Variation on a Theme

A Criminal Minds/House, M.D. Crossover

Coda: Epilogue

"There's an average of 40 moves per chess game, and I'll tell you something, the more I played, the more I realized that every single match, every single chess game, it's really just a simple variation on the exact same theme; aggressive opening, patient midgame, inevitable checkmate." ~ Dr. Spencer Reid

3 months later…

Reid rapped on the glass door to House's office because he hadn't seen anyone in the conference room. House looked up, his eyebrows shooting up in surprise over the tops of his reading glasses. He tossed aside the medical journal he was reading, which looked oddly as though it was written in Hindi, and nodded at Reid to come inside.

"Boy genius," House said, warm amusement in his voice. "What brings you to our humble hospital? You don't look sick, so…"

"I do have a name you know," Reid said, a small grin on his features. "I came to see Dr. Chase, but he wasn't in the conference room."

"He's breaking into our patient's home with Foreman," House said. "Because the guy is a lying liar who lies. Going to arrest me?"

"Off duty," Reid quipped, adjusting the strap of his messenger bag. "Do you know when he'll be back?"

"Within the hour probably," House answered. "Checking up on him?"

"Something like that," Reid replied.

"You've been writing letters and making phone calls," House said without pause, causing Reid to open his mouth a little in surprise, furrowing his eyebrows.

"How did you know that?"

"I may or may not have invited myself over to Chase and Cameron's for dinner," House said, twirling a pen in his hands. "And I may or may not have gone through his mail. Trying to be his therapist or something?"

"No," Reid said, a smidge guarded now. "I just know what he's going through, and when it happened to me, I wanted nothing more than to talk to somebody who understood how I felt, because even though my team was always there for me, it was almost impossible to articulate what I'd experienced. It's gotten easier the farther from the experience I get, but right after it happened…" he trailed off.

"I told him to take two months off after his month of physical recovery," House said, not requiring any further explanation, his eyes fully contemplating the young man before him. "And he came back two weeks early, the idiot. Did Hotchner make you take time off? He seems like he would."

"Two months," Reid said. "Standard procedure for psychopaths sneaking into your life and trying to kill you. The actually nearly dying part added a week onto my sentence."

"What a smart ass remark!" House exclaimed slyly. "I'm impressed, and that's hard to do. Cameron's in the lab, if you want to go pester her."

"I took a class at the FBI academy about being a smart ass," Reid replied with a smirk. "And if you could point me in the direction of the lab, I'll go and talk to Dr. Cameron."

"Down the hall and to the left," House said. "It says 'pathology' in big silver letters. I'm guessing a genius like you can probably find it?"

"I think so," Reid said, shaking his head and not bothering to hide his amusement. He turned to go, spinning on his heel when House spoke again.

"Come back before you go," House said, the faux-innocence in his voice indicating that he was probably up to something. "And bring Cameron with you. I've got a proposal."

"Can't you just…tell me now?" Reid asked, raising one eyebrow, intrigued despite himself.

"Nope," House said simply. "Go on now. Did you bring any of your fellow men in black wannabe colleagues with you?"

"JJ," Reid answered, hand on the door. "She wanted to see Dr. Cameron."

House nodded in acknowledgment, making shooing motions at Reid with his hands.

Reid stepped out, shifting his messenger bag to avoid grazing it against his finally healed stab wound. Stepping through these halls triggered unpleasant memories of his illness, but he shoved them away, focusing instead on the moments he'd spent forging new friendships with House and his team.

That was what he tried to do, anyway.

The team, his family, had been more supportive than ever, and they'd done their best to balance their fierce protective natures along with his need to have space.

And this time, they weren't afraid to confront him if they felt he was slipping in his recovery from the whole ordeal, and they knew that asking him how he was wouldn't break him.

Because he could do this.

If Reid knew anything about himself, it was that he was impressively resilient. Did he have scars? Undoubtedly so.

But he could also rise up with the best of them.

He spotted a familiar blonde ponytail through the glass door to the lab and knocked, thinking he probably shouldn't enter unless prompted. Cameron turned around, a pleased smile on her face. She waved and gestured for him to enter.

"Hi, Spencer!" she greeted him, turning back to her testing equipment. "Give me just one second, let me just start running this gel really quickly."

He watched as she dropped the liquid and shut the lid, sliding off her protective glasses and watching, a small frown replacing her smile.

"Hmm," she said, contemplative. "Not what we thought. Not surprising though, it was only our first diagnosis."

"And in these kinds of cases, the first diagnosis is rarely correct," Reid replied, hearing House's familiar words echo in his mind.

She smiled again.

"You learn quick," she said.

"So I've been told," he quipped. "Sorry to interrupt you during the day, but JJ and I caught an earlier flight."

"I'm so glad she came with you," Cameron said, pushing open the door and leading him back in the direction of the diagnostics office. "Where is she?"

"At the hotel," Reid said, following her lead. "She was up a bit late with Henry, apparently. I told her to take a quick nap."

"Kids will do it every time," she said, and Reid felt her eyes on him, looking for any remaining signs of physical ailment, something to which doctors were obviously prone.

"Your letters and phone calls have helped Robert so much," she blurted, something she'd clearly been waiting to say. "He's been doing better lately. Less nightmares. And knowing someone personally who has been where he's been…that's been irreplaceable. It gives him something to hold onto."

"I'm glad I can help," Reid said, spotting Chase and Foreman in the conference room as they approached. "I know that's all I wanted when it happened to me…someone to talk to who'd been through it. Empathy is a powerful thing."

"It is," she said, nodding in agreement.

They entered and Chase turned around to face them; Reid immediately noticed how much color had returned to his cheeks. He looked skinnier still, than when they'd met, but he'd gained weight since he left the hospital, and that was always a good sign.

"Reid," he said, stepping forward and shaking Reid's hands warmly, a gesture which Reid returned wholeheartedly. "You made it unscathed, huh? Even without the private jet?"

Reid laughed, waving to Foreman who smiled in greeting.

"Fair point, we do get spoiled with the jet, but commercial wasn't too bad," he said, sticking his hands in his pockets. "And besides, taking commercial flights for pleasant trips is much better than taking them for cases. Although I don't care much for the germs that run rampant on airplanes…"

"Geez, enough already with all the sappiness," House said, cutting in on what was sure to be a Reid-rant on the statistics of germs in commercial airplanes. "What I want to know is if you two," he said, pointing at Reid and Chase. "Are so attached at the hip that you're coordinating wardrobes. Did I miss something, or are sweater vests popular again?"

Reid looked across at Chase's navy and green striped sweater vest, still visible under his lab coat, then down at his own dark purple version.

"Great minds think alike'?" Reid asked, shrugging his shoulders in response.

"Great geeks, more like," House said, and Chase sent him a glare, narrowing his eyes, but still looking the tiniest bit amused. "So," he said switching gears. "What is the mod squad up to tonight?" There was a curiosity in his tone that was anything but innocent, and Reid saw Chase catch Cameron's eye, while Foreman looked concerned but also very much like he was trying to stop himself from laughing.

"We were…going to have dinner?" Cameron said slowly, unsure. "Since Spencer and JJ are here?"

"Why are you phrasing it like a question?" House asked. "You either are or you aren't. I'll be there at six."

Cameron's eyes widened, and Reid saw ghosts of the previous dinners House mentioned earlier in her eyes, but still clearly didn't have the heart to tell him no. And neither did Chase, not after what they'd all been through three months ago, all they continued to go through.

"You can come," Chase said, one hand resting on his hip. "But no playing with the candles…last time you almost set the cat on fire and he still hasn't recovered."

"And no red wine in the living room," Cameron added, furrowing her brow. "I'm still getting those spots out."

"And…" Chase started saying, but House abruptly cut him off.

"Jesus Christ, I get it, I get it, shut up already!" he exclaimed. "Man, you two are picky about your house guests' behavior."

"Actually I think they just want to keep their condo in one piece," Foreman said, rolling his eyes. "I think Wilson's damn lucky you haven't destroyed the loft yet. I still can't believe he lets you live there."

"I just got out of the loony bin, Foreman," House said, poking his employee with the edge of his flame-lined cane. "I couldn't live on my own, I might go nuts again, or something. So insensitive. You don't want me to turn into the next serial killer the BAU has to chase, do you?"

Reid smiled broadly, seeing the team he'd come to care for, the team that saved his life, coming together and returning to normal after such horrors had plagued them, after they nearly lost one of their own. Chase chuckled, turning away from Cameron and Foreman, who were still bantering with House, and stepping closer to Reid, eyeing the edge of the book that spilled from the top of Reid's messenger bag.

"Gideon still teaching you to play piano via Skype?" Chase asked, pointing to the book.

"He is, yeah," Reid answered, touching the book, remembering his weekly Skype sessions with Gideon, the last of which Morgan also attended. "It's interesting, I never really thought about playing an instrument, and I always said playing piano was just a lot of math really, but it's…it's so much more than that."

Chase nodded. "I started playing violin when I was a kid, and I actually picked it up again. It's been helpful…I forgot how much I loved it, actually."

"The violin and Mixed Martial Arts classes are a balm for the soul, huh?" Reid teased, referencing the classes he knew Chase was taking to improve his self-defense skills should anything ever happen again.

"Apparently so," Chase said, grinning at him, the far-away look in his eyes still there but much less prominent than before.

It was progress.

"House plays piano," Chase added. "You should get him to show you a few things."

"I heard that," House called from the other side of the room. "And how, pray tell, am I supposed to teach genius here the piano if we eat dinner at your place, where there is not, in fact, a piano?"

"I have a keyboard," Chase protested.

"Blasphemy," House said, but Reid instantly noticed the smile threatening his lips while he looked at Chase, though he clearly tried to suppress it. He turned to Reid. "Now get out of my office, kid, you're such a distraction. If we're going to have a happy family meal together tonight we need to solve our case."

Several hours later Reid got a text from Chase, telling him that the case was solved without much more incident (aside from the patient's wife slapping House in the face, but what was new about that?) and that dinner was on as scheduled. So at quarter of six sharp, Reid knocked on the condo door, JJ at his side holding fresh lilies, which she'd found out were Cameron's favorite. He knocked and moments later Chase answered, dressed hilariously in a red apron, a dusting of flour on his cheek.

"You're just in time," he said, opening the door to let them in before turning to JJ. "Hey there JJ, how are you?"

"Just fine," she answered, leaning in to give him a brief hug. "You look good," she said sincerely, privy to a great deal of the struggles he'd experienced over the past months after talking to Cameron on a fairly regular basis.

"So you traded the sweater vest in for an apron?" Reid asked, raising one eyebrow.

"House started teaching me a couple of weeks ago," Chase said, leading them through the hall and into the open kitchen/dining room. Sometimes he cooks when his leg hurts, so he thought it might help."

"He's not wrong," Reid answered, watching as JJ hugged Cameron enthusiastically, immediately chatting about something. "Cooking has been proven to have therapeutic benefits for some people who experience trauma."

"I read that after House started teaching me," Chase said, moving behind the counter and the dessert he was attending. "I was never much of a cook before," he said, glancing over at Cameron with a smile. "And neither was Allison, really, we just made basic stuff and ordered in a lot. But I think I like this better. I don't know how much time I'll have now that I'm back at work, but I'm going to try."

"So how is being back at work?" Reid asked. "I know you went back earlier than anticipated."

Chase's face darkened slightly, a cloud covering his eyes as he slowed the rolling pin.

"At first I wanted the hell away from the hospital for a while, and as you know, Cuddy gave both Cameron and I the temporary leave of absence after I physically recovered," he said, and for a moment Reid saw him as he'd been right after they'd found him, frightened and shivering with terrible memories. "And at first it was wonderful to just be home. But after a while all the time that wasn't filled with friends coming by or Allison and I going somewhere, the quiet spaces…they were filled with thoughts of what happened. The martial arts and the cooking helped, but in the end, I just needed to get back to work."

"Our jobs are a part of us," Reid said softly.

"They are," Chase said, using the rolling pin again. "I guess I just need the distraction, I needed to know I was helping other people… it made me feel better. I guess it's selfish."

"No," Reid said, shaking his head. "Not even close."

"You've been on a couple of cases since you've been back, right?" Chase asked. "How was that?"

"It was a little easier going back this time than it was with Tobias Hankel, but it still was harder than I wanted it to be," Reid admitted. "But Hotch adamantly refused to let me come back as soon as I wanted, said he made that mistake when the Tobias ordeal happened and that I'd racked up more vacation time than anyone he knew. And he wasn't wrong…taking that time off to recover a bit psychologically made a difference. But my empathy for the victims…it just grew more."

Chase nodded, glancing over at the oven as it signaled that the steaks were ready.

"I can't even watch crime shows just yet," Chase said, pulling the pan out. "Too many flashbacks."

"All those crime shows are the same anyway," JJ piped up as she and Cameron joined the men. "Not even close to how the real thing works."

It fell quiet for a moment While Cameron tended to the potatoes and Chase to the steak, and Reid noticed JJ's eyes watching the couple intently, smiling when Cameron gently brushed the flour from her husband's face and Chase didn't flinch in the slightest. In fact, he leaned over to kiss her cheek.

Chase was still recovering, that was for certain, but Reid was glad to see with his own eyes that Kelly hadn't ruined the relationship between the couple, that Cameron could now touch her husband without him jumping away in terror. Letters and phone calls conveyed a lot of things, but witnessing this moment in person was inherently more powerful. A loud knock at the door broke the serenity of the moment, and when Chase answered the door House was already armed with a snarky comment.

"My, don't you look domestic! Never thought I'd see this from the king of Chinese take-out."

"Be quiet or I'll send out all those pictures I snapped of you in your apron when you came over to teach me how to cook," Chase quipped, and although House feigned horror, Reid also noticed the clear glint of pride in the older doctor's eyes. Chase could stand nearly toe to toe with House, and few people were capable of such a feat.

"Don't tease me about my apron, chef boy," House said, stepping in with a bottle of scotch in hand. "Tease Wilson, it's his. Like I'd have something that said 'kiss the chef.' As if."

Foreman arrived soon after House, and the six of them sat down to dinner while the sun set in the New Jersey sky, sheaves of sunlight mixing in with shadow through the window. Reid glanced at the stripes created by the blinds; dark, light, dark, light. It was kind of like life, he mused, light always mixing with the dark, the dark mixing with the light. He'd met this team because of something monumentally dark, but now here he was, sharing something with them as normal as dinner.

He couldn't help but think that their meeting was for the best.

He couldn't help but be glad that he'd gained new friends, especially in Chase.

He couldn't help but be glad that he helped Chase through, that JJ helped Cameron through, that House finally admitted that he very much cared about his fellows.

Kelly appeared in his mind, a sadistic smirk curving her lips upward.

"I'll always be there, Spencer," she said, taunting him. "I might be dead but the memory of what I did to you? Of what I did to Dr. Chase? It will always be there. With the both of you. With your teams."

"The memory will be there," Reid said silently, taking the final bite of his steak. "But that doesn't mean we'll let it destroy us…we'll only let it make us stronger. We'll only let it make us better at what we all do; saving lives."

The mental image vanished with one last scowl, and for a moment Reid remembered Kelly circling him with the knife, her breath hot on his neck, remembered Chase breaking down in the hospital room, terrified she would find him again.

Then he remembered the team kicking open the door and pulling Kelly to justice, remembered them surrounding him during the days after Kelly's death, refusing to leave his side, remembered watching Chase recover, watching him fight his fear and let Cameron into the pain of his experience, and navigating the new rawness of his relationship with House.

He focused on the good to wipe out the evil.

House broke out the Glen Livet scotch (because why would anyone drink anything else, he said) and beckoned Reid and Chase over. He took the tumblers Chase handed him and poured three servings, since Foreman and the girls declined, preferring to go for the wine. He handed one to Reid, who looked unsure.

"I'll pass," he said with a wave of his hand. "I don't do much hard liquor."

"No passing allowed boy genius," he said, forcing the tumbler into the younger man's hands. We're drinking to something.'

Cameron, JJ, and Foreman joined their semi-circle with their wine glasses in hand, and House raised his glass.

"To staying alive," he said, and Reid detected seriousness in his tone before he broke into a grin, glancing in turn at the two men beside him. "And to saving the asses of these two pretty boys," he continued, sounding nonchalant even if he was anything but.

"I'll drink to that," Chase agreed, winking at Cameron. "I happen to think I have a fabulous ass."

This sounded infinitely more hilarious in the Australian accent, and Reid nearly spit out his scotch.

"Here, here!" Cameron exclaimed, winking at him, a slight blush in her cheeks.

Reid felt JJ slip her arm into the crook of his elbow, thinking of the offer Will and Morgan had come up with; he wanted to learn more about hand to hand combat in the (seemingly likely) case of something like this happening again, and they'd offered to take turns doing sessions with him.

He was going to take them up on it.

He always depended on his brain and that wouldn't ever change, but now he wanted to try depending on his body, too. He wasn't the biggest or the strongest guy, but he was quick. Plus, his aim had vastly improved over the years.

Stephen King once said that sometimes the monsters won, and Reid knew that was true, but as he looked on at the happy, healing scene before him, he vowed to prevent that for as long as he lived.

A/N: Well, there it is, the final chapter! I do hope you enjoyed it! Thank you a thousand times over to everyone who has stuck with me during this story, to everyone who has read, reviewed, alerted, or favorite…you guys give me the inspiration to keep writing. Now, for some news: due to some requests and because I've had such an amazing time writing this story, I'm working on putting together a sequel, and some the of the details are coming together now. I need to get through NanoWrimo (I'm working on a memoir) and need to get closer to finishing another House fic I'm working on, but then I will start work on the sequel to this, which will take place roughly a year after the epilogue; it will involve House, Chase, Cameron, and Foreman (and maybe Wilson) coming down to Quantico/DC to serve as medical consultants on a BAU case that soon spirals into a potential national crisis.

So be on the lookout for the tentatively titled "A Second Variation" and thank you again!