Title: Building a Home (Part 7/8)
Pairings: Reid/Hotch (established relationship)
Characters (entire story): Reid, Hotch, Jack, Jessica, Garcia, Morgan, Prentiss, Rossi, and JJ
Characters (this part): Hotch, Reid, Jack, Morgan, Prentiss, Rossi, and Jessica
Disclaimer: Criminal Minds is not mine.
Word Count: 4,608
Summary (entire story): Aaron and Jack move in with Spencer when renovations drive them out of their new house. Will it be a disaster…or a beginning?
Summary (this chapter): A case leads Spencer to a revelation that surprises nobody but himself.
“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
It was a bad case. Of course, no case that required the BAU’s personal attention could be called good, but this one had the one element every member of the team dreaded: it involved kids. Three boys, ages 6-8, had been murdered over a five day period before the police in the small town in Pennsylvania requested their help and victim number four was killed while the team was being briefed on the case. The unsub snatched each one from different public places, slit their throats, and dumped the bodies close to where he’d taken them. There was absolutely no evidence of abuse, sexual or otherwise.
The profile was all over the place, so much so that the team couldn’t even nail down the basics on the jet:
“The victims were all males of a similar age, which indicates the unsub is a preferential offender,” noted Prentiss.
“But look at these kids: blond, brunette, blue eyes, green eyes, brown eyes,” countered Morgan. “He doesn’t seem to have a type. He’s taking whatever boys he can get his hands on, which would make him a situational offender.”
“We might be able to determine which one he is if we had an obvious motive,” said Spencer. “Usually with victims this young there’s a sexual component to the crime, but that appears to be lacking here.”
“He used a knife,” Rossi reminded him. “That in itself makes the murders sexual acts.”
“But according to the coroner’s report, each death was most likely instantaneous and nearly painless,” pointed out Spencer. “He kills them pretty much right away, and given where how quickly the bodies are found he doesn’t seem to be spending any time with them afterward. There’s no indication he took any trophies either.”
“He might not need to,” suggested Morgan. “All the victims went to the same school; he could work there and be getting off on seeing the aftermath of what he’s done.”
“The town only has one elementary school,” spoke up Aaron. “Victims from small towns like this always have overlap – let’s not focus on one thing until we get a better idea of what this unsub’s about. Right now the only thing we know is that we have to hit the ground running if we’re going to have any chance at building an accurate profile before he kills again.” He frowned at his iPad, considering. “I’ll head to the police station; set up the command center, review the evidence, and arrange for us to interview the parents and witnesses again. Morgan, Prentiss, you head to the latest crime scene. Reid, Rossi, you go to the coroner’s office; talk to her about her findings and view the bodies.”
Brian West, the third victim, was on the table when they arrived. “Hurry,” admonished the coroner, waving them in a bit frantically. She sighed in relief as they shut the door behind them. “Sorry about that. It’s just…his mother’s been wandering the halls here since they brought him in. It’s bad enough to lose a child – she shouldn’t see him like this, you know?”
“We understand,” Rossi assured her gravely.
Spencer nodded solemnly and looked over at the body. A long red wound stood out against the pale flesh of his throat. His stomach immediately felt strange, like thousands of butterflies – angry butterflies with razors for wings – were trapped inside and furiously trying to get out. Swallowing hard, Spencer quickly looked away.
“We’ve reviewed your findings,” Rossi went on. He glanced at Spencer and frowned a little when he saw his young partner had his eyes firmly glued on said report. “But we were hoping you might be able to tell us if there was anything else you found that didn’t seem significant at the time.”
She shook her head. “I’ve been over each body with a fine-tooth comb,” she said. “Everything I found, big or little, I put in those reports.”
“What about subsequent examinations?” pressed Rossi. “Maybe you caught something that was easy to overlook the first time around?”
“There was nothing more to find,” the coroner told them with the sort of tiredness that went straight to the bones. She tilted the head so they could get a better look at the fatal wound. “This bastard didn’t do anything to them except this. No tearing, no semen, no bruising, no burns, no nothing – just,” she made a bitter, ironic noise, “just one cut.”
He tried to make himself study the wound, but once Spencer looked up he couldn’t tear his eyes away from Brian’s-the boy’s-the face. He had reddish brown bangs that were a bit too long; they brushed against his eyelids and would have hung in his eyes had they been open…but he wouldn’t be opening them again. Long, dark eyelashes stood out so much against pale and bloodless cheeks that Spencer could have counted each lash. He looks like he’s sleeping was what people would probably say at the funeral, but that wasn’t true. Brian-the boy-the victim just looked…gone. There one moment, gone the next.
Spencer suddenly felt a little light-headed.
“Maybe this is about cleaning up,” theorized Rossi. He leaned down closer, his eyes scanning the body. “He abused his victims in the past, and a recent stressor made him decide to make sure they never reported it. Or maybe he thinks killing them will somehow undo what he did.”
“I found no sign of past physical or sexual abuse,” the coroner reminded him.
“It might not be anything overt – like that,” said Rossi, pointing to a relatively fresh-looking scar near the victim’s elbow. “Is it possible someone did something to leave him with that?”
“Possible but not probable,” spoke up Spencer for the first time, before the coroner had a chance to answer. Staring in an almost-daze at the scar, he went on: “It’s more likely he got it while playing – Jack jumped off the swings at the park two weeks ago and now he has a scar just like that.”
In that instant Spencer’s legs went horrifyingly weak and he staggered backward. It felt like the air had been sucked out of the room and he clutched at his knees, gasping in breath. Rossi was there beside him but Spencer could barely see him through the glare of the suddenly too bright lights. He was saying something but it was all muffled – like he was talking in slow motion – and he was standing too close, taking what little oxygen there was left in there.
Spencer had to get out of that room.
Blindly, he dashed through the door and managed to stumble to a bench just outside in the hallway. He tried to force his legs to bend enough so he could sit down on it but they were shaking too hard for that to happen so he opted to sink to the floor, folding his arms on top of it. Rossi was there again, still trying to talk to him and grabbing his shoulders. Spencer just pressed his forehead against his arms and mumbled incoherent protests until Rossi left him alone once more.
Spencer squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to focus on his breathing. In, out, in, out – deep, calming breaths. After a few minutes he’d gotten a hold of himself enough to be completely mortified by what had happened. Freaking out in front of Rossi was bad enough, but he had to go and do it in front of the coroner too! ‘Yeah, I’m sure I just instilled a lot of confidence in the BAU’s ability to help catch this guy,’ he bemoaned sardonically.
A door opened somewhere down the hall. Spencer composed himself as someone in a near-fetal position on the floor could and looked up, silently groaning when he saw who’d come in. Aaron was walking toward him, talking into his cell phone in a low voice. ‘Probably telling Rossi’s he’s here to clean up this mess,’ thought Spencer, thoroughly miserable, ‘or maybe requesting a psych counsel for me.’
“Hotch,” he croaked out, surprised at how raw he sounded. “Hotch, I’m sorry –”
Aaron held up a finger, signaling for him to be quiet. “All right, here he is,” he said, and held out the phone for Spencer to take.
Spencer accepted it hesitantly, his hand shaking a little as he placed it against his ear. “Hello?” he asked uncertainly.
Jack. “Hi, Jack,” greeted Spencer. A tear slipped down his cheek; he hastily wiped it away and made himself keep his voice steady. “How are you?”
“I’m fine. The bus just dropped me off at Ms. Crandell’s,” Jack told him happily. Spencer covered his mouth to muffle his sigh of relief that Jack was safe at the baby-sitter’s house. “I came in and she told me Daddy was on the phone! Did you catch the bad guy yet?”
“Not yet,” Spencer told him, choking a little. Aaron gently pulled him up onto the bench and sat down next to him. “But we will, I promise.”
“I know that,” said Jack, sounding exasperated. “You and Daddy always catch the bad guys. I hope you catch him soon; I want you guys to come home.”
“Me too,” said Spencer, “more than you know. We’ll be back as soon as we can. I’ll – I’ll talk to you later, Jack, all right?”
“All right,” echoed Jack. “Bye, Spencer!”
Spencer pressed the end call button and tried to hand the phone back to Aaron, but he couldn’t get his fingers to let it go. “I –” he tried, struggling for the right words. “I –”
“It’s all right, Spencer,” Aaron told him.
“I can do this,” said Spencer in a small voice. He forced his hand to unclench and put the phone down between them. “I can do my job.”
“No one’s saying you can’t,” promised Aaron. “We all have moments when a case gets to us. That’s why we’re a team: so that we have someone there to help us through those moments.” He reached out and took Spencer’s hand in his own. “You know I love you, right?”
“Yeah, I do,” Spencer told him softly. “I love you too.” He was quiet for a moment and then added: “And I love Jack.”
Aaron blinked rapidly as he smiled. “I know,” he said, his voice thick with emotion.
“I didn’t,” mused Spencer hazily. Then he realized what he’d just said and squeezed Aaron’s hand quickly. “I mean, I knew I like him. I knew I care about him. But this – I didn’t know I felt this – I didn’t know I –”
“It’s all right,” soothed Aaron, wrapping his arm around him. Spencer rested his head on his shoulder. “It was hard for me too. That first case involving children after Jack was born…I thought I was going to lose my mind.”
“That boy in there, Aaron,” Spencer tried to explain. “He’s about the same age – has the same scar – oh Aaron, I don’t know how that boy’s parents are going to make it going through this – I don’t think I could –”
“That’s why as parents we do everything we can to protect our child,” Aaron said. “And why as profilers we do everything we can to bring anyone who harms a child to justice.”
“I’m a parent?”
Aaron was smiling as he pressed a kiss into Spencer’s hair. “For awhile now,” he informed him. “Congratulations: it’s a boy.”
Spencer let out a shaky laugh and sucked in a deep breath. “I can do this,” he told his lover, and himself. “I can be both a parent and a profiler. I can compartmentalize now that I know how I feel. And it’ll get easier, right?”
“Oh, Spencer, I wish…”
Aaron’s voice trailed off and Spencer felt him tense. Looking up, he followed his lover’s stare to a young woman with reddish brown hair hovering by a corner, staring at them with an unreadable expression. His mother’s been wandering the halls, the coroner had said. Oh God. “Ms. West?” asked Spencer, his stomach churning.
The young woman nodded ever-so-slightly, her face still inscrutable. “Ms. West, I am so sorry,” he blurted out. He hastily jumped to his feet, with Aaron right behind him. “I know what you just saw was completely unprofessional, but I promise you I will do everything I can to find out who,” he thought of her son’s body on the autopsy table and damn it if he didn’t start choking up again.
She burst into tears.
A couple of hours later Spencer was filled with grim determination as he and Aaron walked into the interview room at the police station. Maybe he hadn’t had the time to figure out compartmentalization, but right now sublimation would work just fine – as in he was going to sublimate everything he felt into nailing the son-of-a-bitch who was sitting there waiting for them.
“Nick Perkins?” he asked, keeping his voice open and friendly. The guy nodded. “I’m Special Agent Reid and this is Special Agent Hotchner. Thank you for agreeing to come in.”
“Sure,” said Perkins, shifting in his chair. So he was already uncomfortable – good. “Was – was there a problem with my statement?”
“Not at all; we just have a couple of follow-up questions,” said Spencer smoothly, taking a seat and pretending to consult his file. “You’re the boyfriend of Samantha West, the mother of the third victim; is that –”
The tinny sound of the Spongebob Squarepants ringtone Prentiss had just programmed into Aaron’s phone interrupted him, right on cue. Spencer made sure he visibly stiffened. “Aaron,” he said in his best long-suffering voice.
“I’m sorry,” apologized Aaron. He gave them an aw-shucks-what-can-you-do smile and started toward the door. “I have to take this.”
Spencer followed him. “Aaron,” he repeated more insistently, loud enough for Perkins to hear him but quiet enough for him to think he wasn’t supposed to. “Not now, Aaron. Please.”
“I know, but he’s my son,” said Aaron. He touched Spencer’s arm just long enough for Perkins to realize it was an intimate gesture. “You don’t mind, do you?”
Spencer plastered a defeated look on his face. “I guess not,” he said, but Aaron was already out the door. Slumping his shoulders, he slunk back to his chair and gave Perkins a half-smile/half-grimace. “I’m sorry, where were we?”
Perkins eyes shifted from him to the door and then back again. “Uh,” he said, thrown, just like Spencer knew he would be. “Are you two…dating?”
Spencer pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yeah,” he said, making sure everything about him conveyed the message of ‘what else can go wrong today’. “Is that…is that a problem?”
“Nah, I’m not some ignorant hick,” said Perkins, his shoulders relaxing, obviously convinced now that this was indeed just a simple follow-up to his statement. “I guess I just didn’t think gay guys dated people with kids.”
“Yeah, lucky me,” said Spencer sarcastically. His face clouded over and he winced. “I’m sorry – I shouldn’t be saying that to you, of all people.”
“It’s okay,” Perkins assured him eagerly, taking the bait right on cue. “I get it, man. I mean, sometimes it’s about all you can take, right?”
“I know!” exclaimed Spencer. “I mean, I love Aaron, but that doesn’t mean I wanted a package deal, you know?”
Perkins nodded vigorously. “Sam didn’t tell me about the kid until after our second date,” he groused, clearly happy to find a kindred spirit. “By then I was way too into her to just end it. It wasn’t easy, let me tell you – we couldn’t do anything before she made sure Brian would be all right with it.”
“I understand completely,” said Spencer with a shake of his head. “Aaron and I want to move in together but he won’t because it might confuse his kid.”
“Jeez,” snorted Perkins. “I don’t get why some people just let their kids ruin everything!”
“Yeah,” said Spencer. He quirked his lips and looked at Perkins with all the compassion he could fake without vomiting. “Is that why you killed him?”
A triumphant thrill ran through Spencer as he watched Perkins freeze, but his expression remained earnest and sympathetic. “The police and FBI are searching the house you share with Ms. West right now,” he told him. “They all think you’re a pedophile because you killed those kids with a knife.”
“That’s not true!”
“I know,” Spencer assured him. “It says right here you’ve hunted your whole life. And you used those skills to kill them as quickly and painlessly as possible because you didn’t want any of them to suffer – you just wanted Brian to go away. But, Nick, I’m the only one who’s going to listen to you so you need to talk to me.”
Perkins looked more and more panicked with each word he said. “No!” he protested. “Look, Agent Reid, I don’t know why you think –”
Whatever pathetic lies he was about to tell Spencer were cut off when Morgan strutted into the room, cocky, confident, the clear enemy. “This interview is over,” he announced smugly, sneering at Perkins before turning to Spencer. “I just found all the evidence we need to nail this sick bastard to the wall.”
“No, that’s not possible!”
“The knife was in his silverware drawer, just like I knew it would be,” Morgan went on as if Perkins hadn’t spoken, shaking his head in disgust. “And you thought this had nothing to do with sex.”
“It doesn’t,” argued Spencer. “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation, Agent Morgan.”
“Wait, what?” pleaded Perkins, staring desperately at Spencer. “What is he talking about?”
“He profiled that you suffer from blood fetishism,” explained Spencer, his voice distressed. “It’s a form of paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual gratification from consuming blood.”
“It means you’re a pervert who kills kids so you can get your rocks off flavoring your food with their blood,” added Morgan nastily.
“That’s not true!” protested Perkins. “There’s no murder weapon in my house, let alone my kitchen.”
“Really? Because that’s not what I’m about to tell all those reporters standing outside right now,” taunted Morgan, smirking. “And I’ll be telling a jury the same thing if your fellow inmates don’t just kill you before you make it to trial.”
Perkins blanched. “This is a set -up,” he accused. “Agent Reid, you know he’s setting me up, right?”
Spencer feigned concern but stayed silent. “Oh, that’s your story? I’m setting you up?” mocked Morgan derisively. He leaned in close, invading Perkins’ space. “There are four dead kids, Nick – no one’s going to give a damn about some pervert whining about a police conspiracy. All they’re going to care about is why the knife was in the silverware drawer.”
“It wasn’t in the silverware drawer!”
“That’s where I found it.”
“No!” screamed Perkins, his face red with fury, indignation, and excursion. “It’s in the glove compartment!”
A range of emotion crossed Perkins’ face in that moment: defiance, then disbelief, and finally horror as what the gravity of what he’d just revealed slowly sunk in. “I – uh – I –”
In no mood to listen to that man’s stammering now that he didn’t have to play along, Spencer got up and wordlessly walked to the door. “No, Agent Reid, wait!” begged Perkins, clearly afraid of losing his one ally. “You understand why I had to do it, right? You know I’m not a monster!”
Spencer stopped and slowly turned around. “I know you murdered an innocent little boy just because you didn’t want to share his mommy with him,” he growled, reveling in how cathartic it was to finally let his disgusted fury show. “And I know you murdered three other innocent children who trusted you just to cover your ass. They went with you willingly, didn’t they? They recognized you as Brian’s almost-stepdad and followed you when you told them to. That’s why there were no signs of struggle. Yeah, I think that qualifies you as a monster.” He jerked the door open. “He’s all yours,” he told the police officers waiting outside, and left with Morgan right behind him.
They didn’t stop walking until they got to the rest of the team. “Nice job,” Aaron congratulated them.
“I’ll say,” seconded Prentiss. She shivered. “God, he’s been driving around with that knife in his car…”
“He wasn’t done yet,” remarked Rossi darkly. He looked at Spencer fondly. “It’s a good thing you got the mother to open up to you.”
The distraught woman had been trying to convince herself it was normal for a man not to get attached to his girlfriend’s kid and that was the only reason why Perkins didn’t seem at all upset about Brian’s murder. Seeing Spencer get so upset because a dead child reminded him of his boyfriend’s son, hearing him say he loved him, had finally forced her to realize something was terribly wrong with the whole situation. Once they’d heard her story, the team started looking into Nick Perkins and everything fell into place. By facing the truth, she’d helped bring her son’s murderer to justice and probably saved someone else’s child – a cold comfort, to be sure, but a comfort nonetheless.
“Yeah,” sighed Spencer, drained. “Look, I know it’s late and the hotel rooms are already reserved, but would anybody mind if we went home tonight? I just…I really need to see my son.”
Jack couldn’t help feeling all nervous as he and Aunt Jessica went into the dark apartment. It was weird being there without Daddy or Spencer around, and too many weird things had already happened that day. First Daddy called super-early and Spencer sounded so funny – the bad kind of funny. Then Daddy didn’t call back during the first two episodes of Avatar like he usually did when he was away catching bad guys. The phone finally rang after he’d had his bath and was in his pajamas but only Aunt Jessica had talked, and she’d looked very worried and kept saying things like, “uh-huh…no, I understand completely…it’s no problem…when will you be back…okay, we’ll be there soon”. Then she’d used her blow-dryer on his hair even though she knew it made his head itchy and told him Daddy and Spencer were done with their case and he wasn’t spending the night with her after all.
Now she’d used the key Spencer had given her to let the two of them into the apartment even though it was for emergencies only. Jack didn’t understand what was going on but he knew something had to be wrong. “Are Daddy and Spencer okay?” he asked again.
“They’re fine,” swore Aunt Jessica as she pulled his coat off of him, but her voice sounded odd like grown-ups voices do when they’re not telling you everything. “They’ll be here in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, I promise.”
Well, the dumb lamb must have been a pretty slow because a million-billion years passed before Daddy and Spencer finally came through the door. Aunt Jessica went over to them but Spencer walked right past her and didn’t stop until he got to Jack. He didn’t say anything, just got down on his knees and pulled him into a too-tight hug. It reminded Jack of the hug Mommy gave him right before she died. He was sorry he’d told her it was too tight – if he’d known it was the last time he’d get to hug her he would have squeezed back just as hard. He’d learned from his mistake, though, and now he hugged Spencer just as hard as he could.
Spencer was shaking a little. “I love you, Jack,” he said. “Do you know that? I love you.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jack told him. Spencer had never said it before, but Jack had just figured he was like Grandpa Brooks, who never said stuff like that. Mommy had explained to him that some people say ‘I love you’ with actions instead of words, and in that way Spencer had been saying it for a long time now. “I love you too.”
From over Spencer’s shoulder he could see Daddy and Aunt Jessica watching them with funny looks on their faces. Aunt Jessica smiled when she saw him looking; she blew him a kiss and waved, and then she and Daddy went out the door again. Jack supposed it was rude of him not to say goodbye to her but he didn’t want to leave Spencer. “Did you and Daddy catch the bad guy?” he asked.
“We caught him,” Spencer told him. “And you helped.”
“I did?” asked Jack.
“Yes you did,” said Spencer. “We couldn’t have done it without you.”
Jack didn’t really understand how since he’d been at Aunt Jessica’s, but was pleased anyway.
The door opened again and Daddy came back inside. “Jessica got to her car okay,” he said. He knelt down beside them and touched Jack’s head. “Hey, buddy. I’m sorry we have you up so late.”
“That’s okay,” said Jack, still struggling to figure all of this out. “I’m glad you’re home.”
“Me too,” smiled Daddy tiredly. He kissed Spencer on the cheek. Jack was surprised when Spencer didn’t scold him or turn red, two things he always did when Daddy kissed him with Jack in the room. “Sweetheart, you’re exhausted; why don’t you get ready for bed?”
Spencer squeezed Jack again like he was afraid someone was going to snatch him, but then slowly loosened his grip until he let go. He kissed Jack on the forehead and Daddy right by his ear before heading off to the bedroom. “I’ll be right back,” he said. “Don’t go anywhere.”
Daddy immediately pulled Jack into a big bear hug and held on tight, like Spencer had…like Mommy had. Jack couldn’t take it anymore. “Is everything okay?” he asked. He needed to know, even though he was afraid the answer was ‘no’.
“Everything’s fine, Jack,” Daddy promised. He let out a big sigh. “It’s just…the case made us really sad.”
Jack knew there were really bad people in the world that did things that made other people sad. People like George, who killed Mommy and would have hurt him too if Mommy and Daddy hadn’t been there to save him. He hated that there were people like George in the world and that Daddy and Spencer had to spend time around them, even if it was the only way they could beat them.
Spencer came back out in his pajamas, which somehow made him look even more tired and sadder. Daddy looked just as tired. They would all be going to bed soon, but Jack couldn’t bear the idea of being away from either one of them. “Can I sleep with you two tonight?” he pleaded.
“Yes,” said Spencer right away.
“I think that’s a good idea,” Daddy agreed. He scooped Jack up and handed him to Spencer. “You two go ahead – I’ll be there as soon as I change.”
Jack and Spencer were already under the covers by the time Daddy got out of bathroom, but they made sure to leave his side of the bed untucked so he’d know they hadn’t forgotten about him. The second he pulled the blankets up they all snuggled close together: Spencer and Daddy curled up around Jack, holding onto each other even as they held him. Soothed by Spencer’s warm, even breath on the top of his head and the sound of Daddy’s heart beating, Jack fell asleep feeling, for the first time since Mommy died, completely safe and at peace.
Two days later the contractors informed Aaron that the renovations were done and the house was ready.
To be concluded in PART 8