doorbell rang again, and Jack abandoned the toy in favour of his next guest, Hotch following. Spencer thought the danger was over, but Paul picked up where Jack had left off, and seeing that he was now approaching with the restraints in his hand, Spencer tried again to escape to the bedroom. He was almost there when Paul jumped on him from behind, wrestled him to the floor, and managed to handcuff both his wrists together with only slightly less ability than a real policeman.
“Ow!” Spencer cried as the second cuff clicked shut, biting into his skin.
“Gotcha, bad guy!” Paul crowed.
“Ow, take them off, they’re too tight!” Spencer cried, trying to pull free, but though they were fake, the cuffs still held. Worse, the experience was bringing back bad memories of the last time he’d been handcuffed, and fear made him scream, “Hotch!”
He couldn’t even sit up or roll over, because Paul was still sitting on him.
“You’re the bad guy. You’re going to jail. And to First Communion.” Paul made that sound even worse than prison. “Now you have to confess all your sins to the priest. And the judge.”
Struggling physically and mentally, Spencer shrieked, “I am not a sinner! I don’t have anything to confess, you son of a bitch!”
There was a sudden silence in the living room, and then the weight disappeared from Spencer’s back as Paul stood up and asked, “Are you going to wash his mouth out with soap, Mr Hotchner?”
“First, I’m going to get these handcuffs off him. Where’s the key?” Hotch asked.
“I dunno,” Paul replied. Spencer tried again to pull free, but when the cuffs remained firm, he burst into tears.
“What a crybaby,” Paul scoffed.
“Paul, that is not nice,” Hotch told him. “Now look for the key.”
“Here, Dad, I got it,” Jack said.
Hotch released the handcuffs, then gathered Spencer into his arms. Spencer immediately cuddled into his embrace and tried to muffle his sobs against Hotch’s shoulder.
“We were only playing,” Paul defended himself. “I didn’t even hurt him!”
“You put the handcuffs on too tight, you little snot-nosed bobolyne!” Spencer shouted back.
Paul looked properly shocked and insulted. “Mr Hotchner, are you going to paddle his behind for saying bad words?”
“No, Paul, I don’t believe in hitting children, so I will not be paddling his behind,” Hotch explained. “But I think that Spencer needs some time to himself. Jessica, can you take over here?”
“Um, yeah. Sure. All right, boys, let’s play Twister! Who can help me lay the mat out?”
Hotch took Spencer into his bedroom and shut the door, then sat down on the bed, rubbing Spencer’s back in silence for several moments. Eventually, he asked, “Are you all right?”
“I had a flashback!” Spencer admitted between sobs. “Tobias Hankel!”
“I’ve got you, Spencer, you’re okay. You’re safe.”
“I couldn’t get away, Hotch! They were just – they were just plastic handcuffs, but I couldn’t break them, I couldn’t get away!”
“That’s scary, I know,” Hotch assured him.
“I hate this, Hotch, I hate it! I hate being a child, I hate being so weak and helpless and I really hate getting beat up by six-year-olds!”
“I’d hate it, too,” Hotch said. “It’s pretty rough, being a kid.”
“It’s not fair that I have to go through it twice, when the first time was bad enough!”
“No, it’s not fair.”
“Everything bad seems so much worse! And I really hate crying all the time, too!” He was still wailing even as he spoke. “It’s like that kid said, I really am a crybaby, and I hate it!”
“You’re not a crybaby, Spencer. You’re in a very difficult position at the moment and actually, you deal with it pretty well most of the time.”
“I still hate it!” But after a few more sobs, Spencer managed to stop bawling. Eventually, his tears stopped, and he wiped his cheeks with the sleeve of his sweatshirt, then sighed in exhaustion.
“Feeling better now?” Hotch asked, letting Spencer detach himself from the embrace and sit down on the bed next to him.
“Yeah.” Remembering the altercation, Spencer resigned himself to what would certainly come. “Are you going to put me in time-out again?”
“For what? Having PTSD? No, because then I’d have to put myself in time-out, too, and we’d spend the rest of our lives there,” Hotch said. “But I will ask you, what did you call Paul? Bobo—what?”
Spencer managed a little smile. “Bobolyne. It’s an old English insult, it means fool. It was actually invented a bit later than the 15th century, but my mother liked to say it, just because she liked the sound of it. Bobolyne.”
“Snot-nosed bobolyne. I like the sound of that, too,” Hotch said, and grinned. “But we can pretend you’ve been in time-out, if you want to join the party again.”
“Can’t I just stay in here?” Spencer asked.
“If you really want to.”
“I really want to.” He sniffed, and searched for a distraction. “I could call up Morgan and see how the case is coming along.”
“All right. You want me to tell you when it’s time for cake and ice cream?”
Spencer hesitated, then shook his head. “Not if Paul’s still there. He’d probably shove my face into it, or dump it down the back of my neck.”
“You might be right, he’s certainly a handful. Okay, you can have yours later.” Hotch said, then stood up and went out. Spencer exhaled in relief, took a moment to collect himself, then dug his phone out of his pocket and dialed.
Morgan answered on the third ring. “Hey, Pretty Boy, what’s up?”
“Hey, Morgan. I just called to see how the case is going.”
“You called at just the right time, kid. We caught the Unsub and we’re practically at the airport now.”
“You’re coming home to-night?” Spencer was surprised at how excited the simple news made him feel.
“Yes, and I am going to sleep all weekend!”
“That bad, huh?”
“It was no fun doing this case without you and Hotch, that’s for sure,” Morgan said. “Took us twice as long. Hey, any word from SHIELD yet about getting you back to normal?”
“No, not from SHIELD, but Hotch and Strauss and I made a deal, and I’m coming back to work on Monday,” Spencer announced proudly. “I can even go out on cases, too.”
“You can? At your age? What kind of deal? You gonna be our mascot now?”
“Um, well, I have to have a supervisor with me. It’s Agent Johnson, from the arson unit.”
“Johnson … Sarah Johnson? I think I dated her once or twice. She’s pretty nice.” Morgan sounded approving.
“No, Alleluia Johnson.”
“Ally? I’ve met her, too.” Morgan’s voice changed ever so slightly, or maybe it was the difference in backgorund noise. “She’s very … intense. And, what, she just agreed to transfer to our unit and baby-sit you? How’d you get that to happen?”
“She’s actually on medical leave after being shot in the hand,” Spencer explained. “And it wouldn’t be baby-sitting. She’ll just be keeping an eye on me, make sure I’m not alone in the hotel room, that sort of thing.”
“Sounds like baby-sitting to me.”
“She’ll be supervising.”
“Agent-sitting,” Morgan teased, then relented. “That’s great, kid. I’m glad for you. How’d you like your week off with Hotch? Did you do anything fun?”
“We went to the library on Wednesday, and the ophthalmologist yesterday. My new glasses should be ready by Thursday at the latest.”
“Only you would think going to the eye doctor is fun,” Morgan grinned. “Hey, isn’t it Jack’s birthday to-day? When’s he having his party?”
“Um … right now,” Spencer admitted.
“Right now? Reid, why aren’t you in there with him playing party games and eating cake, instead of talking on the phone with me?”
“I really don’t want to talk about it, Morgan,” Spencer told him.
“Okay, sorry. Hey, tell Jack happy birthday from me.” Spencer heard a sudden chorus of voices in the background, and Morgan added, “and from everybody else here, too.”
“We’re getting ready to take off now, so I gotta go. Have a great weekend, kid, and we’ll see you on Monday at the latest.”
“Yeah, see you, Morgan.”
+++++ 9 October 2011
On Sunday at lunch, Hotch said, “Jack, how’d you like to visit Henry and Will this afternoon?”
“Yay!” Jack replied. “Can Spencer come, too?”
“No, Spencer has to come with daddy.”
“Why? What will you be doing?” Jack asked. “Is it like an appointment?”
“Well, yeah, kind of, buddy. I’m going to talk with my team, and Spencer has to come with me,” Hotch said. Spencer noticed a slight hesitation before Hotch went on. “He has some special information about a case we’re working on.”
Jack’s excitement and curiosity faded abruptly, and he was quiet for a moment before asking, “Dad?”
“Are you going to – is Spencer – is he going to work the case with you?”
Hotch froze for just a moment, and then he smiled sadly and said, “No, Jack, he won’t be working the case with me. He’s just going to talk to us about something that he saw the bad guy do, that’s all.”
“Oh, okay.” Jack looked relieved, and smiled again, but then he asked, “Spencer, what did you see? What did the bad guy do?”
Spencer hadn’t been expecting that, but thankfully, Hotch came to his rescue. “Jack, he’s only supposed to talk about that with my team, okay? Now, I think Will might want to take you and Henry out for ice cream, so why don’t you think of which two flavours you might want?”
“Strawberry and strawberry,” Jack replied instantly, and Spencer exhaled in relief that Jack had been successfully distracted.
“Okay, then, we’ll tell Will when we get there. But first we have to clean up lunch and then do our reading. We might be able to finish Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to-day.”
Eventually, however, they were pulling into a parking space near JJ and Will’s townhouse, and Spencer suggested, “Maybe I should stay in the car?”
“No, you’ve got to come meet him,” Jack exclaimed, unbuckling himself from his car seat. “Will’s great! He gives me and Henry airplane rides!”
Hotch got out of the car, opened Jack’s door and let him out, then took his son by the hand and came around to the passenger side. Teasingly, he asked, “Don’t you want an airplane ride, too, Spencer?”
Spencer gave him his best indignant look. “No, really, I’ll just stay here.”
“I can’t leave you unattended in the car even for a minute,” Hotch said. “It only takes one person to see you there and call the police on me for child endangerment. So, come on, out.”
Spencer unbuckled himself and got out. Hotch was probably going to pass him off as his nephew again, but he wasn’t sure how his boss would explain leaving only Jack with Will, and not Spencer, too. He tried to lag behind, maybe even go unnoticed, but Hotch said, “Spencer, take my hand so we can cross the street together.”
They had barely set foot in the road when Spencer saw the door to the townhouse open. With Henry at his side, Will came out onto the step and just stood there, watching them come up onto the sidewalk and enter through the gate. The closer they got, the more Spencer could feel his stare, and the more convinced he became that, somehow, Will knew who he was and what had happened.
“Hey, Hotch,” Will said in his New Orleans drawl, never taking his eyes off Spencer. “Hey, Jack. And … this is Spencer?”
“Hi, Will, and yes, this is Spencer,” Hotch said. Spencer wasn’t sure how to respond, but Jack didn’t give him any opportunity to do so anyway. Letting go of his father’s hand, Jack ran forwards and raised both arms to Will. “Uncle Will! Can I have an airplane ride?”
“Sure thing, Jack.” Will sounded relieved to have his attention turned elsewhere. “Here, let’s go down on the grass so there’s more room. Don’t want Airplane Jack to crash into our house. He’s so big he’d destroy the whole neighbourhood.”
Jack giggled at the absurd idea, then shrieked with joy as Will spun him around. Ignoring Spencer, Henry made his way down the steps. “Me, too, Dad, me, too!”
“All right, Airplane Jack, coming in for a landing. Ready for take-off, Airplane Henry?” Will set Jack down on the grass, gave Spencer a quick, questioning glance, then reached out for his son.
“Yeah!” Henry squealed. Will took him by the arm and leg and turned him in great swooping circles. Finally, Airplane Henry made a happy landing as well.
“Now it’s Airplane Spencer’s turn!” Jack announced. Will gave Spencer another questioning glances, and even hesitantly extended a hand, but Spencer took a firm step backwards. Will would never offer to give the adult Dr Reid an airplane ride, so why did he feel obliged to do it now?
“Airplane Spencer will not be flying because he was hit by an electro-magnetic pulse and suffered a massive system malfunction,” Spencer announced.
Hotch chuckled lightly and a visibly shocked Will said, “It really is you.”
“I told you,” JJ said, coming out. “Sorry to keep you waiting, Hotch. Ready to go?”
Spencer waited until they were in the car before he asked, “JJ, when did you tell Will about me being de-aged?”
“Just this morning, why?“
“You never told me Emily was alive, no matter how many times I came over here crying, but then you go and tell Will about what happened to me. You know, Hotch specifically told those two policemen not to talk about it with anybody, to keep it confidential. And I asked Garcia, and she said she hadn’t even told Kevin. But apparently, that didn’t apply to you!”
“Spence, it’s not a secret anymore, everybody in the BAU knows about it—“
“Most of what’s going around the BAU are rumours about aliens! And Will isn’t even in the BAU!”
“No, but he’s my partner, and he heard me mention you on the phone. I had to tell him why there’d be a four-year-old named Spencer in the car with Jack instead of Uncle Spencer. Okay, I made a mistake there, I admit it. But, Spence, it’s not the same as it was with Emily. Her life was in danger, and the fewer people who knew about it, the better.”
“You could have trusted me! I wouldn’t have told anybody. I wouldn’t even have mentioned it to anybody on the team if you’d told me not to. I just – I hurt so bad and I grieved so hard, and it was all for nothing! You know, I actually caught you playing online Scrabble with Emily one Sunday morning when I came over, but I didn’t know it was her until afterwards. How could you sit with me and listen to me cry knowing the entire time that she was right there, that I could have joined the game and been happy again?” Spencer found that he was close to tears just remembering, so he bit his lip hard and focused on the physical pain to keep from crying yet again. “But when there’s a secret about me, you go and tell everybody!”
“Will isn’t everybody! And who would he have told? Who would have believed him? He didn’t even believe it himself until he saw you just now! And, anyway, your life is not in danger, Spence. Dr Sakenfeld is in custody and he was never trying to kill you. I’m sorry you feel like I betrayed your trust, but –”
“But what, Jennifer?” Spencer asked, angrily emphasizing her name. “Are you saying that this doesn’t matter because there isn’t a deadly threat involved?”
“No,” JJ said immediately, then added, “Okay, yes, I suppose for a moment, I did want to say that. But I was wrong. I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry, Spence. You matter, and your trust matters to me, and I am absolutely heartsick at losing it, and knowing that it was my actions – my mistakes – that led to it.”
Yeah, right, Spencer thought, but he didn’t say it out loud.
“Is there any way I can make it up to you?” JJ went on.
“I don’t know,” Spencer said. “I just know that saying sorry doesn’t make it better.”
“No, you’re right, it doesn’t,” JJ agreed. “And I wanted to tell you, I really did, but I couldn’t.”
“You couldn’t, or you wouldn’t?” Spencer challenged. “Because playing online Scrabble with Emily was more of a threat to her than I ever would have been!”
“What?” JJ protested, but then she slumped a little. “Okay, I was selfish, I’ll admit that, too. But I thought she’d want some connection to us, no matter how tiny.”
“I would have liked a tiny connection to her, too!” Spencer shouted back. “But I wouldn’t have put her life in danger through a stupid online game! You know what Garcia can do with the internet. What if Doyle had found someone like Garcia? They could have found Emily within minutes, and that would have been your fault!”
“They would have had to have known she was alive first!” JJ shot back. “Spence, how many times do I have to say I’m sorry! I made mistakes. But, looking back, you know, no matter what I chose, it would have been the wrong choice, so I did what I thought was best and –”
The car stopped a little abruptly, enough to shake them both out of the argument, and Spencer looked around in surprise. “We’re at Rossi’s? I thought we were having a team meeting.”
“We’re having it here, with ice cream,” Hotch said. “Dave thought we could have a relaxing get-together, I thought we still had a few things to discuss, so we’re combining it.”
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