A/N: Happy New Year! We're coming close to the end of this fic… Hope you like this. Some questions are answered!
The call came at 3:57 AM EST.
Sarah Morgan had had a few drinks at the convention meet-and-greet put on by the software company she did technical writing for. It was a deadly dull affair, punctuated by moments of extreme aggravation—she'd had to deftly deflect a come-on from one of the clients, flirt just enough to mollify another one, and then do a disappearing act before a third one got handsy.
It was irritating as hell, and as she maneuvered her way out toward the elevator, saying her falsely regretful goodbyes to her boss and a few key clients on the way, she vowed once again to go back to school and finally get her degree so she could work at doing something she believed in. Something worthwhile, something to help people, real people, not the freakin' IT department nerds that were the predominate users of her company's products.
Look at Des and Derek, she thought as she slid her key card into the slot on her hotel room door. Des is a doctor! Helping take care of people in Africa. And, Derek... Derek saves lives. Makes the world a safer place. And me? I help people figure out which key combination to press in order to get a short cut to their color palette.
She shook her head, fully aware that her self-disgust was brought on mostly by the alcohol, that and having to mingle with the smarmy clientele. The work itself wasn't bad, and she took some pride in knowing that if it hadn't been for her taking that first crappy programming job all those years ago, her two younger siblings wouldn't have been able to afford the little amenities of college life, like text books. And... food. They could have given up and be doing God-knows-what to scratch out a living nowadays, utterly wasting their minds and their talents.
Sarah undressed, brushed her teeth, and fell into bed, not bothering to take off her makeup. She tiredly set her phone alarm for 6:30 AM—that would give her enough time for a leisurely shower and then breakfast before her first meeting, while still grabbing a good five hours of sleep. Not too bad, and a hell of a lot better than the way these things sometimes went.
She was sound asleep when her phone rang. It was her mom's ringtone, and she'd jerked awake, annoyed because hell, her alarm hadn't even gone off, and she'd asked her mother more than once not to call before seven AM except in an emergency. As she blearily grabbed the offending device and saw the time, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach jolted her into full alertness. She knew—definitely an emergency.
Everyone with a loved one in law enforcement dreads a call like that.
Sarah punched the "talk" button and gasped, "Mama? What's up?"
Her mother's strained voice just managed to say, "Derek's been shot," before a huge sob came over the line.
"Mama—please, is he okay?" Sarah dreaded to hear the next words, unconsciously praying that they wouldn't be those words, the ones that left no room for hope.
"They did surgery. He's stable for now, but he's in a coma. They—they don't know if he's going to make it."
Sarah could hear Fran struggle to maintain composure. Sarah forced herself to speak calmly. "Okay—where is he?"
"It happened in some little town in Southern California, but they had to CareFlite him to San Bernardino. You'll need to fly into Ontario. Just a minute, I-I've got the address of the hospital here somewhere, damn it... Can you come?"
"Yes, yes, of course. I'm in New York, though, and the weather's bad. It may take a while. Where are you?"
"In a cab, heading to the airport. We're almost there. Oh, God, I need to go, I have to give the driver the gate number..."
"Okay, text me the address as soon as you can."
"I will, I'll text you... I'll see you there. I love you, sweetheart." Fran was openly crying now.
"I love you, too, Mom. It's going to be okay. It'll... be okay."
Fran clicked off, and Sarah lay there, staring at her phone, trying to make her brain work properly. Abruptly, she sat up and punched in the number for the airline she always used and was soon in desperate negotiations to get on the next flight out to Ontario, California.
Some things just can't be hurried. Birth, the government, and commercial airlines among them. Down computers, inept ticket clerks, and rough weather conditions conspired against her. It took nearly 72 hours for Sarah to get on a plane, make the long flight with two layovers, and find her way to the hospital in a rental car. She was in constant contact with her mother by phone, though, and she knew Derek's condition hadn't changed.
He was still in a coma.
She met her mother in the hospital lobby. The older woman's eyes were red and she had the numb, shell-shocked expression of someone with too much adrenaline and not enough sleep. She held her arms out to her daughter and embraced her with a powerful hug, breaking down and sobbing into her neck.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, I'm such a mess," Fran said as she pulled back, wiping her eyes.
"It's okay, it's fine. How's he doing?" Sarah tried to sound calm and in control, a throwback to her role during that terrible time long ago when her dad... Sarah took a deep breath and guided her mother toward the elevator.
"As well as can be expected, I guess. Vitals are normal, they say that's a good sign." Fran pushed the button for Derek's floor and the two rode up in silence. Sarah had too many questions jumbling around in her mind—so far, she'd hurriedly asked only the bare minimum in between flights and the time spent arguing with clerks at ticket counters, mostly things like, "how's he doing?" and "what can I do from here to help you, Mom?"
Fran had been mostly too upset to give her any details that made sense, only that it had been a head wound with a small-bore weapon and that it was only a matter of extreme good fortune—a miracle, the doctors said—that the bullet had hit where it had hit, entering and exiting in such a way that it did a minimum of damage to actual brain tissue. But there was swelling and bleeding and shards of his skull inside, and the doctors couldn't predict what the effects would be until he woke up.
If he woke up.
And, he hadn't, not yet. The longer he was comatose, the worse it was likely to be. And, things were always iffy with head wounds.
It was only once they were in the hallway leading to Derek's room that Sarah thought to ask, "How's Spencer holding up?"
Fran gave her a desolate look and shook her head. "Not well. He's devastated. He blames himself."
Sarah set her lips in a thin line, questions crowding on her tongue, but she pushed them aside. She was desperate to know more about the incident itself, but she thought she'd better wait until she could talk to someone on the team with a clear head, someone who'd have the facts. Hotch or JJ, or the dark-haired girl, Emily, perhaps. Her mother was clearly in no condition to explain exactly what had happened.
Prentiss and Rossi were sitting in a waiting area near the nurse's station and they rose to meet Sarah. Prentiss held out her hand, a sympathetic smile on her lips. "Hello, Ms. Morgan. I don't know if you remember me, I'm Special Agent Emily Prentiss. This is Special Agent Dave Rossi. He came on board after Gideon left."
"Of course I remember you, Emily. Spencer and Derek talk about you all the time. And, Agent Rossi, so nice to meet you. I've heard a lot about you, too," she said, shaking his hand. It seemed unreal, saying these pleasantries when her brother might be dying just on the other side of a nearby door. But, she'd been in business so long... It all came by rote, by muscle memory.
"The same here. I only wish we were meeting under better circumstances," Rossi said in his kindest tone. He'd been doing this a long time, too.
"Where did Agent Hotchner and JJ go?" Fran asked.
Rossi answered, "JJ went back to the hotel to get Reid a few changes of clothes. Hotch is still dealing with the case; Reid was able to get the unsub—Bannister—to turn and face him before he could shoot again, and he and JJ took him down without further incident. Now the locals are interrogating him, but Hotch is overseeing it."
Fran looked longingly toward the hospital room door with the name "Morgan" on it. "Any change?" she asked, her voice a little raspy.
Prentiss shook her head. "No. Oh, and I tried to talk Reid into going to get something to eat, but he won't budge."
Fran sighed. "I'll talk to him, although I doubt it'll do any good." She looked at Sarah. "He hasn't left Derek's side since they put him in the room."
"Not surprising," Sarah said gently. "If it was my husband in this situation, you couldn't drag me away from him with a cattle prod."
"Rossi and I could use a break. We'll go down to the cafeteria and get something for Reid to eat," Prentiss offered. "He needs to keep up his strength."
"That would be very kind of you." Fran gave a small smile, and then turned to her daughter. "Let's go in," she said.
"Uh... You go ahead. I want to ask the agents a few questions. I'll be right there." Sarah waited until her mother was in the room to turn to Prentiss and Rossi. "Can you tell me what happened exactly? Mom's been too distraught to make a lot of sense."
Prentiss gave a shorthand version of the facts of the case, and then went into more detail. "Morgan—I mean, your brother—Reid, and JJ went to interview the unsub, with Reid and JJ doing the actual face-to-face, and Derek monitoring from the car. But he got a lead on where a missing man might be being held and went to investigate. He discovered the victim chained in a shack. He called Hotch, who informed Reid. They were trying not to tip off Bannister.
"But in the meantime, he got suspicious. He had a camera on the shack and took off. Reid said it took him too long to catch onto what was happening, and he and JJ weren't able to alert Derek in time as Reid had no phone signal and Derek's radio malfunctioned. So, of course, he's taking all the blame for what happened."
Sarah gave an exasperated huff. "That's ridiculous! It's clearly not his fault. If anything, it sounds like he kept Derek from being... injured even worse."
"Try telling him that," Rossi said sagely.
"Yeah, I know." Sarah smiled, remembering how stubborn Spencer could be. "All right. Well, I really want to see my brother, but thanks for filling me in."
The two agents nodded understandingly and watched her head to the room.
Sarah opened the door to Derek's room, braced for what she would see. Derek lay in the bed, covered by a sheet, the top of his head swathed in bandages. There were lines from an IV taped to his arm. Spencer sat beside him, holding one of Derek's hands in both of his. He seemed to be deep in concentration and he didn't even look up when Sarah came in. His lips were moving and she could tell he was speaking, but so quietly that she couldn't make out what he was saying; the words were obviously meant for Derek alone. Fran was sitting in a chair on the other side of the room and Sarah went over to her, gestured at Spencer and gave her a questioning glance.
"He does that," Fran answered quietly. "He says he believes people in comas are capable of hearing and understanding things that are said to them. He only stops to go to the bathroom, and when he takes little cat naps."
"What's he telling him?" Sarah asked, bewildered.
"I don't know, I haven't asked. It seems to keep him calm, though. They had to medicate him at first."
Fran got up and went to the other side of Derek's bed and bent down to speak softly to her son. "Sweetie, your sister Sarah's here. Des is in Africa, or she'd be here, too. I love you." She pressed a kiss onto Derek's cheek and smiled at Spencer, who had stopped his low-voiced monologue. He smiled back, just a little.
Fran returned to her chair and Sarah took her place by Derek's side. She picked up his other hand and leaned down to say, "Hey, baby brother. How you feeling?" She watched Derek's eyes, but couldn't detect any response. She looked over at Spencer. "Hey."
"Hi, Sarah. I'm glad you're here. Derek is too." He ran one hand lightly down the side of Derek's face, his fingers barely brushing his skin.
"I'm glad you're here," she answered. "So, what are you saying to him?" Her curiosity had gotten the better of her.
Spencer laughed slightly. "Stream of consciousness nonsense at this point. Whatever comes into my head. I've been making up stories for him, though."
"Yeah. I know he can hear me. I think it keeps him grounded, you know? He knows he's not alone in his head. I've got one going on right now that's pretty crazy. I'm trying to make it suspenseful enough that... he'll want to stick around to hear the ending. Of course, as long as he's like this, there won't be one. It'll go on as long as it needs to." Spencer had a look of such love and determination on his face, that Sarah had to drop her eyes.
"What goes on in these stories?" she asked.
"Oh, silly stuff. At the moment I've got the entire team as a band of gypsies back in the 1800's and I'm relating their adventures going from town to town performing and doing magic tricks. I made him a riverboat gambler and me as a long-lost Celtic prince. They meet and fall in love and Derek joins the troupe. Of course, there's also a murderer getting his comeuppance in a weird way. It's kind of complicated."
"Sounds very creative. You should probably write it down so he'll have it when he wakes up."
"Oh, I'll remember. I'll tell it all to him again, if he wants. Although..." Spencer got a mischievous look on his face and he grinned. Sarah raised an eyebrow.
"Well, I included a lot of pretty hot sex scenes, just to keep him interested. In fact, there're some incredibly dirty parts that I know I'll be too embarrassed to describe to him when he's awake—I may just have to act them out with him instead."
Sarah's eyes opened wide in mock scandalization, and then she laughed. "Oh, Spencer! You look so innocent. Derek always says you're a real little scamp, and I didn't believe him, but here's the proof." She pulled a chair up and sat down, smiling reflectively. "I bet you guys have a lot of fun together."
They were quiet a moment and then Sarah added, "I'm so glad you found each other. I was beginning to think Derek would never settle down."
Spencer nodded, clasping Derek's hand again. "He was my first, you know. My only. The only one I'll ever want," he said softly, now speaking to himself, or maybe to Derek. He seemed to have forgotten Sarah was there.
Sarah refused to let Spencer slip into some dark place and tried a different subject. "Let's see, the wedding was almost a year ago. When did you actually start seeing each other? I know it was going on a lot longer than Derek ever let on, the rat."
Spencer seemed to come back to reality, and he chuckled. "Well, we both had a lot of issues we had to work through first. He once told me he dreamed about me—romantically—for weeks before he finally got up the courage to ask me out. It was hilarious, the whole team could tell he wasn't sleeping well and everybody kept prodding him to tell us what was wrong. He made up some nonsense about having weird, disturbing dreams, which I guess they kind of were... I was so worried for him, I even made him keep a dream journal! That was awkward. We finally started seeing each other after he confessed that he was dreaming about, uh, having sexual experiences with me. And that was a little over three years ago."
Sarah frowned thoughtfully. "I never thought to ask—how'd you guys get around the Bureau's policy against fraternization?"
"Well, it's one of the few times that living in a state that doesn't recognize our marriage actually worked in our favor. Basically, since the union doesn't legally exist, they can't stop us from working together. And the FBI statutes were written before anyone was willing to acknowledge the possibility of two men being together, so Hotch just pretends he doesn't know."
Sarah snickered. "He was a groomsman at your wedding!"
"Yeah, he said he thought it was a bar mitzvah. I'll never forget the deadpan look on his face— 'Morgan, I had no idea you were Jewish...'" Spencer started laughing too. "He doesn't like it. But, we've convinced him that we can remain professional. And, we almost never go out in the field together. This time, it just sort of happened..." A bleak look came over Spencer, and Sarah reached out her hand and lay it on Spencer's. Spencer's heavy gold band felt cool under her palm.
"It's not your fault, Spencer. You have to know that."
Spencer pursed his lips and shrugged. "I just keep thinking of how I could have done things differently."
"You need a break. Why don't you go for a walk, get some air?"
Spencer shook his head firmly. "No. He could wake up at any minute and I'm going to be here when he does."
"Spencer, at least come lie down and take a decent nap," Fran said just as firmly. "This chair makes into a cot. I'll get a pillow from the nurses' station. Sarah and I will be right here and if there's the slightest change, we'll call you."
"You can't wear yourself out like this, tough guy," Sarah added. "He's going to need you at your best when he wakes up. Right?"
Spencer narrowed his eyes at his sister-in-law. "Damn it. I forget how you Morgans like to fight dirty. All right, I'll take a nap, but if he so much as flutters an eyelash, you wake me up."
"We will," both women assured him. Once Spencer got comfortable, he was out like a light.