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Take Me Through the Darkness

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    “Okay, okay, so football movies can also be deep.” Spencer laughs, cuddling down even closer.

 

    “Did you doubt me?”

 

    “Hey, you doubted me on aliens.”

 

    “Mm, guess we’re both broadening our horizons.” Derek turns, kissing his temple. “You wanna know something?”

 

    “Generally speaking, very much so.”

 

    “I like aliens. I mean, not all of it, but… I like a few things with aliens. Like, real dense, weird stuff, too. I just tease you about your nerd stuff because you, you know… you get cute about it. Except Star Trek. Never got Star Trek. The rest of the time, though, I just like poking at you.”

 

    “Uh-huh. And subsequently pretending not to find me cute?”

 

    “Well… I have to maintain some professional reputation.”

 

    “Sure.” Spencer elbows him-- and, as hoped for, gets wrestled into a firm embrace, to be teased with light kisses to one ear, to the side of his neck. 

 

    “Hey, control those elbows, mister. Or there’s more where that comes from.”

 

    “That’s ‘doctor’.” He laughs. “And give me your worst.”

 

    It’s nice, this… the lightheartedness, how easy it is. Sure, he has his anxieties about being in an actual relationship, he was built for anxieties, and nothing in his past relationships of any nature has set him up for success. But with Derek, they just… are. They just do friend things and tease each other and laugh and then sometimes teasing and laughing and friend stuff turns into making out a little on the couch. And when he is nervous, Derek holds his hand and breathes with him until it passes, or distracts him. Usually while also holding his hand, actually. When they’re alone on their movie dates, usually, yes, but if there aren’t too many people around and Spencer has an acute bout of anxiety, Derek will hold his hand whether or not they’re at work, and it’s just… it feels natural, that this is the continuation of their relationship, that they let it unfold slowly, that reaching out for each other is something so right.

 

    He winds up pinned underneath Derek on the couch, nose to nose and both of them laughing.

 

    “So… would you do this again?”

 

    “This?”

 

    “Watch a sports movie.”

 

    “Actually, I think the movie’s strength is in the fact that he doesn’t care about football-- he likes football, he’s good at football. He’s more interested in reading Slaughterhouse Five than in studying plays, he’s definitely not interested in the status that comes with having an important role on the team, what he really cares about is people, and about justice, the right thing… he’s a compelling protagonist even to audience members with no knowledge of or particular interest in football because football doesn’t drive his internal life.”

 

    “Huh.” Derek nods. “Yeah, okay.”

 

    “To answer your question, if it’s a movie you like, then yes. But I am more of a basketball guy than a football guy. I mean, I’ve been to a football game, once! I don’t think I enjoyed it as intended… I didn’t hate it! I just didn’t… you know. Get it.”

 

    “You’re a basketball guy?”

 

    “Yeah. Well, I hit my growth spurt early, so, it was suggested I play? And I lacked the coordination for team sports, but, in terms of understanding the game, yeah. I, uh, I liked the… I liked the physics of it. I’m good at free throws, but not at… like, navigating a court with other people on it, or having a ball passed to me, and I don’t, you know, I don’t have fun, um… playing. But I think it’s interesting, intellectually.”

 

    “We could go to a game, sometime. Normal thing for a couple of guys to do together.”

 

    “Sure.” Spencer wraps his arms around Derek’s neck, leaning up to kiss him. “A date that isn’t just watching a movie on the couch… novel, but let’s do it.”

 

    “No one from work has to know if I kiss you goodnight at your door after.”

 

    “Why stop at my door?”

 

    “Oh?” He grins. “And where should I be kissing you goodnight?”

 

    “Anywhere you want.”

 

    “Careful, I might just take you up on that.”

 

    “Uh-huh.” Spencer smiles, feeling very pleasantly warm and hazy. It’s the comforting feeling of being pressed down into the couch, just enough of Derek’s weight on him, the cushions plush and soft. 

 

    The romance of the moment is a little spoiled by Clooney bounding over and snuffling into his ear. He’s pretty polite as far as not slobbering all over Spencer, even now that he’s taken to him with more comfort, but he’s no longer shy about coming over, the stub of his tail waggling as he tries to insert himself.

 

    “What’s wrong, special boy, you jealous?” Derek rubs his face, gently pushing him away before letting him muscle his way in closer, and he kisses the top of his head. “You feeling left out?”

 

    “Okay, okay.” Spencer scratches under Clooney’s chin. “I get the message, I’ve monopolized him long enough.”

 

    Clooney lets out a soft, barely-voiced wuff, and nuzzles into Spencer’s palm.

 

    “You’re being a terrible wingman, Clooney.” Derek gives him another playful shove, and Clooney gives him enough room to swing himself up off of Spencer and the couch before dancing right back over and attempting to take his place.

 

    “Woah, nope!” Spencer sits up quickly before he can find himself pinned down again, “Come on, buddy. I can’t go home if you pin me to the couch!”

 

    He still gets a lapful of Clooney, before managing to get out from under him.

 

    “He likes you, he doesn’t want you to go.”

 

    “Sure he wants me to go, he doesn’t get your undivided attention while I’m here.”

 

    “He wants your undivided attention. And mine.” He laughs. “I guess it’s time for me to get you home?”

 

    “Sure. So… when do I get to take that ride home on the back of your motorcycle?”

 

    Derek’s eyebrows climb. “Wait, you want to ride on the bike? You don’t want to lecture me about the statistics on motorcycle accidents, you want to go for a ride?”

 

    At ‘you want to go for a ride’, Clooney gives another agreeable little woof.

 

    “In the year two thousand five, there were four thousand five hundred seventy six deaths and approximately eighty seven thousand injuries due to motorcycle accidents. You weren’t involved in any of them.” He shrugs. 

 

    “Uh-huh.” Derek tugs him closer, hand at his waist. “Okay. Which head are you making this decision with?”

 

    “What? I’m just saying, I trust you to drive carefully, between here and my place.” Spencer blushes. Can he be blamed, if there’s something sexy about having a boyfriend with a motorcycle? A boyfriend with a motorcycle and a leather jacket? A boyfriend you have to hold onto extra tight, engine vibrating under you, roaring off into the night together? A boyfriend who takes you home on the back of his motorcycle and then walks you up to your apartment and kisses you goodnight you can feel his stubble and smell the leather of his jacket and his hands are warm and big and okay, maybe his libido is behind a large part of his decision-making process with regards to motorcycles, and whether or not he thinks it’s a good idea to ride one.

 

    “Next time, I’ll have a second helmet ready.” He lets go of Spencer, going to the door to grab his keys. “Okay, if you wanna come, come on. You wanna take Spencer home?”

 

    Clooney trots to the door, wiggling with excitement as his leash is clipped to his collar. He whines once at being relegated to the backseat, but contents himself with pushing his head forward between Derek and Spencer, demanding ear scratches. Spencer spends the ride fussing over him-- he’s still not a dog person, he doesn’t think, but he and Clooney have taken to each other, at least. Clooney, like his owner, has a way of being gentle when Spencer’s nervous. Spencer finds it natural to return the favor. 

 

    His face gets licked, when they pull up in front of his building and he leans across the center console to kiss Derek goodnight, giving Clooney the perfect opening to interject himself. Spencer does not find this as adorable as Derek clearly does… but it’s hardly the worst thing in the world. Yes, there are germs… but he can wash his face soon enough.

 

    “Have a good night, baby.”

 

    “You, too. Hey,” Spencer turns to give Clooney one last round of scratches. “I know, I know-- keep this guy out of trouble and I’ll see you next time.”

 

    It’s a long while before he does sleep, of course, it’s too early for that-- at least, for him-- but he does sleep, easier than he’s been sleeping lately. 

 

    At work, he’s aware of things now, in a new way… now that he’s hiding a relationship, he notices how close he and Derek are during the course of a normal day, how often they opt to sit next to each other, how often they touch… So far, they haven’t hit the tipping point-- however much they used to touch before they got together, it was enough that it doesn’t seem suspicious now. And they do sit next to each other, when Hotch lays out the next case, and on the jet heading out to Tennessee. They stage a fight over armrest space because it lets them touch.

 

    They’re split up on separate tasks once they hit the ground, which is fine. Par for the course to do some of their work separately, and it probably helps… and it’s not like he doesn’t feel perfectly safe with Elle. She’s more than competent, and he likes to think they have, like… a bond, after the train. Still, at the end of a long day, there’s a kind of relief when Derek slips into his hotel room.

 

    “Holding up?” He rests his hands at Spencer’s waist, leaning in to nuzzle at his cheek.

 

    “Yeah. I mean, this is pretty out there, but worse things have happened. You?”

 

    “Yeah. Like you said, worse things have happened… even when we haven’t seen ‘em, we’ve studied ‘em. You want some company tonight?”

 

    “Oh, company?” Spencer angles his head for a kiss. “I like company.”

 

    They’re not doubled up… no one would notice Derek sleeping with him. Of course, Derek probably wouldn’t be comfortable trying to sleep while Spencer’s got the lights on… he knows he’s not the easiest person to share a hotel room with even when he does just lie down quietly and try to sleep. And someone might notice them leaving the same room in the morning…

 

    For a while, they don’t talk about the question of how late he can stay. They just hold onto each other, and kiss. Out of the handful of people he’s kissed-- or, perhaps more accurately, the handful of people who have kissed him-- he thinks Derek has the nicest lips. Granted, a couple of kisses are somewhat spoiled in his memory by association, and Ethan had his good points but soft, gentle kisses weren’t really among them… Still. Still, there’s something he could just sink into about being kissed like this, the trailing up along his jaw to one earlobe, and then down the side of his neck, and Derek moving his shirt collar out of the way to be able to get a little lower, and one arm wrapped snug around his waist, one hand in his hair… The softness of his lips contrasting with the slight burn of stubble. The firmness and care with which he’s held, like he’s something it’s important to keep, and keep safe...

 

    It’s sexy, yeah, it’s the sexiest thing that’s happened to him in a long time, but it also just feels safe. Any nervous edginess he might have felt over hunting down a cannibal is easily melted away, being held, being…

 

    Focused on, really. That’s what matters most, Derek’s focus, feeling like he’s really, truly important to him. That’s what has his head reeling, even before the soft glide of lips over his skin has his blood hot. 

 

    “You know… um… I have-- I have a bed. In this hotel room.”

 

    “Uh-huh. I considered that.” Derek chuckles, working his way back towards Spencer’s lips for something slow and deep. “Mm… probably not the best night, much as I hate to say it. Who’s in the room next to yours?”

 

    For a moment, his mind is entirely blank. It’s not that he doesn’t remember, he knows Gideon is in the room to his right and JJ is directly across the hall, and Hotch is to her right, and Derek’s room is to Hotch’s right and Elle is across from him, and he doesn’t forget any of that, he merely finds himself unable to access that information in any kind of useful way, unable to speak.

 

    The implication is clear enough, whatever plans Derek might have that would involve the bed would also involve noises. The kind of noises they couldn’t explain away with a lie. Does Derek make a lot of noise? Is he merely confident in the amount of noise he’d be getting Spencer to make? Is he thinking solely about vocalization, or is he factoring in the creaking of the bed, or the headboard rhythmically hitting the wall?

 

    “Another time, then?” Spencer’s voice cracks. 

 

    “Definitely.” Derek’s hands settle back at his hips. “Sometime maybe you could just… stay over, my place?”

 

    Ah. Spencer’s libido is on board with that one, but the logical part of his mind, the part still capable of considering things like how difficult he is to sleep next to… that part is less so. 

 

    “I don’t know if you’d get much sleep.”

 

    “That’s the idea, pretty boy.” He winks.

 

    The blood rushes to his face fast, with the kind of sudden heat that reminds him of stepping outside back in Las Vegas, being hit with the temperature like it was physically smacking you in the face.

 

    “Well. Yes. That, that too, I just mean-- because I don’t. Sleep. Much. Well. Sorry, I--”

 

    “Hey, hey… no explanations required. We agreed on taking things slow, all you have to say is ‘maybe not this time’ and that’s it.”

 

    “I fully want to. It’s just, I’d be up an hour reading and you’d be… you know, asking me to turn the lights off already, or-- And then in the morning, you’d-- It’s really not the sex part that makes me nervous.”

 

    “I can put up with a little reading light. Even got a book lamp you could borrow, if that sweetens the deal.” Derek gives him a gentle tug closer, a reassuring kiss. “I want you to spend the night. You’re not a booty call. And we’ve got plenty of time to steal something fast on a night like this, when we can’t draw it out… but let’s not start that way. Next time you’re over… if you feel like staying, stay. And if you don’t, we’ll have a good time like we have before, and we’ll call it a night.”

 

    “It’s just, I’m… obnoxious, to be with--”

 

    “Yeah. I know.”

 

    Spencer leans back. “Aren’t you supposed to tell me I’m a delight and you love me?”

 

    “You’re a pain in the ass and I love you.” Derek laughs, and leans right after him, and kisses his neck.

 

    It’s the first time he’s said it. They’ve said other things, yes, awkwardly danced around ‘you know I really like you’ and ‘I care about you’, ‘I care about you a lot’ even, but ‘I love you’, just… just ‘I love you’, it’s the first time either of them has said that

 

    “Oh.”

 

    “Mm-hm. I don’t care if you stay up until two in the morning reading, I don’t care if your feet get cold, I don’t care if you snore, I don’t care if you move around, I just want you to want to stay.” He continues nuzzling at him, teasing, the ‘I love you’ still hanging there even as he acts like it’s not a monumental moment. 

 

    “I-- I love you, too.”

 

    Derek pulls back to look at him, and maybe he hadn’t noticed saying it, any more than Spencer had thought of jokingly demanding to hear it, maybe the gravity hits him now, but the way he smiles is reassuring, the hand that moves up to Spencer’s cheek. 

 

    “Is that a ‘maybe’ on staying at my place next time?”

 

    “Next time is my turn. And-- No, and I get it, you’ve got to get back to Clooney eventually and me staying at your place is easier than you staying at my place. And, um, way nicer. I just--”

 

    “You can bring a movie over if you want. But I just meant next time you’re over.”

 

    “Right. Right.” Spencer nods, feeling stupid. Which is in itself stupid, because if there’s one thing he knows, it’s… well. It’s not even a major misunderstanding, it’s barely a misunderstanding at all, but it’s a reminder, that he’s bad at normal conversation, that he misses key bits of context, that having a casual chat with a person he likes is so much harder for him than interrogating a potential murderer. “I, um… that’s a maybe, yeah. I just-- it’s, um… difficult. Not-- you’re not difficult!”

 

    “Yeah. I get that. I mean, there’s trust involved. And there’s a reason why I don’t do that kind of trust with most people… but that’s also why I want that with you. You’re different. I want things with you to be different.”

 

    “I’m… I’m used to--” He stops, unsure how to sum up everything he’s used to without putting Derek off. The fact that he’s not put off yet feels like a minor miracle. It would be so easy if he could just do the Right Things and not expose the worst parts of himself, but nobody gets that. He knows nobody gets that. He’s just not sure what the worst parts of other people are like and what the general opinion is on tolerable vs intolerable flaws, and he can’t help fearing his own are intolerable.

 

    Or, in the case of the main thing keeping him from jumping at the chance to sleep in Derek’s bed, laughable. The fact that he routinely stays up late and falls asleep in the middle of reading or working means that when he’s shared rooms in the past, his leaving the light on has always been brushed off as incidental, a natural consequence of his troubles with sleep, not a conscious choice born of irrational fear.

 

    And so they don’t take that step, in Tennessee. They wrap up the case, without much time together until the flight home. 

 

    Life is normal long enough for another movie night. They watch Stalker and eat orange chicken and lo mein out of the containers. They even feed each other a couple of bites-- well, okay, it’s mostly a one-way street, Derek feeding him bites of chicken and reaching over into the lo mein container in Spencer’s hand with his chopsticks. Teases Spencer for twirling his noodles around a fork instead, before they switch containers and the bite-trading slows down but doesn’t really stop. Things don’t get heated, but he likes it. There’s a comfort like they’ve been together longer than they have been, when things are like this, when they both just feel content to be close… and content to know that things will get heated, that there’s going to be a next time where they can’t get enough of each other, and maybe when that happens they won’t break away and say goodnight… There’s no pressure for it to be tonight. 

 

    Which he’s grateful for, because he absolutely overdoes it on the Chinese food, and it’s not conducive to feeling very sexy. He rearranges himself so that he can lean back against Derek, and drags one big, warm hand to rest over his slightly aching stomach. 

 

    “Can I ask you not to take it the wrong way if I unbutton my pants?” He groans.

 

    “I got you.” Derek snorts, and his hand slides down, just a little, deftly obliging. 

 

    Spencer groans again. “It’s really unfair that I can’t properly appreciate that right now.”

 

    “You’re the one whose eyes are bigger than his stomach.” He teases, but he also rubs Spencer’s stomach, which is nice. Nice is… not a strong enough word, for what it is. He’s not sure what it is. 

 

    It’s not something he can remember anyone doing for him before.

 

    His stomach, anxious as the rest of him, is upset often enough for reasons that have little to do with diet that he’s gotten good at ignoring it below a certain threshold. But it’s not like he hasn’t exceeded that threshold, for one reason or another, it’s not like he hasn’t been ill and… 

 

    And just not had anyone do this for him.

 

    “I get this disruption to my impulse control when my mouth is full-- or when I-- I mean, it’s more about how it feels, um… right, physically? To have a lot in my mouth at once. And then once I get started, the disruption to impulse control means it’s no longer about hunger.”

 

    Derek’s hand slows to a stop. “Oh.”

 

    “That’s weird, isn’t it? I know, that’s weird.”

 

    “No-- Maybe. Sorry, I’m not thinking about food right now.” He resumes the light massage. “Like an oral fixation? Not that weird.”

 

    “I don’t know. It feels… different. It’s hard to explain how.” He frowns. “It’s more tied to… I have an atypical physical relationship to the world, where sensations are either too much or not enough. Things are… too loud, or not soft enough, or not hard enough. And I’m too still and too empty, or else it’s the opposite. It’s not as simple as being sensory seeking, or avoidant, or defensive, or… It’s a set of extremes. And part of that is, if I need to feel or not feel something, I’m not thinking as much about other consequences, I’m thinking about fulfilling the requirements for immediate physical comfort. Which might be, you know, I have to wear certain fabrics and not others, or might be… like, can I shove an entire donut into my mouth at once without attracting undue attention, and if not, how much can I shove into my mouth while remaining within the bounds of social acceptability and how quickly can I follow that up with another bite, and… This is, this is all, I know--.”

 

    “Weird, gotcha.” Derek’s head leans against his. “Okay.”

 

    “Okay?”

 

    “Okay. Come on, I like weird.” 

 

    “You do?”

 

    “I’m with you, aren’t I? Hey… look, if I ever made you feel like I don’t like your weird, it’s… I do, okay? I love your weird.”

 

    “It’s a lot of weird.”

 

    “You want to know something?” Derek sighs.

 

    “Always.”

 

    “I… have been nursing a weird, ridiculous crush on you for a while.”

 

    “... Well this sounds like something I could have extrapolated.”

 

    “And, I like how weird you are. And if I don’t tell you to shut up once in a while, everyone else is gonna notice how much I like how weird you are. So… you know, before we were dating, it didn’t seem like a big deal, but I really need you to know, you know… I don’t stop you because I don’t like hearing you talk. Even if I don’t get what you’re talking about.”

 

    “Oh.”

 

    “Yeah.”

 

    “I’m-- I’m used to people not wanting to listen to, well… a lot of things I could say, I guess.”

 

    “Yeah… I’m sorry I added to that.” His lips find Spencer’s ear, soft. 

 

    “It’s okay. Derek… you’re one of the few people who-- You always show me that you care about me. But you do it by… by wanting me to hang back when there might be gunplay, and worrying when I don’t, and… giving me nicknames and teasing me and… It’s okay that you haven’t always expressed your feelings the way that I express mine. It doesn’t mean you haven’t always made me feel like I was important to you. And… now you’re starting to, you’re showing me stuff you care about so that I can know more parts of you, and… I think I get that, that… maybe some of that, we can’t be like this in front of people, because it would be easier to slip up. And… thanks. For telling me, that you really do like to listen to me.”

 

    “You’re my boy.”

 

    “Yeah I am.”

 

    The credits are over, and have been for a while. Their evening is coming to a close, or it should be. Spencer doesn’t want it to.

 

    They do kiss goodnight at his door this time. He stands there and watches Derek head down to his car, watches him turn back and wave, feels himself break out into a giddy grin as he waves back. 

 

    He doesn’t sleep well, but there are no nightmares either, which he’s willing to call a win. 

 

    They get one more easy day, where they don’t need to do more than work through their backlog of paperwork, before they have another abducted child.

 

    Any missing kid is rough. Two abducted children in a row… the energy on the jet is noticeably tense. It’s a relatively quick flight, to get to Delaware, but there’s less chatter than usual. 

 

    It’s knowing how little time they have that has everyone feeling the strain. 

 

    Spencer is out of his element, tagging along after JJ, wandering around the Copeland house. He’s not needed for victimology on this one, he’s not at a crime scene… even if the statistics weren’t so bleak, he’d be feeling useless, until he has data to sort through. Lists of names, notes from all the witnesses, tipline information… once he has that spread out, at least he’s working

 

    Derek puts a cup of coffee and a bagel in front of him, not too late into the afternoon, and he flashes him a grateful look, gets his hair ruffled. 

 

    “Holding up?”

 

    “Yeah. You?”

 

    “Trying. Hoping a little girl is still alive out there…” He drops into his chair with a sigh. “Knowing even if we get her, she’s having the worst experience of her life, and every minute we don’t have her is a minute he does.”

 

    Spencer leans forward, gripping his shoulder. “We’re going to catch this guy.”

 

    He can’t promise that they’ll catch him in time… he doesn’t know if he can make himself believe they can. Still… he knows these cases hit Derek hard-- these cases hit all of them hard, it’s just that Derek… he’s softer than he lets on, with most people. He’s empathetic and sensitive, and he works to keep it all behind a professional facade, and kids… it gets to him. It hurts.

 

    When the call comes in about the SUV, he and Derek are the only ones at the station, they head out together.

 

    “Should I call Hotch?” He asks, sliding into the passenger’s seat.

 

    “Not yet. Let’s wait until we have something.”

 

    “Well, do you think we do?”

 

    “Feels like we’re closing in on him.” Derek says. The tension is radiating off of him, he grips the wheel hard. “But I don’t want to jump the gun. I don’t want to spook this guy rolling up all at once.”

 

    “Right. Hey… we’ve got this.”

 

    “Yeah.” Derek gives him a smile. It’s tight and brief and anxious, but it still feels… good, he thinks. Reassuring. This is a rough case, but they’re going to do everything within their power.

 

    In the car, on the drive, they can be tense and they can be anxious. Once they arrive, once Derek hops out, the professional mask is in place, and Spencer does his best to do the same. He’s not sure if he’s successful, but then, he’s also not really sure how he’d looked with his guard down. Sometimes people can tell, sometimes people can’t… he displays emotion atypically. It makes it harder to gauge whether or not he’s performing correctly-- but then, he can usually let someone else take point on things when he’s not confident in himself. There’s enough in the job that he feels confident in that he doesn’t have to feel bad about the parts where he lags. Not that he doesn’t, sometimes-- there are things he thinks it’s important he be capable of, even if he rarely does them. But…

 

    Well, when it comes to talking to people, like this, witnesses who don’t know they’re witnesses, he does better playing backup, being a second set of eyes and a second set of ears more than a second mouth. And he’s probably… probably closer to moral support than backup, right now, but still. Still, moral support’s important, too. Derek doesn’t need his help asking questions, coming to conclusions, or calling it in, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need him.

 

    Maybe more just as a person than as an agent, but that’s all right. More than.

 

    “There’s nowhere he can go. We’re parked outside his house.” He says, for both of them, rubbing Derek’s back. They’re back by the car, keeping an eye on Curtis’ house, out of the line of sight of the neighbor who’d called the tip in. Out of sight in general-- sure, someone could look out a window and see them, but even if the team drove up and saw them like this, there’s nothing about it that would read as romantic. They all sometimes ground each other, especially when they’re racing the clock trying to save a missing kid, they’re human and they all need it sometimes.

 

    “He could go out the back.”

 

    “But he couldn’t take Billie with him. How far do you think he’d get? On foot? Besides, he doesn’t know we’re here for him. We’ll get him.”

 

    “Yeah, yeah. I know you’re right.” Derek runs a hand over his head, blows out a heavy sigh before turning to look back at Spencer. “I just--”

 

    “I know.”

 

    “I don’t like waiting now that we’re here. Don’t know if she’s still alive, don’t know… don’t know enough. I mean, at the end of the day, an educated guess is a guess. And I have a lot of faith in how educated we are, and how good we are at what we do, but…”

 

    “But a little girl’s life is on the line and nothing is foolproof.” Spencer nods. “I get it.”

 

    “He’s not going to let us in. If she’s alive in there… what’s he going to do to her when the FBI’s on his doorstep waiting on a warrant?”

 

    Spencer rests his chin on Derek’s shoulder, wrapping his arms around him from behind. “If he gets panicky… maybe he says or does enough to claim probable cause. I don’t know.” He lets him go. 

 

    He’d rather not, but there are limits to what the team would think of as normal, as just colleagues helping each other regain some cool before making a bust. His hand returns to the center of Derek’s back instead, and stays there even as the rest of the team pulls up. 

 

    When Gideon goes in, Derek isn’t far behind, and Spencer feels stuck, frozen. Realistically, he knows he’s not standing by the car alone for that long, but it feels that way. He doesn’t feel… decisive, or confident, he doesn’t have a course of action in mind that he believes in… and he doesn’t mind following someone else’s lead, there are plenty of situations where he follows someone else’s lead, it’s that this isn’t even that. It’s not panic, but it’s something scattered. 

 

    Curtis denies having the girl, even with a gun in his face. Hotch tasks Spencer and Derek with searching the office while the rest of them search the house for Billie. 

 

    “He can’t ask you to do this.” Derek frowns, though there was never a moment in which to register an objection. 

 

    “It’s everybody’s least favorite thing to go looking for.” He shrugs. It’s only fair he take a turn. Besides… the other thing they’re looking for is a little girl and he knows the odds of finding her alive are shorter than the odds of finding her dead. There’s no good job to take here.

 

    “Yeah. Everybody else gets to at least try to forget it.”

 

    “Do you want to check the tapes or the computer?”

 

    “I-- Look, you-- Sit this one out. I’ll do it.” 

 

    That’s love for you… There are people milling around outside the office, the door still open, and they’re at work, and he doesn’t dare kiss him, take his hand, but he reaches out and squeezes his arm.

 

    “I’m not going to let you do the most soul-crushing job alone. I’ll take the computer.”

 

    “Kid--”

 

    “Don’t ‘kid’ me on this one.” His hand moves up to Derek’s shoulder. “We’re a team.”

 

    Derek sighs, head dropping forward and swinging to the side, face making brief contact with Spencer’s forearm.

 

    “We’re a team. If you need to step away, do it.” He pats his hip. “Okay?”

 

    “Okay. You, too.”

 

    “I--”

 

    “And don’t say it’s different because you get to forget, because you don’t just get to choose what to forget. And this… You can take a break, too. We’ll get what we need.”

 

    He nods, and they break away, setting to their separate tasks. Getting into Curtis’ computer is easy enough. He methodically works his way through the files as Derek does the same with the shelves. 

 

    He’s lucky, it’s not all as bad as it could be. Some of it is just… cartoons, he can handle cartoons. As for the rest, he does his best not to look at any more than he has to, does his best to get what they need while seeing as little as possible. Which he imagines is what everyone else does. 

 

    His plan is to just… power through it, and then they’ll be able to decompress when it’s over. At least, that’s his plan up until he hears a gagging sound, and the TV clicking off, and he leaves the computer like a shot.

 

    “Derek?” He gingerly scoots the wastepaper basket closer, though the gagging has subsided. “You found…”

 

    “It’s just… I’ll go through the rest in a minute.” He says, and they’ve seen a lot of horrible things, in the time they’ve worked together, but Spencer has never seen him look so haunted, never seen him so shaky or seen his eyes so wet. 

 

    He moves to stand next to closer, where Derek’s sitting on the floor, coaxes Derek to lean against him. 

 

    “Take as long as you need.”

 

    “We don’t have as long as I need.” He wraps an arm around Spencer’s legs. “But thanks.”

 

    “It’s-- We-- Yeah.” Spencer sighs, one hand kneading at Derek’s shoulder, the other stroking over his head. Just a moment… for now it’s just a moment. When it’s all over, they’ll decompress together.

 

    “We have to nail this son of a bitch.”

 

    “We’re gonna.”

 

    “Okay…” Derek straightens up, letting go. “Back to work, I’ve… I’m good.”

 

    He isn’t, but there’s nothing Spencer can say to make him admit it, and it would just hurt them both to try right now. It’s not like anyone could be good, searching through this stuff, but it has to get done… and he admires Derek’s commitment to getting it done, seeing just how much it gets to him. 

 

    So Spencer goes back to cataloging what he finds in Curtis’ computer, and Derek goes back to the tapes, and for a while the office is mostly quiet.

 

    “Son of a bitch…”

 

    “Derek?” He leans around the computer.

 

    “Found it, he had her. He had her here.” He clicks the television off again, leans back and closes his eyes a moment. 

 

    “Take a break.” Spencer urges. “That’s the most important thing. As for the rest… I have a feeling we’ve got more than enough right now. Someone else can… later, we can hand it all over, someone else will have the resources to try and track down his network, but-- you’ve got him.”

 

    He’s able to take that break until Gideon comes to check in with them, when he’s got to show him the tape Billie’s on, but… it’s something, at least. 

 

    It’s a statistical anomaly, if not a miracle, when they find her, alive and… well enough, if not well. It’s late by the time they do, and well past midnight when the jet takes off, but no one’s sleeping. After all the doubts and the horrors of this one, the win has them wired. Even if it didn’t, the flight’s likely to take just under an hour.

 

    He and Derek keep an aisle between them, on the jet. He’s pretty sure if they didn’t, they’d be too far into each other’s personal space to shrug off. As it is, Derek keeps reaching over to tease him with a ruffle of the hair or a gentle smack to the back of the head or the shoulder, and every time he grins, maybe laughs, whether he ducks away or reaches back, because playfully slapping Derek’s hand away is as much as he can really do, in front of everyone like this. Messing with each other as a show of affection is what they’ve got, when they can’t be too tender in front of the team… but it is affection. He’d miss it if Derek stopped, if just because they’re together now, they no longer had these little public interactions. Sure, the things they have when they’re alone make him feel cared for, special… but the little shoves and taps and hair-mussing make him feel normal. It’s not something he wants to have to put into words, not because it would be so difficult, but because it would mean verbalizing how abnormal his default is and always has been. He’s just glad Derek is better at picking up on nonverbal signals, even when the person giving them is Spencer.

 

    “Counting cards isn’t cheating, by the way.” He says, absolutely not silencing anyone around the tables.

 

    “Do casinos let you do it?”

 

    “It’s not cheating!”

 

    “But casinos don’t let you do it.” JJ laughs. 

 

    “Seriously, do you mark these?” Derek flips a card at him. 

 

    “No! I’m just reasonably good at keeping track of where in the deck the cards are.”

 

    “No, you’re unreasonably good at keeping track of where in the deck the cards are.” His leg stretches across the aisle this time, foot tapping against Spencer’s. “How do you do that?”

 

    “You want me to teach you to count cards?” He taps back, grinning. 

 

    “If it’s not cheating.”

 

    “We will get our legs broken by the mafia if we try it in a casino, but it is not cheating.”

 

    Derek just smiles at him, and it’s a smile he recognizes, it’s not new… it’s the kind of smile Derek’s always given him, or at least for long enough, now and then. He’s never understood the reason. Now he thinks he does.

 

    He explains the fine art of card counting to Derek and JJ, though they lose Hotch at some point, and he’s not sure if either of them actually get it. Still, it’s all a good distraction. Saving Billie was good, great, but it doesn’t erase the images he’d had to look through, had to be professional about looking through, because it’s part of the job, because he wants the team to know he can be relied on to do the hard parts of the job… 

 

    He’s good at looking professional, anyway, or if not professional, dispassionate. He’s used to working around dead bodies, crime scene photos of even more bodies, sometimes in appalling conditions, and he’s… he doesn’t know. He thinks he projects an air of being at ease, with certain unpleasant parts of their work. Sometimes it’s an accurate reflection of his emotional state. Other times it’s not.

 

    “Okay, shark.” Derek says, as they head in for a landing and Spencer puts the cards back in the box. “You need a ride?”

 

    “Yeah, that’d be-- yeah. Thanks.” He nods.

 

    They touch down, grab their stuff, deplane… the whole time, his mind is on having a little privacy, being able just to talk freely in the car. After everything… after going through the office, the computer.

 

    In the car, he sees the change, between SSA Derek Morgan and just Derek, able to be human in the semi-privacy of his car. The tiredness, the weight of a long, tense day. 

 

    “Hey.” He offers Spencer a weary smile, reaches over to rest a hand on his thigh just a moment before he’s putting the car in gear. “Come home with me?”

 

    Spencer nods. He has the go bag he hadn’t needed in Delaware, there’s no reason not to. Well, the lights thing, but he’s tired, and he doesn’t want to go home alone tonight, and Derek’s offering, and maybe being next to Derek means he’ll be able to sleep.

 

    It’s a quiet ride. Inside, Clooney rushes to greet them, winding around their legs as Derek locks up. 

 

    “Okay, boy, okay… I know, daddy’s home.” He pats at him absently. “Spencer, you okay sharing the bed with this guy?”

 

    He feels like not that long ago, he wouldn’t even have considered sharing a bed with a dog. Now, he can’t imagine saying no.

 

    “Just don’t lick my face.” He tells Clooney, mock-stern. “Despite popular belief, your mouth is not cleaner than mine.”

 

    “What? Is that rule for everyone? There go my plans.” Derek wraps an arm around his waist, kissing his cheek. “Come on, bedroom’s through here.”

 

    Derek’s bedroom is definitely nicer than his. Actually, Derek’s bed would barely fit in Spencer’s bedroom… 

 

    “I leave the bathroom light on at night, but it’s on a dimmer switch.” He continues, following Spencer in. “Clooney’s got a second water dish in there. That okay?”

 

    “That’s perfect, actually. I mean-- you know. If I need to find my way to the bathroom in the dark, or… Totally cool.” 

 

    That takes care of his one worry. It might not be much, but he thinks it’ll be enough. They change separately, this time, and he finds himself blushing and grinning nervously when they come face to face again, Spencer in his flannel pajamas with the owls, Derek in grey sweatpants and an old tee shirt.

 

    “Wow. Um, so.”

 

    “I’ve seen you in your jammies before. You’ve seen me, I think in less than this.”

 

    “Yeah, but it was different. You weren’t my boyfriend.” His voice wavers a little on the word.

 

    “C’mere.” He pulls back the covers, patting the bed. Puts himself on the side close to the sliding glass door onto the little backyard, which doesn’t surprise Spencer in the least. The times they’ve shared a hotel room, Derek always puts himself closer to the door, and the door out onto the rest of the house is across from the foot of the bed.

 

    As a plus, this puts Spencer closer to the light from the bathroom, dim as it is. 

 

    “This is nice.” He sighs, feeling Clooney settle down near the foot of the bed, the weight of his chin on Spencer’s calf, the warmth of his solid body radiating through the covers. And nicer still, Derek, spooned up behind him, hand spread across his chest. Sure, at home he’d sleep with more light than this, but it’s something, and with Derek and Clooney both pressed close, he feels like he can handle it, he can handle it.

 

    “Mm.” Derek kisses the back of his neck. “Hey… that eidetic memory…”

 

    “Yeah?”

 

    “Does that mean you could read to me?”

 

    “Any book I’ve ever read. What, any requests?”

 

    “Nah. I just… I just want to listen to you for a while… turn my brain off. Fall asleep thinking about you.”

 

    “Okay.” Spencer smiles. ‘Reading’ would provide a distraction, keep him from drifting back to things he’d seen which might make easy sleep harder to come by. And he likes to think he could provide some kind of mental security to Derek, in exchange for the safety being held lets him feel. He rests his hand over the one on his chest, and looks at the line of dim light around the bathroom door, and he pokes through his mental library until he finds what he thinks is the right choice. “All this happened, more or less.”