“Well, here’s a set of grouchy faces!” Rossi exclaimed as he opened the door. “What’s going on?”
“JJ and Spencer were just having a discussion in the car,” Hotch said.
“Did you offer to pull over so they could get out and walk?” Rossi stepped aside and motioned them inside.
Letting JJ step in first, Hotch put his thumb and index finger together to show how close he’d come to doing just that. Spencer lagged behind Hotch, then felt something brush his arm. He looked over, found himself face to snout with a black Labrador that seemed almost as tall as he was, and couldn’t jump away fast enough, squealing in surprise as the dog barked.
“Mudgie!” Rossi called. “Here, boy, heel!”
The Labrador trotted obediently to Rossi’s side and barked again at Spencer, then whined a little. Spencer hid behind Hotch, his heart hammering in his chest, and was thankful that his boss did not mention “the Reid effect.”
“I forgot you have a dog, Rossi,” JJ said, sounding a bit flustered as well.
“Mudgie doesn’t usually bark,” Rossi said, fondling the dog’s ears. “Sorry about that, Reid. You want to come over and say hello properly?”
Spencer shook his head, and when Hotch sat down on the couch, Spencer sat next to him, then pulled his legs up onto the cushion in case Mudgie wanted a bite of tibia con carne.
“Don’t put your shoes on the furniture, Spencer,” Hotch told him, so Spencer took his shoes off and dumped them on the floor, watching Mudgie the entire time, then sat cross-legged. Thankfully, the dog showed no signs of bouncing over to chew on his sneakers, or on him.
“Can I get anybody a drink? Reid, I’ve got some fruit juice for you.”
“No, thanks, Rossi.”
“If you’ve got some Scotch, I wouldn’t say no,” JJ said, and Rossi went immediately to the drinks.
“Hotch?” he offered, but Hotch refused. Pointedly not looking at Spencer, JJ took a large swallow.
Thankfully, the doorbell rang again. Rossi went over to open the door, and Mudgie followed. But as soon as Emily had stepped in and greeted them both, Mudgie came back to sniff at Spencer, whining a little. Spencer found himself standing up on the couch and pressing against the back of it, seriously considering climbing on Hotch’s shoulders to get out of Mudgie’s reach. Rossi called his dog away again, and sent him over to the cushion in the corner.
“Are you scared of dogs?” Emily asked, taking a seat in an easy chair.
“I was, but I thought I’d grown out of it,” Spencer said, sitting back down. Even though he could feel his panic reside, he still kept an eye on Mudgie for any signs of movement.
Rossi indicated the decanter of Scotch, but Emily waved a rejection and turned back to Spencer. “Did you have a bad experience with one?”
“There was this family that moved into our neighbourhood with a St. Bernard,” Spencer said. “I didn’t know it until one day when I was running home from school, and I tripped, and when I got up, it was standing right there inside the fence, looking at me. It was so big, it scared me even more than the kids –”
“The family’s kids?” Emily asked.
“No, um, the kids that were chasing me,” Spencer admitted.
“Yeah, dogs can be scary, especially when they’re big and you’re small,” Emily said. “I prefer cats. I love the way they purr and knead you with their paws.”
“Did you know that kittens knead while they’re nursing, to help stimulate the milk supply?” Spencer asked, glad to be off the subject of dogs and being chased. “So when they’re older and they make the kneading motion, it means they feel as happy and comfortable as when they were kittens being fed by their mother.”
“I think I heard that somewhere,” Emily said. “I just wish they wouldn’t always use their claws.”
“Actually, not all cats do –” Spencer started, but Emily was quick to interrupt.
The doorbell rang again, and Spencer watched warily as Mudgie followed his owner over to open the door. Derek and Garcia came in, Derek greeting Rossi first and then Mudgie, and Garcia doing the exact opposite. But just when Mudgie was about to escape his two admirers and run to Spencer yet again, Rossi grabbed him by the collar and escorted him back to his pillow, telling him firmly to stay.
“Oooh, Spencer, let me give you a hug!” Garcia squealed, coming over and doing just that. “You look cuter every time I see you!”
“You only saw me on Thursday.” Spencer wriggled until she let him stand on the couch again, but then she brushed his hair away from his forehead. “Looks like your stitches are almost dissolved now. And if your scar were just a little more crooked here and here, you’d look exactly like Harry Potter!”
“Yeah, next time he should fall onto something lightning-shaped,” Emily pointed out. “And his hair should be darker, too.”
“And he needs glasses,” Morgan added.
Garcia laughed, admitting defeat, then went to take a seat. Quickly brushing his hair back to where it belonged, Spencer said, “I thought you were going to sleep all weekend, Morgan.”
“I was, until I heard there would be ice cream at Rossi’s,” Morgan said.
“The only question is, do we want it now, or should we have the team meeting first?” Rossi asked.
“Life is short, eat dessert first,” Garcia said.
“Or we can save the best for last,” Emily countered.
“Or we could do both at once, unless it’s the kind of team meeting that will ruin your appetite,” JJ said, and she wasn’t teasing.
“I’m hoping it won’t be,” Hotch said, which made the others look at him and JJ and then over to Spencer, too.
“Well, if that’s decided, then I’ve got it all set up in the kitchen, so everybody come in and serve yourselves,” Rossi said. “Not you, Mudgie. Stay!”
He went in first to get various cartons from the freezer and set them on the counter, where everything else was already prepared, from bowls and spoons to bananas and jars of toppings. There was even whipped cream, a bowl of chopped nuts, and another one of maraschino cherries.
“Wow, Rossi, you’re spoiling us,” Emily said.
“No, I’m spoiling myself and I just invited you guys along for the ride. Reid, you want some help?”
Spencer had found a scooper and was trying to sink it into the chocolate ice cream, but he didn’t have the strength to make a dent in the frozen treat, even when he used two hands. The edge of the scooper slipped and hit the countertop, and the carton of ice cream flew in the opposite direction, landing on the floor.
“I’ve got it,” said Hotch, going around to pick it up.
Spencer grimaced, then suggested, “We could always soften it up a bit in the microwave, then maybe I could do it myself.”
“If you’re going to do that, let me get some first, because I don’t like it when it’s soft,” Morgan said.
“Yeah, me, neither,” Emily added.
Rossi plucked the scooper from Spencer’s grip and reached his other hand out for the carton, then carved a small serving off the top and dropped it into the bowl. “Okay, Reid, what else do you want? Vanilla, strawberry, mint chocolate chip?”
“Rainbow sherbet?” Emily offered.
“No, just chocolate,” Spencer said. “Can I have two scoops, please?”
Rossi thrust the bowl at Morgan, who had taken over the chocolate ice cream, and Morgan obediently dropped in the huge serving he’d meant for himself. When he then used the scooper to cut it up and remove the larger part, Spencer scowled. “Hey!”
“You eat that first, Pretty Boy, then we’ll talk about more.” Morgan said.
“How about some banana?” Rossi went on. “Caramel topping? Whipped cream and a couple of cherries?”
“Strawberry topping coming right up.”
“Thanks, Rossi.” Spencer reached for the bowl.
“That’s it? Nothing else?”
“That’s it.” Spencer waited for everybody else to get their ice cream, then followed them back into the living room. Mudgie lifted his head to see what was going on, and Spencer hastily climbed onto the couch where he’d been sitting before. To his horror, the dog actually got up and loped towards him, making Spencer stand up and press against the back of the couch again. Thankfully, Rossi called Mudgie back before the dog’s questing snout got too close to Spencer’s feet.
“He’s sure fascinated by you, Reid,” Rossi said, sending Mudgie back to his cushion. “I don’t know why.”
“You know, some dogs can sniff out diseases like cancer,” Spencer suggested. “I hope Mudgie’s not sniffing me because I’m about to come down with chickenpox. Although actually, the incubation period for chickenpox can range from ten to twenty one days, with the average being fourteen to sixteen days, and my possible exposure was on Wednesday. So if Mudgie can smell that, then he must be very sensitive to the varicella-zoster virus.”
“You were exposed to chickenpox?” JJ asked in alarm.
“Maybe. I did come within six feet of a girl who had it.”
“Or else Mudgie’s sniffing you for some other reason,” Morgan said. “Mudgie’s a hunting dog, right, Rossi? Maybe Spencer smells like a dead duck to him.”
“I don’t have feathers, so I can’t smell like any kind of duck,” Spencer pointed out.
Rossi went along with the teasing. “In that case, Morgan, he wouldn’t just sniff Reid, he’d try to retrieve him, too.”
“But maybe I do emit a different odour, now that I’ve been de-aged,” Spencer mused. “Maybe the effects of the machine changed something about my cells that would make them give off just a slightly different scent than that of other people, or maybe it left some kind of faint olfactory trace on me that washing hasn’t been able to remove –”
“Okay, this is getting too weird,” Emily said. “I did not come here to sit around and talk about how Reid smells.”
“Especially not while we’re eating,” JJ put in.
“I thought we could use this chance to talk about trust,” Hotch put in smoothly. “We’ve had some time to get used to Emily being back, but I know that Spencer is still struggling with what happened and how we handled it. Is anybody else having any problems?”
There was a silence, then Morgan spoke up. “Like I said before, Hotch, I trust you guys to have my back in the field. And I understand why you did what you did. But, I do think you could have trusted us. It hurt, but it’s in the past now, and I’m willing to move on.”
“Thank you, Morgan.” Hotch waited. “Anybody else? Garcia?”
“I was hurt, too,” Garcia admitted. “Just a little bit. I mean, I think I’ve worked for the FBI long enough to be considered trustworthy, but I get it if some people might still be suspicious of me because of my background – not saying that you or JJ are some of those people, sir – people higher up. It kind of goes with the territory when you’ve been a hacker, you know, even if I’m reformed now. Mostly. I mean, completely. So I understand.“
“Garcia, this had nothing to do with your background, nothing at all. And I consider your trustworthiness to be at the very highest level,” Hotch said. “That goes for you, too, Spencer. I take responsibility for choosing not to reveal this secret to either of you, and as I’ve said before, I am working to re-establish your trust in me.”
“I still trust you, sir,” Garcia said quickly. “And JJ, and Emily.”
“Thank you, Garcia,” Hotch said, and JJ and Emily both echoed him.
“Emily? What are you thoughts on the situation?” Hotch asked.
“I trust all of you,” she said quickly. “I’ve never had a problem with that.”
“Then why didn’t you let me know you were still alive?” Spencer blurted out. “Hotch knew. JJ knew. But if you trusted me, why didn’t you reach out to me?”
“I wanted to, I really did,” Emily said. “But by the time I was awake and aware enough to know what was going on, it was a done deal. And I knew that even the very little contact I had with JJ was risky.”
“If it was so risky, why’d you keep playing online Scrabble with her? Didn’t you stop to think how fast someone like Garcia could have tracked you through that?”
Emily looked guilty. “I’m sorry, Reid. I missed you all so much, I guess I just wanted something ...”
“You missed us?” Spencer almost shouted, anger clouding the hurt. “You missed us? You knew we were still alive and that there was a chance you could come back someday! I thought you were dead and I’d never see you again, ever! I missed you so much I—“
“What?” Emily asked.
But Spencer shook his head, not willing to mention his Dilaudid problem to her or JJ. Somehow, he didn’t think they’d react the same way as Hotch had. And maybe the thing that hurt the most wasn’t the fact that he’d been kept out of the loop. Maybe it was the fact that all his pain and all his cravings had been for nothing, which made him feel both hurt and angry.
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he said, and slid off the couch. The way to the front door led too close to Mudgie and the rest of the team, so he ran deeper into the house instead and into the nearest bathroom. He wasn’t going to cry, he told himself firmly. He wasn’t a crybaby and he wasn’t going to cry this time.
After a few moments, there was a knock on the door, and Emily called out, “Reid? Can I come in?”
“No!” he said, hugging his legs to his chest and biting his lip. Concentrating on the physical pain kept him from focusing on his emotions and kept the tears from coming, at least for a minute or two. But eventually, they broke through, and he started to sob. Again.
Eventually, there was another knock and Hotch said, “Spencer, it’s time to go. Are you coming out, or am I coming in?”
“I’m coming out,” Spencer called, his voice breaking in the middle. “Just a second!”
He climbed up onto the toilet, leaned over the sink, and turned the tap on, then stuck his face into the running water. It helped stop the crying, but as he was drying himself off, he realized he’d got water down the front of his pullover and in his hair. Still, it was better to be wet than to run bawling into Hotch’s arms like he always seemed to be doing these days.
He opened the door, but Hotch wasn’t the only one waiting on the other side. Emily was there, too.
“Did you fall in?” she asked, but Spencer went by without speaking. He could see that the living room was empty, the others must have already left, and Rossi had taken Mudgie away, too. His shoes were still there,and he leaned over to put them on again.
“Reid, please, just let me say one thing before you go?”
Spencer stopped tying his laces for a moment, but didn’t look up to face Emily.
“I’m so sorry, I guess I didn’t realize how hard it was for you. JJ didn’t really say much, so I assumed you were handling it, but now I wish I’d contacted you, too. We could have played Scrabble together – then maybe I’d have had some better competition.”
“I wouldn’t have played Scrabble with you,” Spencer said, still staring down at the floor. “I wouldn’t have put you at risk like that.”
“Okay, sorry, bad joke. But can you please accept my apology and let me try to earn back your trust?”
Spencer considered. “I – I’ll think about it.”
“It might take a while.” He finished with his shoes and straightened up, still looking away.
“That’s okay. Take all the time you need.” Emily hesitated, then asked, “Can I give you a hug?”
Spencer debated whether he should say yes, and finally shrugged. “Okay.”
Emily knelt down and gave him a quick squeeze, which he did not return, even though it almost felt good. Then she stood up. “I’ll see you guys to-morrow in the office.”
As small as it was, the hug had helped. Only a little bit, but at least it was a start.
“Can you accept my apology and let me try to re-gain your trust, too?” JJ asked.
“No,” Spencer said, but the effect of Emily’s hug made him soften it almost immediately to, “Not yet.”
“Can you at least tell me you’ll think about it?”
Spencer shrugged again. “I don’t know. Maybe later.”
“Spencer?” Hotch asked. “Are you going to have a problem working with JJ in the office or out in the field?”
Spencer looked over to him, mentally running through the possible consequences of each answer, then decided. “No.”
“Are you sure?”
“I won’t let it be a problem, sir.” It would be too easy for Hotch to want to separate them if the atmosphere was too strained, and Spencer feared that the easiest solution would involve his boss rescinding his permission for Spencer to come to work at all.
“If you think it’s starting to be a problem, promise you will come to me before it gets out of hand?”
“I promise, sir.” But only if he thought he could convince Hotch to decide in his favour and not JJ’s.
“I’ll do my best not to make things worse,” JJ said.
“Thanks, JJ,” Hotch said. “All right, then, let’s go get Jack and go home.”
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