Title: A Bit of Bosch
'Verse: Triggers & Ties
Original Challenge: The Great Alphabet Meme 2: O is for Obscure
Prompt by ice_ziggee
Author: Kuria Dalmatia
Rating/Warnings: FRT/PG-13 (angst, fluff and amuse-bouche of sex)
Characters/Pairing: Hotch/Reid (established relationship), Jack, Diana Reid
Summary: Jack's experiences with his Grandmom Brooks are far from ideal, but when Jack starts sending drawings to Grammy Reid, it's clear to Aaron and Spencer that their son desperately wants to meet her. Will Jack's experiences with Grammy Reid be the same?
Word Count: ~8,300
ARCHIVING: my LJ and FFNet account... anyone else? Please ask first.
COMMENTS: Unbetaed. Dedicated to LastCrazyHorn and GenerationXHero, because we all want grandparents who love us unconditionally. Inspired by a former coworker who made me look a child's artwork in a whole new way. Thanks to daylyn for the most awesome conversation about Hotch and law school the universe has ever witnessed.
Admittedly, I'm not especially happy with this for a variety of reasons but I made a promise to myself to just post things and stop obsessing. If it sucks, people will tell me. Hopefully, constructively…
Consider this the Hotch/Reid version of "The Grandparent Conundrum" ( http : / kuriadalmatia . livejournal . com / 109026 . HTML ) that I wrote for Rossi/Hotch. I originally wanted to do "grandparents 5 ways," and there are two grandparents featured here, so I guess I'm up to 3 of 5.
TIMELINE: Season 6, prior to "Lauren"
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.
"A child needs a grandparent, anybody's grandparent, to grow a little more securely into an unfamiliar world." –Charles and Ann Morse
Spencer has been writing his mother since the day he left for Cal-Tech. Every day that he can, he sits down with his Mont Blanc pen that she gave him for his high school graduation and the same plain cream-colored linen stationary he's been using for years. In the upper left corner, he writes the date in the European format (date first, month second, year third) because that's what his mother prefers. It's followed by the salutation—Dear Mom—on the right hand side. He indents each paragraph. He's careful with his penmanship—Diana Reid has always been a stickler for legible cursive—and he's thoughtful about what he commits to paper.
Crossed out words have a tendency to set his mother off, even on a good day.
Writing letters is a habit. Spencer really doesn't think much of it. There's never a specific time when he writes, but it's usually in the evenings after dinner. He fixes his coffee, which is heavy on the cream but light on the sugar (which would shock his coworkers but not Aaron), and sits down with his pen and paper, organizing his thoughts to a cohesive narrative.
Tonight, he's at the communal desk in Aaron's … in their home. Spencer is still adjusting to the whole 'moving in with Aaron and Jack' although this is the sixty-seventh night that they have cohabitated.
Cohabitate. He laughs to himself about his own wording. So clinical. So … impersonal. His relationship with the Hotchner men is anything but impersonal.
Spencer loves Aaron. Aaron loves Spencer. They both love Jack. Jack calls Aaron "Daddy" and Spencer by his first name, although Jack will proudly declare that he has two dads.
Diana Reid knows all of this. Spencer is dutiful and honest about his relationship with Aaron, although he has never really committed it to paper. He told his mother in person about Aaron and Jack. When he did, Aaron was there to meet her as Spencer's lover, not as Spencer's boss. Diana then insisted on speaking with Aaron alone, with that edge to her voice that worried him but Aaron seemed nonplussed about.
Then again, Aaron already had experience meeting the in-laws.
Whatever his mother and Aaron talked about, neither disclosed. The few times Spencer presses his lover about the conversation, all Aaron says is, "It was a conversation between me and your mother" in tone that conveys he will not discuss it further. Spencer knows his mother will never speak of it.
It can't be anything too bad, else Aaron would have surely said something. Maybe it was something as mild as, "I'll scratch your eyes out," which is his mother's usual threat.
There are rare occasions that his mother writes back, and after Aaron was introduced as Spencer's lover, there's always a letter addressed to "Aaron Hotchner, Esquire" sealed in a separate envelope. "Esquire" is an honorific that Aaron could use because he keeps his Virginia ABA credentials active, but he doesn't; "SSA" is the designation that Aaron prefers. Still, Aaron takes the envelope, blushes a little, and reads it while sitting next to Spencer. When he's finished, he wordlessly offers it to Spencer, but Spencer (despite his curiosity) declines.
He knows that if it is something important, Aaron will share, such as his mother's specific request that Jack should address her as Grammy. Spencer knows that if his mother intended for the letter to be read by him as well, she would address it to both of them. The fact that his mother writes to Aaron separately is a yet another indication of her acceptance; the way she writes Aaron's name indicates affection as well.
There are some days Spencer wishes he could turn the profiler part of himself off, especially when automatically analyzing the swoops and the slants to determine what mood she was in when she wrote.
For tonight's letter to her, Spencer references Mark Twain since their case involved four college-age girls whose bodies were found twelve-feet deep along the banks of the Mississippi near Hannibal, Missouri. It's not so much an obscure reference, but the connection of the name and the river depth was one that few would get right away. Samuel Langhorne Clemens took his pseudonym from his days as a river boat pilot; "mark twain" meant that it was safe to navigate. Spencer does not write directly about the case, just that they visited Hannibal, Missouri as part of their investigation and he wishes he would have had more time in the city to visit the historic landmarks.
He's so engrossed in his letter, the precise strokes of the pen and the perfection of his cursive, that he doesn't notice that Jack has crept up beside him, silent and wide-eyed. It's only when Spencer sets the pen to the side and cracks his knuckles—he has a habit of holding the pen too tight—that Jack speaks up.
"Whatcha doin' Spencer?"
Spencer jumps a little, still not used to Jack just appearing. It's a gift that Jack obviously inherited from Aaron: the ability to sneak up on someone without anyone noticing.
Aaron calls from the couch, "Jack, why don't you come here? Spencer is busy right now."
Jack's expression falls from bright curiosity to a despondent pout. There are rules in their new home; Jack has to knock and ask before he enters Aaron's or Spencer's offices because they tend to bring work home with them. Yet Spencer is at the communal desk, the one that is between the kitchen and the family room, because the paint is still drying in his own office. This location is fair game according to the rules, so Spencer feels a bit guilty about the reprimand, no matter how slight.
"I'm writing a letter," Spencer says instead. Jack's gaze darts from where his father is sitting on the couch back to Spencer. Clearly, the child is confused, so Spencer offers up a warm smile. "It's okay that you asked."
Because, really, it is.
Spencer has no clue where Jack's accent comes from; it's a Virginian drawl with an occasional Maryland twang and sounds nothing like Aaron. Maybe it's just how children speak; they mimic what they hear and Jack's around a lot of native Virginians in school. The only time Aaron's native accent bleeds through is when he's exceptionally tired, half-awake, or uses certain colloquialisms.
Jack's question makes Spencer pause. Aaron knows the answer, yet he's making no move from the couch to come and explain to Jack. It's a predicament in which Aaron's clearly saying, You brought it up, you explain it.
Jack knows that Diana Reid is sick. They used nearly the same analogy for Spencer's mother as they had done for Grandmom Brooks. Grammy Reid—and, man, is it strange to refer to his mother that way—Grammy is in a hospital in Las Vegas, which is very far away, and she can't be visited often nor can she travel to see them because she's sick.
It's a simplistic explanation, but one that Jack accepts.
They rarely talk about Grammy.
Jack's experiences with Grandmom Brooks obviously taught him better. Mary Catharine Brooks is a mean-spirited, self-centered woman. Granted, the lung cancer that ravaged her body took a toll on her emotionally, of course. But from the little that Spencer has observed personally (Mary Catharine dismissed him with a flick of her wrist before Aaron could explain that he wasn't a "doctor" doctor) and the rare times Jessica vented in his presence … Mary Catharine Brooks was narcissistic to begin with; her illness only exacerbated it.
So when Jack showed up with his "bestest drawing for Grandmom" and Mary Catharine ruthlessly dismissed his efforts, using the words "pathetic" and "lame" and "worthless," Jessica and Aaron went into damage control mode. Jack has Aaron's stoicism when his feelings are hurt, so the boy went over to a corner of the room, sat down, and refused to talk to anyone.
When they got home, Jack immediately ran to Spencer, and only then did he cry. Spencer struggled with keeping his own anger out of his voice as Jack sobbed that he didn't understand what he did wrong. Spencer doesn't like to gloss over things like that, to make up some bullshit excuse in order to maintain an adult's public image. He supposes he gets that from his mother, who always insisted on treating him like an adult because he understood. There are days, though, when he wishes that she hadn't been so … blunt.
It was why he explained how medications made people 'not be themselves. Like when you're really really tired and you say things to you don't really mean.' Except that Spencer knows Mary Catharine means all those spiteful things.
It was the last time Jack visited Mary Catharine.
Spencer knows that his own mother will never intentionally be cruel to Jack, that she will love him and spoil him and to all the things that a grandmother is supposed to do … but she has to be having a good day and lately, those have been fewer and fewer. Diana has expressed that she wants to eventually meet Jack, but there's a hesitation. Spencer really doesn't want to explain to Jack why Grammy doesn't know who he is, why Grammy is lecturing an empty room, and why no one can sit in the chair to her left because it's reserved for Sir Thomas Malory.
He has a hard enough time with that himself.
Quietly, oh so quietly, Jack asks, "Can I draw her a picture?" although it comes out as, Canna-draw-er-uh-pik-shure?
Spencer can see Aaron twitch, but he's not sure if it's because of the request or Jack's accent. Still, he offers another smile and says, "Of course. What will you draw?"
Jack thinks for a long moment, brow furrowed just like Aaron does when he has to make a decision. Shyly, he asks, "Can I draw us? Me and Daddy and you and Aunt Jessie?"
Spencer's heart aches, because he remembers the day Jack came home after a visit with Grandmom Brooks, when his drawing of his family was cruelly dismissed as immoral and the work of the Devil. Jack refused to draw for three days, and when he finally did, Grandmom Brooks no longer appeared in his works.
"Of course," Spencer tells him.
"Okay," Jack says and dashes off to his room.
Ten minutes later, Jack charges out with a crayon drawing clutched tightly in his fist. Jack presents it proudly to Spencer, explaining the figures with excitement. He points to the stick figure on the side, surrounded by bright colors and rainbow that does not conform to ROYGIB. "And that's Grammy and the sun is shining for her so she can get better!"
Aaron wanders over from the couch as Spencer accepts the drawing. Jack squirms as he waits for the verdict on his efforts. Aaron says, "It's very nice, Jack. You used a lot of colors."
"Colors are happy!" Jack declares. "And I want Grammy to be happy."
The statement catches Spencer off-guard. It takes a few seconds for him to recover, because this outpouring of affection for a woman that Jack has never met is overwhelming. He clears his throat and offers his best smile. "You're very kind, Jack. This is very thoughtful of you."
Jack takes a deep breath and then addresses Spencer directly, "Will Grammy like it?"
Hello, loaded question.
"I'll ask her in my letter, Jack," he says lamely, because really, it's the most he can do. "But Grammy is sick so she may not be able to tell me right away."
Spencer blinks. "Okay?" because he's ready for the young boy to interrogate him. Apparently Jack has picked up that habit from him.
"Okay." Jack nods firmly and looks up at his father. "Will you play dinosaurs with me?"
"I would love to play dinosaurs with you, Jack," Aaron says and then growls out a "Rarhr!" He scoops up their son, who shrieks delightedly as Aaron tickles him, and both Hotchner men take off toward the family room.
"I'm a T-Rex!" Jack announces.
Aaron cheerfully fires back, "Well, then. I'm a Gigantosaurus!" They go back and forth naming different species.
At the desk, Spencer sits and stares at the drawing. He's proud. Damn, he's proud.
The following night, Spencer begins writing his mother at the communal desk—the noise from the television and his family soothing—and Jack is at his elbow.
"You write her every day?" Jack asks.
"Yes, because I can't visit her every day," Spencer replies.
"But Aunt Jessie and Daddy don't visit Grandmom Brooks every day."
"Well, they're respecting Grandmom Brook's wishes. She doesn't want visitors every day," Spencer reasons. Aaron's hand is warm and reassuring on his shoulder.
"Spencer's right," Aaron tells their son. "One the days she has treatments, she doesn't want people there."
"Does Grammy have treatments?" Jack asked.
"They're different," Spencer began, but stopped when Aaron squeezed.
Jack says, "Okay," and takes off for his room again.
Confused, Spencer briefly stares at the door to Jack's bedroom.
Aaron kisses him affectionately and then head back over to the couch.
A little later, Jack appears with a drawing. He hands it to Spencer. "This is for Grammy."
Spencer smiles. He accepts the drawing, immediately dissecting the meanings behind the colors and the proximities of the stick figures. He knows he shouldn't, but he just can't help it. "Thank you."
The next four nights, Jack delivers drawings to Spencer.
Spencer thanks him and makes sure Aaron sees them before sliding the page into the envelope with the letter.
Neither comment on the scenes or the obvious meanings behind the colors and the positions of the figures, but it is obvious.
Jack desperately wants to meet Grammy Reid.
All the other kids in school talk about how awesome their grandparents are: the fabulous trips, the late night snacks, and toys that Mommies and Daddies don't allow but Grandmoms and Granddads do.
All Jack has is a vicious bitch in a nursing home and a crazy granny in a sanitarium.
It really isn't fair.
They're called on a case that keeps them away from home for eleven days. Spencer is unsure of how to explain this to his mother, if she's now expecting Jack's art tucked in with Spencer's letters. He supposes he could call Dr. Norman and ask, but doesn't. It's one of the rare times he would rather be ignorant of his mother's opinion on Jack's efforts, good or bad. He simply includes a line that he's traveling and Jack isn't with them.
When he and Aaron get home after the case, there are eleven drawings from Jack waiting on the communal desk. They are all addressed to "Grammy" in Jack's still-developing handwriting. Jessie doesn't seem angry, but a bit sad. Spencer knows it isn't because Jack no longer includes Mary Catharine in his artistic efforts. She's the one who insisted that Jack not to visit Mary Catharine any more, stating that no child should be subjected to that treatment. It's confirmation that, while growing up, Jessie bore the brunt of Mary Catharine's disapproval and domineering ways. Spencer supposes Jessie's sadness comes from knowing that his mother has schizophrenia and that Jack will never have "normal" grandparents.
He's not going to ask.
Jessie updates them on the day's events before she hugs them both. Aaron has already checked in on Jack once, but after Jessie leaves, he and Spencer both go into Jack's room and stare at the slumbering child. Spencer's never thought he'd ever be a father-figure to anyone, but this? This feels right.
They exit Jack's room, closing the door until it's only open two inches, and begin sorting through the mail on the communal desk. There is a letter addressed to "Aaron Hotchner, Esquire" with the return address from Bennington. There is not one for Spencer.
Aaron opens the letter and pulls out the pages, checking to see if Diana had put one for Spencer in there but she hasn't. Spencer tries his best not to be jealous as he sits as the desk and goes through the rest of the mail. Aaron is embarrassed and goes over to the couch to read it.
Letters from his mother are rare. Spencer treasures them, because when she writes, her prose is beautiful and reminds him of the woman who read him stories as a child. Not the broken one locked away in a sanitarium.
Aaron returns, eyes damp, and there's a blush on his cheeks that Spencer is not expecting. The letter is still in his hand as he says, "She'd like to meet Jack."
Spencer knows he's scowling because, well, it's his mother not Aaron's and he can't help the irrational jealously he feels. His mother's unconditional acceptance not only of Aaron but of Jack is something that so many children wish for but never receive. He closes his eyes and counts to ten before looking over at his lover, an apology on his lips.
Aaron gives a light nod, indicating that sorry isn't necessary, and places the letter on the desk.
"Your mother … she says …" Aaron gestures towards it but doesn't finish his sentence. He abruptly heads into the kitchen. It's late and Spencer hasn't written his letter yet, so Spencer knows Aaron's gone in to make coffee for him.
It takes a few moments for Spencer to pick up the letter and read it; after the first paragraph, it's easy to see why the words affected Aaron so much. While he never writes about Aaron's insecurities about raising Jack, Spencer has included his own doubts, agonizing over if he could be a good role model and things like that.
The jealousy drains away as he reads his mother's words.
… It is clear my grandson is cherished by his two fathers and his aunt, something that a mother wishes for her children … I wish to meet this remarkable young man in person. I would also like to spend time with his fathers, who have done an exceptional job as his parents …
Spencer refolds the letter and tucks it back in the envelope. He walks into the kitchen and watches as Aaron fills the carafe with water.
"I know that…" Aaron begins as he turns off the faucet. He goes over the coffee maker and pours the water in. "I know that there are good days and there are bad days and we can't guarantee that Jack will have a good experience." He turns, resting his hip against the counter. "I want to say that Jack's too young, that he won't understand, but I see his drawings …"
He doesn't have to say, You know how much Jack wants to meet her. They're both surprised Jack hasn't outright asked. Then again, Spencer realizes that this is similar to what Jack had done for Mary Catharine. Jack drew pictures to give to Grandmom Brooks; Jessie delivered them and always told Jack how much Mary Catharine loved them. Yet when Jack visited that last time, Mary Catharine … Yeah. Jack is a smart and very observant child. Young, but still aware enough that he doesn't want his feelings to be hurt again.
"I don't want to get his hopes up, us show up and she's having a bad day," Spencer replies quietly, toeing the floor with the tip of his shoe. "I don't think he'll understand why we came out all that way and he can't meet her. I don't want him to think she's rejecting him." He doesn't have to say, Like Mary Catharine did. "She wouldn't."
"I know that," Aaron says as he closes the distance between them. "But if we're there … well, I'm sure we can come up with something."
"Then … you're okay with …"
"I want him to meet her," Aaron tells him firmly, softly. "He needs to. We'll just find a way to make it work."
And Spencer knows they will.
They always do.
It takes five months until they're finally able to wrangle a four-day weekend. Jack continues to draw pictures for Grammy on the nights that they're home, but he's forgetful when Aaron and Spencer aren't there. Spencer wonders if it's better that way, because eventually Jack will grow out of coloring. There are no additional letters from Diana Reid addressed to any of the family, although Spencer has been expecting one for Jack to show up sometime soon.
Although they've painstaking explained that Grammy Reid may not be able to see them, that her doctor had to say it was okay after they arrived, neither is sure that Jack fully comprehends it. Doctor Norman has been encouraging in his reports, saying that the pending visit had given something for Diana to focus on and she has been doing very well.
Spencer hopes it lasts long enough to get one good hour. Aaron's outrageously optimistic, hoping for a day.
The flight from DC to Vegas is tedious; flying commercial always is. At first, Jack has a hard time sitting still and asks repeatedly (and loudly) why they didn't take "Daddy's work jet" to Vegas. Most of the passengers chuckle while one or two roll their eyes. Once they hit the ten-thousand feet mark, Aaron pulls out his personal laptop and queues up a movie for Jack. The headphones are a little large but Jack doesn't complain. An hour into the flight, Jack's curled up against Aaron and sleeping soundly. Spencer listens to the audio book he downloaded as he tries his best not to fidget.
He's beyond nervous.
Aaron's hand settles on his and squeezes gently. "We'll make it work," Aaron tells him.
And just like that night in the kitchen, Spencer knows they will.
They always do.
By the time they deplane and pick up their rental car, it's late in the afternoon. Their hotel isn't on the Strip, but closer to Bennington. Still, they head out to the Strip for dinner, stopping by the Bellagio so that Jack and Aaron can watch the synchronized fountains, the MGM Grand so Jack can see the lion habitat indoors, and finally to the Paris Hotel to go to the top of the half-scale Eiffel Tower replica. The view is stunning, especially at dusk, which is why tickets are more expensive in the evening.
Jack is fascinated and asks nonstop questions. Spencer points out the usual landmarks and, when Jack asks where Grammy lives, he dutifully pointed in the direction of Bennington. Jack is disappointed that Grammy won't be able to see him waving, but cajoles Aaron into waving as well, just in case Grammy can see them.
Dinner is at a restaurant closer to their hotel; and by the time they get back to the hotel, Jack is ready for bed. It doesn't take much to get him to change into PJs, brush his teeth, and clamber into the bed he's claimed. Aaron and Jack read a story together followed by Spencer reciting one to them.
With Jack tucked in and fast asleep, Spencer and Aaron go to the private balcony, stretching out on the two lounge chairs which they've pushed together. They hold hands as they silently gaze out into the Nevada desert. They don't get time to do this that often, even at home.
"You're nervous," Aaron finally says.
"And you're not?" Spencer doesn't have to add, especially after the fiasco with Mary Catharine.
"We're meeting your mother in the gardens, right?" Aaron asks instead. Funny that in all this time, Aaron doesn't refer to her by her first name or Mom; he sticks to "your mother." Spencer wonders if she asked Aaron to address her otherwise but Aaron is uncomfortable doing so.
It's not a question he wants to ask tonight.
Spencer hums an affirmative as he rubs his thumb along the side of Aaron's hand. They're not the first family bringing a young child to visit a patient at the sanitarium. They're not the first gay couple doing it either. It just feels that way.
"We'll do fine," his lover declares softly. "We'll do fine."
After a quick conversation with reception, Aaron and Jack head out to the gardens while Spencer makes his way to his mother's room. Doctor Norman meets him halfway and assures him that Diana is still having a good day, that she's been looking forward to this since they announced they were visiting. Unfortunately, he can't stay because of another patient is in need and they're short-staffed today.
Spencer thanks him and shakes his hand. He then walks down the hallway and pauses once he gets close to his mother's door. He closes his eyes briefly and takes a few cleansing breaths. If he's nervous, his mother could potentially feed off that energy and a good day can quickly turn into a bad day.
It's happened before.
Setting his shoulders, Spencer takes the finally few steps to her open door, knocks on the frame like he's supposed to, and calls out, "Mom? It's ..."
He can't finish the sentence as his gaze sweeps over her room.
On the wall, facing the door, are six of Jack's drawings, matted and framed with a small bar light above shining down on them. By her nightstand is another framed drawing and Spencer realizes it's the first one that Jack sent. He's momentarily speechless.
Why didn't Dr. Norman didn't tell him about his? Why?
"Beautiful, aren't they?" his mother inquires as she gets up from her reading chair. Spencer can only nod as she closes her journal and sets it on the chair. "I think my artist has a bit of Bosch in him."
The comment makes Spencer laugh unexpectedly. Hieronymous Bosch was a 15th century Dutch painter known for his exaggerated landscapes and details that included flying fish. In the era of Michelangelo, Raphael, and da Vinci, Bosch's work was more fantastical. Spencer wants to say Jack's work is more modern, like Mark Bradford or Elizabeth Murray or others like them, but Diana's point of reference has always been the 15th century. The Renaissance. The Classics. So he echoes, "Bosch."
His mother walks up to him and cradles his face. "Fatherhood is good for you."
The words make him squirm and blush. He still hasn't completely accepted that Jack considers him his other daddy because there are days when he feels like he has no clue what he's supposed to be doing.
"Jack and Aaron are good for me," he says instead.
"And you are good for them." Diana smiles and then releases his face. "Now, where are your husband and my grandson?" She arches an eyebrow at him. "You did bring them with you, didn't you?"
The word 'husband' still makes Spencer jolt. He and Aaron aren't married and never discussed making it official. Yet, his mother's unconditional acceptance somehow makesit official for Spencer and he can't quite explain it. Aloud, he tells her, "I thought we'd all meet in the gardens."
She shakes her head and then gestures to the framed pictures. "Well, then they must stop by here later. My artist needs to sign his work."
"Mom, Jack hasn't learned cursive yet."
"Then he can print his name," Diana tells him with a stern edge to her voice. "I would like him to sign his works. They are priceless."
Spencer knows that tone; it is better to go along with it for now instead of arguing. So he offers her his arm, she takes it, and they begin walking. Their conversation is a slight variation on what they normally talk about when he visits on her good days: Spencer is still too thin, his work is dangerous, and she worries about him.
They reach the gardens quicker than Spencer anticipated and round the tall hedge to where Aaron and Jack are waiting. Aaron automatically stands up and Jack mimics his father, but stands slightly in front and watches them with wide, curious eyes.
Confident. Brave. Trying so hard to be still but the excitement is rolling off of him.
Stop profiling Jack, Spencer orders himself.
Before Spencer or Aaron can do the introductions, Jack takes a step towards Diana. "Are you my Grammy?"
"Are you my artist?" she asks.
"Mom …" Spencer but Jack interrupts.
"I'm Jack," the boy announces and then points to Aaron. "This is my daddy." Jack then gestures to Spencer. "This is my other daddy. His name is Spencer."
"Spencer is my son and your father is my son-in-law," she tells him. "Do you know what that means?"
Jack concentrates for a moment; his eyes suddenly widen as he beams with joy. "You're my Grammy!"
"And you're my artist," she declares as she kneels down.
For a moment, grandmother and grandson look at each other and neither move. It's clear that Jack's a bit confused about why she doesn't call him her grandson. Spencer takes a step forward, ready to explain, but Jack approaches Diana, hand extended just like his father taught him.
"It's a nice to meet you," Jack perfectly enunciates and sounds distinctly like a mimic of Aaron's own flat accent.
"In person," Diana corrects as she shakes Jack's. "It's nice to meet you in person. I already know you from your works."
Jack frowns, trying to understand what she means. Spencer feels guilty, because he knows his mother is used to dealing with a child who can follow along with adult conversations. At least, he likes to remember that as a child Jack's age, he understood what his mother was saying. He spares a glance to Aaron, who is watching the exchange with a keen interest; Aaron's expression is pleasant but his gaze is intense.
Spencer is about to clarify when Jack asks, "What are works?"
"Your art," Diana answers as she smoothes Jack's hair. The boy has cowlick in nearly the same place as his father. "You send me your artwork which, as a collection, can be called works."
Jack's entire demeanor shifts from excited to wary and shy. He stares at the ground. His voice is now soft and hesitant. "Do you like them?"
Diana's expression changes from loving to ferociously protective. Both Spencer and Aaron take a step forward, fearful of how Jack will interpret the sudden swing in her mood. Yet, the moment is brief as the warmth in her expression returns. She taps Jack's chin lightly until he looks up at her. "I treasure them."
A fat tear rolls down Jack's left cheek. Diana thumbs it away as he whispers, "Grandmom Brooks didn't like what I drew."
"Clearly, she is not worthy of your efforts," Diana states decisively as she pulls the boy in for a quick hug. As she releases him, she slowly stands and holds out her hand. "Will you be so kind as to accompany me to the gallery?"
"Gallery?" Jack echoes.
By this time, Aaron is at his son's side. "Ma'am," he begins in his most respectful and polite tone, but it's clear he's unsure of how to continue. Spencer tries to catch is gaze, but Aaron is too focused on Diana and Jack.
Diana lances Aaron with a stare. Her tone is imperious, haughty. "My grandson has sent me his best works. Of course, they are displayed."
Aaron's mouth snaps shut—obviously, he's never faced her wrath before and doesn't want to risk a blowout in front of Jack—and he finally looks over to Spencer. Spencer mouths, It's okay, and Aaron gives the slightest of nods although his posture is still painfully tense.
"Displayed?" Jack asks with trepidation in his voice.
Spencer watches as his mother gives his son … oh God, yes, his is my son … the kindest and beloved look that he's ever witnessed. Diana says, "My dearest Jack, your artistic efforts are a sight to behold. I am honored to have received such precious works."
"Oh hush, Spencer." She waves him silent. She stands and holds out her hand as she addresses Jack, "Shall we go to the gallery?"
Jack glances over to Aaron, who gives a small nod. Then, the little boy grabs her hand and the two begin walking towards the living quarters of the building. "Tell me about your trip here," Diana says to Jack, and the boy immediately launches into breathless tale about airports, Daddy's jet, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and the Bellagio fountains.
Aaron and Spencer trail a few steps behind, far enough away for Spencer to whisper, "He needs to see this." Spencer surprises himself by not clarifying why; maybe he wants it to have the same impact on Aaron as it did on him.
His lover doesn't reply, just watches as their son chats animatedly with Diana. Spencer knows Aaron is processing his mother's body language and he wants to be annoyed, but he's doing the same thing. The group makes it down the hall without running into any other patients, for which Spencer is thankful.
When they arrive at Diana's room, she pauses ever so slightly. "All great masters have a room dedicated to their works. It's only appropriate that you, my dearest artist, have the same."
Jack doesn't understand; he looks over his shoulder at Spencer to explain but Diana gently ushers him inside. Aaron quickens his pace, which gives Jack the confidence to go inside. Spencer stays a few steps back, listening as his mother makes another reference to Bosch and watching as Aaron reaches the threshold and stops.
Aaron goes stock still before blindly reaching back, searching for Spencer's hand. Spencer takes it and moves to his side. His lover squeezes tightly, the only outward emotion that shows. Aaron's gaze is focused fully on the wall displaying the drawings.
There's acceptance and then there's acceptance.
And if Mary Catharine hadn't ruthlessly hurt Jack's feelings those months ago, Spencer is sure that Aaron would be less receptive to the over-the-top showcasing of Jack's preschool artwork.
Jack chatters rapidly, excitedly explaining the rainbows and the sun and Angel Haley ("She's beautiful," Diana murmurs as her fingers grace the yellow figure. "She is so proud of you.") Then, Jack climbs onto the settee to talk about the three top ones and Diana rests her hand on his shoulder as he does. Aaron's grip on Spencer's hand tightens, causing one of Spencer's knuckles to pop.
The scene is picturesque. Spencer has never been a fan of Norman Rockwell, but after today, he knows he'll have a greater appreciation of the man's works.
He'll also have a greater appreciation of Aaron's hand strength.
He doesn't complain.
Because the pain is keeping him focused and preventing him from hovering close to his mother, worrying that what she says will frighten or confuse Jack.
This whole scene, grandmother doting on grandson, is what he and Aaron hoped for—unconditional acceptance without drama—yet they're both too world-weary to accept it for what it is right away.
Then Spencer hears his mother say, "Of course I have all your works that you have sent me!" He watches as his mother helps Jack hop off the settee before she reaches down and pulls from her nightstand a thick binder that looks like a photo album. Diana leads Jack over to her favorite chair, sets the book to the side, sits down, invites Jack onto her lap (he scrambles up and settles quickly), and then takes the binder. She opens it and asks, "Will you be so kind as to share your insights?"
"Insights?" Jack echoes, confused.
"Like you did for your works in the gallery," Diana explains gently. "I would love to hear your commentary."
Aaron squeezes so hard that Spencer grabs the door frame to keep from dropping to the floor because of the excruciating pain that radiates from his hand. The action causes Aaron to immediately release him and murmur an earnest apology.
"Where are your manners?" Diana suddenly demands, tone and gaze sharp as she stares at the both of them. Jack tenses up as she points to the settee. "Sit down."
"My daddies are being good!" Jack begins to protest.
She hugs Jack closer to her. "Of course they are. But they're making a spectacle! Honestly, Spencer … standing while an artist explains his works! You never done that for Sir Thomas Malory so why are your starting now?"
"We didn't want to interrupt," he says quickly, knowing the excuse is lame, and there's terror that runs through him at the mention of Malory's name. He hopes that Aaron won't press him to explain later, but he has a feeling that Aaron might have figured it out already; Spencer's never explained why he's not a fan of Jack's "invisible friends."
Yet now, Spencer nearly drags Aaron cross the room quickly and they sit down on the settee.
Jack is a bit unsettled, but Diana seems satisfied. "Now … my dearest Jack, where were we?"
"Daddy?" his voice is soft, unsure. He looks wide-eyed at them, clearly torn between the adoration of his grandmother and concern that his father is somehow in trouble.
"It's okay, Jack," Aaron says gently, evenly. "Grammy wants to make sure we're paying proper attention."
"Like when you're in school," Spencer adds.
There's a long pause. Spencer is suddenly worried that the spell has been broken, but then Jack resumes his explanation of whichever drawing they're on. This time when Aaron takes Spencer's hand, it's gentle and soothing.
It's not the first time that Spencer has wondered why nothing in his life has ever been easy. That there are so many landmines that he has to navigate that it's exhausting. Yet as he glances from Aaron over to his mother and Jack, he knows that the difficulties make him appreciate the good times even more.
He never takes a good day for granted. He knows Aaron doesn't either.
Spencer's not sure how long they sit there, but Jack grows increasingly antsy with each page turned. Suddenly, Jack bows his head and whispers, "Excuse me, Grammy."
Diana releases him instantly and the boy darts over to Aaron. His father leans forward and asked quietly, "Jack?"
Jack shifts back and forth before grabbing the front of his pants. Their son still hasn't mastered the art of whispering, so his declaration of, "I hafta potty," is louder than intended.
Aaron immediately nods and takes his hand, ushering Jack out with a quick, "Excuse us," before exiting the room.
Diana watches, a small smile gracing her features. "He's a fine young man."
"Your father will be proud. I hope you find time to visit him while you are here."
Spencer tenses. He knows he's scowling because he was really hoping that she would avoid that subject. He wants to say something petty like, So he can abandon Jack, too? or perhaps, So he can shower Jack with gifts in an attempt to bribe favoritism? While William did try to contact him after the whole Riley Jenkins mess, Spencer pointedly ignores his efforts.
Too much, too late.
It's a subject that Aaron never brings up, probably because he knows that Spencer could turn the tables and pick apart Aaron's own less-than-stellar childhood.
"I'll think about it," is all he can offer. He refuses to promise. Refuses.
"That's all I ask, baby."
She reaches out for him and he moves so that he's kneeling at her side, despite the twinge as he does so. His mother runs a hand through his hair. "This suits you much better."
"Aaron calls it my 'boy band' haircut."
Diana chuckles and then her expression turns dark. "I hope never to meet this Brooks woman. Chastising a child for such a gift. May the plague strike her down."
Spencer doesn't comment, although part of him wants to say, Already done. Instead, he looks at the binder in her lap, noting how each page is inside a plastic page protector. He forces himself to push the analysis aside—he knows better than to try to profile his mother—and instead wonders if she keeps his letters in a binder with such loving attention.
He wonders if she shares them with other patients, like she did for Randall Garner.
"I hope they return soon," Diana states as she straightens her sweater. Her gaze goes blank and distant. "I have a class to teach." Spencer closes his eyes, willing the anger and disappointment to stay off his face. "Oh, Spencer," she chides him softly, "you know I can't allow my TA's to lead the class. Remember what happened last time. Honestly. Since when is William Blake a fifteenth century writer?"
"I remember." It's a lie, but he knows better than to argue. He stands and moves towards the door. He'll need to warn Aaron that his mother's mood has changed and hopefully Jack won't throw a tantrum. Spencer spots them making their way back, and Jack pulls away from Aaron and charges down the hallway.
"Inside voice," he tells him, blocking the door as he holds out his hands to stop Jack from charging into his mother's room.
"They have telly-phones in the potty! Why don't we have telly-phones in the potty?" Jack asks as he runs up to Spencer.
"Ah … Because … your dad and I have cell phones and we don't need them?"
Jack giggles and bounces. By this time, Aaron has caught up and clearly he picks up on Spencer's change in mood.
Spencer meets his lover's gaze. "She has a class to teach."
"Oh." Aaron nods his understanding. "I guess we should be going then."
"We're leaving?" Jack queries and begins to pout. "I wanna stay."
"I know you do, buddy," Aaron tells him, "but Grammy has to teach her class now. We don't want her to be late. That wouldn't be fair to her students. What if Miss Causley were late for your class? You would be sad."
Jack lets out a dramatic sigh and kicks the floor a bit. "I guess."
Spencer turns back into the room, watching as his mother flitters about. Her journal is in one hand and the Norton Anthology is in the other, but clearly she's searching for something. "Mom?" He takes a step forward, knowing that Aaron will keep Jack in the hallway until he signals. "Mom?"
Diana turns and for a moment, she looks utterly confused. "Oh, baby," she rushes forward. "I can't find the chalk!"
"It's in the classroom," Spencer states and hopes—really hopes—that she hasn't forgotten that Aaron and Jack are here.
"Oh, that's right!" She smiles and then kisses him on the cheek. Then, she looks straight at Aaron and admonishes, "You've lost weight."
"Yes, ma'am," Aaron replies neutrally. "It's good seeing you." Diana narrows her eyes slightly before waving him off.
She looks down and tilts her head. "Oh, my dearest artist, I have to teach my class now."
Spencer lets out a breath. She recognizes him. He knows Aaron is relieved as well.
"I can't stay until you're done?" It comes out almost as a whine. "Please?"
Diana shakes her head. "You have to go with your fathers."
"But I wanna stay!"
"Jack," Aaron warns.
"Give me a kiss and a hug," Diana says as she kneels down. Obediently, Jack kisses her cheek and gives her a hug. "You take care of your fathers. That's your job. Make sure they eat. They're far too skinny."
"Okay. Bye, Grammy."
"Good bye, my dearest artist." When she stands, Spencer gives her a light yet awkward hug and Aaron stays still until Diana gives him a light buss on the cheek. She steps past them and walks determinedly down the hallway.
Aaron leans over, his lips close to Spencer's ear. "It was a good visit."
"I know." He's thankful, most definitely. Jack will have a good—maybe a bit confusing—memory of Grammy Reid. Where Mary Catharine fails so spectacularly, Diana makes up for. He catches himself mid-way through calculations on if this may be the last time that Diana will be lucid enough to interact the way she had with Jack.
He hates thinking about it. He really does.
But they had a good day—all of them had a good day.
That is all that Spencer can ask for.
The rest of the afternoon is fully of sightseeing and a kid-friendly Vegas show. Jack is worn out, so he goes to bed early. Aaron and Spencer are back out on the balcony, but this time, they share a lounger. It's not the most comfortable arrangement, but Spencer needs the closeness.
Plus, the smell of the desert and the scent of Aaron are very relaxing.
"It was a good visit," Aaron says softly for the eighth time since they've left Bennington.
Spencer doesn't say anything, just uses his fingertip to write equations on Aaron's chest. His lover shifts a little, but doesn't continue the conversation. Ten minutes pass before Spencer lets out a long sigh. "She thinks I should call my dad."
It's Aaron's turn to be silent.
"I don't want to deny Jack a grandparent but …" He shakes his head. "You've met my father. You know how he'll react."
"To which part?" Aaron finally asks. "That you and I are together or that we have a son?" He closes his hand over Spencer's. "He'll probably think you're pushing your sexuality in his face just to get back at him … but he will not take it out on Jack. He'll probably overcompensate in order to prove that he can be a good father given the right circumstances."
Spencer pulls away and stands. "The right circumstances? That's the most pathetic explanation I've heard …" He doesn't finish his sentences because he does not want an argument.
"It's not an excuse for what he did," Aaron retorts. "And we were discussing how he would react, not absolving him for abandoning you and your mother."
He runs a hand through his hair and begins pacing. "I know … I'm … I'm sorry. It's just that …" He gestures wildly as words fail him for a moment. "I think of all that I've been through. All that you've been through. All that Jack's been through. Sure, there were days …" Months, he mentally corrects. Months … "when it seemed as if giving up was the only alternative."
That comment causes Aaron to bolt upright, but Spencer turns his back to him and leans on the balcony's railing.
"But I didn't. I never gave up."
He hears Aaron rustling behind him and then feels Aaron's arms enveloping him. "And I thank God every day that you didn't."
"I couldn't," Spencer confesses. "I just … couldn't."
Aaron presses a kiss in to his temple. Minutes pass as they stand together, gazing out into the night sky. Finally Aaron says, "I'll support whatever decision you make. And if you change your mind for whatever reason? That's okay, too."
He leans back and basks in the warmth. "I'm a lucky man."
Aaron huffs out a laugh, "Not as lucky as I am." He plants a quick kiss on Spencer's neck. "It's late."
"It's only nine."
"Vegas time," Aaron says. "East Coast? It's midnight. I'm old."
Spencer turns around, still wrapped in Aaron's arms. "We can make out on the loungers. I've always wanted to give you a blowjob outdoors."
"It's not like I'm going to ride you," he teases as he reaches around and slides his hands into the back of Aaron's pants, cupping that deliciously firm ass. "And I know you can be quiet."
"Please," he begs softly. He runs a finger along Aaron's butt crack, which causes Aaron to arch and bite back a moan.
"Like I can ever say no to you," Aaron says breathlessly before kissing him hard and moving them back over to the loungers.
It's going to be difficult to keep the noise down, but Spencer knows it's going to be worth every moment.
They end their visit to Vegas on Sunday with a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon and a red-eye back to DC. Monday is their day to recover; while Spencer and Aaron are old hands at the "day after a red eye" routine because of the Job, it's nice to not have to be anywhere. The day is spent catching up on a chores and laundry.
It's not until after dinner that Spencer finds Aaron in the main hallway, staring at the plain beige wall. "Aaron?"
"Just thinking," he says absently, but his attention is focused on the bare wall.
"About?" Spencer prompts.
Aaron shakes his head and shrugs, but then crosses his arms over his chest. "She's right."
"Right about what?"
"Jack gives us drawings to make us happy. He puts everything in to them," he continues, voice hushed. "And we put them on the fridge or in or office or put them in a drawer …" Aaron shrugs. "Yet your mother … to her …" He hunches forward.
He doesn't have to say, I wish someone had done that for me … to make me feel that special for something as mundane as a Crayola effort … But for a child, they both know that drawings are anything but mundane …
Spencer lets out a slow breath as he wraps his arms around Aaron. "We don't have to frame them necessarily. We can install wires that have clips so that we can fit more on the wall."
Aaron turns his head and gives a quick kiss. "You've already got this figured out."
"I'm a genius."
Aaron laughs. "That you are."
"We can work on it tomorrow evening," he suggests. "We can stop by the hardware store on the way home."
"Sounds like a plan."
#### Finis ####