All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.

- Galileo Galilei

Chapter one

Jerry's Place
Washington DC


The nice thing about coming to Jerry's Place, Spencer thought, was that he didn't have to explain.

He was rather used to being self-contained. Over the years he had learned that if you trusted someone, if you opened up to them and started to care about them, they generally would leave you. His father, Ethan, Elle and Gideon; but JJ and Emily were of an entirely different class at the moment. He could understand Emily leaving, to escape from Doyle, and he could understand JJ not telling him, telling secrets like that to an addict is generally too big a risk to take. But they hadn't even given him a thought through all this. If even one of them had said "Keep an eye on Spence, he's lost a lot of people and you know what could happen" he would have felt better about the whole deal. But no, JJ let him cry on her couch for ten weeks straight, mourning the loss of a very close friend, all the while playing online Scrabble with said same friend, chatting with her every night, and not even thinking what it might do to him. Yes, maybe he was just a loose end, but didn't even a loose end deserve a good tying off?

See if he trusts them again. And, unfortunately, that had to extend to the rest of them team. If those two could do it, two he never thought capable, then anyone could.

At this point the loneliness, the inability to trust, to open, felt like it had sunken into his bones. The ache sometimes, he ached, pulled down with weariness and exhaustion. But, conversely, that made it easier to maintain the surface level of trust that was needed to do the job they did. He couldn't tell them any of his secrets, didn't dare, not anymore, but he knew they would have his back. They had to keep their walking computer alive, after all. And if they knew nothing of his private life then there would be no reason to think of him as anything other than a valuable walking computer, a thing which deserved protection.

He was still considering leaving the team.

If he could just find a teaching job that paid him as much as the BAU did he'd take it in a heartbeat. He could teach and do research and not even have to pretend to have a surface level of trust in anyone. He could go home every night and turn to the only source of comfort he'd ever found. So long as he was careful no one in academia would care if he stuck a needle in his arm or not.

Better not to think about that. Thinking about the sweet heat and painless calm and overall pleasure only made the ache in his bones worse. So did thinking that a drug was the closest friend and lover he'd ever had. Or that he'd had to shoot the man who shared that pleasure with him. He wondered, sometimes, what it would have been like if Tobias had just turned that needle back onto himself, if he had gotten both of them high that day. Yes, he might have died in that shed, no food, no water, no treatment for his injuries, but it might have felt a lot like love.

In addition to being a decorated veteran of the DC Metropolitan police force, Jerry MacGrudder had done two things with his life. One, after he retired, was to open a very traditional cop bar in DC. Dark wood, badges and news clippings and such for décor, a tendency toward lots of beer over anything mixed. Given that his other achievement had been starting the Beltway Clean Cops group everyone had wondered why he became a bar owner as a second career. "I never had a problem with booze." He'd tell them. "I can't stand the taste myself." So he now had a bar, a place that could be a refuge in times of need. And tonight Spencer needed that, as he had more and more since last summer.

As soon as he settled into the quiet back booth Jerry came over with the pot of remarkably good coffee he kept on hand for his personal enjoyment, and a full sugar bowl. "Rough day, kid?" he asked as he poured.

Rough day, Spencer thought, polite euphemism for are you thinking about finding a dealer. "Yeah, it has been." He replied, polite euphemism for yes, I really want to tonight. I let myself be vulnerable at work, and I realized I shouldn't have done that, and it scared me and saddened me and now I'd really like to feel good again, so I probably shouldn't be alone.

"Ah, right," Jerry left the sugar bowl with the coffee and a spoon. Not a little cup full of packets, about the third time he came here that had been replaced by a half pint mason jar full of sugar that he could spoon in as he liked. Jerry then reached up and tightened the second bulb in the sconce over the booth, doubling the light and making it easier to read. Then he headed back to the kitchen, and a few minutes later came back out with a bowl of stew and a basket of crackers. He left those and then headed back to the bar. He didn't have to say anything, Spencer thought, it was almost better that he didn't. But those simple, honest gestures, sugar, light, supper, spoke volumes. I like you kid, it said, and I'm here to support you while you fight this. Stay as long as you need, I'm here.

It mattered more than he could possibly imagine.

He pulled off his coat, loosened his tie, rolled up his sleeves and pulled out the research needed for the paper he was working on, ready to dive into both that and the bowl of stew before him when he sensed someone coming up to the booth. "Is this seat taken?" asked a familiar, male voice. Spencer looked up and shook his head, prompting Dave Rossi to sit down opposite him. "You don't seem like the bar type. I'm guessing you're a friend of Jerry's."

Spencer nodded. He had no idea how much he could tell here. "Yeah, we…"

"Have common interests?" Rossi nodded. "Jerry's, uh, movie club has been a fixture in the DC cop community for a while now."

Dammit. "Who told you?"

"No one, directly; when you got upset with JJ the other day I asked Hotch what was going on. He said it was nothing, something involving a past case in Georgia. I figured it had to be before my time, so I went looking. Garcia isn't the only one who can use a computer."

"It's not in the case file."

Rossi chuckled. "Why do you people think I'm not good at this? I read the incident report and Emily's notes from interviewing Hankel's sponsor and put it together." He settled back as Jerry brought him some coffee. "So?"

Spencer could tell from how he asked the question. Part of him rankled that Rossi was asking, but as a team member he really did have a right to the reassurance. And he was proud, as much as it hurt to deny himself at times. "Four years, seven months, thirteen days; minus surgery for being shot, but not after I left the hospital," which he had been told, did not count, not if there was a medical need.

"Good. That's good." Spencer thought he could…no, he did detect a warm note of pride in the older man's voice. That wasn't something he had expected, but it was heartening. "Now I won't feel bad that you didn't drink my wine. I will say you hide this well."

Spencer poked at his stew a bit more. "Thank you. I did have a taste; it was a good match to the meal." One sip out of curiosity then no more. Like Jerry, alcohol had never been an issue for him and he didn't want it to become one. "Maybe too well, JJ didn't even realize what I was doing."

"Staying at her place to avoid…other options?" Spencer nodded. Rossi sighed. "Well, two days ago I would have said that they were doing what had to be done, and they did a very professional job of it. But if they were aware…."

It was a question. "They were." JJ, Emily, Hotch, they all knew he had a problem. They had been through it back then, only Rossi wasn't on the team at the time.

"…then it should have been considered during the poorly named clean-up phase of the op." Rossi half-chuckled, "If it's any consolation I should have been cleaned-up as well."

Spencer frowned. "I thought you knew? You've been acting like you knew."

"Why do you people persist in thinking I can't do this job? I figured it out."

"Oh." Well if anyone could have it would be Rossi.

"They should have considered that, given my experience. They also should have found a way to shut Morgan down and distract Garcia. But after what was said on the way back from Boise…"

So Rossi had heard it too, "CheetoBreath?"

Rossi sighed and shook his head. "That was foolish of them. Witness protection means no contact, surely they remembered that from when Haley was in. If it's any help, Hotch didn't know."

"It is." It was only Emily and JJ then. "Emily said I should be upset because I only lost one person, while she lost her entire family. Except she didn't, she only lost the ones who…." Spencer sighed. "I thought we were family."

"I know." Rossi sounded just as regretful. "Look, don't let it get to you, it's over with now."

"Yeah, but how do you trust them again? Not in the field, I mean…."

"With the clean-up?" Rossi nodded. "They have to earn that back. They should know that."

"And if they don't?"

"Not your problem."

"Does Morgan know?" Did he overhear as well?

"I don't think so. He was busy with Garcia, trying to fix what you did to his phone." Rossi did smile, finally. "I almost wish the prank war hadn't ended. Not for this."

Spencer shrugged. "I'm not up to it right now."

"Like I said, don't let it get to you. We're still a team." Rossi finished his coffee, slid out of the seat to go. "Look, you ever need a couch other than JJ's…"

Spencer nodded. It was a generous offer, but he was not going to go to his hero's couch to avoid getting high. "Thank you."

"Right, see ya tomorrow."

The Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle
Washington DC


St. Matthew the Apostle, Rossi thought as he looked up at the artwork, patron saint of Civil Servants. He seemed like the right one to go to for this. He put a twenty in the donation slot, lit one of the candles they would keep going for a solid month, and settled himself in the pew, and looked up at the image there.

One doesn't actually pray to a saint, he recalled, one prays to God. But much like you might ask a friend to pray for you, you can ask a saint to intercede on your behalf, the idea being that being dead they're less likely to be distracted and being unusually good while alive God was more likely to listen to them. So he wasn't actually here to pray to St. Matthew, he was here to ask St. Matthew to help him out or, more specifically, to help a friend.

"I've got a problem." He said in the quiet of the chapel. "I've got this kid on my team, brilliant kid, mind like you wouldn't believe. But more than that he's dedicated, works hard, always has your back, will not stop until the truth gets out. I've seen him willing to work his own father over just to get at who killed a known pedophile, simply to get the truth out. He gives new meaning to the kind of guy you're supposed to help out.

I just found out tonight that he's been fighting his own demons for a while now. He didn't take them on; one of the bad guys forced it on him. But he's been fighting it, and fighting hard, and I'm proud of him. But I'm also worried. Our team is…well, we have problems. We're trying to knit it all back together, but it's not easy. This shouldn't have happened. Now he's doing this on top of fighting his own demons. And he doesn't have any real support, I've got family, Morgan has family, Hotch has Haley's family still behind him, Garcia has Kevin for better or for worse, but all he has is his Mom and she's got problems of her own. Now, given all that it's probably understandable, but I can feel him pulling back. He's got one foot out the door already, and I'm afraid that if he does go he'll let the demons win.

He needs guidance. He's missing something, I think. It's like he's destined for something bigger, something personal that will lift him up and help him, I just don't know what it is. I'd send him to ask, but he's not the type. So I'm asking you to put in a word with the big guy on his behalf, please. We could use the help on this one."

Rossi waited a moment, but nothing was forthcoming. It was never that easy, was it.

With a sigh he got up and went home.


Note: OK, this one is going to be a bit of a personal challenge. I'm trying to track it with the series for at least a few weeks, so expect it to come along slowly. Also this means I don't have this previously written, as I did with much of my last story, so it may lag a bit in the center. I can only ask for your patience.

Cannon to 07:04 "Painless" so far and spoilers for all episodes up to that point.

I hope you all enjoy this one.