TITLE: ICE Number Four
AUTHOR: Kuria Dalmatia
Rating/Warnings: Spoilers for S4 "Amplification". FRM, R (profanity, discussion of drug and alcohol abuse, sexual situations)
Characters/Pairing: Reid/Elle, Hotch and the BAU
Summary: "Elle, it's Hotch." There were very few reasons for her former boss to call, especially using Spencer's phone.
ARCHIVING: my LJ... anyone else? Please ask first.
Feedback always welcome.
DISCLAIMER: The Mark Gordon Company, ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television own Criminal Minds. Salut! I just took them out to play and I promise put them back when I'm done. I'm not making any profit just trying to get these images out of my head.
VERSION: September-December 2009. February 2010, June 2010, July 2010.
TIMELINES: Season 4 Tag to "Amplifcation". Sequel to "From Nine to One" and "Kansas City".
THANKS to lj user=pabzi for the support and encouragement; lj user=ayashi_mikage for the beta and discussion. Any mistakes left are mine.
COMMENTS: Yeah, I took some liberties with the timeframe of the episode. Also, Elle's mother is Cuban, which means her maternal grandparents were probably born prior to Fidel Castro's rise to power in 1959. That's just my fancy reasoning for Elle being Catholic, which we know Prentiss and Rossi are.
Ring Lardner once said, "The family you come from isn't as important as the family you're going to have."
When the phone rang, Elle woke up, cursed mightily and grabbed her cell. When she saw the ID, she growled. Spencer knew better than to call her at this hour and it wasn't just because Las Vegas was three hours behind East Coast time. She hadn't expected to actually like working the graveyard shift at her new job, but it hadn't taken all that long to adjust. However, calls during "normal" business hours were not appreciated and Mister Vegas, of all people, should have comprehended that.
"This better be good, mister," she snapped as she flopped back on her pillows, "or I'll email those pictures of you wearing only that sombrero to a certain tech analyst and you will never, ever, be able to live that one down."
There was a long pause, then: "Elle, it's Hotch."
She bolted upright in bed, heart seizing in her chest as bile shot up her throat. She swallowed hard. There were very few reasons for her former boss to call, especially using Spencer's phone. Elle stuttered, "H-hotch" as she swung her legs over the side of the bed. The next words just tumbled out, "What's happened to Spencer?"
There was a slight strain in his voice as Hotch asked, "Are you still with the Bureau?"
Elle gripped the bed sheets, wanting to lie because that meant the full story, right here and right now. But no matter what people thought, she had never been that person. Her answer was crisp: "No."
A few seconds ticked by before Hotch said, "Reid has been admitted to GW Hospital with a severe upper-respiratory infection," his words matter-of-fact. "He's in the ICU. It's touch and go right now."
Elle knew that he wasn't going to give her any more information, at least not over the phone. Whatever had happened, it was probably part of an ongoing case since he'd asked if she was still an agent. It was the first time since leaving Kansas City that Elle truly regretted turning in her badge. She bolted out of the bed, phone pressed hard against her ear as she flung open her closet and grabbed her go bag.
Anger now replaced her fear. "He did something stupid, didn't he?"
"Maybe you should ask him." Quietly. Succinctly. Either she understood or she didn't. Hotch wasn't going to elaborate. Elle had always understood why people got pissed off around Hotch when he became cagey with information, but she also knew the fine line he skated for people he cared about.
She remembered Spencer's confession the last time they had been together. He should have fired me, Elle. He knew. Hotch knew that I was… struggling. It was a bad year for us. Maybe that's why I can't make amends with any of them. We all failed each other. And you know? If JJ and I hadn't split up in Georgia, Tobias wouldn't have... Yeah. It seems I have a bad habit of running off.
"He needs a damn leash," Elle muttered.
"Are you going to bring him one?"
That stopped her dead in her tracks. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"He's in Room Five-Oh-Two, whatever you decide."
As if she really had a choice and the bastard knew it. "Damn it, Hotch—"
"Room Five-Oh-Two." The line went dead.
While the pressed navy suit, crisp white shirt, and dark burgundy tie all declared "FBI Agent, do not fuck with" like it always had, Hotch looked like shit.
He was leaning against the doorframe outside the ICU room that was presumably Spencer's, and talking on his cell phone. Typical Hotch. And being typical Hotch meant none of the nurses were going to challenge him about cell phone usage in a restricted area, not with the way his suit jacket was so casually pulled back to emphasize his holstered weapon. Elle caught the glint of gold where his pocket kerchief should be and knew that he was displaying the shield as well.
The symbols of office, all proudly displayed.
He could be such a bully sometimes.
Yet when he turned and saw her, lowering his phone with his left hand, it was the absence of gold on his ring finger that surprised Elle the most.
Spencer rarely mentioned the team outside of vague references to cases; she didn't really ask about them personally. They were his family, not hers, and she was fine with that. However, if Hotch's wife had died, Spencer would certainly have told her, so therefore, Hotch had to be divorced. Mr. White Picket Fence, Destined to be Director of the FBI himself.
Then, Elle blinked and cursed herself. While she was busy profiling Hotch, he was probably profiling her. God only knew what conclusions he had drawn, because even with the transition from Kansas City to Las Vegas and her enjoyment with her new job, she still didn't quite know what she was doing. Still a little lost. Still searching. Although Spencer had been right: Vegas had been much easier to assimilate to.
"Elle." He nodded and slid the phone into his coat's inner pocket.
There were a lot of things she could say. A little overkill with the badge, dontcha think? Or, You look like shit. It suits you. Maybe even, Don't tell me you sent him home like you did me three years ago, if she was feeling particularly vicious.
But she couldn't ignore his five o'clock shadow, dark circles under his eyes that could give Spencer's a run for their money, and deep lines around his mouth that conveyed just how tired the man was. Jesus, had the man lost weight, too? Elle didn't want to feel sorry for him. Not really. When it came to Hotch and the rest of the BAU, she still couldn't get past Step Nine: Making Amends, even if she had finally settled on an NA group in Vegas of former and current LEOs.
Yet, the unit chief of the BAU just didn't call a disgraced former subordinate, one he believed had shot a suspect in cold blood, and all but told her to get to DC as soon as possible unless…
Elle said the only thing she could say: "Severe upper-respiratory infection, my ass."
His lips barely lifted to a smile; his eyebrows did that little dance that said, You know the rules.
She approached, a bit more cautious than before. "Did he ask you to call me?"
"You're I-C-E Four," Hotch replied flatly. "I thought I was calling Bennington when I saw the area code."
ICE: in case of emergency. She was fourth on Spencer's list. Hotch was probably first, Garcia second... Morgan third. Or maybe Morgan second and Garcia third. The warm flush that colored her cheeks didn't last long.
Elle crossed her arms and glared. "Like you would call his mother to tell her he has pneumonia."
Hotch ignored her comment as he moved to look in to the room. There was that barest twitch to his jaw that broadcasted just how much this was affecting him. His voice was quiet, measured: "He's improved since we last spoke. This new round of medication… they say he's going to pull through."
Suddenly, Elle remembered Spencer's comment: Hotch is more like a Mom with drill sergeant leanings. Another memory washed through her. The sharp burnt smell amid crisp antiseptic. Calloused fingers squeezing her hand. "He's gone, Elle," whispered fiercely. "Randall Garner's gone. Now? Now, you need to come back to us." A hoarse confession: "It's my fault you were shot. I wasn't specific with my orders. I failed you. And I'm sorry." Her first night back in her home and seeing the walls of her living room had a fresh coat of paint.
Tears prickled the edges of her eyes. Elle had sworn long ago that she could never forgive Hotch, but here and now…
No. Good, Lord. She couldn't even thank him for making that call. How was that for irrational cowardice?
Elle pushed those thoughts from her mind. She wasn't here for Hotch or the BAU.
She was here for Spencer.
Elle strode into the room, shoulders set and mentally preparing herself. Yet three steps in, she stopped in her tracks. She had seen a variety of Spencer's facial expressions: happy, sad, thoughtful, pouty, angry, annoyed, anxious, humiliated, satiated, hungry, lustful, silly, that one "genius" look as his mind took that amazing leap, that "ohmygodgonnacum" which Elle admitted was one of her favorites.
She gasped. Her hands balled into fists. His name spilled off her lips, "Spencer."
All those tubes. All those wires. The knowledge that Hotch didn't panic easily, that he just wouldn't have made that call to her unless...
Elle rushed forward and raised a shaking hand to brush the errand strands of hair from Spencer's face. "You goddamn idiot!" she hissed as tears filled her eyes. "What the fuck did you do?"
If Elle had felt lost under Hotch's scrutinizing gaze, she now felt cast adrift as she stood next to Spencer. As much as she had hated Spencer those first twenty-three days of her sobriety, she treasured him every day since. Spencer still sent her postcards from wherever city he was at. She had a collage of them on her bedroom wall. There were days that they were the only things that kept her from buying a fifth of Tanqueray London Dry.
Elle grabbed Spencer's hand. She cradled his cheek. She didn't give a shit if Hotch was watching. She wanted to say, Please wake up. You're all the family I have, but what came out was, "You listen to me, mister." Elle's voice trembled and she hated it. She hated being this scared. "You get that mind of yours in gear and you get your ass back out here to the land of the living, so I can kick it proper. You understand?"
For a while, all Elle could do was sit and stare at Spencer. He looked wan, gaunt, and the too-big hospital gown gapped at neckline where the heart monitor leads stuck out. She wavered between fear for him and anger at him, with a few bouts of fury directed at the pantheon of deities hell bent on punishing the man for no damn reason.
Hotch hadn't joined her, for which Elle was grateful. However, she could feel the nervousness building up and knew it was only a matter of time before the rest of the BAU came trooping in. Elle wasn't sure how she was going to react to seeing Morgan, JJ or Garcia, if she was going to stutter through some lame excuse about being in town or announce that she was ICE Number Four, Hotch had called her, and that she had every right to be here so they could go fuck themselves.
She sighed and then rooted through her purse for the small velvet drawstring bag that contained her abuelita's rosary. Even though Elle hadn't prayed in years, she made the Sign of the Cross, looked at Spencer, and said, "Okay Mister Atheist, I'm going to say these out loud until you wake up and tell me to shut the hell up."
Some prayers she knew in Spanish, but all of them in Latin, so she alternated between the two. Elle had been told once that prayer was as much for the person saying it as it was for whom it was being said for. She wasn't sure if that was the case here—she had developed several issues with God in the past three years—but it did help calm her nerves as she fell into the rhythm.
With the staff frequently flitting in and out, Elle didn't have the chair pulled up next to his bed nor was she holding Spencer's hand, although she wanted to. Instead, her chair was moved back far enough so that someone could pass between her and Spencer. She kept her hands in her lap and her eyes closed as she fingered whichever bead she was currently on as she said the prayers.
She was halfway through the fourth decade of the Joyful Mysteries, reciting the Hail Mary in Latin hoping to annoy Spencer into consciousness, when a chair was pulled next to hers. Out of the corner of her eye, Elle could see slim-fitting black tailored trousers and heeled black boots. The barest waft of a sophisticated perfume tickled her nose. Then, the new person sat down, fussed with her handbag, made the Sign of the Cross, and fiddled with her own rosary, which was now draped in her hands.
The delicate cut crystal beads glittered in the low light of the room, the woman sliding the rosary around until she too was on the sixth bead of the fourth decade. It was an expensive piece, the gold filigree cross and findings a stark contrast to Elle's wooden one with simple wire loops and its carvings worn down from years of use. Perhaps it was given to the woman for her Confirmation; the beads were a little large for a young girl's First Communion. Then again, the wealthy rarely spared expense in proving their faith with flashy baubles.
People like that usually had rosaries for show.
So it was a complete surprise that when Elle began the seventh Hail Mary in Latin, the woman joined her, murmuring the words in the same language.
The new person wasn't a nun. Nuns didn't pack Glock 19s on their hips. So the woman had to be BAU and it definitely wasn't JJ.
This was Elle's replacement.
"...Ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc..."
Elle's replacement who just happened to carry a rosary.
"...Sancta Maria, Mater Dei..."
Spencer's words floated in Elle's mind: ... The moment Prentiss challenged me, calling me out for my unusual behavior, I verbally attacked her. She backed down. You have no idea how badly I wanted to be talking to you right then and there, Elle. You would've told me to cut the crap. I know you would have.
"...et in hora mortis nostrae..."
The only things you two really have in common are being multi-lingual, profiling, and the ability to intimidate the hell out of men. Oh. And you're both brunette.
The wooden beads felt heavy in Elle's hands.
Her fingers moved to the eighth bead. Prentiss followed suit.
Their voices were soft.
"Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum..."
It was a hushed exclamation of a different sort. Male. Italian-American from New York, because there was a certain way those men cursed. Elle had been around enough of them growing up in Brooklyn with a beat-cop father.
Elle kept her head down, but glanced over to where the newcomer was standing. Polished oxblood leather shoes should have looked ridiculous matched up with dark blue jeans, but they didn't. She mentally ran through the list of Spencer's potential visitors. He never mentioned anyone outside of the BAU except for his nameless sponsor. Maybe ICE Three was Spencer's sponsor and he was just now arriving?
Elle started on the third bead of the second Sorrowful Mystery. Her companion didn't join her.
Instead, Prentiss stood and walked over to the new person. "Old habit."
"Old habits mean you carry a rosary with you?" the man asked quietly, but there was a teasing tone in his voice, like he knew Prentiss. So he probably wasn't Spencer's sponsor—Elle knew Spencer wouldn't have shared the person's identity with the rest of the team—unless Hotch had been desperately dialing contacts.
No. That wasn't it either.
This person knew Prentiss, so it had to be the only other BAU team member Elle hadn't met: the legendary David Rossi. Then, there was a hint of puzzlement as he added, "I didn't think Spencer was—"
"Catholic? He's not," Prentiss interrupted. "But it can't hurt."
There were a few beats of silence. They were probably exchanging glances, perhaps trying to figure out who Elle was and how she fit into the whole picture. Did they even know what she looked like? Would Hotch had told the rest of the team that he'd called her? Elle refused to look up, thankful that she had worn her hair down to partially obscure her features. Her clothing was demure as well: long-sleeved, caramel-colored turtleneck sweater paired with a simple black skirt and low-heeled shoes. What had she been thinking when she put on her clothes this morning?
Oh, right. Get your ass to the airport and get a flight to DC.
Prentiss then ordered, "Grab a seat. Don't tell me you've never done this."
The man snorted but Elle could hear the sound of a chair being moved. "Spencer's gonna be pissed when he finds out we're going all religious on him."
Prentiss let out a small laugh. "That's the point, Dave."
By the time Elle reached the end of the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, she had to pee badly enough that she knew she couldn't go another a chaplet much less finish even a decade of beads. Prentiss and Rossi certainly knew their prayers, although he did stumble a bit on the Latin versions of "O My Jesus" and "Hail Holy Queen". Spencer would be beside himself if he knew that three people were praying for his recovery.
Elle couldn't wait to hear his dissertation. She also knew what to say to shut him up: If you hadn't gone and done something stupid, we wouldn't have to.
When Elle made the Sign of the Cross, they followed suit.
Elle glanced at them, exhaustion making her shoulders roll forward slightly. The man was in his early fifties, handsome and knew it. He looked nothing like the photos from his books. He thrust his hand out first and introduced himself, "David Rossi. My apologies for interrupting earlier, Miss…?"
"Monteagudo," Elle replied softly, her mother's maiden name rolling off her tongue. Rossi was a charmer, just like Spencer had said, and he knew how to use his smile to mask how he was now assessing her. Elle made sure her handshake was soft, clasping only his fingers instead of the firm web-to-web, palm-to-palm grip that every female LEO had to master if they were going to have a shot at their male colleagues respecting them.
"Emily Prentiss," the woman said, shaking her hand with the typical near-crushing grasp before placing her other hand over Elle's. "Thank you." Her sincerity was almost overwhelming. Her gaze then focused on Spencer, worry washing across her face. "He gave us quite a scare."
Elle only nodded as she extracted her hands from Prentiss' grip. Anxiety welled up as did panic. As much as she wanted to be there for Spencer, dealing with her and Gideon's replacements was just too much. If it was Morgan, JJ or Garcia standing there—hell, even if it was Hotch—she would stand her ground. She would defiantly hold Spencer's hand and refuse to give up her seat next to him.
I have every right to be here. You're the idiots who don't watch his back! How could you let this happen to him?
Rossi and Prentiss? They probably only knew her by the rumors that floated around the Bureau. Elle Greenaway, the BAU agent who got shot and then six months later, put a bullet in William Lee claiming self-defense. Elle Greenaway, who only lasted a little over two years with the BAU before slinking away in disgrace.
She was never one to run from a situation, no matter what people thought. But she was not going to stay here and be ruthlessly profiled by these two.
Elle bent down and retrieved her purse, the rosary still wound around her left hand. As she straightened, Rossi had moved forward, fingertips barely touching her elbow. His tone was oh-so-conversational as he asked, "How do you know Spencer?"
As if the bastard hadn't already figured out who she was. Really.
There were a lot of things she could say. Most of them shock-worthy. All of them true. Elle opted for the simple, "I'm a friend," followed by, "Excuse me."
Her exit wasn't graceful or smooth, her steps a bit quicker than she wanted them to be. Fearing Prentiss would follow, Elle took the elevator to the fourth floor, found a single person restroom, and locked herself in. It wasn't until after she had peed, flushed the toilet and washed her hands that she looked into the mirror to see what image she had presented to Rossi and Prentiss.
No make up. Hair slightly frazzled. Small gold cross on a delicate chain catching the light from the overhead.
She looked like a nun.
But Elle didn't laugh.
A sob ripped through her, sending her to her knees as the tears followed next. She didn't want to think about why she was crying.
It hurt too damn much.
The first words that Spencer Reid said when he regained consciousness and met her gaze were: "Morgan ate my Jell-O."
No, "Elle? How? Why? What are you doing here?" or "I must have been really sick" or "I've missed you". She wanted to be upset, but she couldn't be.
Elle arched an eyebrow at him as she repeated, "Morgan ate your Jell-O."
Spencer nodded, looking pathetic as his lips formed a sleepy pout. "He wouldn't share."
"Do you want me to go kick Morgan's ass?"
"Does it mean I get some Jell-O?"
"I'll kick Morgan's ass and get your Jell-O. How does that sound?" She laughed and cradled his cheek with her hand.
He raised his to cover hers. "Perfect."
"But I get to kick your ass first. You did something stupid, didn't you?"
His smile was weak but genuine. "Guilty as charged."
"Idiot," she said as she leaned forward and brushed her lips against his forehead. "Genius idiot." She squeezed his hand.
"I'm sorry, Elle," he said softly.
"Hey." She pulled back just enough so she could meet his gaze. "I know you can't talk about it, but I know you had a damn good reason for doing whatever you did."
His smile was soft and a little lopsided. "Does that mean you're still going to kick my ass?"
"I had a dream I was in my college Latin class," Spencer murmured as his eyes drifted close. "Weird."
"That's because Prentiss, Rossi and I were all praying for you. In Latin. Two whole Mysteries worth."
His eyes opened. He raised an eyebrow. "Praying?"
She grinned. "Yep. And just so you know, mister, there better not be a next time. Else I'm bringing in the live chickens, the candles and the incense and I'm going to paint a pentagram around your bed."
She grinned. "Call it an incentive."
"Elle?" said with such stunned disbelief that she jerked her head up at the sound of his voice.
Morgan. A cup of coffee in one hand, a magazine in the other. The latter fell to the floor.
"Girl, what are you doing—"
Elle rocketed to her feet, her grip firm on Spencer's hand. Except for their brief verbal exchange two hours ago, Spencer continued to sleep. Now, one part of her was demanding that she be the demure woman who had gracefully retreated from the assessing gazes of Rossi and Prentiss. The other saying, Fuck that! This sonofabitch let Spence get hurt!
Don't embarrass Spence, a third part chimed in, followed by, Remember what you promised him. It was that part that prompted her to say: "You ate his Jell-O."
Morgan's mouth dropped open. "Jell-O?"
"Spencer wakes up and the first thing he says to me is that you ate his Jell-O!" she accused.
The coffee cup hit the floor. "Elle…"
"You ate his Jell-O." Tears sprung to her eyes unexpectedly.
"He trusted you!"
He took a step back. His eyes traveled from her tight grip on Spencer's limp hand to her eyes. His gaze focused suddenly on the floor. "One minute he was next to me. The next he's locked himself in the lab of some fucking lunatic. We tried to get him out, but Hotch…"
"Don't you dare pawn off the blame, Derek!"
His face crumpled with shame. "Elle, I never meant for this…"
"You ate his Jell-O!"
Morgan's shoulders rolled forward. His chin dropped to his chest. "I fucked up, Elle. Okay? I get it."
"Spencer's family, you jackass."
"Good God, girl! Don't you think I know that?"
She let go of Spencer's hand and stormed up to him. "No, I don't."
He grabbed the door frame and slumped against it. "Please, Elle…"
"I knew you were a selfish bastard, Derek. I learned that lesson in Jamaica," she spat. "But this?" She leaned in, forcing him to meet her gaze. "God damn you. God damn you to hell."
"I'm sorry, Elle." His voice was hoarse, choked. Pleading. "I'm so goddamned sorry."
She stormed out of the room before she did something incredibly stupid, like slap the bastard hard across the face.
Even if Derek Morgan fully deserved it.
The hazard of what we do, Spencer had written from Boston just a few weeks before, is that no matter where we are, we know the places to go. It was such a grave message for a postcard with a bulldog wearing sunglasses and riding on a duck boat.
He was right. Elle could get to Anacostia via the Metro or drive to the Travelodge in Silver Spring. Both were about a twenty-minute commute. If she went to Silver Spring, she could even check in to the Travelodge or the Days Inn, pop the pills and wash it down with gin, and simply go numb.
Then again, why travel all that way when all she had to do was sit down at a bar—like she was currently doing—and order a drink?
It would certainly beat the way her hands were shaking, shaking that hadn't stopped since she marched out of Spencer's room after yelling at Morgan. She had been angry. Furious.
She blinked back tears.
"What'll ya' have?" the bartender interrupted her thoughts.
The order spilled off her lips without so much as a second thought: "Tanqueray on the rocks with lime."
Because that was comfort. It was something she knew. Something she understood. One little drink wouldn't hurt. It would help ease the ache in her chest. It would numb the self-hatred.
It would silence that harsh little voice inside her head that told her daily that what she had done in Dayton had been the only option. It had been the right thing to do. That Mister Upstanding Citizen had done the exact same thing in New York when he'd shot that vigilante killer. She couldn't let William Lee be her personal version of Aaron Hotchner's Iowa, a criminal set free to continue to commit heinous acts.
The glass was plunked in front of her. "Start a tab?"
She nodded, sliding her hand forward and wrapping her fingers around the glass.
One little sip.
Just one little sip.
A sip to celebrate that Spencer was alive.
A sip to celebrate that Spencer was going to make a full recovery.
A sip to take the edge of the overwhelming feeling of loss.
A sip to wash away the memory of fresh smelling paint and a wall that should have had blood on it…
A sip to sluice the ache of Hotch's fierce protectiveness, his willingness to call the black sheep of the BAU because he somehow knew Elle and Spencer had continued their friendship.
A sip to ease the unadulterated pain of being faced with Morgan's loyalty to Reid, loyalty he certainly never showed her while she had been in the hospital.
"There's a joke in here somewhere," a new voice broke in. "Guy walks into a bar, sees a nun ordering a drink…"
Elle looked over her shoulder to find Rossi standing there, half-grin on his face but his eyes… well… that was something else. She wanted to be surprised, but then reminded herself that just a few hours ago, she pummeled Morgan's ego into the dust. Spencer had mentioned how protective everyone was of each other nowadays. She had caused a scene and therefore, the new Dad of the team decided to track down the troublemaker. Rossi gestured towards the seat next to her and she nodded faintly before returning her attention to her drink and the television.
Australian Rules Football.
Spencer would have been able to explain it. Maybe.
He always had an aversion to anything sports-related. She didn't blame him.
Rossi flagged down the bartender and ordered his drink. Scotch. Single-malt, aged. It fit the description Spencer had given of him. What Elle hadn't expected were the words tacked on the end, "On the rocks."
"Someone in Scotland is cursing your name," she said, wondering why she was even starting this conversation. He probably figured out who she was, especially if he had spoken to Morgan prior to coming here. But she doubted he purposefully tracked her down. She wasn't that important.
No. He came here, like any reasonable person who had to witness a teammate almost die, to take the edge off.
"Someone in Scotland can kiss my ass," he shot back with a grin. "It's how I drink it. Now wine? That's a different story."
"So, is Monteagudo your married name?"
Elle couldn't help but laugh. Direct. To the point. If Rossi had been there after Georgia, Spencer… she shook her head. Garcia had always been fond of saying, Things happen for a reason. She favored Rossi with an arched eyebrow as she released her hold on her drink. "I thought you said I was a nun."
"I said there was a joke about it," Rossi replied easily. "You could be a Bride of Christ, but..." He paused as his gaze narrowed slightly, confirming that indeed, he knew exactly who she was. "Somehow I doubt that a Bride of Christ would have given Derek hell about Jell-O."
"You obviously didn't go to Saint Saviour Elementary," she retorted.
"Ah... Brooklyn, then?" he asked. She nodded, knowing that her accent was for the most part gone, but those from New York could always hear it. She'd worked hard on it once she'd left home, to give people one less thing to judge her on. Rossi's own accent was a funky cross between a diminished New York one mixed in with a little flavor of Chicago. "I'm from Commack, myself."
"Just up the street," Elle snorted.
The bartender returned, plunking Rossi's drink in front of him. He was quick with his wallet, flipping out twenty dollars and saying, "Mine and the lady's."
A cold chill washed through her. "You don't have to—"
"You're a friend of Spencer's," he cut her off. "And we're celebrating that he's gonna make it after scaring the hell out of us. So… cheers." He picked up his glass.
She knew that he could read her instant panic, knew that her darting glance to her own drink and her hesitation gave everything away.
Did she really want to be that person Spencer found in Miami those months ago?
She fumbled for her purse.
Rossi set his glass down. There was a gentleness to his tone as he said, "Hey."
"Look, Agent Rossi—"
Her voice caught in her throat. Elle managed to get her purse open and dug out her wallet, pulling out bills with a shaking hand.
He reached over, ready to cover her hand with his. "It's okay."
"Stop," Elle hissed and flung the money on the counter. "Just stop." She pushed away from the counter as she stood, stumbling slightly.
Rossi steadied her by the elbow, but she jerked away. He was saying something, but she couldn't hear him over the roar in her ears or her own staccato footfalls as she dashed out of the bar.
At least he didn't follow.
"Where are you?" Spencer rasped demandingly over the phone; there was no mistaking the annoyance or outright worry.
"I work the graveyard shift, Spence, remember?" Elle retorted as she curled around the pillow in her bed a bit more. Since escaping from the bar, she had gone back to her hotel room, locked herself in, and huddled under the covers. She'd turned away housekeeping twice already. For a semi-crappy hotel, it was surprising how aggressive the cleaning staff was. "This is my bedtime."
There was a long pause and then a frustrated sigh. "Morgan brought me Jell-O. As in every flavor the hospital had."
"You wanted Jell-O. I got you Jell-O," she told him, making sure to keep her tone light and airy. As if that was going to fool Spencer. "And now I'm resting up so I can kick your ass tomorrow for doing whatever you did that you can't talk about."
"Elle…" He coughed suddenly and she winced at how painful it sounded. "Where are you? Specific hotel. Room number."
"Like they're going to release you today." She pulled the covers up over her shoulder, willing herself to warm up. "And even if they did, do you seriously think you're up to a booty call?" She forced a laugh at the last part, failing miserably.
The silence was grating. Then, softly "Rossi said he found you in bar," but there wasn't any accusation or disappointment.
It was her turn to cough, bile racing up her throat. She growled, "Don't even go there, mister."
"I'm so going there, Elle," Spencer fired back. "What hotel? What room number?"
"Or what? You're gonna—"
"I'll do whatever I have to do to make sure you're okay. We had a deal."
"Stop it, Reid." Panic began pouring through her as her entire body tensed.
"No." There was another harsh barking cough. "I made a mistake, Elle. I went off on my own. I got sick. I almost died. My career is a drinking game, remember? Now. What hotel? What room number?"
"This conversation is over, Reid," Elle snapped and hit the 'end' key on her cell phone. She tossed on in the bed knowing Spencer would call back because was predictable that way. She glared at the phone, daring it to ring.
I hate the introductions the most, Spencer had written on the postcard from Portland six months ago; a rose garden was featured on the front as were the words 'City of Roses'. Was he daring her to profile his mood based on the type of card he sent? His messages ranged from obscurely cryptic to blunt; Elle always wondered if it had to do with the brevity required on a postcard or the fact that, well, anyone could read it.
Regardless, Elle understood his sentiment and couldn't have agreed more. Standing up and announcing her first name followed by "and I'm an alcoholic and a drug addict" was always a bit unnerving. Spencer had never felt comfortable with the labels, admitting that his own first-timer introduction was something along the lines of, "My name is Spencer and I'm… I still don't know quite what I am." He had confessed over the phone that he'd been scoffed at, that his refusing to saying that he was an addict was a cop out.
They want me to label myself, Spencer had complained during a rare phone conversation they had. It's not as simply as being a drug addict. Or an alcoholic. Maybe it's the job that makes me see it differently.
She wished she had his courage to say Spencer's lines to this group of strangers. Elle remembered how the local LEOs would almost always immediately dismiss Spencer, thinking him as weak and cowardly. Thinking about it now made her angry and sad.
"A friend of mind almost died," Elle said, staring down at her feet. She didn't know if Spencer went to different meetings when he couldn't attend the Beltway Clean Cops ones, but she doubted he'd ever venture to a meeting in this particular neighborhood. He was brave and, despite what people thought of it, did have a sense of self-preservation. "My friend was the one who helped me get sober. He's the strongest person I know. And today, because he almost died, I sat in a bar, ordered a drink, and almost… almost… I kept telling myself, 'one little sip won't hurt'."
She choked out a laugh and wiped her eyes.
"And you know? It wasn't his voice in my head telling me to stop. I did it on my own. But he heard about me being in that bar and having that drink. And I was so mad at him that he dared question me, I hung up on him. Twelve hours earlier, they didn't know if he was going to make it, but… he was on the phone with me, demanding to know where I was and what I was doing. And I was telling him to go to hell. The man I considered to be my best friend. I never told him that, you know. He doesn't like labels like that. But that's what he is. I still want that drink. I want it. I hope… I hope that I can be as strong as him."
Elle sucked at apologies. Every man she'd ever attempted to have a relationship had cited that as one of the reasons for breaking up. Not the job. No. The fact that she had a difficult time saying she was sorry.
So as she stood at the doorway to Reid's room, clutching the purple hyacinth plant, she glanced at Spencer sleeping and then down to the flowers. Her mind then conveniently flashed through all of her prior boyfriends.
Roberto. Caesar. Ivan. Edgar. Ricky. Jamie. Devon. Carlito. Barry. Paul…
"Apology accepted," Spencer rasped.
It jolted her gaze up and she almost dropped the plant. "You're awake," Elle stuttered and cursed herself. All she wanted to do was sneak in, leave the apology, and get the hell out of town.
"You try abdominal cramps without pain meds," he shot back but there was humor in his voice. She watched as he shifted in bed and fumbled for the controls.
"Try every month there, Spence," Elle found herself retorting. "Now you know what a woman goes through every twenty-eight days."
He nodded, tilted his head to the side, and then asked, "Did you know that women who spend at least three days a week in close contact with other women eventually start to see their menstrual cycles come into sync with each other?"
She laughed and took a step into the room. "So you're saying all hell breaks loose around the BAU every twenty-eight days?"
"The Reese Cups and Dove dark chocolates in my messenger bag aren't for me."
"Where was all that love when I was around?" Elle asked with mock affront. "You never offered those to me."
"You're right, I didn't," he admitted and then paused. He flashed a smart-assed smile. "Oreos are your chocolate thing of choice."
Her mouth dropped open slightly as he waggled his eyebrows and settled a bit in the bed with a smug grin on his face. She wondered if JJ or Prentiss realized that he kept those things on hand for them. She certainly hadn't. She had chalked it up to Spencer's penchant for sugar. Elle took a step closer to him. "I should crown you with this plant."
"Being unconscious beats the cramps."
"Next thing you'll tell me is that you also carry tampons in that bag."
That earned a cough followed by, "A gentleman never tells."
Which meant, of course, he probably did.
Tears unexpectedly welled up in Elle's eyes. She quickly set the plant on the rollaway table and then scooped him up into the best hug she could given how he was sitting. She couldn't help but sob softly against him, chanting "I'm sorry".
"Hey. Hey," he soothed and then simply wrapped his arms around her.
"You have to stop throwing yourself into danger, Spence," she choked out.
"It wasn't intentional," he told her. "I swear to you, it wasn't, okay?" She could feel him smooth her hair, tucking it behind her ear. He sighed. "The only thing that made it bearable was that Morgan wasn't in there with me. I wouldn't have been able to concentrate, to figure out things… You know how restless he gets."
She heaved out a wet laugh as she held him closer and her tears subsided. "I've been stuck on stakeouts with the man. Believe me. I know." Elle then pushed on him a little and swung her legs up into the bed. Wordlessly, they shifted around until they were side by side, her tucked against him. The nursing staff would probably have a fit.
Elle didn't care.
She then blurted quietly, "I didn't have that drink. I…I went to a meeting." She didn't lift her head, just toyed with the fold of his hospital gown. He stroked her bare arm. "God, why the fuck does everything have to be so goddamn complicated?"
He chuckled a little. "I've been told because it makes life interesting."
"I want your life to be boring, Spencer," she admitted. "Hotch called me. Do you have any fucking idea how goddamn terrifying it is to have that man call and tell you that your best friend—" Only friend, her mind corrected and she choked up for a second. He squeezed her shoulder.
"I'm so sorry, Elle." She could hear the regret in his voice, but she was surprised he didn't continue.
She lifted her head and looked at him. His eyes were closed. "You're supposed to say, 'Hotch panicked.'"
He let out a light laugh, opened his eyes, and glanced down at her. He raised an eyebrow. "Hotch? Panic? Are you serious?"
He was attempting to joke, but from his tone, Elle realized that Spencer knew that he…
"Next time," she waggled a finger at him. "And we both know there is going to be a next time because trouble follows you everywhere, Spencer Reid. No lectures on how trouble is a word and/or concept and therefore cannot feasibly follow you or whatever other bullshit line you're about to deliver." She stretched up, face even with his. "Next time, this better not be life and death, or I swear to God..." She trailed off and gave him a hard stare.
Spencer gave a small smile and then leaned forward slightly, brushing his lips against hers. "I'll try. I promise I will try."
"I'm gonna hold you to that, mister," she said as the flush from his touch swept through her body. "Because next time I'm here? It's totally for a booty call."
She reached over and handed him a cup of water.
He drank greedily, handing the cup back to her when it was empty.
He laid back down.
She settled against him.
"I love you, Spence," she whispered.
"I love you, too, Elle," he replied.
They fell asleep.
/ Finis /