The Letter - TheKnittingLady - Criminal Minds [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

Chapter 1

Notes:

Friendship often ends in love; but love in friendship - never.
- Charles Caleb Colton

Chapter Text

Chapter One
T + 90 minutes

Morgan

Another case. Another killer. Another board full of pictures of dead young women. Just another day.

Only not, because one of the victims looked a lot like a victim from a year before. "Hey." Morgan said as he noticed Spencer spending a bit too much time looking at that particular picture. "You okay?"

"Sure, why wouldn't I be?"

Morgan nodded at the picture, the one with brown hair, light eyes, pale skin, an unselfconscious smile. "I'm just worried that that might be a reminder."

Spencer looked at it another long moment. "It is." He admitted. "But it doesn't feel as overwhelming as it did. Don't get me wrong, it still hurts, but it feels lighter, like there might be room for other things."

Morgan nodded, satisfied. "That's the way it works."

Then Hotch's phone rang. "Yes Director." Every head in the room turned to look at him, and so everyone in the room saw the blood leave his face. "Yes, Sir, of course," he hung up the phone. "Leave everything where it is, we're heading back to DC. A team from Major Sex Crimes is coming out to cover for us. JJ," Hotch took her outside the door.

"What the hell?" Morgan asked.

Just as his tablet bleeped and a pale, shaking Garcia appeared on the screen they heard JJ's keening moan. "Did the Director call?" Garcia asked.

"Babygirl, what's going on?" Morgan asked her in reply.

"Henry's been kidnapped."

Chapter 2

Chapter Text

Chapter Two
BAU Headquarters
FBI building
Quantico, VA
T + 3 hours

JJ left the elevator at a flat run and headed straight for the bullpen. "Will?"

"I'm here." Will stood up from the break table and caught her in his arms.

"What happened? Have you heard anything? Any word from the kidnappers?"

"No, nothing yet. There's nothing." He sighed as the rest of the team came up to them. "They got him in the parking lot over at the Whole Foods. Kelly, our nanny, stopped there after picking Henry up from kindergarten. She said a van pulled up behind them, two men piled out, one of them punched her twice and the other grabbed Henry, then they got back in the van and took off. "

"Where is she now?" Hotch asked.

"Washington Medical. She got a broken nose and a concussion out of it." Will sighed. "She said it happened in seconds. They haven't let me in since right after; DC Metro is working with you guys on it." He nodded up at the conference room.

"JJ, stay here." Hotch said as they all headed that way.

She nodded and stayed in Will's arms. "Just find him, please."

In the conference room they found a bustle of FBI and DC Metro. One woman detached herself and came over to meet them. "Agent Hotchner? I'm Carol Stewart, head of the Northeastern CARD team. I'm heading up the investigation. I was about to call your office on this anyway."

"What have you heard so far?" Hotch asked.

"We've got an Amber alert out, already getting his picture and description to all the news outlets. We have a dozen witnesses from the parking lot, I'd love to have your team interview them and the nanny, two of my people are sitting with her at Washington Medical."

Hotch turned toward the team. "Morgan." The agent immediately turned and left.

Carol continued. "According to the witnesses the three men looked to be Caucasian but their faces were covered, it was a white delivery type van without plates and no one said anything. They snatched him up and were gone in seconds."

"Is someone after our team?' Rossi asked.

"I don't think so." Carol replied as she moved to the board. "This is the fifth kidnapping from a northeastern city in the past four weeks, all the same MO. And Henry fits the victimology to a T, male, blond, between the ages of four and six, traveling with a single female in a grocery store parking lot."

"Do we have any idea why they're taking them?"

"No. No contact from the kidnappers, no ransom demands, nothing. They're just gone."

Washington Medical Center
Emergency Department
Washington DC
T + 4 hours

"Okay think back." Morgan said. "In the grocery store, was there anything unusual at all?"

"No." Kelly was distraught, sobbing through her swollen nose and blackened eye

"Was anyone paying too close attention? Maybe following you around the store?"

"No."

"Did anyone stop to talk to you or Henry?"

"No…well…."

"Well?"

"There was this one guy, but he wasn't creepy or anything."

"What did he do?" Morgan asked gently.

"He…he asked Henry if he liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Henry didn't answer him; he just came back to me. He knows not to talk to strangers. Then…he called Henry a cute kid, he said his son has a peanut allergy and can't have peanut butter and jelly, that it was sad because he loved it when he was a kid."

"What did you say?"

"I said I was glad we didn't have to deal with anything like that. Then he told Henry that he had a pretty mommy and Henry said I was his nanny. That was it, he didn't bother us again."

"What did he look like?"

"Um, brown hair…glasses…wearing a…polo shirt and khakis. Maybe 30? 40? Kind of…average."

"All right," Morgan said. "That's a help."

BAU Headquarters
FBI building
Quantico, VA
T + 4 hours

"That's him." Garcia said.

They were gathered in the conference room, watching the security tapes from the grocery store. They all watched as a perfectly bland man stopped and talked to Kelly and Henry for a few moments before moving on. As they watched he very carefully cased the pair, picking up a few items here and there, then quickly checking out and moving on. "He's paying cash." Rossi said. "That's not going to be a help."

"I don't understand." Garcia said.

"He was scoping out a victim." Rossi said with a sigh. "He wanted to make sure Henry was healthy. If a child is sick a harried mother usually welcomes the chance to talk about it."

Spencer spoke up. "Every grocery store was upscale and specialized in organic products." He pointed out. "Otherwise there are no geographic commonalities. They weren't particularly close to highway on ramps."

"Meaning they changed vehicles." Rossi said. "If we find the vans we might find forensic evidence, but that's sketchy at best. Garcia, do we ever get a good look at his face?"

"Nope, this bastard never looks up, not once."

"So we have nothing." JJ said. She was standing in the back of the room, holding Will up like he was holding her.

"What do we know about stranger abductions?" Hotch asked.

"Stranger abductions of children are actually fairly rare." Rossi pointed out. "Most of the time a child is abducted by someone they know. Given that this is an organized ring that's hit multiple cities we can probably rule that out. If it was for ransom or a political statement someone would have said something by now."

"Could be illegal adoption," Blake said.

"Too old," Rossi replied. "Those are usually taken either by a mother looking to replace the child she lost or a ring looking to profit. Either way, they're usually under five."

"Henry is small for his age." Will pointed out.

Blake took a deep breath. "I hate to be the one to go there, but trafficking…."

None of them wanted to think of that, ever. "I spoke with Katie Cole over in Innocent Images and Andi Swan over at Trafficking." Hotch said. "Both teams are on high alert but so far there's no sign of any of the boys."

"Even if it's too soon for Henry it's not too soon for the other boys." Rossi added. "I hate to say it but this might be something entirely new."

They were all focusing on Will and JJ, of course, but later on Blake cornered Spencer by the board. "How are you holding up?" She asked. She knew it wasn't just the parents they had to worry about here; it was the godparents as well. Garcia had Morgan, of course, but Spencer needed someone.

It was a moment before Spencer answered. "Thinly," he replied.

"We're going to find him, you know."

"Yes." He said. "I know we will."

Blake could only hope he was right, or there would be four adults lost as well.

Chapter 3

Chapter Text

Chapter three
BAU Headquarters
FBI building
Quantico, VA
T + 7 days

Seven days.

One week.

One solid week of hell

They all knew the statistics. Less than 60% of children taken by strangers come home alive. After three days, the chances of a child returning alive drops to 1%.

Seven days.

In the interim another boy had gone missing, with the same MO. Baltimore, Maryland. Boston, Massachusetts. Newark, New Jersey. Hartford, Connecticut. Washington DC. And now New Haven, Connecticut. Six boys, just gone.

Everyone was concerned about JJ and Will. They weren't eating. They weren't sleeping. All they could do was worry about their son. Every day they came to the office to just sit and watch and wait, wanting to be right there in case there was any news at all.

The BAU team went over all the evidence, and then went over all of it again. They went to the various cities and interviewed witnesses, parents, relatives, school friends. They combed security footage. None of it added up. "Everything points to a trafficking ring." Rossi said. "But there's no sign that they're being trafficked."

"Maybe we just haven't caught them yet." Morgan said.

"I was trying not to go there." Rossi replied.

"Everyone." Hotch came in, carrying evidence bags. "This arrived in the mailroom earlier today. Reid, it was addressed to you but when we saw it we took the liberty of opening it for forensics."

They all gathered around to look. The first bag contained a standard business envelope, something from a big box office store, postmarked from Hammond, LA three days ago and smudged with prints. On the front, in large, childish handwriting was written

Spenser Reed
FBI
BAU
Quantico, VA

JJ looked over his arm and gasped. "That's Henry's handwriting."

"I'm glad you opened it." Spencer said.

"There are too many prints on the envelope to compare." Hotch replied.

The second bag contained a sheet of common copy paper with a picture of a house that looked a lot like JJ and Will's, with two adults out front. A distance away was a smaller figure, and drawn from that was a word bubble sayingI wan go home!JJ gasped when she saw it.

"We compared the prints on that one to the exemplar from Henry's SafeKids pack." Hotch said. "They came back to his and an unknown. The other sheet only has prints from the same unknown."

The other sheet was thick and covered in small dots. "Braille." Spencer said. "Garcia, can you scan this and bring the dots up in contrast?" He handed the paper off and called something up on the nearest computer. "Braille is nothing more than a substitution cipher, a pattern of six or fewer dots standing in for each letter." By the time Garcia had the tactile paper turned into a graphic he had the cipher memorized. "Can you transcribe this?" At her nod he started reading.

Hello,

My name is Susanna Holman. I am writing on behalf of Henry Jareau. He tells me you are his godfather and according to him you know everything and can work magic. We are hoping you can find a way to return him to his family.

Garcia turned and started a search for Susanna Holman anywhere in Louisiana.

First off I want to tell his mother that he is healthy and well. He does not like my mother's cooking, but he has been cleaning his plate. He is decently dressed and is sleeping in his own bed in the same room as my brothers. He has not been attending school as my family instructs their children at home but he has been learning his letters along with the others. While he was…

Spencer stopped for a moment, his lips tightening

distressed by an encounter with my father's strap when he first arrived I have been helping him learn our family rules and as he is a quick boy he has not been chastised since. I will do what I can to keep him from punishment until he returns to you.

Will turned and left the room. A moment later there was the distinct sound of a fist hitting a wall.

Please understand that my parents are good people. But they have fallen under the spell of a truly evil man and under his advisem*nt they believe this is the right thing to do. I understand and accept that there will be repercussions from their actions. I believe that will actually be a blessing for my family.

Communication is going to be a problem. As you can tell from my method of writing I am legally blind and as a result of that and of my family's beliefs I am a virtual shut-in and have never set foot off my family's farm. I don't even know my own address and to ask it now would be to invite suspicion. I cannot ask one of my brothers or sisters to write because they fully support my father in all of his endeavors. I do not have access to a telephone. I do have a small radio which, along with books and journals from the library, is my window on the world. Most of what I listen too appears to be prerecorded but there is one show on late at night that is live. It is hosted by a man named Art Bell. Much of what he has on there is silliness but he seems like a decent sort. If he interviews you on his show and you ask questions I'll do my best to answer and with Henry as my eyes maybe together we can bring him home.

I will place this letter and the picture Henry is drawing in an envelope and give it to him to post when he joins my family on one of their many road trips. I hope he can find a way to slip it into a mailbox without being seen. I will listen for one week and then try writing again. I have 19 stamps left.

With all hope

S. H.

"He's alive." JJ said softly.

"There is nothing." Garcia said. "No Susanna Holman in Louisiana. If they were on a road trip they could be from anywhere. I'm expanding the search to the rest of the country."

"If they're traveling, how come no one spotted Henry?" Morgan asked. "That Amber alert is nationwide."

"They could have changed his appearance." Rossi said. "Cut and dyed his hair. And I doubt he'd try to run, for fear of that strap. That's how the Unsub is controlling them."

"But then why didn't Susanna write for all the other boys?" Blake asked.

"Good question." Hotch said. "Anyone hear of this Art Bell?"

"He does a late-night call-in radio show out of Pahrump, Nevada." Spencer said. "Conspiracy theorists, UFO freaks, ghost hunters, but every so often he has a real scientist on."

"Think he'd work with us?" Rossi asked.

"I don't know."

"Let's find out."

Art Bell turned out to be an older man, with tidy, graying hair and large glasses. "Missing child case? Sure anything I can do to help." He said through the Skype hook-up. "We could do it tonight if you want, say ten to fifteen minutes at the top of the show. I'll have my engineer get with your tech."

"Thank you Mr. Bell." Rossi said. "If there's anything we can do to repay you…"

"Well since you're offering once the kids are safe give me an interview. Your books are pretty popular with my listeners."

"Done," Rossi replied. "We'll talk more in a bit."

They left Garcia to work out the details. "All right," Hotch said. "So what are we going to ask her?"

Chapter 4

Chapter Text

Chapter four
BAU Headquarters
FBI building
Quantico, VA
T + 10 days

Spencer

“And we’re back on Coast to Coast. This is your host Art Bell and I’m here with two members of the FBI’s renowned Behavioral Analysis Unit, the noted author Dave Rossi and Dr. Spencer Reid. Before the break we heard about a case they are working on concerning missing boys in the Northeastern US. Now we’re going to have pictures and information of those boys up on our website. They’ve come on the show hoping one of our listeners can help get these boys home to their families. Dave, what can we do to help?”

Spencer and Rossi were sitting in Garcia’s lair, headsets and microphones on, being interviewed over a video conferencing link. The interview was being streamed to Bell’s engineer who was mixing it with the show and sending it out all across the country. “Well, Art, a young woman wrote to us telling us that one of the children ended up at her family’s home somewhere in the country.”

“I assume she didn’t tell you where or else you would have been there and back by now.”

“Yes we would have. The problem is that while we believe that this young woman sincerely wants to help us she’s blind and a shut-in, her family has never even told her her address. She did, however, say that she’s a big fan of your show and that she listens almost every night. We’re hoping that if we ask her specific questions she’ll find answers and we’ll be able to use that information to build a profile and use that to find her and then through her family the other boys.”

“If she’d blind and a shut-in, what kind of information is she going to be able to give you?”

“At this point, Art, we’ll take anything we can get.”

“Understandable. Now, Dr. Reid, I understand she wrote to you because the boy who is with her is actually your godson?”

“Uh, yes,” Spencer said. Dave was the one who was good at this sort of thing; he’d done all the talking before now. But Susanna had written to him directly so it was thought that he should be the one to ask. They also wanted Henry to hear his voice. While JJ and Will were all over every other form of media they wanted this to be more about information and not include any sense of guilt or worry to cloud judgment, so they were listening outside on this one. “His parents are very worried about him; right now they just want him home.”

“I can just imagine. All right, so what are we asking this young woman?”

“Well, our first question is the names of her parents or of any other family members who may work outside of the home and if so where they work.”

“What about her siblings, where they go to school?”

“She said her family home schools, but if they go to church the name of the church or the pastor would be helpful. Another thing would be the station she listens to your show on, or any other stations she can pick up with her radio.”

“That might not be as helpful.” Art cautioned. “We usually broadcast on AM stations, at night signals can bounce off the ionosphere and be heard for hundreds of miles.”

“It’s still worth a try, especially if she can tune in this station or any others during the day. A list of stations she can find with her radio would be ideal, as it would allow us to narrow down a map.”

“All right, what else?”

“Another thing that might help would be to ask the boy how long he was in the car. That would help us judge location. She said she lived on a farm, knowing what her family grows and what’s in season would help.” Spencer had a sudden idea. “It would also help if she asked the boy to draw a picture and describe the area around the farm for us. Also what she can hear, what she can smell, if anything else has changed recently, all of that would be ideal.”

“She said her family takes a lot of road trips.” Dave said. “If she knew where they were going, why and how often, that would be helpful.”

“She also said she gets a lot of books from the library.” Spencer added. “I know the boy can’t really read yet, but he might be able to sound out the letters on any library labels on the book, that would help as well; even the names of any grocery stores in the area. Also, the full address is…” He quickly rattled it off; “Also, if she has any idea why they wanted him to begin with.”

“All right,” Art said. “That’s a lot to put in a letter. I hope she gets back to you and soon.”

“So do we,” Dave agreed.

“Is there any message you’d like to pass on to the boy?”

Spencer spoke up. “His mom would like him to know that he’ll always be her little star.”

“Awww. Well if this woman does get back to you and you have more questions I’ll gladly have you on until you get those boys home.”

“Thank you, Art.” Dave said.

“Thank you.” Spencer agreed.

“And this is Art Bell on Coast to Coast AM; we were just listening to author Dave Rossi and Dr. Spencer Reid from the FBI trying to find some missing children. Coming up next we have the Jack Kerouac of the paranormal Paul Kimbal and a travel guide to the hauntings on America’s highways. Stay tuned.”

Three days later a letter arrived, the same childish handwriting but now the full address and a postmark from Omaha, Nebraska. “You know, it’s even good to see his fingerprints now.” JJ said. “I used to get so mad when he’d get sticky ones on the counter.

“Stop,” Will said, wrapping his arms around her.

Inside there was a child’s drawing of a large, simple two-story house with trees around it and water of some kind and lots of people of different sizes in the yard, and some chickens and a…a… “What is that supposed to be?’ Morgan asked.

“I think it’s a cow.” Will said.

There was also a torn bit of paper bag from a Pilot gas station. “Garcia?” Hotch asked.

“Looking sir…no good, there are hundreds of them all over the country.

“But if they hit those on their trips we know where to put flyers.” Rossi said. “Maybe Henry will see one and speak up about it.”

“Actually that might not be the best plan.” Blake replied. “If he sees it and he’s not believed then they’ll restrict his movements in the stations. If that’s where he’s mailing these letters then we might lose communication.”

Spencer leaned over Garcia’s screen and started decoding the letter.

Dr. Reid,

It worked! We’re communicating! Are you the same Dr. Reid who published that paper on paraphilias in the Journal of American Psychology? It was absolutely fascinating. I am very pleased to meet you.

“I never have any normal fans.” Spencer murmured, even as he felt himself wanting to smile.

To attempt to answer your many questions my parents names are John and Anna.

Garcia checked that quickly. “Nothing. They must be off the grid.”

No one in my family works outside of the home. I know we have a home based business although I don’t know what we make and sell, it’s all done in the basem*nt and it’s too dangerous for me to go down there. None of the little ones are down there either. I could ask Henry to go look but if he’s caught he’ll be strapped for it, so I’d rather not unless we have no other options. My family travels once a week, I assume to market this product since I hear it being loaded into the vans. Henry says they went to church while they were gone and that my brother Michael didn’t let him talk to anyone. He said he had to move very fast to get the letter in the mail. He said that Michael said he would be in big trouble if he didn’t remember to use his new name or if he talked to any strangers.

I find the idea of my family being in church odd since we home church. Once a week my father preaches to us and makes us recite our bible lessons and makes us listen to one of Pastor Goodwin’s sermons. Pastor Bryan Goodwin is the man who has led my family into evil.

According to Henry our house is white with a grey roof and has a creek at the back. I can tell from the sound outside my window that we do not have much traffic on the roads, and right now all I smell is snow. Nothing is in season at the moment; at least we’re not eating anything fresh. Everything is coming out of the jars in the pantry. We grow most of what we eat here, as far as I know none of it goes to market or comes from the market; Pastor Goodwin says that stores are dens of iniquity. The bag I sent was the only one Henry could find with a store logo. Nothing has changed of late except for Henry coming to live with us.

I listen to Coast to Coast AM on KTRS 550 AM, out of St. Louis and the farm reports on WCAZ 990 AM out of Carthage, which makes me feel a part of the world around me, but my true love is WOI-AM 640. Father would be furious if he knew I listened to NPR most of the time. I’m not sure what else I get but I’ll try to keep track and put it in my next letter.

Henry and I checked my books over, but we couldn’t find any labels and he said there weren’t any stamps.

I told Henry what his mother said. He was very happy to hear it.

I wish I could be more help. We must keep trying. I have 18 stamps left.

- SH

PS. You have a very interesting voice. Very gentle.

Chapter 5

Chapter Text

Chapter Five
BAU Headquarters
FBI Building
Quantico, VA
T + 13

Spencer

Spencer came striding into the conference room. "Okay, we have a map."

Blake looked up. "We do?"

He nodded. "KTRS and WOI are both stations that were grandfathered in when the FCC set the rules about station power output; they have coverage areas that span hundreds of miles." He put the map on the board. "But WCAZ is a lower power, local station with a broadcast area right in the center of the overlap of the other two."

"So he has to be in that area." She nodded.

"Exactly, somewhere in the area where Illinois, Iowa and Missouri meet."

"At least we're no longer looking at the entire country." Rossi said.

"We looked into Bryan Goodwin." Blake took over the screen. "He claims to be a Reformed Baptist preacher but much of his writing sounds almost Calvinist to me. He runs an ultra-conservative ministry, Liberty Vision, that doesn't operate churches directly but influences a large number of them. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center he only has 15,000 families directly involved with his ministry but given that the average family size is a dozen children and they count married children as part of the male partner's father's family that's easily close to 200,000 people, which is immense for a church. And that doesn't count the congregations he influences through his work."

"Southern Poverty Law?" Rossi asked. "Are they calling this a hate group?"

"Liberty Vision is on their watch list. They're vocal supporters of the militia movement and have advocated assassinations of political figures, clinic bombings and weapons hoarding."

"Oh great, what are our chances of getting his membership lists?" Morgan asked.

Blake shook her head, "Impossible without a warrant. And then we'd have to give up Susanna. If they got to her before we did we'd lose both of them."

"I tried to do a thing but it was a no-go." Garcia said. "They don't have anything related to membership on their machines."

"They probably kept it low-tech for just that reason." Spencer said. "Are any of his writings on line?"

"Tons, and there are books available and sermons on YouTube." Blake replied. "But the sermons don't have transcripts; we're going to have to go over those at human speed."

"I contacted theJournal of American Psychiatry." Spencer told them. "The only Braille subscription they sent to that area went to Redmond Greer; he had a PhD in Philosophy and taught at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Missouri."

Hotch checked the map. "That's not that far out of our target zone. Past tense?"

Spencer nodded. "He died in a car accident a few months after that article came out. According to the university his sister, June Greer, took all of the books and papers the University didn't archive and donated them, they don't know where. She passed away from a heart attack three months ago; there are no other family members."

"When you say they influence churches what do you mean?" Rossi asked.

"It's called steeplejacking." Blake replied. "They win over members of a church to their beliefs, usually women, who then vote each other in to the leadership. Eventually they force the pastor out and replace him with one who toes Goodwin's line."

"I can't imagine a church would just let his people show up and start preaching at them." Morgan said.

"No, they must have an excuse, an event of some kind. If we could figure it out we might be able to track event calendars and find out where they're going next."

"All right," Hotch said. "What do we need to know to get there?"

"And we're back on Coast to Coast AM, I'm Art Bell and I'm here with author Dave Rossi and Dr. Spencer Reid of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit, still on the trail of some missing kids. So the mystery woman got back to you and provided some helpful information, right?"

"Yes, Art, she did indeed." Dave said into the microphone. "We've narrowed it down to the Illinois/Iowa/Missouri tri-state area and we have a pretty good idea of the cult her family follows. But, of course, we need more."

"Well, you two go right ahead, ask your questions. Address her directly, we know she's listening."

Spencer leaned in to the mike, "Um, hi. I'm glad we're communicating. It is that Dr. Reid by the way, um, my first question is, what is the child's new name and appearance, did they change the way he looks at all? Can he describe your appearance? Are there any articles of clothing you're required to wear, a special hat perhaps or specific colors? Can the child describe the vehicles they drive?"

"All of which would help others spot them when they're out of the house, right?" Art asked.

"Exactly," Rossi replied.

Spencer took a deep breath and continued. "Do you have any idea where you were born or where your family might have attended church before they joined this ministry or the names of any relatives you might have lost contact with when your family joined this ministry? You said you don't have access to a telephone, is there one around that the child could use? What happens when someone in the family requires medical care? Do you have any idea why you've lost your vision, how much do you have, are you capable of reading with a magnifier or very large print? You said your family manufactures something for sale; do you know how they get the raw materials? Are there any sounds or scents involved with production? Do you know if they attend a specific seasonal market to sell it?" He was running out of questions. Oddly enough he really wanted to ask her what she liked to listen to on NPR; it was his favorite station too.

"And the big ones," Rossi added. "Where are the other children and why were they taken?"

"Anything to pass on to the boy?" Art asked.

"That we all love him and want him home." Spencer replied.

"I'm sure of that. This is Art Bell on Coast to Coast AM with Author Dave Rossi and Dr Spencer Reid of the FBI still looking for missing children and we wish them all the luck in the world. Next up, John & Pauline Holeton will provide an update on their fierce battle against smart meters, smart lights, and RFID chips. Stay tuned."

This time it took five days. Five days of anxious watching and waiting. But on the fifth day the envelope arrived.

Henry had drawn a picture of a woman in a long dress with blue flowers who looked to have some kind of wimple or veil over her hair. "Why didn't he draw her hair?" Will asked.

Spencer carefully shifted the paper and noticed the layer of wax. "He did." He said. "He used white."

"What's wrong with her eyes?" JJ asked.

Henry had colored them in a combination of lavender and pink, with blue centers overlaid with white. "I'm not sure." Spencer said, "Hang on." He turned to the letter.

Dr. Reid –

Oh, you have no idea how wonderful it is to hear from you again. I am honestly still amazed that someone is out there talking to me.

Henry's new name is Joshua Holman. Father insists we all use that, of course, but my room is well away from the family spaces which gives me the privacy to remind Henry of his real name and his home and the family who loves him, so he won't forget. According to him they did change his hair. He says they rubbed some smelly stuff in it and then they cut it. It does feel very short to me, quite bristly on the top of his head. He said his hair used to be his mommy's color but now it's not. I assume that means it was dyed as well. He also said that mine is white and that my eyes are pink and purple. I had no idea, no one ever told me before.

My mother and sisters make all of our clothing and shirts for the boys. I don't know where Mother gets the rest of it. We all have to wear jumpers over pettiblouses, two layers for modesty, with our skirts to our ankles and our sleeves to our wrists and collars to the base of our necks. I can tell you mine are made out of something soft and there's what feels like lace on the edges. We also have to cover our hair per 1stCor. 11:3-16. I keep mine bundled back in one of these soft bag things my sister Mary made for me since it's never been cut and tends to get in the way. I do let my bangs out since she said that looks best. Henry says he'll draw a picture of me so you can get an idea. According to Henry my family drives three white vans, one is for people, one is for stuff and one is for boxes. I've never been out to that part of the property.

I was born on August 25th, 1986 right here in this house as have all my brothers and sisters that came after me. Not a one of us has any form of government ID, Father considers it against his faith, we are not to be rendered unto Caesar. I have no idea what minister my family followed before this one, they've followed Pastor Goodwin since before I was born. We don't see any other family members; Father stopped speaking to all of them when I was very small. I'm hoping there are still some out there who can look after my younger siblings once all this is over, and maybe help me learn my way around the world. I admit I have no idea where I will go or what I will do when that time comes, but I am curious enough about the world to be brave. Besides, the need of a child to be with his parents must come before my own fear.

None of us have ever been to a doctor. Mother does what she can with the herbs from her garden and her sewing kit. I cannot see and I become sunsick very easily and my siblings say I scare their friends when they look at me. I cannot read text unless it is so magnified as to be illegible. I've never been able to see more than light and colors and movement. When I was young a woman who worked with our home school collective came to the house and taught me how to read Braille and navigate with a cane, but she left within the year. After that I studied with my siblings as best I could and then when they stopped school I continued to read everything they brought me, I assume from the collective library. Unfortunately I'm the eldest of seventeen and with this many children in the house navigating without assistance is a hazard and my brothers and sisters don't have the time so I tend to stay in my room. One missed toy on the stairs and I'm a goner. Sometimes I do wonder what a doctor would make of me but we are not allowed to be touched other than by our spouses or parents so I may never know.

I know the manufacturing process involves a high sort of whining sound, much like mosquitoes, and a chunking sound and it fits into small, square cartons that are very heavy and don't break when you knock them over. The whole business smells like the air after a thunderstorm. The only annual gathering my family attends is some big gathering every year on Pastor Goodwin's ranch, but that's not until the summer. I've never been allowed to go, there's too much sun for me.

I have no idea why my family has done this, or where any other boys are, Henry is the only one who has come to us. He was brought here by men whose voices I recognized, Jed, Tom and Prov. I don't know their last names but I know they attended Pastor Goodwin's summer camp at the same time as my brother Michael. Unless, of course, you are referring to my brothers and sisters. At the moment, based on the sounds and scents, my older sisters are cooking supper, my older brothers are either tending to the farm animals or down in the cellar, and the little ones, those under twelve, are outside having a snowball fight, Henry included.

I don't know if this is good but he seems to be settling in nicely. He's been coming to me for bible memorization, something I find abhorrent but I'd rather than turn him over to one of my older siblings, none of whom have any patience. Besides, it gives him an excuse to visit, yesterday we listened to a bit of La Boehme while he drew this picture. He and my brothers his age look to be getting along famously, although he seems quite gentle compared to them which I find charming. I believe it to be a sign of loving, respectful parenting as most families I know are just the opposite, mine included. He's quite bright, and is learning his letters and numbers quickly, although I'm rather dreading what might happen when questions of science and history come up. I've tried to emphasize the need to play along and make Father happy, while not letting anyone know his true thought and feelings. In essence I've been teaching him to dissemble, for which I apologize, but to keep him from the horrific ritual of the strap I'd gladly teach him anything.

I do hope you find us soon, as I have 17 stamps left. Henry thinks very highly of you, he told me all about your trip to see the dinosaur remains. Would it be wrong to hope that we could continue our conversation once Henry is safe?

Good luck to you

SH

Chapter 6

Chapter Text

Chapter Six
BAU Headquarters
FBI Building
Quantico, VA
T + 18

Spencer

"This could be interesting." Rossi muttered. "I didn't realize she was that old. She's…what?"

"Twenty-seven," Spencer hadn't been the same since that fateful night. As far as anyone noticed he'd simply been…quiet. He'd kept his own council and mourned in private. He'd taken a few days off, gone to meetings mostly just to sit through the worst of the aches, attended her funeral, and life had gone on. But what no one realized was that ever since that night he had not had physical contact with any other person save one. Before that night there had been Lila so many years before, he'd held her in his arms and tasted her kisses and felt her touch and it had been good, not entirely undesired, but unfortunately the wrong woman at the wrong time. He had told himself then that the next time he held a woman in his arms it would be one he could love freely and openly for as long as she would have him.

The next woman he'd kissed after Lila, the next woman who touched him after Lila, had been the Unsub.

Ever since any touch had brought back the memory of her hands on his skin, her lips pressed against his, the taste of sour and bitterness on her breath, the horrible thing he had to say to try to save Maeve. She'd understood, she'd forgiven him, but the memory still burned and he'd still, to this day, give anything to unsay them. And so he avoided touch now. He stepped away from hugs, kept to the back of the group to avoid handshakes, cut his own hair, didn't go to the doctor, whatever it took; anything to just not be touched.

With one exception. Henry's hugs were innocent expressions of love, they meant nothing more than a desire to give and receive comfort. The first time he'd seen Henry after it happened, JJ and Will had told Henry that he was very sad because a special friend had gone away and wasn't coming back. Henry had given him an extra big and long hug and told him that it would be okay because everyone else was still here, he still had other friends. Spencer had had to excuse himself to the bathroom so as not to frighten his godson with his crying.

But now there was this woman; this woman who was bravely risking everything to return his godson to his family. If they were found and caught what would happen? Would Henry be beaten? Would she? Would she be sent away from her home, into a world of infinite dangers for which she was completely unprepared? Or would she be sent off to some horrendous church home where she'd be abused by her caretakers? He couldn't even send someone after her then, with no birth certificate and no SSI number she didn't evenexist. Yet she was putting everything on the line just to help Henry get home. He didn't know such bravery still existed in the world.

And now she wanted to get to know him better, in the same slow, thoughtful way Maeve had. Was it possible to find that same magic again?

Granted she was also a witness who might need to testify and she was also a victim who was probably going to need residential care until she learned to adapt to the outside world. He knew that Hotch would say that ethically he ought to leave her alone and Garcia would tell him that he did not need that kind of burden on top of his mother. He suddenly realized that, while he still didn't know aboutthiswoman andthistime, should either of them raise either objection now or at any point in the future he was quite ready to tell them exactly where they could insert those objections. He was so very tired of being alone he simply no longer cared.

Priorities though. "Henry first," Spencer said firmly. Henry home first. Until that time anything else was theoretical.

"Of course."

Spencer turned back to the table. "I think we're looking at Oculocutaneous albinism type 1a. Although it sounds like she's the only one in the family with this particular condition, as a recessive genetic trait every pregnancy has a one in four chance of producing a child with OCA, I'm surprised she doesn't have any siblings with the same characteristics."

Blake winced a little. "That assumes John Holman is her genetic father. It's rather common in hyper-religious families for the wedding to be of the shotgun sort and the first child to have a different father. That might also be what's contributing to her being the family pariah. Would that have also caused her blindness?"

"Not necessarily. People dealing with albinism are more susceptible to vision problems, including nystagmus, strabismus and astigmatism, but the most common is photophobia, extreme sensitivity to light and glare, especially sunlight due to the lack of pigment in the eye. This lack of pigment causes their eyes to appear pink or, if there is a small amount of pigment, lavender from the light reflecting through the blood vesicles in the iris."

"And that can cause blindness?" Morgan asked.

Spencer nodded. "Without glasses or contact lenses to protect the eyes from the sun they can develop severe cataracts at a young age." He held up the picture of the woman with the cloudy white pupils. "That theory fits both Henry's picture and her description of her vision."

"But cataracts can be treated." Blake pointed out.

"Yes, but they refuse to take her to the doctor to preserve her purity." Rossi replied.

"So she's been blind from a curable condition for most of her life because of her parent's beliefs?" Blake's jaw tightened. "Okay, I'll be the first to say it; we're not just going after the boys here. She's a victim as well."

"Agreed," Hotch said as they all nodded. "What else did we get from that letter?"

They started at the top. "We need to update his description." Blake said. "That might be why they're taking blond boys, easier to change the hair."

"Or it might have racist connotations." Rossi pointed out.

Garcia came in, "Okay, as goddess of all things fashion I looked up the outfit she was describing and found that it is extremely popular among the young ultra-conservative females in this country." She put pictures up on the board of groups of young woman in long, floral dresses over petticoats and blouses with wide or rounded collars and sleeves, all trimmed in lace or ruffles and all wearing simple veils of white or lace cloth. The effect was somehow sweet and delicate and old-fashioned. In some distant part of his brain Spencer found himself wondering if she'd keep the wardrobe once she was liberated. "We might be able to add that to the description too."

"Okay born at home means no birth certificate, no SSI, they're completely off the grid." Morgan sighed. "They have to operate on a strictly cash basis, how are they getting power out there?"

"They may not be." Rossi replied. "She wouldn't know. We should ask though. And we should see if Henry can get us license plate numbers. It's not unusual for families like this to use counterfeit plates and drive without licenses as a form of tax protest, but we can still put a BOLO out on them. Any idea on what they're making down there?"

"I don't think we have enough data on that yet." It was Blake's turn to sigh. "We may have to risk Henry taking a peek down there. They're estranged from their family, would it be worth calling any Holmans in the area, to see if they know them?"

"It might be." Hotch replied. "Granted there's no guarantee that there are any other family members in the target area but we can put people on it anyway."

"My only concern is that a family member would alert them to what's going on." Morgan said. "Speaking of, what are the chances that someone else in the cult hears that show and figures out who they're talking about?"

"Slim." Blake replied. "Goodwin requires strict control of all media a family consumes, they read the books published by the ministry and other families, watch the movies they produce, listen to the music they record on church owned radio stations, they even have their own satellite TV network for families on the grid. It's all very insular and protected."

"They've probably overlooked it with her because she's so sheltered in every other respect." Spencer said. "They're bringing her whatever Braille books they can find just to give her something to read and they don't realize what she's listening to on the radio. In addition it sounds like they gave her her own space so she wouldn't have to worry about trip and fall hazards and Coast to Coast is on late at night when most of them are probably in bed, they might not even know she's awake and listening."

"I'm just glad she is." Hotch replied.

Chapter 7

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven
BAU Headquarters
FBI Building
Quantico, VA
T + 18

Spencer

"And welcome to Coast to Coast AM, I'm your host Art Bell and before we get to tonight show we're back with FBI agents author Dave Rossi and his college Dr. Spencer Reid, once again trying to get those missing kids home. Now, Dave, from what you were telling me before the show this young lady we're trying to reach has some health problems, is that right?'

"Yes, Art, we believe she has." Rossi replied. "Unfortunately the cult her parents belong to don't believe in getting healthcare for themselves or their children so she's never received any treatment of any kind."

"And this has made her a shut-in?"

"Yes, it has. According to her letters she's never left the family home."

"That's a shame, that's a shame. Well what questions do you have for her tonight?"

"We're kind of running out of questions." Spencer admitted. "We've reached a lot of dead ends, unfortunately but we want her to keep writing to us with any information she has. We're hoping the child with her can maybe tell her the license plates of the vehicles they're driving, that way we can have the Sheriff Department's in the area on the lookout for them."

"How old is this boy again?" Art asked.

"He's five, as of last November."

"Well he's been a great little agent so far, hasn't he?"

"Just like his favorite, right here." Dave said, milking it a little. "Dresses like him every Halloween,"

"Does he really?"

Spencer could feel his ears burning. "Yeah, he does."

"I have an idea, if you're all out of questions let's open up the phone lines and see if any of our listeners can come up with anything. The phone lines are open at the usual numbers and you can e-mail questions as well. Remember we're talking about a young woman who'd being kept almost a prisoner by her family because of her disability, she is legally blind, and so her eyes and legs are a five year old boy who was kidnapped as one of six…"

"Eight now," Dave said.

"…eight all of whom have parents who love them and want them home as quickly as possible. All right, let's start with Marge from Tulsa; go ahead, you're on the air with Coast to Coast AM."

"Hello Art." It was an older woman's voice. "I want to know why this young girl is helping you. Why is she defying her father like this, does she know the risk she's taking? What riskisshe taking? What will happen to her and that boy if they're caught?"

"Good question, what do you think will happen if they're caught, Dave?" Art asked. "Before you answer that though, is this a young girl? Are we talking a minor here?"

"According to her letters she's twenty-seven, so we are talking about an adult, just not one able to leave the house on her own. I'm not certain what the risk is, she has talked about her family using corporal punishment, so there is a chance that one or both of them would be beaten for trying to escape, that's why we're moving very carefully."

"At one point in her letters she did say that she understood and accepted that there will be repercussions for her family." Spencer added. "But she also said she thought this would be a blessing for them. We don't know why."

"I hope she knows what she's doing. How are they doing, by the way? Has he been beaten, are they looking after him?"

"This sounds to us like what we call kidnapping for illegal adoption." Dave replied. "It sounds like they're treating him like one of their own sons, including giving him a family name. Of course we don't know how they treat their children so this may or may not be a good thing, and we don't know about the other boys, they're not at that location. I'm sure his parents would like to know how he's doing though."

"I'm sure they would. Mark from Kansas City you're on the air with Coast to Coast AM."

"Hey Dave Rossi, a pleasure to hear from you and the Doc there." This was a slightly younger man. "My question is, what's going to happen to this woman after all this is over? And what about the rest of her family?"

"Any ideas?" Art asked.

Spencer's stomach flipped. He had been focused on Henry, he hadn't even thought of what would happen to Susanna. He pictured her leaving the Sheriff's department after being interviewed, going out to sit on a park bench and then…then...

"That's a really good question." Dave was saying. "Unfortunately at this point all adults in the house hold are conspirators; they'll have to go a ways to prove that they didn't know that this little boy who suddenly showed up belonged there. The children in the home will come under the authority of the local child protection agency; they'll either go to extended family or in to foster care. Hopefully we can track down some extended family members to take her in, an aunt or uncle perhaps."

"Well that's not good enough." Mark from Kansas City said. "Not with her sticking her ass out to do the right thing. How do you know that her extended family isn't just as messed up? Hey Art, any chance of getting a fund going, I'll stick a couple hundred in to help this woman get on her feet."

"I think that's a wonderful idea Mark." Art said warmly. "I'll see what we can do in the morning and announce it on tomorrow's show. In fact I'll match up to the, what, first ten thousand."

"As will I; and if what she's giving us brings the rest of those boys home there's a fair bit of reward money in it for her as well." Dave said. He cut out the mikes and looked over at Spencer's shocked face. "What? It's Henry."

"There we go!" Art said. "Now hold on folks, don't light up my board just yet, let us get the paperwork going and we'll tell you where you can donate tomorrow night. Lisa from Denver, you're on the air."

"Hi Art." A younger woman this time. "I'd like to know from this woman what she wants to do once she's out of the house. What her hopes and dreams are, what she wants to explore, anything like that."

"She hasn't really said anything in her letters." Spencer told them. "We've been focused on finding the boys. I know I…I hope she'd be willing to consent to a medical exam, there are no guarantees but there may be treatments out there that would at least help restore part of her eyesight."

"Really!" Art was shocked. "And her parents won't help her seek those out?"

"No, they won't."

"Well I hope you find them both real soon and keep us posted. This is Art Bell on Coast to Coast AM, we've been talking to author Dave Rossi and Dr. Spencer Reid, both of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit that is trying to get eight little boys home and help one brave young woman to freedom. Coming up M.J. Mike will be discussing Bigfoot, the Chupcabra and other strange beings of legend. Stay tuned!"

Nine days. Nine horribly long days. At least the last letter had been some comfort to JJ and Will. "Snowball fights." JJ had said as she slumped on Rossi's sofa. "I'm worried sick and he's off having snowball fights."

"Thankfully this appears to be a case of kidnapping for illegal adoption after all." Spencer had said.

"Thankfully?" Will asked. "Nothing thankful about it."

"No, he's right." JJ replied. "Kidnapping for illegal adoption comes with the lowest risk of any kind of abuse and the highest probability of a child coming home. I just hope she tells us what to expect."

In the meantime there was some collusion going on between Rossi, Garcia and Art Bell. "Okay, so we've set up a fund for her at a local bank." Garcia told them. "Between what she has so far and the matching grants and the reward money, assuming no one else comes forward first, she'll have over a hundred thousand in there."

"Well that ought to get her a start." Blake said.

"In addition I talked to a social worker friend who said she can help her navigate getting her birth certificate and Social Security and then seeing what kind of programs she'll qualify for." Garcia continued. "She'll probably have to make that stretch for a while until the paperwork is caught up. She's also going to need residential care until she learns how to navigate in the world, but if she wants it there's a company here in DC that runs group homes for disabled people, some anonymous donor offered to cover the bill for up to six years if she decides to go to school."

Spencer was shocked. "Wow, that…I mean just based on Bennington that…"

"It won't be as much, they said they have a transition house they run for women with severe vision problems who are still learning to get around, it's only lightly staffed, but still. I mean none of this means she has to take it, we have to remember that she's an adult; she has the right to make her own decisions. But it's all there if she wants it."

"She has to contact us first." Hotch said.

A moment later, Anderson tapped on the conference room door. "Another letter," he said.

This one was postmarked to Huntsville, Al. It included something different, a bible tract. "Is she trying to convert us?" Rossi asked.

"No, look." Blake said, turning it over. "It's from the Bellview Christian Center in Omaha. It must be from the event they attended. Garcia?"

"Going to look," Garcia took over the keyboard.

The picture Henry sent was all in black this time an angry face and lots of scribbles. "That is not a good sign." Morgan pointed out. "Reid?"

By now Spencer didn't even have to wait for Garcia to scan the letter. He caught the light just right and started reading.

Dr. Reid

I'm afraid I owe Henry's parents an apology. My father caught him playing with my sister's toys, a crime in Pastor Goodwin's books, and punished him for it. If I'd had any notion of his interest I would have warned him off. I am so sorry. That said, other than a sore bottom the only damage is that he's quite embarrassed and ashamed about the entire thing. I tried to tell him that he's done nothing wrong, that my father is in the wrong here, but it's not helping much. I'm not exactly certain why, which is probably the result of growing up in an entirely different culture. In my world bare bottom spankings of children are the norm, in your world they appear to be cause for deep distress. I find this a good thing in the abstract, even as I'm having trouble understanding.

"Well that explains the picture." Blake said crisply.

"We may want to let Carol Wilson make the arrest here." Rossi said. "Personally I might have to accidentally hit him with the car door a few times."

Henry said this piece of paper has a symbol on it like the ones you were asking about from the grocery store. I only hope it's a help. He was quite tickled when I told him you said he was a great little agent. That brought him back to smiles again.

Please pass my unending gratitude off to Mr. Bell and his listeners. For politeness sake I feel I must protest, they are being far too generous, but in truth I was wondering what I was going to do after this. From the sound of things I might be able to find a place to stay and someone to help me learn how to get around in the world before I have to find work. I don't know what I can do but if there's anything for someone in my condition I'm more than willing to work and work hard to earn my way.

Now if I'm remembering the questions correctly a woman from Tulsa asked why I was doing this. I'm doing this because it's the right thing to do. I'm not certain why Henry was taken from his family but there are no good reasons for that sort of thing. Pastor Goodwin preaches that his followers are somehow unique, that being in this world but not of it somehow absolves us from the laws of the land and the concept of human decency. Well he is wrong in that, he can't just take other people's children. As for what will happen if we're caught, well, I'm sure Henry would get the strap again, as would I. Beyond that I'm not certain. I'd probably be sent away somewhere, to some facility run by Pastor Goodwin, there to live out whatever days I'd have remaining. Whatever would happen, it is worth the risk.

You then asked how we were doing. Well other than the incident I mentioned we're all right I guess. No injuries to report and no illness. He's been studying and playing with the other boys from what I can tell. I've been teaching him the 23rdpsalm, it seems appropriate. He complains about being hungry and cold quite often but then we all are. I can still remember the times I went to bed on a full stomach. I'm not certain if that's because we're trying to live off the land or because Pastor Goodwin preaches that children ought to be hungry as satisfaction feeds the sinful nature. He's not sick from it but I'm certain he'll appreciate his mother's cooking when he gets home. I'm just glad my room is over the kitchen, it's toasty in here for us during the day. That is my other reason for doing this. I want my siblings to have full bellies and good educations and to grow up strong and healthy. I want them to be able to follow their dream, whatever they may be, and to have the opportunity to love freely and have families of their own someday. Pastor Goodwin would deny them off of these things with his arrogance and his lies. If the only way to give them the opportunity to have these things is to get the police involved then so be it.

As for what's going to happen, what I want to have happen for myself, well first off I would truly love a long, hot shower. We're not allowed to be alone behind a closed door for more than five minutes to prevent the temptation to sin and I'm always the last one in the bath in the morning so I've always had mine short and cold. I'd love to just sop up the water until the heat runs out. After that I'd like some kind of a hot meal, I don't care what, only to eat until I'm full as a tick again. After that I'd like to try this sunscreen I read about once, and see if it would help me spend more than fifteen minutes out of doors at a time. I don't think I'll be able to walk far but I'd love to walk as long as I can.

Past that there are many things I'd like to try. I'd like to ride on a train someday, and a boat, and maybe an airplane. I'd like to ride on a Ferris wheel and a carousel and a roller coaster. I could fill this letter with the foods I want to try, pineapple and mangos and tapas and curry and Turkish delight and whatever a café mocha is and I want to try Henry's father gumbo and the little lobsters his grandmother taught him to eat. I want to stand on a street in a big city and just hear and smell and feel all the people and ideas all around me. I want to go to the opera and the symphony and listen to jazz in some small club somewhere. I want to walk through the English countryside and through a medieval cloister. I want to sit in a cathedral. I want to touch and taste and smell the ocean. I want to breathe the air of Africa.

But most of all I think I'd like to go to school. I want to be able to dig into every and any book, and discuss them with people who are alive and aware and interested in the world. I want to stop hiding my curiosity and my ability to understand. I want to talk to people who know more than I do and learn from them. I don't know to what end but I don't see why learning needs an end, it has a value unto itself. I want to learn.

And maybe, if I am truly blessed, someday I'll find someone who considers me special. Someone who is happy to see me and who is curious about what I experienced that day and who encourages me to learn and do more; someone who doesn't call me a freak or their sorrow or their shame or their burden; someone who might even find someone like me acceptable to look at. And maybe someone who….well, that dream is not appropriate for this letter.

I'm not going to say I want to see. I've never known anything but what I have so I wouldn't know what I was asking for. Besides, that might be too much to hope for.

What I do hope is that this slip of paper helps you find us.

Fingers crossed.

SH

Chapter 8

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight
BAU Headquarters
FBI Building
Quantico, VA
T + 27

Spencer

Oh good heavens.

Back when he had first started with the BAU his mother had made allusions to the Round Table, had called him Sir Percival from time to time. Randall Gardner had taken that a bit too literally, but he had still been charmed by the image. After all, in what other job would you, at times, have to out think a mad wizard type and then go rescue a maiden fair from a literal dungeon? Granted it was usually a team effort, but there had been Lila and then Austen and then Samantha Malcolm after a fashion and a few more. He'd been the knight in shining armor more than once.

After Maeve everything changed.

He'd rather taken off his armor after that, no longer having faith in his own abilities, no longer believing that fair damsels were a part of life's plan for him. Instead he'd donned the sackcloth and burlap of the friar, had followed the team around offering his wealth of knowledge but never stepping forward to truly confront and brave the enemy. He had simply been too lost, without hope, quite convinced that his days of knighthood were past for him. No for him it was a life of contemplation and chastity, the medieval ideal in the end.

Now he could swear he saw a gleam from the corner of his eye. His armor might be dented and battered and darkened from battles lost, but it still had a compelling sort of air about it. Maybe it still fit after all.

Maybe.

Rossi cleared his throat. "Well, with dreams like that she's going to need someone who knows how to navigate the university system to help her."

"Mmm-hmm," Blake agreed, "And probably tutoring in math and science to catch up."

"Maybe someone who'll eat anything to show her around town." Morgan added.

Conspiracy. "Henry." Spencer said. Henry first. Then he could explore what he was feeling, a mixture of furious anger at what John Holman had done to his godson, and a deep fascination with this woman who was trying to help him. But some part of him could feel that armor settling back on, and its weight was a comfort he did not expect. But was he really ready? Did he dare?

"I've got something!" Garcia called out. "Bellview Christian Center is very web aware; they have their monthly event calendar up on the web. The only thing that looks like anything anyone would be selling during the week the Holman family was there was a homeschool curriculum fair."

They looked at each other. "You said Goodwin only lets his followers consume media produced by his publishing house or by families in his ministry." Rossi said. "They could be one of the families."

"Ozone and a humming sound could be an industrial printer or copier." Blake nodded. "A chunking noise could be binding equipment."

"Small, heavy cartons that don't break would be a good fit for books." Morgan added.

"We've got something." Carol Wilson walked in. She'd had the CARD team out in the field, working on other angles. "We followed up on that psychology journal you were talking about. Turned out June Greer donated her brother's books to her church, who sold them in a bane and blessing sale. They were bought by a family who runs a homeschool co-op out of Carthage, Illinois."

"Homeschool again." Morgan checked. "That's in our target zone. Does Illinois require that homeschoolers register at all?'

"Nope," Carol replied.

"Besides, these people are so off the grid no one even knows their children officially exist." Rossi said. "Speaking of paperwork, did we ever do a title search; look for a tax record on the property?"

"I did, it was a bust." Garcia replied. "It must be under a different name, like, a family name and they never changed it. And I'm looking for any computer connection for the homeschool co-op, I've got nothing."

"I have a better idea." Spencer said. "Garcia, check Liberty Vision's storefront, see if anything in there is manufactured by the Holman family."

"Ummm…yeah, now that I know what I'm looking for they have a number of books on living off the grid here."

"Okay…um…" Spencer went to look over her shoulder. "This part might not be legal…" He was willing, but… "If anyone…"

No one moved.

Right. "Those curriculum fairs must have ways to contact the vendors; can you hack the church server and look for a phone number?"

She checked. "Got it! John Holman…" She rattled of the number.

Spencer pulled out his phone. "Blind the number and ready to trace?" Garcia nodded so he dialed.

It was answered on the third ring. "Hello." A rough, older male voice answered.

"Is this John Holman?"

"Yeah, who is this?"

"My name is Derek Morgan. I'm calling to see if I can order your books on simple solar energy and using wood fuel. Unfortunately I missed the last curriculum fair."

"Well I don't do mail order directly, you'll have to get my books through Liberty Vision; they have a catalog and a website."

Spencer had to keep this going long enough to get the full trace. "Do they carry your entire line?"

"That they do, even the stitchery kits my daughters make up."

"Really? What ages are those made for?'

"Well they're simple stuff, you know for little girls to start learning their handiwork; old enough not to swallow the needle though, maybe eight or so."

"I'm sure my wife would love to have something like that for our daughters."

"They do a good job on them, have a little story they send out with it and everything."

As Spencer watched the trace on the map grew narrower and narrower until finally it zeroed in on a spot. The others started moving quickly and quietly. "Those sound wonderful. Liberty Vision you said?"

"Yeah, they've got the whole line."

"I'll have to order through them then. Thank you so much for your time."

"Well thank you for your interest. The Lord bless you."

"And you as well. Good bye." Spencer hung up.

"Okay, they are located two miles south of Basco, Illinois!" Garcia announced triumphantly. "He's even left his phone on; I can keep an eye on the creep."

"Wheels up in thirty," Hotch told them. "Reid?"

Spencer lingered a moment. "Yeah, Hotch."

"Sometimes it's okay to break the rules."

Chapter 9

Chapter Text

Chapter nine
Holman Farm
725 N. Co. Road 1550
Basco, IL
T+ 27

Susanna

"You and Spencer should get married." Henry said.

Susanna and Henry were sitting at her table in front of her window, enjoying the last of the afternoon sun. Once the sun went down he would go be with the other children, he said it was creepy up here. He was coloring another picture, based on the sound of the crayons moving across the paper and she was reading to him. From the bible unfortunately, but she was trying to make the stories sound sweet and entertaining. She would have preferred Narnia, at least. When she paused to think he'd piped up. "I beg your pardon?" She said.

"You and Spencer should get married."

"Cheeky monkey. What makes you think so anyway?"

"Because you're my friend and he's my friend. And you both like to read a lot, and you kinda sound alike."

"Oh, do we?"

"Uh-huh."

"And how do you know I want to marry anyone?" No reply. "I can't hear a shrug, remember."

He sighed. "Because you're lonely and he's lonely and if you were married like Mommy and Daddy then you wouldn't be lonely anymore."

Now it was her turn to sigh, "From the mouths of babes. I admit I want to meet him, if only to thank him for his help." Now there was a lie for you. "But what happens after that is adult business."

They were quiet for another moment while her fingers drifted across the page, trying to find a story she could make acceptable. "I'm hungry." He said after a time.

"So am I." From what she could tell from her listening and reading they ate a very healthy diet, farm fresh food, unprocessed, lots of vegetables, homemade bread. But Momma had a knack of giving you exactly enough on your plate to last until the next meal, not one drop more. "But I'm not giving you any of my candy, it's nearly dinner." Her sisters brought home hard candies on their travels, which she hoarded in an old jar. Sometimes they just kept body and soul together, or gave a certain little boy enough energy to make it through to the next meal. "It smells like chicken and dumplings, you really liked that the last time."

"Yeah!" He agreed enthusiastically. "Why don't you come downstairs for dinner?'

Because it makes my parents sick to look at me, she thought. "It's quieter up here." She told him.

"Oh."

For another few minutes it was quiet. Then she heard something. Something unusual just at the edge of things. She reached over and stopped Henry's hands from moving. "Shhh." She said.

"What?"

"Shhh." She repeated. What was that? She got up and opened the window, was it coming from outside?

"Susanna! It's cold!" He protested.

"Well wrap up in my shawl then." She told him. Yes, it was coming from outside. And it was getting louder. "Joshua, I hear car engines. A lot of them. Come take a look for me." She felt him come near enough to look out the window. Then he gasped and her shawl fell to her feet as he took off running. "Joshua? Joshua!" Too late, he was gone. She picked up her shawl and put it back on her chair. "Less than helpful." She murmured.

She heard laughter from the hallway as she closed the window. "What got into him?" Leah asked.

"I have no idea." She moved to the desk and quickly folded the drawing up into the bible she had been reading, collecting the crayons and settling them back in the carton in the far corner. Everything had to be in its place for her to find it again. "Chicken and dumplings?"

"And green beans and milk." She heard Leah settle the tray on the now cleared table. "More dumplings than chicken I'm afraid."

"I expected that." Momma usually had the girls make this dish when there was really just enough chicken for Father and the older boys. But it added some flavor to the broth and the dumplings would fill stomachs for a time. "It's Joshua's favorite. Did you ever wonder where he came from?"

"He was adopted, silly, you know that. Pastor Goodwin said he needed a home." She heard Leah settle on the edge of the bed.

"Yes, but I mean what his life was like before he came here."

"Doesn't matter, we're not supposed to talk about it. Remember what the Pastor said, least said soonest mended."

"I know, I know. He's just such a little gentleman; I can't help but think that he must have had good parents."

"Not that good, if they never read him the Bible. It's good of you, you know, reading it to him like that."

"Well, I have the time."

"Still, it's a powerful ministry. You're a good person, sister."

Susanna sighed. Of all the people she was going to lose she hated losing Leah the most. But she knew how much her sister pined for the chance to marry someday, have children of her own, and maybe even be a teacher. "I just hope you remember that." She said. "I've only ever wanted what's best, I swear."

"What do you mean?" Just then they heard Father's voice raised in anger. "I should go see what's wrong this time." Leah said as she stood to go.

"Before someone gets strapped." Susanna waited until Leah's feet padded down the hall before shutting the door down to a crack, then she found her radio and headphones. She wound the radio the required number of cranks to charge the dynamo and then settled in to eat her dinner and listen to the second half ofAll Things Consideredas the light slowly faded from the room. It was better company than what was downstairs anyway.

Sometime later, after she'd finished her supper, she sensed the door coming open. Someone's weight was depressing the board in the floor of the room. "Who's there, please?" She said as light pierced the room. "Joshua, is that you? Silly monkey, you know you can't sneak up on me." She got up and stepped around the dresser, fully expecting to put her hand on a small head, which would then run, giggling down the stairs. But instead her hand encountered something...odd. It felt like a person, probably male, wearing something thick and hard on his chest. "Michael? What are you wearing?"

"Um, it's not Michael." A strange voice said.

Chapter 10

Chapter Text

Chapter ten
Holman Farm
725 N. Co. Road 1550
Basco, IL
T+ 27

Spencer

The problem, he thought as they drove through the utterly flat landscape, is that I'm not certain that I'm ready.

He still missed Maeve was the thing. He missed finding her letters at the end of a rough case; he missed hearing her voice on the other end of the phone. He missed having someone out there who utterly understood him, who got his jokes and who followed his rambles. He missed…he missed…

He missed hisfriend.

He had fallen in love with his friend is what he had done. And now he didn't know if he really wanted to jump headlong into love. He wasn't ready for love. He just wanted a very special sort of friend. But how do you know, he thought? How do you know when someone is that sort of special? How did you know with Maeve?

Because she wrote and called you Dr. Bell; she somehow knew you from the get-go.

As your friend she wouldn't want you alone and lonely forever. She'd want you to be happy. She would.

Wouldn't she?

Maeve, he thought, if you're really still out there listening somehow, give me a sign. Let me know that this will be that magic again. Let me know….let me know that you approve. Let me know that I can move on.

The Holman farm turned out to be in the middle of nowhere. It was a Queen Ann style pile, so popular in the Victorian era, backed up against one of the few features in the otherwise flat landscape, like a wrinkle on a bed sheet. As they pulled up he couldn't help but notice that it looked prosperous and clean. No toys in the yard, everything whitewashed,clean. He also noticed the solar panels on the roofs of the outbuildings, the multiple windmills. "That explains power." He said.

"This property is in the name of a Lukas Brown." Hotch said, reading his pad. "Lukas and his wife had a daughter named Anna, must be his in-laws."

"Good way to hide it." Rossi agreed.

The original plan had been to surround the house, go up to the door with the local sheriff and appeal to reason and the desire to keep the children safe. But as soon as they pulled up and got out the door opened and someone shouted and a familiar figure came flying out. "Mommy! Daddy!" Henry screamed as he threw himself into their arms.

Well. All right then.

He had been followed by an older man who looked like someone popped some lemon juice into his mouth, followed by two young men who scowled and looked like they wanted to perhaps start eating people. All three were openly armed. This provoked the expected response as JJ and Will pulled Henry out of the way. "Put your hands up." The Sheriff said. They asked him to take point, hoping that the Holmans would respect him enough to comply. "You know why we're here."

The three men looked at each other and then led by the eldest they complied.

Once they were secured the Sheriff, a social worker, Carol and Hotch went to the woman standing in the doorway holding a baby in her arms. "Ma'am, I'm afraid you're going to have to come with us. We have people here to look after the children." The Sheriff told her.

"I don't know what's going on." She insisted as the social worker took the baby and she was cuffed. "I swear I don't."

After that it was up to the locals, led by the CARD team. They were the experts. Until they were needed the BAU team gathered around Henry. He wasn't noticeably taller, was noticeably thinner but not dangerously so, and was missing a tooth that had been loose before. But the hardest part was his hair, it had been dyed brown and buzz cut. "Ohhh, I loved his curls." JJ sighed as she ran her hands over her son's head.

"It could be worse." Will pointed out.

"I know, but still."

"We'll get him a wig for Halloween. " Spencer said.

"Spencer!" Henry threw himself into his Godfather's arms, forcing all the air out of his lungs. "Spencer! I missed you! Did I do good?"

"Yeah, you did great! You're a pretty amazing little agent, and very brave too." Henry grinned and nodded and then took his godfather's hand and started tugging him toward the house. "Wait, where are we going?"

"We have to get Susanna, we can't leave her here. She's my friend. We have to take her back home with us and you have to marry her."

Spencer had to dig in his heels to keep from being tugged off his feet. "I do, huh." He asked as everyone chuckled.

"Yeah, you do. 'Cause you're my friend too. We have to go get her."

"How about if I go get her and you stay here with your Mom and Dad, okay? Where will I find her?"

"Okay. You have to go up the stairs and then all the way to the end and then up the stairs and that's her room right there." Henry pointed to a small attic window. "Just remember, you have to help her down the stairs, she can't see."

"I'll remember. You stay here, we'll be right back."

Inside the house was bustling with cops. The rooms were small and there were many of them, the result of centuries of remodeling and adding on. Even with that it all seemed almost painfully neat, as if no children ever lived there. What was even more unnerving was that none of the children were crying. They were all sitting at the table in the dining room, watching all the bustle with big eyes while a social worker tried to explain what was going on to two young women in those long, frilly dresses that mated well with the house

Spencer looked around until he found Hotch. "Has anyone cleared upstairs yet?" Spencer asked.

"I don't know. Going up?" Spencer nodded. "Morgan." He said, indicating that Spencer shouldn't go alone.

Upstairs was a rat's nest of halls and doors. They had to clear every room as they went, just to be on the safe side. The rooms meant for little ones, identified by the presents of bunk beds and cribs were painfully neat and oddly barren, no toys, no cute pictures, little of anything. "These parents are control freaks." Morgan pointed out.

"I wonder if it's this family or something the cult requires." Spencer replied.

As they got to the back of the house the number of children per room shrank, as did the number of beds. "I've been counting." Spencer said as they got to the last room. "I believe the last two rooms held the four oldest girls." They'd had more life in them, decorated a little in a frilly, Victorian country style.

"With one bed in each room?"

"It would prevent…exploration. As would only five minutes behind closed doors.

"A guy who's desperate can get to go that fast, especially at that age."

"Yeah, but can a girl? Remember, a major issue in this cult is controlling female sexuality."

"They why did they leave Susanna alone?"

That was a good question.

Chapter 11

Chapter Text

Chapter eleven
Holman Farm
725 N. Co. Road 1550
Basco, IL
T+ 27

Spencer

There was one more room to check. In this room they finally found age appropriate signs. "Oldest boys," Morgan said when he saw the extra sturdy bunk beds. "What is all this?'

"The Black Knights." Spencer read off of one of the many hand-done pictures on the walls. It was of a knight with black armor and a red Christian cross on his shield. The whole room had a kind of medieval marital thing going on, including shields and swords hung on the wall.

"Deuteronomy 32:40-43." Morgan read off the picture. "You remember Randall Garner?"

"For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live forever. If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy. Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people." Spencer replied. "Yes, I do."

"That can't be good." Morgan said. "If you were Percival does that make me Lancelot? He was good with the ladies. Here's a list. 'The Laws'. Deuteronomy 17:12, Leviticus 20:13, Leviticus 21:9, 20:10, Jeremiah 48:10"

"And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel.

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whor*, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.

And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood." Spencer replied. "It's all Old Testament. You know what the New Testament says about killing your enemies?"

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. Matthew 5:43-44." Morgan grinned. "My grandma made me memorize that one. I got into a lot of fights as a kid."

"Did it help?"

"Not as much as she'd hoped. What about Joel 3:9-11" This was off another knight picture, this one kneeling in prayer with blood dripping off his sword.

"Proclaim ye this among the People; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye people, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord." Spencer replied. He spotted something under the bed and carefully drew it out. Laptop. "Morgan."

"I've got better." Behind the door were two assault rifles. "We're going to have to tear this place apart. I'll go get the guys to secure all this.

"I'll go get Susanna." At the very end of the hall there was a dark doorway nearly hidden by an armoire went up to the right. "Morgan." He called back, telling him he was going up. There was no light switch, and his flashlight revealed no fixture at all, only a narrow staircase heading up into the tower.

Tower.

For a moment Spencer just stood there. He was standing in a house that could easily be a castle, in body armor, about to go rescue someone who might well be a princess from the Black Knights. The hard part was not laughing about it all. Maeve had once teased that he could be a bit thick when it came to certain subtleties in her letters. Perhaps this was her way of whaping him with a metaphoric two-by-four.

He carefully climbed up and found two doors. One was open and led to a bathroom, the other was just ajar. From that room he heard the faint sound of a page turning.

Shabby was the best way to describe the space revealed in his flashlight beam. The wallpaper was partially removed, the bedstead was iron and narrow, the floor was bare, worn wood. At his elbow was a battered wooden dresser with books piled on the top. And over by the window there was a woman.

For a moment Spencer Reid forgot how to breathe.

All he could think of were ice queens and fairy tale princesses. She was delicate, fine bones, with features that could be described as elfin or fae. Her skin was quite literally the color of new fallen snow, her hair was a curtain of silk the color of new milk, when she turned toward the door her lips were the pink of rose buds and her eyes glittered like amethysts in the too harsh light.

Eyes that did not see him. "Who's there, please?" She asked. "Joshua, is that you? Silly monkey, you know you can't sneak up on me." She got up and stepped around the dresser, her hand reaching out before her to feel for the person she expected to be there. Instead it found his vest. She lightly ran her hands over the Kevlar. "Michael? What are you wearing?" She asked a look of confusion on her face.

"Um, it's not Michael." he said, and he watched the shock rise in her eyes.

Chapter 12

Chapter Text

Chapter twelve
Holman Farm
725 N. Co. Road 1550
Basco, IL

Spencer

Susanna jumped back like she had been scalded. "Who are you?" She asked as she very nearly stumbled before landing hard in her chair. "Why are you in my room?"

"I'm sorry." He said, trying to catch her and failing entirely. "I'm…I'm sorry. I…I didn't meant to scare you."

"Who are you?" She demanded. "I know that voice, who are you?"

"I'm…it's…doctor…Doctor Reid."

"Doctor….oh! I heard you on the radio." Her hand covered her mouth and she started rocking a little. "Oh…it's real. You're…you're real. Oh! Henry!"

"He's outside. He's with his parents. I assume you're Susanna." She nodded. "I don't…it's nice to finally meet you. Is there a light…?"

"No, not up here."

"But…you said you can see light…"

"My father…." She stopped and in the beam of his flashlight he watched her cheeks turn bright red.

He felt the dull anger he'd felt so often over the past month rise again. Of course her father. Of course just because she couldn't see clearly he wouldn't waste the light on her. Of course. "I understand." He said. "It's all right."

"This is all real, isn't it?"

"Yes. Yes, it is."

"What happens now?"

"We…go downstairs. I don't think anyone will be spending the night here, it's, uhhh… a crime scene."

"Then where will we go?"

"I'm not sure."

"What happens tomorrow?" She groaned. "I'm sorry; I don't mean to throw myself upon you like this."

"No, it's all right."

"I just don't know what to do…"

"Really, it's…it's all right." In the back of his mind he could hear Maeve's laughter.Take a deep breath and leap, Spencershe seemed to say. "After all you did for Henry…"

"Helping Henry was the right thing to do. It is its own reward."

"Besides, it would, um, be unchivalrous not to help."

"Chivalrous?" She laughed then, a delightful sound. "In that case, Sir Knight, I throw myself upon your mercy for the next few days."

"Good." Why was he smiling like this? "Why don't we go downstairs and we'll figure it out from there."

"Yes. Do I need to pack anything?"

Oh hell. "Um, no. This is a crime scene, any evidence…."

"Understandable."

"If there's anything medical you need…?"

"Only a few things." She stood and moved easily around the darkened room, collecting a large brimmed hat from the back of the door, and a long, red and white cane. "I don't keep a journal or anything like that. Everything else is replaceable. Lead on Sir Knight."

He lead the way down the narrow stairs, looking back to see her trailing her fingertips along the wall to find the way. "Thank you, by the way. For Henry."

"As I said, helping is its own reward. I'm just glad he's back with his family." He heard a smile come into her voice. "I should warn you, he wants us to marry."

"So he told me." Of course she said that just as they came into the light, just when he could see that she really was as enchantingly lovely as his flashlight had promised. At once he felt desire and guilt over Maeve and a comfort he had not felt since her company and anger at everything that had been done. He never did well with emotions, and these were enough to almost knock him over.

She smiled an unabashed grin. "Ah. I hate to tell him but given everything that's happening I don't think I'm quite ready for that."

That smile was contagious. "Yeah, I, uh, think we should try friendship first."

"I heartily agree, Dr. Reid."

"Spencer, please."

"Spencer. Susanna then." Something in her smile turned mischievous. "Are you sure it's not Lancelot?"

He laughed. He couldn't stop looking at her, and he could tell her full attention was on him, and at that moment something clicked. He still didn't know if he was ready for romance but at that moment he knew he had found a very special friend. "Percival, actually, or so my mother insists."

She smiled at him, enchanted for a moment. "Are you really?"

Percival, the knight noted for his purity…. "Um…"

"Would that make me…oh?" She sagged.

He was trying hard not to laugh, but he couldn't keep it out of his voice. "It does fit." Percival's sweetheart had been named Blanchfleur, literally "white flower." He thought he heard Maeve's laughter again. She wouldn't stop if she heard this one.

"Flatterer. I know what people see." She said flatly. They kept walking. "It doesn't even work in Latin. Flore albo, really."

Oh good heavens. "Tu loquerisne Latine?"

"Etiam. Docete filios ecclesiae membra tenentur. Dilexi discendum est." She paused before the last leg of the hallway. "This house is just full of people."

"You can tell?"

"I can hear them all down there. Everything is going to change now, isn't it?" She leaned into him, giving him the impression of a shy doe at the edge of the trees, considering running for cover.

"It already has." He took a deep breath. "Um, would you like some help getting downstairs?"

"Yes, please." Up until now she'd been using her cane to check for objects in her path but now she touched him, as light as a butterfly, gently feeling her way. It took him a moment to realize what she was doing but then he bent his elbow so she could take is arm, lightly curling her fingers around his bicep. "You're new at this." She murmured.

No, he wanted to say, I have felt this love before. But that wasn't what she meant. "Yes." He admitted.

"When we reach the stairs stay one step ahead of me and take your time."

"All right." For a moment he almost felt like he was leading her into a ball room.

But it wasn't a ballroom. It was a series of rooms crawling with FBI agents, local cops, forensic people, and scared children. Yet, as she appeared at the top of the stairs a hush fell over the crowd. Everyone turned to watch this apparition walk down the stairs. "What kind of a freak is that?" Someone in the back asked.

Spencer bristled. In his years in the FBI he had heard a lot of people called a lot of names. But if there was one thing that always, to this day, stuck in his throat it was hearing someone, anyone called a freak. Susanna was not a freak. People were never freaks.

The two women, older girls really, he'd seen earlier hurried over to them. "Susanna, what are you doing downstairs?" One of them chastised. "There are people in the house!"

"I noticed." Susanna replied dryly. She angled her head toward him. "Dr. Reid, I'd like to introduce my sister Rebekah, and I assume my sister Leah is here as well. Bekah, this is Dr. Spencer Reid." She gently tapped his vest. "Is this what body armor is?"

"Yes." He said, "Nice to meet you."

"Susanna." Rebekah took Susanna's other arm and literally pulled her away, nearly knocking her off her feet. "They're FBI agents!"

"Yes, I know. I invited them."

"You what?"

"I invited them. Specifically I told them where to come and get Henry."

"Who?'

"Joshua. That's his real name you know, Henry LaMontagine. He was never an orphan; he was taken from his parents without their consent. So I wrote to them and they figured out where to find us."

"He was telling the truth?"

"Shocking I know."

"Why did you write to them? Why didn't you say anything?"

"Because taking a child is an evil thing, and once that sort of evil starts going around you don't know who you can trust."

But Pastor Goodwin said that he was ours to adopt."

"Well that puts him at the top of the list of evil people you can't trust, now doesn't it."

Spencer saw Rebekah's eyes grow hard with anger, "Take that back!"

"No, not anymore. Matthew 7:17."

"Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." Spencer said.

Susanna co*cked her head in his direction. "Exactly." She turned back to her sister. "Pastor Goodwin isn't the Second Coming, he's not even a decent apostle. He's an evil man who is doing evil in this world and has done evil to our family."

Spencer never knew if she was going to clarify that, because at that moment her sister Rebekah lifted her hand and slapped her hard across the face.

Spencer jumped to her side even as Morgan moved to restrain Rebekah. The mark of her sister's hand stood out clear against Susanna's milk white skin, and the drop of blood that started seeping from her nose was the perfect shade of garnets. "Here," he said, pressing his handkerchief into her hand. "Are you all right?"

"I think so." She pressed the cloth against the bleeding. "I probably should have expected that. She's upset."

"That doesn't make it right."

"Don't arrest my sisters if you can help it, please. They never had the power to do anything, good or ill."

"I know." But he couldn't make her any promises.

Hotch made his way over. "We're taking the children to the hospital to get checked out. I think Miss Holman should go as well."

"All right," Spencer turned back to Susanna. "Ready?"

She nodded. "What did Bilbo Baggins say, about stepping out your door?"

Bilbo Baggins, the infamous Hobbit. "It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to?" As she curled her hand around his bicep again he covered it with his. "He has a point. You might want to hold on tight."

Chapter 13

Chapter Text

Chapter 13
Memorial Hospital
Carthage, IL

Blake

My darling husband, I killed an entire medical staff today. I emptied my clip and took out everyone in the emergency room….

Alex Blake usually Skyped her husband when he was out of the country, but every so often she wished they would write more. Mentally composing letters gave her a certain calm and focus when needed, which was why she was composing one as she sat and watched the doctor poke and prod Susanna Holman. "It's really everywhere." He said. "Her skin is just…"

"Oculocutaneous albinism type 1a is extremely rare,doctor, but it's not unheard of." Blake said, crisply. "It's caused by an alteration of the tyrosinase gene, I believe, which prevents the body from developing pigment, and affects one in, oh, 40,000 if I'm remembering right."

"Oh, well, of course…"

"What we are looking for is evidence of abuse, physical assault, neglect, or any other criminal activity."

"Right…right."

Except for the Doctor. I rammed his nose back into his cranial cavity. It was remarkably satisfying.

The doctor went back to poking while Susanna sat there and endured a patient, somewhat amused smile on her face. Blake had volunteered to sit with her, both to ensure the proper chain of custody of any evidence and because it was her first ever medical exam and she needed a bit of help to get through it. Taking her temperature was a simple matter, but the blood pressure cuff might have actually left a bruise. And she flat out blushed when she had to unbutton the back of her dress a little to allow the doctor to listen to her heart and lungs. But that might have been more about this.

The reason being that they kept treating this brave, intelligent young woman like a sideshow freak in a carnival. It's a minor birth defect in the grand scheme of things, but they have to treat her like she's from another world.

Spencer, however, can't take his eyes off her for all the right reasons. I think this is the first time I've seen him pay more than technical attention to anything in the past year.

She wondered sometimes if Spencer honestly thought they hadn't noticed how he'd pulled away from everyone. He'd become even more physically reticent, had left his heart out of his work, had worn this quiet, low-grade depression like sackcloth. But on this case, even with the focus on Henry, she'd seen him start coming alive again. He's been enchanted, Blake thought, not something to build a relationship on, but perhaps the kind of thing needed to coax their Dr. Reid out of his shell and start working on one.

"Well, I'm not seeing anything major or emergent." The Doctor finally pronounced. "Severe cataracts, which may be complicated by something else, I'm not an expert. Not having those treated could be considered neglectful; also underweight, but not to the point of requiring hospitalization. Do you have any problems with eating, swallowing?"

"Only with not having enough," Susanna replied.

"Well there's your neglect right there. I'd also like her heart rate to be stronger. What kind of exercise do you get?"

"A fifteen minute walk around the farm every morning."

"Not enough. Your report says you've never left the farm, this is your first medical exam?" She nodded. "Never been vaccinated then?" She shook her head. "Get vaccinated, especially if you're going to live in a city. Gain twenty pounds. Keep walking every day; work yourself up to thirty minutes at a minimum. Wear sunscreen. See an expert for your eyes and your skin. Otherwise you're in remarkably good health. Still just…fascinating. I'm sorry."

"It's understandable. Thank you doctor." After the doctor left Black got up and closed the curtain, to stop the pointing and whispering on the other side of the glass door. "I'm sorry about that." She said. "Want some help with the buttons?"

"Please." Susanna held still while Blake helped with the buttons that ran down the back of her underdress, open for the exam. "At least he wasn't praying while he was doing it."

"Praying?"

"One of the beliefs held by followers of Pastor Goodwin is that people with birth defects are carriers of evil, sent to punish parents for sin. They believe that it is their Christian duty to support those children but getting too close will result in the evil somehow rubbing off. You're supposed to train those children to be wary of letting the evil escape while they're awake." She chuckled a little. "In practice it means being on your best behavior and having good manners all the time, to give the appearance of restraint. Not that difficult. But whenever people would come over and I'd be downstairs they would pray to keep any evil away, just in case, or so my parents told me. They always sent me upstairs quickly so I wouldn't upset the guests."

Blake had to just stop for a moment, the desire to rant and rend on this woman's behalf was so strong. "I keep thinking I've heard everything in this job." She finally said at last. "You do realize how ridiculous that is, yes?"

Susanna nodded. "I would go into the philosophical and theological reasons why that is ridiculous but we'd be here all night. I just hope it's cultural and I'm not that offensive to look at."

"It's cultural." Blake reassured her. "In this part of the country people value conformity. In other places they value the unique. I know women in the city who would spend thousands of dollars to have your hair and skin, trust me." Susanna slid off the exam table and accepted the arm Blake offered. Blake considered and decided to try planting a seed. "I know Spencer can't seem to take his eyes off you."

As she watched Susanna's cheeks turned a brilliant red. Ah, good. "He's been a wonderful friend so far." Was all she said though. "I don't know what I've done to deserve all of this."

"Well, you helped Henry for one thing."

"But that was just the right thing to do…"

"You would be surprised how few people do the right thing."

"Susanna! Susanna! Susanna!" A smaller voice yelled. They both stopped as Henry ran up and threw himself against Susanna's legs. "You didn't get forgotten!"

"Henry!" She laughed as she found his head and then carefully went down to his height, her skirt flaring out around her. "Nope. While it's not exactly the rapture I have not been left behind. Are you here to see the doctor too?"

Henry nodded. "Yep. He said I'm too skinny."

"Well I'm sure your Dad's gumbo will fix that right up."

Henry nodded again. "You should come home with me." He announced.

"Oh, I think your parents are going to be too busy with getting you home to have company."

"Are you going home? If you do, I'll get my dad to make your dad give you a light."

"Actually I don't know where I'm going."

"You know, our technical analyst volunteers as a victim's advocate. She's put together a list of resources if you're interested." Blake said, "Including a place to stay."

Susanna's face brightened as she stood, "In Washington?"

"Mmm-hmm."

"I could…live in Washington? Can I live in Washington?"

"I still teach part-time at Georgetown. I've had a number of visually impaired students over the years; they never had a problem with it."

"And moving to a place in DC would put you close enough to come over for gumbo." Said a familiar southern drawl. They turned to find that Will and JJ had caught up with their son. "Will LaMontagne. This is my wife JJ. We owe you a debt."

"No." Susanna insisted. "I was just trying to do the right thing. I just wish I could have done more somehow…"

"In our line of work we see a lot of bad things happen to children in that situation." JJ told her. "None of that happened to Henry, mostly because of you. If there is anything we can do…"

"That offer extends to the whole family." Dave said as the rest of the team joined them.

"I just…I don't…" Susanna seemed completely at a loss.

Henry grabbed her hand and tugged. "Come to DC with us!" He insisted.

As they watched she gave in. "Yes." She said with a smile. "Just…yes."

It wasn't just Henry,Blake composed to her husband.It was the light in Spencer's eyes too.

Chapter 14

Chapter Text

Chapter fourteen
Memorial Hospital = Sheriff's station
Carthage, IL

Spencer

"So what happens next?" Susanna asked.

"I'm afraid we need to do an interview." Rossi said. "We still have seven missing kinds to find."

"Anything I can do to help." She replied. "Just lead the way."

Spencer spoke up. "How about if I…" He lightly touched her hand, which she responded to by taking hold of his bicep again. He realized that he was probably going to show her Washington like this, and that was a very fine thing. Wandering around the DC highlights with a warm and pretty girl good friend on his arm sounded like a wonderful idea.

Suddenly Henry turned and tugged on her skirt. "Susanna." He said urgently.

She stopped Spencer to lean down. Henry whispered something in her ear. "I do not; I had to leave them behind." She told him as she stood. "Why don't you tell your parents that?"

"Why don't you tell us what?" JJ asked, getting down to her son's level. Henry looked at her desperately for a moment, and then whispered in her ear. "We can find something." She said. "We'll get to the station and then send Dad out to get something."

"Get what?" Will asked.

"Something to eat." JJ replied. "He's hungry."

"All this activity." Susanna said. "I'm afraid there were more dumplings than chicken in dinner tonight, he's probably burned it all off."

"What was he asking for?' JJ asked.

"Candy. My sisters brought it back from their trips; I kept a stash in my room for just such an occasion."

"See, stuff like that is why we owe you." Will said.

JJ chuckled. "I think we can do better than candy."

"None of us have had dinner yet." Rossi pointed out. "How about if we go back to the station and order in all around." A voice that had confronted a hundred Unsubs and more didn't slip, but none of them missed the nod he made toward Susanna.

"Sounds like a plan." Morgan nodded.

As they got into the cars Spencer found himself contemplating the legend of Sir Percival and Lady Blanchfleur. He had rescued her from the black knight Clamadius who had laid siege to her castle and nearly starved her people. Clamadius wanted to marry her and take her lands, of course, but then she made Percival her champion and….no, he needed to stop going there. His head was buzzing. As they settled he had the absurd notion to reach over and take her hand. Why had he never felt this way for Maeve?

We never had time,Maeve whispered in his ear.I think you would have if we would have had the chance.

I still don't know that I'm ready for this. What if I'm meant to always be alone, like Percival?

No, remember Merton. Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone; we find it with another.

I did. I found it with you.

Yes, you did. But love doesn't end with the finding, it only grows from there.

I feel like I'm betraying you.

You'll only betray me if you never love.

At the station they found Susanna's sisters waiting, under guard but not cuffed. They came over as soon as they saw her. The one in green, Rebekah, was the one that had slapped her before, Spencer realized. This time the one in purple, Leah he assume, spoke up. "Where were you?" She demanded. "We've been here forever. We don't know what's going on."

"At the hospital, getting looked over." Susanna replied. The two young women looked at each other, their eyes going wide. "They're shocked, aren't they?" She asked Spencer, a wicked sort of smile playing around her lips."

"Yes." Suddenly he was very glad he was here to observe.

"Relax kittens, Agent Blake was with me the entire time. She can stand as a witness, nothing happened between me and the doctor."

Spencer blinked as both girls relaxed. "Really?"

"Pastor Goodwin says all doctors are perverse." Rebekah told him. "They only want to get their hands on your body. If you truly walk in the light of the Lord you won't need one, so if you do it's punishment for a sin."

"Have you ever heard of Lifton's eight criteria?" Susanna asked him.

"As in Robert J. Lifton'sThought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China?"

"I read it, oh, two years ago? Just after all these wonderful new books starting coming in. It was a life changer." She sighed. "I can't decide if this comes under point three or point seven."

"I would think point five."

"They suggested we go." Rebekah told them. "We refused. I can't believe you risked it."

"Like anyone would want to marry me anyway." Susanna replied, dryly.

"That doesn't matter and you know it."

"Ladies." Rossi came up to them, as smooth as silk. "We still have children missing, which means we need those interviews."

"Is the victim's advocate here yet?" Hotch asked.

Rossi shook his head. "Not available. Budget cuts. They were able to find one for Henry but since the actual crime was committed back in DC JJ and Will said they want to work with one there."

"Good. He's the victim here." Susanna said.

"So are you." Rossi pointed out. "Our technical analyst Penelope Garcia has found an advocate willing to work with you back in DC."

She bristled a little. "I'm not the victim here, Henry is." She replied. "But at this point I'll take all the help I can get, thank you."

Right, they might need help there. Spencer brain decided to give him one of those lucid bubbles right about then. "In the absence of an advocate we should have a female officer in on the interviews." Rossi gave him the 'seriously?' look, and he nodded.

"We can do that. Right this way."

Chapter 15

Chapter Text

Chapter fifteen
Sheriff's station
Carthage, IL

Rossi

Rossi decided to take the ideologue. Rebekah was angry where her sister was sweet, confident where she was confused. But Rossi wrote the book on dealing with cults and cult members. Literally. "I know what you're doing." She spat out as soon as he sat down.

"Oh?"

"You're taking our children to turn them into Socialists and Atheists. Probably introduce them to hom*osexuality too. Well the Lord won't let you; you can't stop me from praying."

"I don't intend to."

"And I'll be asking Pastor Goodwin to fight for them in the courts."

"You have every right to do so. Now, I just have a few questions. When did you first find out that Henry was coming to live with you?"

"His name is Joshua. I didn't find out we were getting one of the Lost Boys until Father and Michael brought him home."

"So you knew about the Lost Boys beforehand?"

Pastor Goodwin said that the reason why the Plan wasn't working was because the Enemy was diverting souls into single mothers and neglectful families, so our sons would be raised in the Socialistic government system instead of becoming warriors for Christ. He said that the Lord had given him a vision of those boys and how they were to be returned to their proper families." She smiled a little. "I'm just grateful to the Lord that we were one of them."

"Did Joshua tell you that he was taken from his parents?"

"He was lying. What do you expect, he had already been indoctrinated. But Father trained him out of that right quick."

"You never thought of calling the Police?"

"I would never contravene the will of my Father. I'm not a rebellious Jezebel like Susanna." She huffed. "I never thought we were sheltering a snake like that."

"What would happen if you did contravene your Father's will?"

"I'd be chastised and then sent off to the Ranch for further correction." She shuddered at that. "I've heard it's awful."

"Even at your age?"

"Of course, a girl is under her Father's protection until she's given over to her husband. Then it's up to her husband to chastise and correct her. Women are the weaker vessels, we tend to forget."

"Was Henry…excuse me, Joshua…chastised?"

"A few times. When he first arrived, for lying about who his real parents are and what his real name is, and then later when he started playing with my sister's toy kitchen."

"That's worthy of chastising?"

"Of course! It's a sin for a man to do woman's work, as it's a sin for a woman to do a man's." She scowled at the female officer in the corner. "It's not normative."

"You mean normal"

"Normative." She insisted.

"Have any other families you know of had Lost Boys returned to them?"

She gave him a smart, knowing smile. "Why, so you can take their children as well?"

"Withholding evidence is a Federal crime."

"Fine, make me a martyr."

"I'll give you to the end of the interview to change your mind. Do you know how Pastor Goodwin found these boys?"

"I have no idea."

"According to the medical reports we have all of the children are underweight. Why weren't your parents feeding you?"

"To keep us from becoming women before we had to. Shedding…blood like that makes you unclean, it makes you want to sin. Since the law won't let us marry and start bearing children before sixteen it's best to put off starting that until as late as possible so you won't accumulate the desire to sin. That's the sin of Eve."

"So why aren't you married then? According to the family bible you're twenty-four, you've been eligible for, what, eight years?"

"The Lord hasn't sent Pastor Goodwin the name of my husband."

"Pastor Goodwin arranges marriages?"

"Along with the church fathers. My Father would have the final approval, of course."

"Is that part of the Plan you were talking about earlier?"

Rebekah nodded. "It's part of the 200 year plan. Every Father must draw one up, and the church as a whole has one as well."

"And what is this plan for?"

"For taking over the world and making it Christian so Christ will return."

"Ah. So Pastor Goodwin preaches a Postmillennialist eschatology?"

She smiled, "Yes, exactly."

"Do the Black Knights have anything to do with that?"

"Of course; they're the first strike force in the Army of the Lord."

"Do you know who the other members are?"

"I always wanted to be a martyr." She replied.

"Well, here's your chance. Officer, please arrest this young lady, charges of obstruction of justice. We'll see how you feel about it in the morning."

Chapter 16

Chapter Text

Chapter sixteen
Sheriff's station
Carthage, IL

Hotch

At the same time there was Leah. She was the youngest and the most confused, and they hoped that in her confusion she might give up something that would help. They decided to send in Hotch, an older male that her patriarchal background would compel her to obey, and Blake, in the chance that she might respond to an older woman. "When did you first find out that Henry was coming to live with you?"

"Henry?"

"Joshua." Blake told her.

"Oh. I found out when Father and Michael brought him into the house."

"And what did they tell you?" Hotch asked.

"They said that he was one of the lost boys, and that God had told Pastor Goodwin that he was supposed to be ours."

"And you accepted this?"

Leah smiled nervously. "Mother lost a baby once, a boy. I figured Pastor Goodwin finally found him."

"Did Joshua tell you that he had been taken from his parents?"

"Yes, when he first arrived."

"Why didn't you call the police?"

"Why? He was just making up tales."

"Why would you assume that?"

"All children do. Children are born wicked. 'For affliction comes not forth from the dust, neither does trouble spring out of the ground; yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward'. Job, chapter five, versus six and seven. Children have to be trained to walk in the light of the Word. Joshua had been taken by the enemy before he was born, no one had trained him up right yet. So he was lying. Father took him to his office and chastised him for lying. We figured he must be a child of God for after that we heard no more about it."

"Chastised?" Blake asked. "What is that exactly?"

"Well, you go into Father's office and he has you list your sins. If you don't get them all he tells you what you missed. Then you have to drop your pants and lift your skirts and lean over the arm of his couch. He wallops you with the strap; one chastisem*nt equals one whack for each year of your life, and then one whack each for every sin you missed. You have to take them all with fortitude, without crying, or else he repeats it." She smiled nervously. "Joshua was up there a while, but after that he was perfect."

"Would he still chastise you?"

"Oh yes. A father is responsible for his children until his sons become men and until his daughters are given unto their husband's authority."

"What's the youngest age for being chastised?"

"Two. Before that babies just get sharp taps with a wooden spoon."

"What do babies do that's sinful?"

"Touch things they aren't supposed to, leave their blankets…"

"Leave their blankets?"

"Yes. You put a blanket on the floor with a few toys, and then tap the spoon all around the edges so the baby will know what happens if he goes off the blanket. Then if he even reaches a hand off you give that part a good rap with the spoon. It doesn't take long for the baby to learn not to go off the blanket. Then you can take your baby anywhere with just a blanket and he'll sit and behave. And sometimes you do it when they're crying just to be manipulative. I can never tell though, I let Momma figure that out."

"How young does that start? When they can start manipulating others?"

"Two months."

Blake's lips twitched, "Right."

"What happened after he was chastised?" Hotch asked.

"We sent him to bed with the rest of the children. The next day he was good as gold. We started training him to first-time obedience and he obeyed from the get-go. He did so well Father felt comfortable taking him on the road with us on our next mission trip."

"To…Hammond, Louisiana?"

"Yes, that's right."

"And no one questioned his presence?"

Leah frowned. "Why would they? He's our brother."

"Where did you stay in Hammond?"

"With the Munks. Alan and Marjorie."

"Had you stayed with them before?'

"Yes."

"And they didn't question a new child in the family?"

"No. Pastor Goodwin found one of their lost boys too."

Hello. "Have any other families you know of found lost boys recently?"

"Um, the Browns in Omaha, and Hetty Munk said that the Nestors had as well."

"Where are they from?"

"Holly Springs, in Mississippi."

Blake immediately left the room, sending the female officer outside in.

"How did Pastor Goodwin find these boys?"

Leah shrugged. "I have no idea."

"According to the medical reports we have all of the children are underweight. Why weren't your parents feeding you?"

"Momma always said we were getting enough. She said there was no point in fattening us up like cattle."

"What are the Black Knights?"

"I don't know; something my brothers are involved in."

"They never discussed it with you?"

"No. That's boy stuff."

"When did they become involved, do you remember?"

"Oh, it's been four or five years now, the first year Daniel went to summer camp."

"Are other boys involved?"

"Oh yes, every family we know has at least a couple of boys involved; probably every family in the church now."

Hotch took all the notes he could. "Thank you. We may have more questions later."

"All right. Um, when can I make a phone call?"

"Soon."

"Are we going home after this?"

Hotch wanted to be honest. "I don't know."

Chapter 17

Chapter Text

Chapter seventeen
Sheriff's station
Carthage, IL

Morgan

Morgan and Blake took Susanna after they were finished with the other two sisters. They were hoping she would be able to flesh out whatever they found in the other interviews. And privately Morgan admitted that after what happened last time he wanted to get to know the girl who was making his little brother's eyes sparkle like that. "When did you first find out that Henry was coming to live with you?"

"When I heard him screaming; most of the children know better than to scream like that when they're being beaten."

"Don't you mean chastised?" Blake asked.

Susanna lifted her head. "Have you ever heard of Robert J. Lifton?"

"Yes, he wroteThought Reform and the Psychology of Totalisim." She looked over at Morgan. "It's considered one of the definitive works on thought reform, commonly called brainwashing."

"Lifton lists eight criteria that must be in place for a group to successfully brainwash its members." Susanna went on, "One criterion is using words and phrases incorrectly or even oddly in order to create a jargon specific to the in-group."

"It helps define group cohesion, separates them from the other." Blake agreed. "It also helps to short-circuit your ability to think critically."

"I try to avoid that if I can." Susanna went on. "I prefer to think with a clear head. Anyway I've been there, it's a beating. So I went downstairs to see what was going on and Leah told me that Pastor Goodwin had found our Lost Boy and brought him home to us, and that father was chastising him for not identifying with his real family. That was my first sign that something was wasn't right. I remembered hearing, oh, a few shows on the radio about the adoption process, and it's supposed to be this long, drawn out thing where they interview all the adults in the house, at least, so I knew this wasn't that. And this child was screaming for his parents, so I figured that something was seriously wrong."

"So why didn't you call the police?" Morgan asked

"No phone. I actually tried to find Mamma's but groping her desk only got me so far. I considered walking to town but I'm not supposed to be in the sun for more than fifteen minutes."

"Even with sunscreen?"

She chuckled. "Sunscreen encourages vanity and vanity is a sin." She paused a beat. "Don't look for logic, it's not there. Anyway, later that night he tried to run away. When he realized all the doors were locked he tried looking for a place to hide and ended up under my bed. I was trying to fall asleep toCoast to Coast, so I noticed and we started talking. When I heard that his Mother and Godfather were in the FBI I figured if we wrote to them they could find us, but neither of us knew what you needed to know. There was no way to call us or write us back without Father knowing. That's when I thought of the radio show."

"Ingenious." Blake said.

"I'm just glad it worked."

"What happened the next day?" Morgan asked.

"They started in with First-time obedience training. I had warned him ahead of time that this was going to happen, I told him just do what they tell you, say yes mommy or daddy and run and do it, even if it sounds silly, even though they aren't really your mom or dad, just go or else you'll get hit again. He learned quickly." She sighed. "I didn't even know my sister had kitchen toys, let alone that he'd be interested. I am sorry about that, I would have warned him."

"It's all right." Blake told her. "Your coaching clearly spared him a great deal of trauma."

"What happened when your family left the house?" Morgan asked.

"I never got to go with them. Either Rebekah or Leah would stay home with me, usually Leah."

"Do you know if anyone else received a Lost Boy?"

"Well, I think it was Agent Rossi who said that there were seven other boys missing? I'm sure they went to other church families but I have no idea which ones. I'm sorry."

"According to the medical reports we have all of the children are underweight. Why weren't your parents feeding you?"

"I'm not sure. It might be poverty; we don't eat what doesn't come from the farm. I'm not sure how much my parents make…"

"WIC? Food Stamps?"

"You mean Socialism?" She smiled. "I tried suggesting we have beans and rice once, but Momma told me Father wouldn't eat 'hippy food'. So it was meat every night, even if there was only enough to flavor the sauce. It could also be that they were trying to retard puberty. Pastor Goodwin was convinced that God was disgusted by women's menstrual cycles, that it was the sign of the sin of Eve, that the more cycles you had the more you were tempted toward the sin of lust, so you should get pregnant as soon after menarche as possible and stay pregnant as much as possible. Funny how that's not working."

"What do you mean?" Blake asked.

"No one is getting married. Look, in order to get married a boy needs to own his own home and business, outright, and have three years of living in the bank, minimum. Not easy, especially since none of us have SSI numbers and you're not supposed to use credit anyway."

"So how do you do that?' Morgan wanted to know.

"Get a job that will pay cash and no questions asked and save up. Now from what I've heard over the radio the economy hasn't been doing well the past few years, so that's probably not going to happen. And on top of that once you hit puberty you're not allowed to touch anyone but your parents and not allowed to talk to any boys, or vice versa. Marriages are arranged once a boy meets the criteria. This is not a recipe for eliminating periods through childbirth."

"What happens if you don't get married?"

"Everyone gets married eventually. Marriage is the normative state. There goes that jargon again." She chuckled a little. "Thank goodness Kitty taught me otherwise."

"Kitty?" Blake asked.

"Kitty Larson, my tutor. She and her husband joined the church not long after they married, before that she taught public school, special-ed. She taught me how to read Braille, how to use a cane, all sorts of things. She came over twice a week, from when I was eight until I was twelve." Susanna's smile took on a gentle quality. "She also taught me that being blind and funny looking didn't mean I was inherently evil. That I wasn't going to poison my family with my very being."

"Is that why you had your own room?' Blake asked. "So you wouldn't lead others into sin?"

Susanna nodded. "She talked my parents into lifting the rule against touching, for Rebekah and Leah, so I could get around the farm at least. And she bought me my radio. She said I could hear the whole world if I listened carefully enough."

"Where is she now?" Morgan asked.

"Toward the end she grew disenchanted with the church, she wanted out but that can be a difficult thing. She taught me how to think for myself then, how to really think about what I was reading and hearing, if it made sense at all. Eventually her and her husband tried to move on, move to Chicago. A few months later she stopped writing."

"What do you know about the Black Knights?"

"It's something my brothers are involved in. I know there's some kind of video game involved, their bedroom is right under mine and I can hear it sometimes. They both brought it back from summer camp."

"The one at Pastor Goodwin's ranch?" She nodded. "Who goes to this camp?"

"Every boy who's family is a full church member, the year they turn sixteen. I remember them saying that Robert Munk was going to have to drop out when he married Abigail, so I assume it's from sixteen until you get married, whenever that is."

"They play video games, what else do they do?"

"Shoot guns out in the far field; try to blow things up, tinker with stuff out in the barn. I know they wanted to take fencing lessons but there weren't any teachers around here."

A cold dread settled in Morgan's stomach. "Blow things up?'

"Yeah. Some of those explosions got pretty loud."

"Thank you. We may have more questions later. Just wait here for a few." He and Blake stepped into the hall and he pulled out his phone. "Hotch, we may have a problem."

Chapter 18

Chapter Text

Chapter eighteen
Hanco*ck County Jail
Carthage IL

Rossi

The sons weren't talking. The mother had been taken to the hospital for sedation after becomming hysterical. That left Dad. And Rossi and Hotch were going to interview him.

John Holman looked shocked. Good. "So, what made you kidnap someone else's son?" Rossi asked him.

"He's not someone else's son. He's mine."

"I know the mother personally; I can guarantee she'll say that you're not his father. But we can do DNA if you insist…."

"She's not married, is she?"

"Yes, she is." Hotch replied.

"But she wasn't when she made him."

"How did you…."

"His soul was meant to come to our family." Holman sighed. "I still remember the night we lost him."

"How did you lose him?"

"The Enemy! Plucked that soul right from his mother's belly. I still don't know why. But you should have seen that little body when it came out. It had no brain! Nothing on the top of its head, it had all been taken, just these eyes bulging like a frog. And its hands and feet were all melted where it tried to fight! Haunts me to this day."

Rossi sighed. "I'm sorry. I know how hard it is to lose a child. But what made you think this child was yours?"

"About, oh, five months ago Pastor Goodwin had a vision. We were missing children, a lot of us. That's why we weren't able to stick with the Plan, because we hadn't been doing right by the children we have. Their souls had been taken from us by the Enemy and planted in the bellies of some of those evil whor*s who give birth out of wedlock and then let the State teach the child Socialism. We hadn't gone after them to train them up properly. But now that the Lord had explained it so simply, like any father would to a child, Pastor Goodwin was going to find a way to get them home. Then, about a month ago, he called me and told me that he had found Joshua and was bringing him home. Happiest day of my life. 'Course he was insisting that he had another name and family, but that was just the evil leaving him. By the next day he was just as sweet as honey."

Hotch's phone rang. He looked and stepped out. "Why did you keep your eldest as a shut-in?" Rossi asked.

Holman seemed surprised at the question. "Safer for her," he replied. "I don't…I don't want to talk about that."

"Why didn't you feed your children?"

"I did! Fed 'em just like Pastor Goodwin said, keep them physically and morally healthy. They're fine."

"What do you know about the Black Knights?"

Holman shrugged. "It's a church group. My older boys are involved; they're all good, morally strong young men, good boys."

Hotch came back in. "What can you tell us about what's in the basem*nt of your barn?"

"Um, I don't know what's down there. Michael and Daniel took it over to store stuff for the Knights. I haven't seen a need to go down to look." He looked curious now. "Why? What's down there?"

Hotch signaled to Rossi to step out. "What did they find down there?" Rossi asked.

"A small arsenal, thermite, ANFO. The State Police is calling in the bomb squad. Morgan's on his way out there." Hotch sighed. "This has turned into something a lot bigger than Henry."

"I don't know about you but I'm thinking we need to alert the Counterterrorism Center."

"I already have. We'll need to give them a profile as soon as we can."

Let's keep Susanna close; she might be our best source of information." Rossi was quiet. "What are the chances they'll retaliate against her?"

"I don't think they're high." Hotch replied. "Women are marginalized in their group, the disabled doubly so. I don't think they'd consider her capable of initiating this. They're more likely to blame the father."

"Let's keep it that way, for Reid's sake as well."

"I agree."

Sheriff's station
Carthage, IL

Spencer

It was a common technique, put two or three people you want to observe in a room together and see what happened. In this case it was Spencer and Blake observing Susanna, Leah, and a cuffed Rebekah. She came in last. "Oh dear Lord!" Leah shrieked when she saw her sister.

"And why are we Dear Lording?" Susanna asked dryly.

"Rebekah is in handcuffs! She's being arrested!"

Susanna frowned at this. "Why?"

"I'm accepting this as a martyr." Rebekah announced. "I refuse to tell them who has the other Lost Boys."

"Really?" Susanna asked. "Because, of course, they won't find out any other way." Her snark was nearly as deadpan as Hotch's.

"Be quiet, Jezebel."

"You're doing this to yourself you know."

"I can't decide if you should be stoned for rebelling against our Father or burned at the stake for throwing yourself all over that man back at the house!"

"Better to break my neck falling down the stairs, I'm sure."

"Stop it! Both of you!" Leah shrieked. They stopped. "I just want to know why."

The three of them were quiet a long moment. "They took someone's child away." Susanna said at last. "That's not right. How would you feel if someone just took Justin and we never saw him again?"

"Isn't that what they're doing?" Rebekah pointed out.

"Not the same. We won't lose contact. We'll always know where they are and what they're doing. The LaMontagne's didn't even know if Henry was alive or dead."

"Great, we can watch them become Socialists and Atheists…"

"And learn to think for themselves!" Susanna finally turned all the way into the conversation. "To grow up healthy and never be hungry and get good educations and have a chance to love and marry and have children of their own. And the same goes for you two, you know. You have a chance."

"Have them turned away from the Lord…"

"If the Lord wants them you think He can't keep them, no matter where they go or what they do?" Susanna chuckled. "Oh ye of little faith."

They were quiet again for a little while. "So what do you purpose we do now, sister?" Leah asked.

"Well…" Susanna considered this. "First off I purpose to never again use 'purpose' as a transitive verb. After that I plan to attempt to purge the words 'helpmeet', 'headship', 'fellowship' or 'normativity' from my vocabulary. And in the future if I attend an event where I'm expected to bring a covered dish I will not call that event a pot-provedential meal, instead will properly call that event a pot-luck."

Spencer mashed his fist against his mouth to keep from laughing.

"You seem to be taking this very lightly." Leah complained.

"False bravado, I'm actually scared to death." Susanna admitted. "But I'm going to be brave and take this opportunity to chase a half-dozen dreams or so just in case the opportunity doesn't come around again. Philippians 4:13 if nothing else."

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Spencer murmured.

"Well, as soon as they let us make a phone call I'll call Pastor Goodwin's office and see if we can find families to take us all in." Leah decided.

Susanna sighed. "Not ideal, but it will have to do. Don't bother to find a place for me."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm moving to the city. Specifically Washington DC. Henry's family offered to help me move and I'm taking them up on it."

There were gasps from the other two. "You can't do that!" Leah insisted.

"Why not?"

"You can't see!"

Susanna was quiet a moment. "I never noticed." She deadpanned.

"You'll be...attacked. Raped. Sold off…"

"I'll take the risk. Seriously, a city has better transportation; I'll be able to get around on my own. Once I'm on my feet I plan to go to college and get a properly Liberal education. And hopefully along the line I'll find someone special."

"Who would want to marry you?" Rebekah asked.

"Someone. Know what a paraphilia is?"

"No."

"No."

"That's the proper name for perversions. There are people out there who lust after every sort of perversion, you name it, they desire it. If there are men out there who lust after trees or furry toys there has to be one for a freak like me."

"You're not a freak." Spencer and Blake murmured in unison.

"And I suppose you'll have his child out of wedlock." Rebekah spat.

Susanna chuckled. "There's a difference between the word of the Lord and the word of Pastor Goodwin. I don't intend to break the first, only the second." She reached over to Leah. "Come with me, sister. You can study for a teacher; find the husband you've wanted for so long, have babies of your own."

Leah looked nervous. "I just…I don't….I don't know."

Susanna squeezed her elbow briefly. "That's all right. I'll break the trail; you can always join me later."

Leah looked over at her. "What has made you so brave anyway?"

"I have nothing to lose."

Chapter 19

Chapter Text

After they watched the three sisters together for a time Blake once again asked Rebekah where the other children were and who were the other Black Knights. Once again Rebekah refused to speak and so she was taken to the jail for the night.

This left Leah shaken and in tears, and Susanna awkwardly trying to comfort her. "She made that choice." She said.

"She shouldn't have had to!" Leah insisted.

"I know."

"I'm scared."

"I don't think you have to be. Just tell the truth and leave the rest up to the Lord. Come on, let's pray together."

"Do you think they'll let us?" Leah asked, eyeing the deputy in the room.

Susanna chuckled. "Yes, I actually think they will. Come on." She took her sister's hands and started murmuring the psalms from memory. Not only did the deputy not interrupt her he bowed his head along with her.

Spencer waited until they were done before knocking. "Um, excuse me." He said, politely. Susanna smiled in a way that lit up the room, even while her sister eyed him distrustfully. "Your siblings are spending the night under observation at the hospital. Unfortunately we can't let you make phone calls yet…"

"Why not?" Leah demanded.

"So we won't alert the other families with Lost Boys, obviously." Her sister replied. "That would only make their job harder."

"But if you two want to go back to the hospital to see your siblings Agent Blake and I will take you over there."

"Yes, please." Leah replied.

Susanna, he noticed, didn't say a word.

The drive over was quiet. Out of all children three were now in jail, two were with them, and the littlest were already asleep. That left six still awake. They had crammed all of them into one large ward, with its own playroom and it was there that they found the children, from seventeen down to seven. They all quickly gathered around Leah to ask what was going on, and to pray together. But, Spencer noticed, none of them approached Susanna. "What's going to happen to us?" The eldest girl asked.

The social worker who was observing all this spoke up. "Your parents have indicated that there are families in your church who will take you in, although we'll be keeping an eye on things."

"Not foster care?" Blake asked.

"We have three beds open right now." The social worker sighed. "If they'll take this many kids and keep them together we're not going to say no."

"Great." Blake said, before one of the nurses pulled her aside.

"Will you come with us?" One of the younger children asked.

"Probably," Leah replied.

"Who's going to be looking after…Susanna?" The oldest girl practically whispered at the end.

"Susanna's right here, kittens." Susanna said. They all turned to look at her, with varying shades of anger, fear and resentment in their eyes. "You could ask her yourself."

The oldest turned back to Leah. "Where is she going?"

"She is moving to the city and going off to school." Susanna replied. "The shame of the family won't be going with you."

A general sigh of relief rose from the room. "Good." One of the boys muttered, "One less burden."

"She's Michael's burden, not yours." The eldest girl countered.

"He already said he hoped she'd die before Mom and Dad."

This is why I grew up with a paranoid schizophrenic, Spencer thought, to learn to control my micro expressions when I'm this kind of pissed.

Blake had returned in time to hear this. "Um, Leah, Susanna, we should make arrangements for a place for you to stay tonight."

"Can I stay here?" Leah asked.

"Can I not?" Susanna countered.

"Yes, Leah, they can bring a cot in for you." Blake replied.

Leah actually smiled. "Great, thank you."

"I took the liberty and booked a room for you at the motel where we're staying." Spencer told Susanna. "It's not much but it's private. You don't have to…"

"No, I accept." Susanna turned toward his voice and gave him a warm smile. "Thank you."

"Susanna, the nurse would like to speak to you for a few moments before we go." As Susanna stepped out with her Blake tugged Spencer out into the hall where they just stood there, processing a moment. "Wow." Blake said at last. "Just…wow."

"I know." Spencer murmured. He was still stunned by it all.

"Okay, look, Spencer, as your friend I can tell you're already developing feelings for that woman. No, no, don't interrupt." Blake stopped him. "I'm not saying that's a bad thing but she has a lot she has to deal with right now and your plate is already very full, please tell me you're not going to try to take care of her entirely on your own."

"We're just friends." Spencer insisted. Friends he could do, he could handle friends right now.

"Still."

"No. Garcia has a huge file of resources for victims back in DC; she's lining up people to help. She really wants to help advocate for Susanna, after what she did for Henry." Garcia wasn't working AND teaching AND looking after a parent long distance. "I still want to be there though."

"I know you do, and I'm not saying you shouldn't, but she's going to need expert help. Let those experts do their job. And let someone who has experience in lining up experts do that job, okay. Right now you stick to the fun stuff and to getting to know her as she gets to know herself."

Good advice. Spencer nodded. "Right now I'm just afraid that there are going to be some kind of reprisals, that she's going to need protection…"

"If she does we'll all pitch in and help."

"Alex…" He nodded them further out of the way. "I failed the last time." He hadn't protected Maeve, what was he going to do if he had to protect Susanna?

"Oh Spencer," Blake sighed. "This is so different."

"How?"

"For one thing Maeve rejected your help, for months on end. You know, if we had been involved we might have spotted Diane Turner months before she attacked, and we would have known exactly who we were looking for and what to do. Susanna is letting us help from the get-go, which makes the odds so much better, you know that. At least intellectually you know that."

"Yes, but I'm not sure I feel that."

"Give it time, you will."

They both looked in the direction of the room where the nurse had taken Susanna. "What did the nurse want?" He asked

Blake looked at him. "Are you asking as an agent or as a boyfriend? Potential boyfriend."

"Um…not sure."

"Apparently the cult encourages some…unusual practices when it comes to physical hygiene. The nurses had to…help the kids out with a few things; they wanted to help the older siblings out as well."

Personal…"Seriously?" Susanna had smelled clean…

Blake nodded. "We are talking a lot of work Spencer. I have no doubt she'll get there, but…yeah."

As they were walking out, Susanna with a little plastic bag given to her by the nurses, Spencer turned to her. "So, how about dinner?"

"We already had dinner."

"Are you still hungry?"

"Um, yeah."

"Then dinner. What would you like?"

Susanna froze for a long moment. He helped her into the SUV and settled in the front seat before she spoke. "I…have no idea. No one's ever asked me that before."

"Really?" He was surprised by that, "Ever?"

"I just eat whatever Leah brings up on the tray."

Just then his phone chimed a text. "Okay, that is a situation we need to rectify, and soon. But it looks like it won't be happening tonight. Do you like fried chicken?"

"I love fried chicken."

"Good. The Sheriff arranged catering. We'll head back and eat and get an update and then back to the motel. Does that work for you?"

"Perfectly. Thank you."

The moment they walked into the briefing room-turned-dining hall Henry was out of his seat like a shot. "Susanna! Susanna! Come eat with us!" He took her by the hand and practically dragged her over to a chorus of warm welcomes. Much better, Spencer thought. Much, much better.

Chapter 20

Chapter Text

"Mashed Potatoes?"

"Please."

"Gravy?"

"Of course."

"These vegetables are not farm fresh."

"Are they canned?"

"Frozen and steamed, most likely."

"Worth a try."

"What piece of chicken do you like best?"

"Momma always gave me a thigh."

Spencer sighed. Yes, this was work. But it was remarkably joyful work. "What piece did you always want to try?"

"Umm." Susanna actually blushed. "I always wanted to try a breast, but if others…"

"There are several here. The rolls are still warm, but they're kind of small. One or two?"

"Um, one…two."

"There is salad but I wouldn't recommend it." It was already going kinda brown.

"Fair enough."

"Pie? It looks like apple or berry or pecan."

"I've never tried pecan."

"Soda or milk?"

"Milk, please."

With two plates truly full he led her back to the table where Will, JJ and Henry were eating. "Is it okay to eat chicken with your fingers?" She murmured on the way.

"I plan to."

"Good. I apologize for my table manners in advance."

"Why?" But then they were there and sitting.

Henry had insisted she sit next to him. "The potatoes are from twelve to three, the vegetables are from three to six and the chicken is everywhere else." He told her.

"Thank you, Henry. That is still very helpful." She replied.

"Anyone mind if we join you?" That was Rossi, with Blake right behind. "And talk a little shop? You two don't listen." He said to Will and JJ, who both smiled.

"Don't worry, we're not here." Will told him. "We're just having a late supper, that's all."

"Susanna, when we were interviewing everyone a Plan came up a few times." Rossi said it like it was capitalized. "Does that mean anything to you?"

"Um…." Her table manners were flawless, one part of Spencer's mind noticed, with the single exception of buttering a bit of her thumb along with the roll. "I've heard of something called a 200 year generational plan, but I don't know any of the details. Every year Father went on a church retreat where they were supposed to discuss it."

"Hmmm," was Rossi's only reply.

Blake looked at him a moment. "The gears are kind of creaky, but you can still see them turning."

"Hush, child." He teased back.

Hotch came up to them. "Susanna, do you have any idea where the Munks live? Or the Browns in Omaha? Or the Nestors in Holly Springs?"

"They're not on the grid either?" Blake asked.

"No."

"No, but I know Momma writes to them all the time." Susanna told him.

Hotch was quiet a moment. "Address book." He hurried off again.

"Will you tell me a story later?" Henry asked her.

"If you really want me to, but I bet your Mom and Dad here have a lot of stories they'd like to catch up on." She replied. "And you did say your godfather is a master storyteller."

"Yeah, but I like your stories too."

Susanna smiled in JJ's general direction. "I had to read him Bible stories. I hope…"

"That's all right." JJ replied. "We have Bible storybooks at home. That was fine."

"Oh I'm so glad. Besides, it was that or Bede."

Spencer nearly choked on his roll, "Bede the Venerable?An Ecclesiastical History of the English People?"

Susanna grinned at him. "Yes, have you read it?"

"Of course!"

While they went off Rossi chuckled. "Anyone else want to start a pool?"

Prairie Winds Motel
Carthage IL

The brochure said that the motel had been renovated five years prior. Spencer couldn't see where, it still had that cheap, roadside motel thing going. Still it was clean, and it was the only place in town. Spencer was just glad they thought to get rooms on the side away from the highway. "Um, is it warm enough for you? Do you want me to show you how to adjust the heater?"

"No, this is fine." Susanna started exploring the room, moving clockwise from the door.

"There's a radio on the nightstand, and a bathroom just on the far side of the bed." He smiled a little. "Can I ask you something…personal?"

"I may not answer, but you can."

"Full as a tick?"

Her grin grew wider, "Very much so."

"Because I can scientifically state that there is more hot water available in that shower than the human body can absorb, so that's two things off the list." She started giggling and blushing. She did both very well, he thought. "There is a bag on the far bed that has a few things. Garcia said that the little pouch of stuff in the toiletry bag was all for your face…wait, I took notes here." He had. Girl stuff was so complicated. First shoes, now face stuff. "She said the little pouch has stuff for your face, soap, the small jar is for tonight, and then the bottle is for tomorrow…it looks like you turn it to unlock it and then push down on the top to make it come out. That is sunscreen, and then the big bar in the plastic container is bath soap and the square top bottle is for your hair and the bottle with the sprayer on top is sunscreen for everywhere but your face and hair, and it looks like she threw in a comb."

"I'm going to need notes." She muttered. She reached in to the little bag the nurses had given her and pulled out a toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste. "Is the stuff to clean your teeth supposed to taste this sweet? It's like cleaning your teeth with candy."

Huh? "I guess so, what do you usually use?"

"Baking soda on a cloth."

"Oh." Was that all the unusual hygiene? Did he want to know? "Yeah, it's flavored baking soda. Just don't swallow it."

"Yeah, they said that." She set aside the toiletry bag and dipped into the tote. "What else is in here?"

"Some of the women at the station put a bag together so you'd have something to wear tomorrow." Actually it was Blake and JJ, but he didn't know if she'd be comfortable knowing that Henry's mom was helping her that much.

"Remind me to say thank you tomorrow, please."

"I will. Now there is a door over by the closet." He waited for her to work her way around to it. "That's to my room. You can lock it if you like but I'm not going to close or lock my side, so if you need something…"

"I'll knock." Her smile turned gentle. "Thank you so much, Spencer. For everything."

He felt his ears burning. "That's what friends do. Well, if you don't need anything…"

"I think I'm all right. Good night."

"Good night." He stepped through the connecting door; let her close it behind him. Friends, just friends. Just friends.

He got out of his sweater. He got out of his tie. He got out of his gun and badge and shoes. He got out of his contacts. He got out of his shirt….

Knock knock

Thank goodness for undershirts. "Hey…"

"Help." She said, but without much trouble in it. He followed her back to the bed where she pulled a scrap of cloth something out of the bag. "What are these? There are two of them in here and I can't figure them out."

He held it up. It was the smallest pair of underwear he had ever seen, with strings where the backside should be, which had to have once belonged to JJ because he could just barely picture them on her but he absolutely, positively couldnotpicture them on Alex,ever. Just friends. Just friends. Just friends. "They're underwear." He oriented them the way they were supposed to go, and held them out where she could feel.

"Oh." He could see her sort it into place, then she sat on the other bed, facing him. Everyone has a breaking point, beyond which everything was too new and too much and as he watched she hit hers. "I don't think I can do this." She said.

Uh oh. "What do you mean?"

"Spencer, I don't know who I am anymore." There was a note of distress in her voice. "Over the past few years, the more I read, and listened to a new radio station…I know I'm not what my parents want us to be, I'm not a part of that. I can't be, I just…but I don't know who I am, just because I haven't been able to explore all that much. I know I prefer NPR to Rush Limbaugh and ancient and medieval classics to modern romance and up 'till now that's about it. Except now I know that I am not the kind of person who wears this little under her skirts and if that's a requirement for living in the city or the only thing available then I might be in big trouble."

Okay, he thought, rule one. Do. Not. Laugh. "Susanna, I am not familiar with women's underthings…"

"Oh?"

"Um, something else Percival and I have in common. But I used to have to help my mother with the laundry and I know what she had in there covered a lot more…coverage than this." She blushed when she understood what he had in common with Percival, but he was gratified to see her relax. "Besides, I think these are meant to be worn under pants."

"Pants?" She reached into the bag next to her and pulled out a pair of black pants, the kind probably meant for a workout. "I thought this was a skirt." She protested as she felt the article of clothing. "I can't wear this."

"Um, not to protest, but why not?"

She took a deep breath. "Just friends?"

"Just friends."

She reached down and lifted the hem of her skirts. Just above her knee was the start of some kind of pants, in the same plain, white fabric of that blouse/petticoat she was wearing, complete with a ruffle of lace. "Underwear," she told him. Honest-to-God old-fashioned pantalets, he realized, just like Scarlett herself would have worn. "I cannot walk down the street wearing nothing but a scrap and something that feels like my underwear ...Why are you laughing?"

He couldn't help it, it just came out. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't realize…." Wait, she was smiling, maybe this was okay. "Susanna, I think you should wear exactly what makes you feel comfortable and confident. I know I do, I don't see why it should be any different for a woman."

"Yeah, but do women wear dresses like these in the city? I mean I don't want to stand out too much either."

"That's the wonderful thing about cities, people do all sorts of things in all sorts of ways and no one says anything about it. Besides, I…I have to confess, I think you and your sisters look really pretty."

That stopped her, "Really?"

He nodded, "Yeah. But, um, people keep telling me that I have weird taste so I'm probably not the best judge."

She nodded. "That's okay. For now I think I'll just sleep in my underwear."

"Hopefully tomorrow they'll release the scene and we can go back and pack a bag for you."

"That would be nice, thank you. And, um, thank you for the help."

"Anytime." He felt the urge to kiss her right then but resisted. Just friends. "Okay, if you need anything else…"

"I'll knock. Good night, Spencer."

"Good night."

Chapter 21

Chapter Text

The next morning Spencer was deeply gratified when Susanna, carefully coated in sunscreen, lifted her face to the sun without fear for the first time. "How did you sleep?" He asked.

"Like a log once I figured out the radio." She replied. He chuckled. He admired her courage, appreciated her intelligence, was charmed by her wit so far, and found her utterly beautiful, not that the last mattered. But no one was perfect, as he drifted off the night before he'd heard the faint sounds ofCoast to Coastcoming through the wall. "I do want to call Art Bell and thank him."

"As soon as the moratorium on phones is lifted. Breakfast?"

"Please."

They had been told that the best place for breakfast was a little diner across from the county courthouse. Unfortunately they didn't have a table big enough for everyone, but that was all right. He and Susanna shared a booth not far from JJ and her family. "So what would you like for breakfast?"

"I have no idea."

Right, this place probably didn't have a Braille menu. "Um, I could read the menu…"

"I wouldn't know what most of it was anyway."

"What do you usually eat for breakfast?"

"Oatmeal. Milk. Bacon on Sundays. Pancakes on holidays. Scrambled eggs when you're sick. As for what I want….hum…let's try this. I want to be full enough to not be hungry in two hours but not so much that I'm uncomfortable, and I want enough energy to get through what's probably going to be a busy day. And I want something new but not too new, and something not too messy to eat in public. Does that help?"

Actually, it did. "Ever have an English muffin?"

"No."

Do you like ham?"

"Yes."

"Coffee? Tea?"

"Momma used to make tea from herbs, do they have that?"

"Right." The waitress came over. "Two ham and cheese omelets with English muffins and milk, please. One coffee, one herbal tea." He waited for her to go. "Those come with potatoes as well. I would have said pancakes but sometimes that many carbs can make you sleepy."

"And I want to keep my wits about me. What's an omelet?"

"They mix cheese and diced up ham in with some scrambled eggs and fold it up so it's easier to eat."

Her face brightened. "That sounds perfect."

Just then Morgan came up. "We got them." He said, "All seven boys."

Susanna's grin beamed out across the room as Spencer slid over to make room and Morgan signaled for coffee. "How?"

"Garcia found a list of families who had received or were going to receive boys on Michael's laptop. We cross-referenced the names with Anna Holman's address book and then Carol Winters coordinated the local and regional teams going in early this morning. We just got word that the last of the boys was found."

"Oh wonderful!" Susanna was all smiles. "It just…"

"It just?" Spencer asked.

"Is it always this…anticlimactic?"

Spencer and Morgan both chuckled. "You want it that way when kids are involved." Morgan told her. "Quick and quiet is the best way to go. Besides, this isn't over. They found guys involved with the Knights at every house and two more weapons caches."

"Were all of them off the grid?" Spencer asked.

"Yep, if I didn't know better, I'd say he had a terror cell network going, but I can't figure out why."

"That's the big question, isn't it?"

Sheriff's station
Carthage, IL

After a quick stop at the local market they reached the station where Leah was waiting. "I spoke to Momma." She told Susanna. "We're going to keep the children at home."

"And you're going to look after all of them?" Her older sister asked.

"No, if she has to stay in prison one of the young families in the church is going to come out and help. She spoke with Pastor Goodwin this morning, they finally let her call."

Susanna sighed, and Spencer quietly sighed along with her. He knew that she'd hoped this would be the opportunity to get her family out of this cult for good. "Well, that will keep them together at least."

"Are you still leaving?"

"Yes. There are things I want to do with my life, and I don't want to be anyone's burden."

For a moment there was something longing in Leah's face. "Will you write?"

"If I can find someone to write for me."

"You won't have any problem with that." Spencer told her.

Susanna smiled at him. "Thank you."

Holman Farm
Carthage, IL

Later that day they released the crime scene. Spencer and Susanna headed back to the farm so she could pack her things and they could return to DC to work on the case from there. Morgan had volunteered to go with them. "I know what happens when I let you wander off anywhere other than DC." Morgan said.

She didn't have much. Her clothes, hair things, brush. Her precious radio and a jar of hard candy. Her Braille slate and stylus and a stack of paper. A box of envelopes and stamps. "What about the books?" He asked.

"The only one I own outright is the bible." She nodded in the direction of a set of shelves on the far side of the small, mean room.

Spencer blinked. The bible in Braille ran to eighteen volumes and looked to take up about five feet of shelf space. "Can we pick one up in DC?"

She smiled. "Easily. They're free."

"Good." They only had so much room on the plane.

"Reid!" Morgan called up from downstairs.

That was his urgent voice so they headed back downstairs. There they found Anna and Leah Holman along with two young men in navy jackets and khakis and an older, smaller man in an expensive suit, bow tie and slicked-down comb over. Spencer saw his eyes go wide when he stepped into view with Susanna on his arm. "It's us." Leah said to her, "Me and Momma. They released her on her own word today. Everyone else has to make bail."

"Oh." Susanna replied. "Well, that's a good thing. I'm not staying; I'm just here to pack."

"You Jezebel!" Anna Holman spat at her daughter. "You're not taking a thing out of this house that your father's hard work paid for!"

Spencer felt Susanna go still beside him. "All right Mother." She agreed quietly.

They turned toward the door but that strident voice stopped them. "I said not a thing!" Susanna froze in place. "You can just leave like the whor* you are!" As Spencer watched a light came into the old man's eyes and he started to smile.

Susanna didn't say anything for a long moment. "Spencer, is that bag still in the car?"

"I'll go." Morgan said.

They stood there for too many long, tense moments until Morgan returned, Spencer eyeing the three men while Anna Holman ranted on about ungrateful children and sin. Spencer made certain his badge was in full view, if nothing else he did not like the way this older man was looking at Susanna. It only seemed like forever before Morgan returned, and Susanna took the bag with a mumbled thank you before heading to a powder room nearby, which turned off the ranting for the moment. "I don't believe we've met." Spencer said.

"I'm Pastor Goodwin." The older man replied in a soft drawl. He didn't bother to introduce his associates. "And you gentlemen are?"

"I'm SSA Derek Morgan." Morgan replied. "This is SSA Dr. Spencer Reid. We're with the FBI."

Goodwin didn't pop a single micro-expression. "A pleasure to meet you two gentlemen."

Just then Susanna came out of the bathroom, taking the smile off the old man's face. She'd changed into JJ's old workout clothes, and had all of her clothing tucked into a neat bundle topped with her hat. "It's all there." She told her mother as she placed the bundle on the hall table. "Every stitch." She put her shoes right under the table. Even that.

"Leave the ring too! I know what you did last night, you don't deserve it!"

Spencer watched Susanna bristle at that, but she pulled a small, silver ring off her finger and left it on the table. "Well…good bye Momma. Good-bye Leah."

No one said anything as the trio left the house and walked off the porch. But before they got far they heard the strident voice again. "I said you take nothing!"

Susanna stopped for a moment, not turning around. In that moment, for the first time, Spencer saw real fear on her face. "Spencer?" She asked quietly. In an instant he was at her side. She curled an arm around his bicep once again, and then dropped her cane on the grass. "Let's go." They headed for the car, with him carefully leading the way, with her clinging closer than before. "It appears that I am at your mercy, Sir Knight." She murmured.

Spencer's mind whirled with this. She no longer had even the clothes on her back, she had no money, no ID and without help now couldn't even move without difficulty. She was quite literally at his mercy. For a moment he thought of Maeve and he almost wanted to panic. But he didn't. I can do this, he thought; we can do this, with enough help. "It's a good thing we're going to Camelot then." He replied as they got in the car and left for good.

Chapter 22

Chapter Text

They didn't have much time to discuss the case on the plane. For one thing they had little ears sitting there, listening to every word. For another, it was Susanna's first plane trip, and it was coming on top of an already difficult day. Spencer had a vague impression that she hadn't been able to figure out the bra, even if there was one in there, and that plus pants meant that she felt quite uncomfortably nearly naked. As soon as they got to the airport he pulled off his sweater and wrapped it around her. "Thank you." She said. It was too long and too big in the arms but she didn't seem to care a whit.

"It's going to be okay." He told her.

She didn't reply.

He helped her onto the plane and seated her between him and the window. "I don't think I can do this." She murmured.

"You can if you want to. He replied.

"You don't want to know how much of me wants to go back and hide under my covers right now." She admitted.

"We can." If she wanted to. He didn't think he could stand it, but if she wanted to.

She shuddered but she shook her head. "No. I'm doing this. I must."

They started to taxi and she grabbed hold of his arm. When the plane started rushing down the runway she leaned into his shoulder, and as soon as it left the ground she peeped and buried her head in his chest. He put his arm around her shoulders and had to chuckle. "It really is okay." He said. "We do this at least twice a week."

"What happens if we fall?"

He was about to answer when Rossi, sitting across from them, stopped him. "Do not quote statistics." He ordered before turning to Susanna. "It's all right, Bella." He said. "I hate flying too. You get used to it after a while. In a few minutes everything will smooth down and then the Professor here will go make us all some tea and I'm going to see if Henry wants a story."

And that was exactly what happened. The plane leveled out, Spencer went and put the electric kettle in the galley on, and in a few minutes he was handing Susanna some of the peppermint tea he had bought for her back in Carthage while Henry scampered over for a story. Rossi was a master storyteller and soon had both boy and nervous flyer enthralled.

"Reid." Hotch called him back to the galley quietly. "What was your take on Goodwin?"

"In that amount of time?" Hrm. "He wasn't at all intimidated by having the FBI there. And it might be personal but I didn't like the way he was looking at Susanna."

"Especially when her Mom called her out," Morgan shook his head. "If we hadn't had that bag of clothes there that girl would have walked out of that house in her birthday suit. Goodwin looked like he was looking forward to it, and disappointed when she didn't."

"Her father said he wanted to protect her." Hotch mused.

"Is she still considered a witness?" Morgan asked.

"Witness Protection?" Spencer felt his stomach knot and his heart sink."

"Yes, but probably not one that's needed. There's no indication that the Holman's themselves committed the kidnapping, the best we could get them on is accomplices. And we found Henry there, that's all the proof the prosecutor will need." Hotch looked over at Spencer. "It's been considered and rejected; with her medical history they couldn't hide her effectively. If there's any sign of retaliation she'll be given a 24/7 guard until all this blows over."

That was probably the best they could do.

Turner Airfield
Quantico, VA

The figure waiting for them when they landed was not unexpected. "Penelope! Penelope!" Henry called out. As soon as he was down the steps and Will let go of his hand he was off like a shot, straight into his godmother's arms.

"Ohhh! Ohhh, there you are!" Garcia was nearly in tears as she swooped him up. "Oh, I have been so worried! Oh, look at your hair! Oh, you got so skinny! Ohhhh!"

By then the team had caught up with him. "The doctor did say he's fine, Garcia." JJ reassured her, "Nothing that can't be fixed."

"And it will be because I am going to make you a cake real soon which will help." Garcia announced. Then she saw who was on Spencer's arm, shaking slightly in his cardigan. "Are you Susanna?" She nodded. "Can I hug you?"

"I wish you would."

With that Garcia pulled her into her arms. "Thank you." She said. "Thank you for looking after my godson."

"Thank you. Thank all of you, for...everything."

There were warm good-byes then. "Miss Holman," Hotch said. "I'm afraid we still might need your help tomorrow."

"Anything," Susanna replied.

"Maybe in the afternoon?" Spencer asked. "She's going to need some time to get settled."

"All right," Hotch agreed. "You two have it covered?" Spencer and Garcia nodded. "See you tomorrow then."

Rossi had called Garcia aside for a brief argument, which she lost before he left. "Oh! All right, are you ready to go?"

Susanna nodded, but Spencer could feel her trembling. "What's wrong?" He asked her.

"I don't think I can do this." She admitted, finally. "I think this was a mistake."

"Why sweetie?" Garcia asked.

"Because I don't know where I am." Susanna admitted. "Nothing feels right. And I feel like I'm walking around in my underwear and I can't do anything about that."

"Where are your clothes?" Garcia asked.

"Her mother wouldn't let her take them." Spencer told her, "Or her cane." He flinched away from the fire that came into Garcia's eyes. Hopefully Anna Holman would never attempt the internet; it would not go well for her.

"I don't have any money, I don't have any way of contacting anyone I know, I apparently don't evenexistbecause I don't have any ID, and I can't even walk five feet without feeling like I ought to be crawling so I don't fall." Susanna was starting to sound a bit hysterical. "And now I'm going to go live with complete strangers and other than the motel last night I have never slept anywhere but my own bed and I am honestly completely terrified right now."

"But we're strangers, sweetie. You seem to be trusting us just fine." Garcia said.

"No, you're not. You're Henry'sfamily. He told me all about you, about how you bake the best cakes and how Spencer always takes him out for Halloween and how you all went to see the dinosaurs and about a million other things. And besides, there's no way a boy that sweet and kind andgoodgrew up around bad people."

Spencer and Garcia looked at each other and sighed. They couldn't leave her at the group home in this state, she was right, she didn't have anything and if they left her until she knew they would always come back she wouldn't have anyone either. "I don't have a bed." Spencer murmured.

"Then where do you sleep?" Garcia asked.

"On the couch. I never slept that much before…" Before Maeve started making him so his headaches would go away.

"Do you have a bedroom?" He nodded. "Then you need to get a bed. We'll work on that next. For now I have a bedanda couch so how about I call Cheryl and tell her what's going on and tell her that you'll be moving in late tomorrow and tonight you spend the night on my couch, okay?"

Spencer felt Susanna sigh and start to relax. "I know I'm probably being silly…"

"No, you're not." Garcia rubbed Susanna's shoulder gently. "After everything that's happened, it's perfectly normal to be scared. Tomorrow we'll get a real early start and we'll go get your ID since your new birth certificate and ID should be in first thing because I put a rush on it because I am good like that and Anderson can meet us there and then we'll replace your cane and get you some clothes and whatever else you might need for your new dorm room."

"But I don't have…"

"Yeah, that's why Rossi was insisting he was going to pay for it…no, don't object." Garcia said as Susanna opened her mouth. "He can afford it. And we'll go to the bank at some point so you can have access to that reward money, and we'll get you a phone so you can call us in an emergency and then you'll be all set."

"You'd…You'd really do all that for me?"

"You took care of my godson, even knowing what they could do to you. Sweetie, you're family too,"

Chapter 23

Chapter Text

When they got to his place Garcia had to park and hand over the keys so he could get his bag out of the trunk. When he closed the lid Susanna was standing next to the car, facing him. "Are you okay?"

She nodded. "I just…I don't…how to…will I…?"

He took a wild guess. "…ever see me again?" She nodded, looking almost close to tears. He tried to keep it light. "You mean other than tomorrow at work?"

She managed a smile and relaxed a trifle. "You know what I mean."

"I was hoping you'd let me show you the city, you know, and curry and tapas and dinosaurs…and, um…" Her smile was growing as she relaxed further. "…I'll have to look at that list again. I'll warn you now; Africa is going to take a bit."

Now he had her laughing. "That's all right; we can start with the neighborhood."

"Deal, let's get through the next day or two and then we'll figure out when, okay?"

She nodded, much happier than before. "May I hug you?"

Spencer froze. Almost instantly he felt Diane Turner's hand on his skin. "Yes." He said.

Her embrace was gentle and tentative and slow. He felt like he was being held by butterfly wings, like he was holding the most fragile glass. He just had to breathe... "You too?" She murmured.

Before he had a chance to ask what she meant she was stepping back. "You'll be all right tonight. Garcia is great." He told her.

"I know." She replied. "Henry told me. Good night Spencer."

"Good night."

Text from:Reid, S
Text to: Garcia,P

Did you make it home?

Text from: TheQueen
Text to: JuniorG

Yep. Safe and sound

Text from:Reid, S
Text to: Garcia,P

Doors and windows locked?

Text from: TheQueen
Text to: JuniorG

Yep

Text from:Reid, S
Text to: Garcia,P

Security system set?

Text from: TheQueen
Text to: JuniorG

Reid, she's fine. She's in the shower, I'm heating up soup and making up the couch and then we're going to eat and talk about tomorrow and get a good night's sleep. I know she's new to the city but I've lived in cities All My Life and I know how to take care of my space. You will see her tomorrow. Good night.

Text from:Reid, S
Text to: Garcia,P

You know she sleeps to the radio, right?

Text from: TheQueen
Text to: JuniorG

She's not a puppy, Reid! Go to bed!

BAU Headquarters
FBI building
Quantico, VA

The next day was Thursday. JJ was taking the rest of the week off to spend time with her family. Hotch stopped Spencer on the way in. "How's Susanna?"

"I don't know. She's with Garcia."

"If you need to take some time to help her settle safely…"

Spencer relaxed a little. He had been concerned… "I might take tomorrow if she needs it."

Hotch nodded. "Better an ounce of prevention now."

Text from:Reid, S
Text to: Garcia,P

Everything OK?

Text from: TheQueen
Text to: JuniorG

Yep! Just picked up a cane and a slate. Next is clothing, shoes, hats, and a phone, lunch and then we're there. Tonight we go meet Cheryl and see the house. No ID paperwork yet so tomorrow is ID, bank, room stuff and moving in.

Text from:Reid, S
Text to: Garcia,P

May I go with you tonight?

Text from: TheQueen
Text to: JuniorG

Susanna says yes.

Spencer, Blake and Morgan were sifting through the evidence coming in from all the houses where the boys had been, evidence about the Black Knights. And Rossi was… "He's what?" Blake asked.

"Playing that video game," Morgan replied. "They found a copy in the Holman house."

"And Rossi is playing it?" The two men nodded. Blake was astonished. "I would have thought Garcia…"

"No." Spencer told her. "Rossi is our first-person shooter expert."

"Wow."

Text from:Reid, S
Text to: Garcia,P

Everything OK?

Text from: TheQueen
Text to: JuniorG

Yes Dad. We're ahead of schedule. Stopping for a haircut.

Text from:Reid, S
Text to: Garcia,P

You?

Text from: TheQueen
Text to: JuniorG

Her.

Spencer stood there blinking at his phone. "What?" Morgan asked him. "You know my baby girl is careful, the first sign of something hinky and she'll call in the cavalry."

"Actually at the moment it's Garcia I'm afraid of."

Morgan came, looked over his shoulder. "What do you care what your 'friend' looks like, so long as she's comfortable?"

"I don't! I just…I…" But her hair was so beautiful; it was this waterfall of white floss. He'd never had a chance to see if it was as warm and soft as it looked…

"Uh huh," Morgan shook his head. "Give it up, Reid. It's okay to be attracted to someone."

"You shouldn't be attracted to someone for their looks." Spencer protested. "It's better to be attracted to their mind and their heart."

"And after all this you're not?" Spencer was silent. "Uh huh."

"We both have a lot on our plate right now."

"Shedoes." Morgan agreed. "I'm not saying don't go slow here."

"Good."

"I'm just saying it's okay to heal."

Text from: TheQueen
Text to: JuniorG

Can I program your number into her phone?

Text from:Reid, S
Text to: Garcia,P

Please do.

Spencer's phone rang. "Hey JJ. Everything OK?"

"Yeah, everything's fine." JJ had that quiet, thoughtful sound in her voice. "I just…have I been acting like a jerk to Susanna?"

"Um, you're asking the wrong person."

"It's just that every time I look at her I remember that cult and how they took Henry and all the rest and I just…I know she helped him but I just…"

"JJ, give yourself time. It's okay."

"It doesn't feel okay."

"I think it will."

Text from: TheQueen
Text to: JuniorG

Come downstairs, we need your help at the visitor's desk.

Spencer got downstairs just as Susanna was climbing out of Esther's front seat. Even from the lobby he could tell that some of her confidence had returned. "Nice hat." He called to her. It was a wool thing with a huge brim, shading her skin from her natural enemy, the sun.

She turned toward his voice. "Spencer?" She asked with a smile. "Penelope said it goes with this coat, a princess coat, whatever that means."

"I have no idea. Want some help getting inside?"

"Please. Penelope was going to go park, she said the lot was icy."

Once inside she peeled out of the black coat and her hat. Spencer found himself blinking. "You look really nice." He murmured.

"Thank you." She was wearing a two-part dress, like the cult uniform she was so used to, and the skirt was long and slightly full, but there the resemblance ended. This dress was brown corduroy, probably as comfortable as his favorite pants, over a simple turtleneck and tall boots. "Penelope said I don't look twelve anymore."

She didn't. She looked her age now, in her twenties, mature but somehow utterly…womanly to him, somehow. "But you don't feel like you're in your underwear?"

"Not at all," she chuckled. "Pastor Goodwin always preached that if you went out in the world you either had to dress like a man or like a prostitute, because you couldn't dress modestly like we always did, it wouldn't be available or allowed." She laughed a little. "I shouldn't be surprised to find another lie."

"It looks like you did all right."

"Oh, Esther's trunk is full of more than all right. I even decided to be daring and try a couple of skirts." She said the last in a whisper.

"That's daring?"

"It is in my world. My old world."

"I thought you were getting a haircut." Her hair still hung down her back to her waist, thank goodness. It was tied back with a crisp, brown ribbon that looked utterly charming. He repressed the urge to play with the ribbon.

"I did. They trimmed a little off the bottom and they cut bangs." That's what was different; there was a thick fringe of hair just over her eyes. "Now it's out of my face."

"And it looks really good."

Now it was her turn to blink. "Did you think I was going to cut it all off?"

"Well I…uh…no, I…"

"I would never!"

"Well, uh…good to know."

Chapter 24

Chapter Text

Kevin and Garcia were still in an on-again/off-again relationship. At the moment it was off again, which was probably why Kevin felt safe gawping at Susanna when she came out of the elevator. "Oh man!" He said quietly. "Who is that?" He asked Morgan.

"Susanna Holman. She's the one who contacted us about Henry. Why?"

"Just look at her. Man, she is, like, every nerd's dream. Queen of a thousand hentai, featured on every third manga cover. Wow."

The hardest part was not laughing. "Yeah, well, that also comes with a list of vision problems and the potential for deadly sun exposure. Besides you're a little late for that party." Morgan gestured to where the still-dazzled Reid was making her tea.

Kevin sighed. "Maybe it's the PhD. I should get one. Dr. Lynch. That might work."

A few minutes later Rossi found him in the hallway, still fighting the urge. "If you fight laughter that hard you'll hurt yourself. What did I miss?"

"I'll tell you later. So what did you learn about that game?"

"I learned who Goodwin considers an enemy, for one thing. But it was confusing, I couldn't figure out how I was getting XP points."

"What do you mean? For us laymen."

"Usually you have to reach certain objectives, capture the fort, kill the bad guys, something along those lines, and when you do you gain experience points. Gain so many points and you get access to in-game goodies, better weapons, better armor, more supplies, that kind of thing. In my experience a given type of objective is usually worth so many points, for example in Planetside a sunderer is worth more XP than a light tank, but a light tank is always worth the same. In this game that didn't seem to be the case. It's like it was taking something else into consideration. It wasn't the weapon I was using, I tried that."

"So that's weird?"

"All games are different, but if he's awarding more or less points based on some action then he wants the player to be performing that action. That would be telling."

Huh. "Gonna keep playing?"

"Later. My eyes aren't as young as they used to be and those graphics are lousy. Besides, I'm hoping Susanna can help shed some light on it."

Spencer

They all assembled in the conference room. "What do we know so far?" Hotch asked.

"It appears that Black Knights consist of unmarried males between the ages of sixteen and thirty whose families are members of Goodwin's church." Blake said.

"Any other defining criteria?'

"Well they're all entirely off the grid." Garcia said. "No SSI numbers, fake driver's licenses, not even any birth records; they were all born at home."

"You think that was deliberate?" Rossi asked.

"We have some of Goodwin's writings on every family making a 200 year plan." Blake replied. "If that's his planning timeframe, given that he started his ministry thirty years ago, it's entirely possible. It looks like he's been preaching the idea of giving birth at home with as little assistance as possible from the get-go."

"But why would any Unsub have a two-hundred year event horizon?" Morgan asked. "Where is he getting two hundred anyway?"

"Goodwin started his ministry in the '80's." Blake said. "I know that's a little before your time. Back then everyone was in awe of the 'Japanese miracle', how their economy was taking over the world. One of the things that shocked American business was that companies over there like Toyota and Honda had hundred year business plans, planning for the ongoing success of the company even when the CEO was in his grave. I'm guessing he went with two hundred to try to impress people back then."

"Even though he's not going to be alive to see this thing through?"

"Postmillennial eschatology," Rossi told him.

"Dominion," Susanna supplied.

"Huh?"

Spencer felt the pattern falling into place. "Postmillennial eschatology is an interpretation of chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation which sees Christ's second coming as occurring after the "Millennium", a Golden Age in which Christian ethics prosper. What's Dominion?"

"And God said; Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. Genesis, chapter 1, verse 26." Susanna replied. "It's a related idea that says that Christ will come once Christians take Dominion over the earth, specifically over what Pastor Goodwin calls the Eight Pillars as well as converting every heart to the faith."

"The Eight Pillars?"

"The eight pillars of influence in society; business, government, military, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family, and religion"

"And he wants to take control of all of that?" Morgan asked.

"Not him specifically. He wants the church fathers, or at least to have people who share his faith in leadership roles in each of those categories."

"That's ambitious enough to fill two hundred years." Rossi said. "He doesn't have to get it done by the time he dies; he just has to get it well underway. He's already thirty years in, more or less; I wonder how he's doing."

"Well we didn't find any copies of the church plan on any of the computers we recovered but we did find the family plans, mostly with several revisions over the past few years." Garcia pointed out. "It looks like the plans further out included what you said, becoming bigwigs in different industries."

"What about closer in?" Hotch asked.

"That's what's weird and what all the revisions were about, it's all about the number of children and grandchildren they plan to have and it looks like they've been revising the numbers downward every year."

"That's something you were saying." Morgan said to Susanna. "Not enough marriages."

"So not as many arrows in the quiver as they planned." She agreed.

"Arrows?"

"As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of his youth. Happy is the man that has his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall confront their enemies at the gate. Psalm 127, verses 4 and 5."

"Maybe that's why the kidnappings." Blake said, "More arrows for the quiver."

"The math doesn't work." Susanna replied.

"Oh?"

"Boys are expected to marry at eighteen, girls at sixteen, and start families right off. If everyone had married when they ought my father should have thirteen grandchildren by now, not one."

"How many grandchildren is each child expected to produce?" Hotch asked.

"They say that's up to the Lord, but they expect ten or more." Susanna replied.

They were all quiet a moment as that piece fell into place. Finally Rossi spoke up. "Fine, I'll say it. Breeding stock."

"Thank god JJ's not here." Morgan replied. "But if that's the case why not go younger?"

"I can only assume that by the time a child is that age any genetic problems they would have would show." Susanna gave him a smile that was both rueful and relieved. "Genetic problems take you out of the marriage pool."

"But why do they need this many children?" Blake asked. "I mean, what numbers are we looking at here?"

"Assuming each generation takes thirty years to complete a reproduction cycle?" Spencer did some math in his head. "To get loose numbers if we start with 15,000 families now, each having ten children that's 150,000 in thirty years, 1,500,000 in sixty years and 15 million in ninety years. And that's not counting conversions."

"What do you get with that many numbers though?" Blake asked again.

"An army," Morgan replied.

"Yeah, but few of them would fight." Rossi turned to Susanna. "Did you ever hear him say anything about needing large numbers of people for anything?"

She thought a moment. "The only thing I can recall…every time an election comes around there's a debate about whether or not women should vote."

"Seriously?" Blake asked.

"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with diverse lusts. Second Timothy, chapter 3, verses 1 through 6." Susanna replied. "Personally I always thought that passage referredtoGoodwin. The concern was that the Enemy would sway women into voting the wrong way, thereby canceling out their husband's or brother's vote. But Pastor Goodwin always said to let women vote, we needed the numbers."

"Two of those pillars are government and the military." Hotch said.

"But he's not getting his numbers." Rossi pointed out. "His followers aren't breeding enough voters for him to take control. We're not looking at his Plan; we're looking at his Plan B."

"What do you do if you can't breed them?" Hotch asked.

"Convert them." Spencer replied.

"Steeplejacking," Blake said.

"Yeah, but that just gets the church." Rossi countered. "How do you get people into the church and receptive enough to listen?"

"Terror," Hotch replied.

Chapter 25

Chapter Text

That made everyone pause. "There is a theory that a sudden shock, a natural disaster, a military attack, even a car accident on the personal scale, can cause people to become very receptive for a short time." Spencer said. " It has to do with the cognitive dissonance in the brain, people believe that their world is safe and when it's suddenly shown that it's not some of the higher order thinking the brain will shut down until the dissonance is resolved."

"In other words, until they find answers." Blake nodded. "So they go to church, expecting the usual comforts and answers. Only if they aren't already regular members they don't realize that the church has been steeplejacked and that the pastor is a Goodwin agent."

"But is just being there enough to convert them?" Morgan asked.

"Pastor Goodwin believes so." Susanna replied. "He preaches that the true Word of God is so powerful that as soon as people hear they will be convinced."

"Which is not the case, but I think he knows that." Rossi said. "That explains that game. It wasn't just killing enemies, it was killing where neutrals would see and flock to church. I thought it was people running for safety but some of them were turning into friendlies after they got indoors. It was training the players to pick up on the right combination of enemies in the right location to maximize the conversions."

"Besides, he doesn't need complete conversions." Blake added, "Just enough to keep them coming back to his church so they can start implementing the brainwashing techniques."

"Brainwashing?" Morgan asked.

"A number of lifestyle adaptations that Goodwin insists his followers must adopt to be good Christians and remain in God's favor and thereby protected are actually techniques used to brainwash his followers." Spencer replied. "Saying that all media outside his pre-approved list is evil is a way of controlling the milieu and isolating his followers from society, as is insisting on homeschooling to keep children away from the satanic influences of their peers. Using language in unusual ways in his sermons and books forces others to use the same jargon, reinforcing the us-vs-them mentality. Another technique is mystical manipulation, making it look like he has almost magical powers or is somehow elevated above normal humans."

"Does bragging about how many politicians believe in his ways count?" Susanna asked.

"It can." Spencer replied. "Another aspect is the demand for purity, for becoming increasingly perfect as time goes on, less exposure to outsiders, more separation, continually striving and never being good enough. The cult of confession also comes into play."

"You were supposed to tell your father every sin you ever committed." Susanna revealed. "And then apologize for them to your family. I always felt bad for my brothers whenever they, uh, messed the sheets the night before. They'd have to stand there before breakfast and confess what they had done and what they dreamed about."

Morgan winced. "I have sisters. I cannot imagine that."

"You're not allowed to question the group leaders over anything, ever." Spencer went on. "To do so usually result in punishment of one form or another. They practice doctrine over person, making people fit into molds regardless of personal experience. A classic version of this is telling the wife of an abuser that it's not that bad and she needs to be more submissive or saying that a woman may not get a job even though her family is facing poverty. And finally they have the right to decide who exists, if you don't meet their standards you face expulsion from the group, losing your entire social network, even including your job and family."

"And now they've taken it one step further." Rossi said. "That game singled out victims based on groups."

"What do you mean?" Hotch asked.

"Every character wore a t-shirt and pants. The shirts were either blank for neutrals or labeled with a symbol denoting friendly or hostile. Hostiles included hom*osexuals, Atheists, scientists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Roman Catholics and Episcopalians."

"Scientists?" Morgan asked.

"They deny the Word of God." Susanna told him. "Goodwin believes in strict Creationism, and that the earth is only 6,000 years old. One of his followers built a huge museum in Kentucky about it. My family went, Leah said they had dinosaurs in the lobby with saddles you could ride because man did before the Fall."

"They have a museum?" Morgan sounded shocked, "How big?"

"They said it's the size of the Natural History museum here in DC." Susanna replied. "He's trying to build a theme park to go with it. They already have one down in Florida."

"They also have their own news organizations." Spencer added, "Book publishers, chains of bookstores, radio stations, film studios, and enough cable networks to fill a satellite cable service. His core group may only be 15,000 people but if you look at churches that are sympathetic or loosely affiliated where his message is starting to have influence you're talking hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions already."

"Wow." Blake said, "But Catholics and Episcopalians?"

"Both of those churches have strict hierarchies he can't influence." Spencer realized. "And in many small towns and rural areas they're the only competition with churches he can influence. What he doesn't have is a lot of influence in urban areas, his brainwashing techniques wouldn't work there, too many outside influences."

"Unless he can get whole neighborhoods to listen," Rossi said. "And nothing drives people into churches like a mass casualty incident, we're back to that. Susanna, when did your brothers go off to camp at his ranch?"

"They both went about, oh, four years ago."

"I thought you said they went at sixteen." Morgan said.

"It wasn't open when Michael turned sixteen. He and Daniel went to the first session. He said he was a little old for it but it was informative."

"I'll bet." Rossi nodded. "Four years ago would be one year after the economy crashed. I bet that's when he put Plan B in motion, when he realized his followers weren't going to be marrying soon enough to give him enough warm bodies."

"But if he went to Plan B, then why the kidnappings?" Blake asked. "Why continue with Plan A?"

"Because asking someone to be a martyr is different from asking them to be a grunt." Rossi said. "Even though I bet they were raised with stories of martyrs and missionaries covered in glory…" Susanna nodded. "…knowing you're going to end up dead or in prison is a very different thing. Most guys couldn't hack it. So he's covering all his bases."

"Four years is about right for building those weapons caches." Morgan pointed out.

"Are you saying we're ahead of this?" Hotch asked.

"Just barely," Rossi replied. "I hate to say it but I think the country as a whole was dammed lucky he grabbed Henry. The problem is that he's set up a near perfect terror network. Those boys are completely off the radar, they have been from birth, yet they know the language and the culture well enough to blend in. They also have a huge, nationwide support network."

"And we can't track them." Morgan said.

"Nope," Garcia spoke up. "I tried a thing with the church computers, there was nothing. All his records have to be hard copy."

"And we don't have enough for a warrant." Hotch informed them. "We can't conclusively tie Goodwin to any of it. And given what Morgan and Reid said about his confidence and Miss Holman said about his friends we need to make this air-tight."

"We're not there yet." Rossi sighed. "All we can do is keep working on Goodwin's profile, see if we can figure out his first target."

"We can at least put them on the watch list, right?" Spencer asked.

"Yes." Hotch replied. "But for now that's all we can do."

Chapter 26

Chapter Text

"This is perfect." Spencer said as he climbed out of Esther's back seat.

They were on a quiet backstreet in a pleasant neighborhood, in front of a large, old American Foursquare house. Susanna turned to him. "Why is that?"

Not only will you not have to worry about any major streets between here and campus you're about, um, a half-mile from my apartment. Maybe a ten minute walk at most. If you ever need anything I can just walk over."

Susanna's smile started growing. "Oh, thatisperfect."

"According to the brochure it's within walking distance of American University, The University of the District of Colombia, The UDC community college and Howard School of Law, as well as the Metro red line." Garcia told them. "They have students at all four, or will."

Spencer walked over to where Susanna was standing, but rather than take his arm this time she patted it gently. "Thank you but I need to do this." She said before carefully navigating her way away from the car and up the short flight of stairs to the front porch.

Before they could knock the door opened and a woman stepped out. "Hello!" She said, brightly.

"Hey Cheryl!" Garcia said as they climbed the stairs. "I hope we're not too late."

"Oh no, not at all. None of the residents are back from evening classes yet. I'm Cheryl Lakewood the owner here. Just call me Cheryl." She was an older woman, maybe Strauss' age, with a mass of curly, red hair and a warm smile. "You must be Miss Holman, and you must be Dr. Reid. So nice to meet you both."

"Susanna, please." She replied with a smile as they stepped into a bright, clean entrance hall. "Thank you so much for doing this. I still don't understand how…"

"Oh, if you're legally blind you can get Medicare. They cover a certain amount toward assisted living, which this is, technically. We're just going to accept that payment."

"Usually a place this…um, nice charges quite a bit more than that." From here Spencer could see the living room and dining room, both bright and well furnished. "My mother is in a care facility and I know…" He knew how much he had to pay for Bennington over and above her disability.

"Oh we do, normally, but not in this case. Okay, if you stand with your back to the front door and turn right you'll find the front parlor. If you turn left at the back of the couch and head straight back you'll find a meeting room." While Susanna navigated Cheryl continued. "I'm what they used to call a 'Catholic mistake', by the time I came along my siblings were all in high school and college. My eldest sister ended up caught up in a cult, but before she started thinking about getting out our parents were killed in a car accident. I went off to live with my aunt and uncle and we lost touch. She ended up spending an extra three years in that cult because she thought she didn't have any place to go or anyone to help on the outside. When I heard about Susanna I just remembered my sister and realized what a brave thing she was doing and I didn't want her to have nowhere to go. So we'll just go with the assisted living payment until she gets her Bachelors, give her a chance at a good start."

"That is remarkably generous." Susanna said as she returned to them. "I can't thank you enough."

"Oh, I think we owe you. How are those boys, by the way?"

"Home," Garcia replied. "And our godson, at least, is doing really well all things considered."

"Oh good, good. Okay, if you stand at the front door and turn left you find the dining room. Take a right at the table and you come to the kitchen. The breakfast nook is past the counter." In the kitchen a silver-haired, older woman was cooking. "This is Mrs. Knox, she's the live-in housekeeper; we have someone sighted on-site every night. She also teaches cooking. Mrs. Knox, this is Susanna, she's going to be taking the fourth bedroom, and these are her friends Penelope and Dr. Reid, they're helping her move-in."

"Pleasure to meet you all," Mrs. Knox replied.

"Cooking?" Susanna asked. "I can learn to cook?"

"I don't see why not." Cheryl replied.

Susanna looked astonished, her smile growing. "I can learn to cook." She turned to Spencer. "I'm going to learn how to cook, and I am going to cook you dinner."

"Really?" It wasn't just that he was thrilled by her response, it was kind of also someone cooking him dinner. No one had cooked just for him since his Mom, and that was a while ago. There was something about being cooked for that was….

"Yes." She beamed at him, already proud.

"Now the kitchen is available 24/7, we have the house rules on it in the binder you'll receive. You'll have your own shelf in the pantry to store what you want to bring home. We ask that residents don't keep too much food in their rooms; it draws bugs, and no hotplates, open flames, microwaves, refrigerators, that sort of thing, just come down here and help yourself. We do a continental breakfast in the morning and dinner at night, there's a menu, just tell Mrs. Knox if you're going to be in. You're on your own for lunch so we recommend our residents look into the meal plans at the University they're attending. We also have a snack bar downstairs in the study center, coffee maker, soda, microwave for popcorn, that sort of thing."

"Study center?" Spencer asked.

"Yes, this way. Susanna, if you stand at the front door and walk straight ahead the stairs going up are on the left, the ones going down are on the right. In each case there are seven steps, then a turn and then seven more." She led them downstairs to another living area, this one having the battered, worn, lived in look of a dorm lounge. "This is the study center; the snack bar is on the far right as you come in, past the fireplace. Further in is a computer center with Braille displays and Braille printers as well as standard printers for your homework and the house library. We also have some gym equipment with Braille labels and space for independent living classes. Just so you know…" Cheryl turned to look at Spencer. "…in this house we don't allow male visitors above the first floor without prior permission. We do allow them down here though."

Well he wouldn't anyway. "This house? You have others?"

"Seven throughout the city, two are co-ed. The truth of it is that girls are more sheltered by their parents than boys in general, and the visually impaired are more sheltered than their sighted peers. So parents are going to be leery of sending their visually impaired daughter off to live in a dorm as soon as she gets out of high school. My company provides a transitory step, they aren't living at home, they have more freedom and can learn to live independently but there's someone keeping an eye on things while they do."

"It's actually kind of perfect." Susanna said, rejoining them once again. "Not that I'm high school age but I've never lived away from home before."

Cheryl smiled. "Want to check out your room?"

"Please."

They went up to the second floor. "Susanna you have the second door on the left." Cheryl told them. "We tell our residents to treat it just like a dorm room, make it their own."

Susanna opened the door, revealing a good sized room with a stripped bed and a chest of drawers. "It feels big." She said.

"It's nicer than my bedroom." Penelope said. "And nicer than any dorm room I ever saw."

"Same here," Spencer replied. It was in the corner of the house, comfortably airy, clean and well-kept, much nicer than the mean little attic room she'd lived in before. The other door in the room led to a bathroom with two sinks and a separate shower and toilet area. "Share a bathroom?"

"With the girl next door, yes." Cheryl replied. "There are a total of four residents, two to a bath. Mrs. Knox lives up on the third floor."

They all waited as Susanna explored. "Well, what do you think?" Penelope asked.

"I…I think it's perfect." Susanna admitted.

"Excellent!" Cheryl beamed. "So you'll be moving in tomorrow then?"

Susanna smiled. "Yes."

Chapter 27

Chapter Text

The next day the entire BAU just gave it up and took a day off. With the work they did and the amount of overtime they pulled no one ever complained if they all took a family day every now and again.

Spencer met up with Susanna and Garcia, and they went to the DVM for Susanna's ID and then to see the trustee in charge of the donation/reward fund. After that they met up with Morgan and his truck to do some dorm room shopping. Several hours and much lifting of heavy, flat boxes up the stairs left Morgan covering her windows with UV blocking film so she could enjoy all the light without fear, Spencer putting together a desk, worktable, office chair, and nightstand, Garcia helping with the labeling, for everything had to be labeled, and Susanna putting it all away. "I don't think I've ever had to deal with so much stuff in my life." She said as she came in with a laundry basket

"It's actually not that much." Garcia told her. "I had, like, three times this much stuff in my dorm room and it wasn't this big. Hey, no cane. Is that okay?"

"It is when they keep the pathways clear. There were too many kids at home to risk it."

"This place sounds good for you already." Morgan remarked. "There you go, UV block on all the windows. You can sunbathe all you want, however you want."

A red stain instantly came over Susanna's cheeks. "Oh well I never…it…I just."

"Ignore him sweetie, he's teasing you." Garcia told her.

Susanna started going through the pile of bedding. "What is this?" She asked.

That was his gift for her. "You'll see. Here, I'll help you make the bed. He put the last caster on the chair and got up to help.

"Check it out, I made you a poster. I kinda suspected you were going to go Steamy-girly in here and I was right." Garcia unrolled the large sheet with a warm, unusual design and some elegant script and started hanging it on the wall opposite the door.

Susanna came over to look in-between sheets, co*cking her head to almost see out of the corner of her eye. "I like the colors." She said. "Is that writing? What does it say?"

"Some of my best friends are FBI agents."

Everyone laughed at that. "What, are you warning people off?" Morgan asked.

"Maybe."

"Susanna, why do you keep turning your head to see?" Spencer had noticed that earlier.

"Because that's where I can see colors. Sort of off to the side. It's all grey in the center."

"Interesting." But when Morgan and Garcia looked at him he gave the smallest shake of his head. They might not be able to repair all of her vision after all. What she was describing sounded like a scotoma, an area where the nerve had been destroyed from too much exposure to solar radiation. If that was the case he might have to take Morgan up on his offer of showing him how to pound on a heavy bag. For want of a pair of sunglasses…. "We should find some sunglasses for you tomorrow." Keep things from getting any worse.

"All right. What's that pattern supposed to be?" Susanna asked.

"It's a William Morris kind of thing." Garcia replied. "Given everything you were looking at yesterday, the hats and that coat and that jewelry and what you picked out today I kinda thought you'd like something a little Steamy."

"Steamy? You keep saying that."

"Yeah, Steampunk. It's like a Victorian Sci-fi kind of aesthetic. Think Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, HG Wells…"

"I love Wells!" Susanna exclaimed. "He's one of my favorite authors!"

"Well, when we're done this room is going to look like something out of Wells, if Wells ever wrote about girl's dorm rooms."

"How come I've never heard of this before?" Spencer asked. People really made stuff like that?

Garcia stopped and looked at him, "Never?"

"Um, no."

"So your apartment, wardrobe, bag, gun, pocket watch…that's all just…"

"Um, me, I guess." Wait, Maeve had said something about him being very steamy once. He hadn't gotten the reference…

"And those girls at the Sci-fi convention, the year that we went."

Those…oh, those girls. They'd been wearing kind of Victorian dresses, long skirts and very feminine, crossed with something Sci-fi. With corsets. He'd paid very close attention to the corsets. "Are you saying I'm part of a subculture?"

"More like there's a whole subculture out there that would find you very cool. They tend to be very literate, very in to art, science and engineering…"

"I think she found your people, Reid." Morgan said from where he was putting some shelves together.

"Sounds like it's a lot more fun than my last subculture," Susanna commented as she shook a pillow into a case.

Spencer had a sudden flash of her in one of those corsets, and took a moment to focus on hospital corners. Just friends. Just friends. Just friends.

"Yea, that's all it is. It's just fun." Garcia looked around, "Computer desk?"

"Computer?" Morgan replied.

"Coming eventually. I can get one for, you know, nothing, but a QWERTY keyboard with a Braille display? Six thousand." They all shuddered. If Susanna was going to make it through college without having to work she was going to have to budget her accounts carefully. That was four months of living expenses right there. "But, I found a charity that offers them for free, good news. Bad news is that they have a waiting list, for the next few years you're going to have use the ones downstairs."

"Given that I've never used one before that's fine." Susanna told her.

"But when the time comes you'll have a desk." She shook out the curtains they had found, lace to dapple the light.

The bed was done. "Okay, lay down." Spencer told her. Susanna slipped off her shoes and stretched out, the bed poofing up around her. "It's a memory foam pad with a wool tick over top. I had them on my dorm beds back in college." After all, he slept on lumpy dorm beds for eight years, he needed to do something. And now he'd know she was comfortable and snug at night.

"I may never leave this bed." She replied. "This is heavenly."

"So what are we doing once we get all this set up?" Morgan asked.

"Dinner. May I?" Spencer voted. He had her bed together, now he snagged Garcia's tablet and with her nod of permission looked up this whole Steampunk thing.

"Where to?" Morgan asked. "What's around here?"

He did have a subculture. Maybe Maeve was right, he wasn't as strange as he thought. He filed that under 'to consider later'. "Chinese, pizza, burgers…."

"I've never tried any of those." Susanna admitted.

"Chinese then." Morgan said. "Any objections?" There were none.

Just then Spencer's phone rang. "JJ"

"Hey Spence," JJ sounded…nervous somehow. Wary. "I need your help."

"Sure, what's up?'

"My Mother is in town and she wants to meet Susanna. We're having a get-together tomorrow afternoon; Will swears the weather is going to be good enough to grill. Do you think she'd want to come by?"

"What about Garcia and Morgan?"

"Sure." She sounded more confident about that. "I was going to call them next."

Spencer tipped his phone down. "Will and JJ are having a…thing at their place tomorrow. Will is going to grill, Susanna, Henry's grandmother wants to meet you."

There were assents all around. "Can we bring anything?" Garcia asked.

"Don't know yet." JJ replied. "I'll call in a bit and let her know."

That message relayed Spencer got up and stepped into the hallway. "JJ, are you okay?"

"Yeah, I just…I want to pretend it never happened. I want to forget all of it. And I know that's not healthy for anyone, especially for Henry. The therapist said that the best way to help him deal is to accept that it happened and make it clear that the bad parts were bad and that he's safe now but not to make it a huge deal, and he said that seeing Susanna interacting with familiar people would help put it into perspective and help him accept it but I just…I want it to go away. For me. And I can't do that. For him. So bring her by tomorrow, please. And I will…cope."

Inwardly Spencer sighed. Susanna had been so excited and so ready for this move, she'd mentally rehearsed it a thousand times or more; had checked out on her family years before. But it was still so big, such a change, for all of them. "All right. I'll bring her by."

"Thank you."

Chapter 28

Chapter Text

Garcia and Morgan left them off at the corner. His plan was to walk her back to the house, say good-night, and then walk home. Really, that was his plan.

But then his mouth ran away with him. "What did you mean, the other night?" She turned in his direction, questioning. "When you asked 'you too'?"

"Oh." He watched her cheeks turn red in the light of the streetlight. "That's a long story. You just seemed as nervous as I was, that's all. I was wondering why. Probably not for the same reason though."

"Probably not," he agreed as they climbed to the porch. "It's a long story too. I don't suppose you have a short version?"

She thought a moment. "It's new." She said. "But if I can't hug people then the bad guys win. What about you?"

He thought about it for a long moment. Why was he so uncomfortable? Because it brought back the vivid memories of violation, of lying, of that moment when Maeve… but she wouldn't want him to stay in his shell forever. Was that why she reminded him of Thomas Merton? Not only to say I love you but to remind him to keep on trying to love? Was it? "It's about the same."

"Well then we shouldn't let the bad guys win."

"No, we shouldn't." And with that he pulled her into his arms. She fit, he realized, she didn't feel as fragile this time and she fit just so into the crook of his shoulder, and she smelled like some kind of herbs and flowers as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and held on tight.

He could almost feel Maeve's approval.

After not nearly enough time he had to let go. "Well, good night then." She said. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah. Good night." As she turned to go in the door and he headed down the stairs he stopped. "Susanna?"

"Yes, Spencer?"

"I'll tell you that story someday."

"And I'll tell you mine."

"Stop." He said as he felt her hand trail lower on his chest. "Please stop."

"Sure about that, Doctor?" Diane Turner cooed in his ear. She bent and ran her fingers over his stomach, teasing at the waistband of his pants.

"Please." I don't want this, he thought. I don't want you.

"'Cause I'm the only one you're going to get." With that she pulled off his blindfold.

Maeve sat across from him, her body tied into the chair. The hole in the side of her head was so small, the bullet had been left with just enough velocity to go in but not enough to exit. It spent the last of its energy ricocheting around inside her skull, turning her magnificent mind into grey ooze that dribbled out onto her shoulder.

Another body was tied to the chair next to her, burnt to a charred black, beyond all recognition. Burnt alive, he realized, with burns so deep if the victim did survive a few moments after she, for it was clearly a she, wouldn't feel pain. He was almost reassured by that until the victim opened lavender-rose eyes that couldn't see but somehow found his…

Apartment 23
Ponce de Leon Co-op
4514 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC

"NO!" Spencer all but jumped off his couch, rolled to the floor, and only missed the coffee table by virtue of learning from the first nightmare and having shoved it away before falling asleep. For a moment he didn't know where he was. But after a moment he started breathing again and he got back up onto his makeshift bed.

Just friends his ass.

Daylight was just starting to filter in through the windows. Five am, way too early to call her, as badly as he wanted to. It was one thing when she was safe under Garcia's wing, but now….

He just had to get a grip, that's all. Just get a grip.

Right.

Sheridan School
4400 36th St. NW
Washington, DC

Spencer pulled his phone out of his pocket. "Good morning Garcia."

"Hey Reid. So I just had a premonition that something was up with you."

Damn it. "How do you do that?"

"I'm…magical. Now, tell me what's up with you?"

"I…had a dream this morning. More like a nightmare. Maeve and Diane Turner and…."

"And…Susanna?"

"Yeah."

"Oh sweetie. She's all right. You know she's all right."

"Yeah, I do."

There was a pause. "Okay, you sounded way too confident with that. Where are you?"

"Garcia…"

"Okay, tell me you are not sitting outside the house like some skeezy stalker."

"No." There was a private elementary school right across the street, thankfully closed on Sundays. He was sitting on one of the benches that ringed the school tennis court, watching the house through the fence. Technically he wasn't sitting outside the house at all.

"Liar. Reid, she's fine."

"But…"

"She is an adult and no one in her life has ever let her act like an adult."

"But…"

"And we are going to be the first people in her life to give her that and let her open her wings and fly and she cannot do that if you're going to be hovering all the time."

"But…"

"But what?"

"But I'm not fine." He finally admitted. He took a deep breath. "I don't want to lose someone else."

Garcia was quiet a moment. "Oh sweetie," she said at last. "I know. I know. But sometimes you have to have faith. If anyone knows the odds you do."

Sarah, Haley, Elle, Gideon, his Dad, almost Morgan, almost Emily, almost Will, Maeve, almost Henry… "Yeah." That was the problem.

"Now go home. I'll see you at the party."

"Right."

Spencer rang off and went to walk home. But maybe something was watching out for him because as he walked by the house an early rising farm girl opened her window and smiled into a new day.

She was fine.

He went to get breakfast.

JJ & Will's House
76 W. Lenox St.
Chevy Chase, MD

"Susanna!" Henry shrieked as they came in the door. "Spencer!"

"Oh I see how it is. I'm getting second billing now." Spencer teased as Henry threw himself into their arms.

"Come meet Grandma!" Henry yelled as he grabbed Susanna's hand and pulled her further into the house.

JJ had followed her son in, now she watched him drag his friend off as she moved to his Godfather's side. "Thank you for bringing her." She said.

"It wasn't a problem." It hadn't been. He'd gone back to the house about ten minutes before the set time, had joined her for coffee and muffins in the house kitchen, and had then driven over. JJ and Will were too far off the beaten path, it was private and hard to find but no trains or busses went out this way.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah." He had been scared out of his mind right up until Susanna had hugged him hello. Then it was all right again somehow, even though he was still terrified. "Are you?"

"I don't know." She admitted. "I just don't know. This is making it all real."

"Hey, come here." For the first time since she'd helped him clean up the destruction of his apartment Spencer pulled JJ into a hug. "It's going to be okay."

JJ smiled as he pulled back, "Maybe."

They moved further in and found Sandy Jareau giving Susanna an immense hug. "Thank you." She said. "Thank you for my grandson." She said, her eyes wet.

"There's nothing to thank me for. All I did was write letters. Thank the people who came for us."

"Them too. You too, come here." It was Spencer's turn to get hugged.

Susanna turned and very nearly ran over another child. "Please help me find a chair." She murmured as soon as Spencer was free.

He helped her over to a chair at the dining table, where she was close enough to sit and visit with everyone. "Hey Susanna," Will said as he moved past her to put food on the table. "How's the new place."

"Wonderful." She replied. "Tomorrow I get to start learning how to cook and use a computer."

"You don't know how to cook?"

"To be honest I can't even boil water on my own. This morning I learned to use the hot drink maker. I can make myself tea, it's wonderful."

"Did Garcia get you a phone yet?"

"Yes, she did." She pulled it out of her bag to show him.

"Got one of those quick dial numbers free?"

"Yes. One is for emergencies, two is for Spencer, seven is for Penelope…"

"I'll take three then. You need anything you just call."

"Give me eight." Morgan said.

"I'll take nine." Rossi added.

Susanna smiled even as she shook her head. "Really, I don't need…"

"Hush." Rossi replied.

The party continued. Spencer had wanted to stick close but for one reason or another he ended up in knots of people somewhat away from the table. He kept his eye on Susanna though, noting that she seemed to be holding her own with both JJ's family and the other mothers from his kindergarten that were there. And, he noticed, JJ was watching her too. All was going quite well until after dessert was served to the children. "I have to go brush my teeth!" Henry announced before he ran off to the bathroom.

"He's been doing that." JJ said, "Ever since he got back."

"I told him to." Susanna admitted. "I never thought to tell him to stop."

"Why?"

"No dentist. Better to keep your teeth clean then to have Father pull one out."

"No one is going to be pulling out Henry's teeth!" JJ snapped, suddenly savage. "Or yours!"

Everyone was silent for a moment. Then Susanna spoke. "Well that's nice to know."

JJ turned and almost ran to the kitchen. Spencer followed. "JJ, what's wrong?"

"She's a victim, Spence! I don't think I really realized it until today. I mean I've never…when we catch the Unsubs the victims are always wrecks, destroyed, they can barely crawl. I've never seen one so actively try to get help for herself and another victim. The only people I've ever seen do that are accomplices who changed their mind or who got pushed too far. So when she did that and she was dressed like them and I just thought…"

"Stockholm Syndrome," Spencer nodded. "You thought Henry had Stockholm syndrome, that she was the enemy somehow and she was fooling us all."

"I did." JJ admitted. "But seeing you show up with a…a college student today and hearing her today…this is real, isn't it? This is really who she is. She's someone who should be this but was trapped."

"I think she's still trying to figure that out, but…it's closer."

JJ considered this a long moment. "Well, she's a lot stronger than she looks."

Chapter 29

Chapter Text

Dear Leah,

I'm sorry I haven't written before now but everything has happened so fast I've barely had time to catch my breath from it all. Thank goodness I finally have a chance to catch you up on everything that's happened.

After I left you we flew out to Washington DC. Yes, I said flew, I flew on an airplane. It was so scary at first but one of Henry's friends, almost a Grandfather, told us stories to pass the time until we landed. I didn't even think to get sick. It was all so smooth but all the time you could tell that you were moving, kind of gently bobbing about in the air. It was wonderful.

Once we landed in Washington I stayed with Henry's Godmother for two nights while we got everything settled. She is as sweet and kind as a sister, I think you would really like her. Henry's almost-Grandfather was so generous, he helped me replace my clothes and my cane and my slate and even my radio. I don't think I can thank him or the rest of his family enough for everything they've done for me.

Now I'm settled into where I'm going to live for the next four or five years, at least. It's a home for young women who are both blind and going to college. I know Mamma and Father won't approve of my going to college or living so far away, but at least you can tell them that I'm properly chaperoned. I may not be living according to Pastor Goodwin's rules, but I'm not living in sin. I have my own bedroom and I share a bath with a girl who is studying to be a social worker and work with the elderly.

Speaking of Pastor Goodwin, his tales about how everyone in the cities dresses like prostitutes are just that, tales. I found some really nice, modest jumpers to wear and no one has said a word about them, so you can rest your mind on that account as well. They may not be all ruffles and lace like Mrs. Lydia said women should wear but they are decent. I'll save the details for when I can write to you without needing assistance.

Speaking of leaning to write, I am. I can't start school until May so in the meantime I'm learning how to use a computer, that way I can write on my own. I'm also learning how to do my own laundry, how to cook, how to handle my own money, even how to get around the city and how to travel by myself. If nothing else I'll come out of this as a proper Proverbs 31 woman and not a burden…

Bellflower House
3625 Yuma St. NW
Washington DC

Spencer

"That's not all I care about, you know." Susanna said.

After the party Susanna had asked him to stay and help her write to her sister. That was how he ended up down in their study pit by the fire, curled up in a big chair, a clipboard on his knee, the cup of coffee she had so proudly made at his elbow. He could think of several dozen worse ways to spend a Sunday evening, and few better. "What's not all you care about?'

"Becoming the perfect Proverbs 31 woman," she replied. "I want to do more with my life."

"Proverbs 13:10? Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies?" She nodded. "Those verses speak to the ideal wife, don't they?"

"They do; which is not to say I don't want to get married..." She sighed. "That gets us back to that complicated story again."

"Not the best place for that discussion, unless by 'properly chaperoned' you meant never alone." He looked further into the basem*nt where one of her roommates was using a computer and blocking them out with headphones.

She laughed lightly. "No, I just meant not having to worry about strange men coming in to your room at night. According to Pastor Goodwin that's a common happening in co-ed dorms."

"Not at my school, but then I went to one that was different. CalTech has a strict honor code that the students actually follow. Not many schools have that anymore." He'd been grateful for that at the time.

"Granted they'll think I meant never alone, and I don't plan to dissuade them. But I'm not afraid of being alone with a man; some men in this world are still honorable." She smiled a little. "Henry convinced me of that."

He made a mental note to take Henry for ice cream to thank him, and changed the subject to less precarious topics. "So what do you want to do with your life?"

"Stop Goodwin. Stop whatever he's planning. And keep on stopping it because I don't think that just stopping him will stop it all, I think it's too far gone for that. Not that I have any idea how…"

Huh. It didn't take Spencer long to come up with an answer. Or perhaps a suggestion. "You might consider becoming a technical analyst."

"Like Penelope? I've never even touched a computer…"

"No. Technical analysts engage in the process of examining data that is relevant to a given situation and developing recommendations that are anticipated to produce desirable results. Garcia is an expert at acquiring data, yes, but another kind of analyst is someone who is an expert on a particular kind of criminal. You're the only one to come out of one of these cults who's been willing to work with us long-term. You have experience none of the rest of us has."

She was quiet a moment. "Is that really all that useful?"

"It's a growing threat. Speaking for the national security community we need all the help we can get."

"Yes but…I don't know how to put what I know into words others would understand. And I certainly can't go out…"

"That's the sort of thing you can learn in college. And, um, analysts are office jobs, they should be accessible."

She settled back with her tea and a thoughtful look. "Well that's something to think about, isn't it?"

He smiled. He'd given her more of a future to consider, a good evening's work there. "Any more to this letter?"

"Yes…"

Later on she walked him out to the porch. "I have a question for you." Susanna said. "Everyone else swears by coffee in the morning, but they also swear it's addictive. Should I try it or not?"

"As a lifelong addict I would say avoid it if you can." Just then something curled inside him. He hadn't even thought of that in so long. He'd told Maeve back when he was consulting her on his headaches, before something more…

She must have sensed the change in his mood. "Spencer?"

"I…I was just reminded of another long story I need to tell you. The short form is that I made a mistake once, a bad one. But I did what I could to fix it and I haven't repeated it in a long time."

"How long?"

"Five years, ten months, twenty-nine days."

"Well whatever it is, with that much time under the bridge I won't worry."

Fair enough. "All right. As for coffee I'll bring over some decaf for you to try."

She smiled. "Thank you. Are you going back to work tomorrow?"

"Yes. And probably out of town for a few days." How could he when she was so vulnerable? "If you need anything call Garcia or Will, all right? And I'll call if we go and when we come back."

"Of course, but I should be fine. Thank you." For a long moment they stood there, as he admired her, so ghostly in the moonlight, as something thick and warm grew in the spaces around them. "They must not win." She murmured.

"No." He reached out and pulled her back into his arms, warm and willowy and such a perfect fit. For a moment he hung on as if life itself mattered as her breath on his skin sent his heart to pounding. "Good night Susanna." He said before letting go.

"Good night Spencer."

Chapter 30

Chapter Text

He was alone

He was utterly alone.

Spencer Reid stood in the middle of Connecticut Avenue and listened to the silence around him. There was nothing. No cars. No busses. No faint rumblings of the Metro underground. No people.

Nothing.

A newspaper fluttered by, a clearly audible scuttling sound.

There wasn't even a bird to be heard.

Nothing.

No, he thought. They all left. All of them. All 5,703,948 left. They all abandoned me here. Every one.

No.

He started running toward the center of town. No, he thought, No. No. Nonononono…

Sheriff's station
Tulsa, OK

Spencer

Hell. Sheer, unmitigated hell.

They had been hunting this Unsub for three days now. Three days meant two nights away from DC. Two nights in which he had barely slept. Three days when he was having trouble eating, fueling himself on sweetened coffee and an endless stream of snack foods. He was trying to focus on the case, which meant that they were closer than they ought to be, but it wasn't helping to stave off the impending migraine.

Maeve would be so pissed at him right now. He could hear her lecturing him on vitamins and rest.

But the nightmares… "How are you doing this?" He asked JJ at one point, when it was just the two of them, sitting outside a likely spot for the Unsub to hit next.

"Doing what?"

"Staying away from Henry for so long?"

"It's important for him to get back into his normal routine. That includes my being out of town."

"Yeah, but how are you doing it?"

"I'm fine." She answered honestly. "I know Henry is fine and Will is fine, I don't have to worry."

"Yeah, but how do youknow?" He wanted her secret, how she could stay so calm and trusting when they all knew in their bones how dangerous the world could be.

In response she picked up her tablet, opened an application, and entered a password. The screen she showed him was of DC, with two blinking lights, one green, one blue inside a neighborhood-sized orange boundary. "See, that's Henry at school and that's Will at the station. If Henry leaves a preprogrammed area the system will alert me and Garcia. I can't do that with Will, of course, but they also come with panic buttons, kind of a back-up to his back-up. At least if something happens we'll have their last known location."

"And Will was willing to do that for you?"

"After what happened with the bank robbers and now Henry? Oh yeah. I just wish my Mom would have agreed. She said it was a violation of her privacy." JJ sighed noisily. "At least I know my two guys are fine."

Bellflower House
3625 Yuma St. NW
Washington DC

"Hey Susanna, your Fed's here!"

That was Holly, Susanna's roommate. Spencer followed her down to the study pit where he found Susanna sitting at the computer with one of the instructors from the nearby Blind Center. "I have finally vanquished e-mail." She told him proudly.

"Really?" He inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. She was fine, happy and healthy and safe. He'd worried for nothing.

"Well, okay, the e-mail part was easy. Learning how to use a Braille display took a bit." She stood up as he came over, and gently brushed his arm. What did it mean that he instantly knew that she wanted a hug, and that he instantly wanted one too and that it was that easy to pull her into his arms? "I missed you." She said to the crook of his shoulder.

"I missed you too." No, he had every reason to worry now. "Want to go get some dinner? I know a great Indian place about a half-mile from here."

She brightened at that, "Curry?"

"If you want to try."

"Just let me get my hat."

After dinner they slowly walked arm in arm back to the house through the cool, spring evening. "So you like curry?" Spencer asked

"Not as much as I like the chicken …oh, what was that called again?"

"Awadhi Dum ke Murg. Chicken in cashew and saffron gravy."

"Oh, that was so good." Susanna was still grinning. "I don't know how you managed to eat that entire bowl of curry, it was so hot! I'm glad I tried it though, I've been reading about curry all my life and now I know what it is. Thank you. I have to remember to tell Leah about it, although probably not about my first beer."

"You're welcome. Yeah, probably not the beer though." He chuckled a little, they'd split one bottle for the taste. "I grew up in the Southwest, I like spicy."

"I don't even know where you're from."

"Las Vegas, actually."

"Ooo, Sodom and Gomorrah."

He laughed again. "Actually it's not that bad. Lots of average people live there too. My Dad's a lawyer; my Mom's a college professor. Well, was a college professor, she's not well, she's been in a care home for a while."

"Oh. I'm sorry." She hugged his arm a little in sympathy.

"It's all right, she's comfortable there. I still write her every day though."

Susanna smiled a little. "Good son."

"I try."

"So what's been bothering you all night? Something's been off."

Gah, this wasn't just going to magically happen or go away. "I want to ask you something. Actually I want to ask you to do something, and it's something I shouldn't be asking. It's not right. In fact it's wrong."

"Okay."

"Let's pretend I didn't say anything."

"No, we don't get to do that. You want me to do something; I'm willing to hear what it is. I might say no but I'm willing to hear your argument."

A brick wall was the perfect place to stop for a moment. The neighborhood was quiet, residential, there were lights flickering in windows, he could see televisions, people washing dishes, but they were alone. "There was this woman I was close to, just over a year ago."

"Close to?"

Deep breath. "I was in love with her."

"Was?"

"Her name was Maeve."

"Was?" He heard her take a deep breath. "Oh."

"She wrote to me after I published this paper…we used pseudonyms at first, I wasn't certain why. Eventually we started talking on the phone, and she told me she was being stalked by someone."

"Stalked?"

"A former student whose paper she rejected was obsessing over her, threatening her. She was hiding from this woman, terrified of what she might do. She refused to meet me for the longest time because she was trying to protect me."

"She sounds like a good person."

"She was. Eventually the stalker found her. By the time we tracked her down it was too late, Diane had the upper hand…I tried, but, um…" He couldn't talk about it. His voice was already breaking.

All this time Susanna hadn't let go. "Spencer I am so sorry."

"It's dangerous, being a part of this family. Henry, Maeve, Will was taken by these bank robbers, we got him back just in time. Emily, she used to be a part of our team, she was caught by an Unsub and we got her back just in time. Hotch was targeted by an Unsub, he had to send his family into witness protection but Foyet got to them anyway and killed his wife before he could get there…I mean the list just keeps going…."

"Shhhh." She rubbed his shoulder gently. "I'm willing to take this risk."

"Why?" Why would anyone want to, ever?

"Because evil targets the ones with the most virtue; I rather think I'm lucky to be here."

Oh god. "There is this thing called a GPS tracker. You hide it in your clothes and it lets a satellite network pinpoint your location anywhere on the planet. JJ got them for Will and Henry, not only in case something happens again but because she can look on a map when she's away and know that they're safe."

"And you want me to carry one?"

"It's a horrendous invasion of privacy. I shouldn't even…."

"Shhhh." She placed a gentle finger on his lips. It was like being brushed by a butterfly. "I'll do it."

The train cars in his brain jumbled. "Wait...huh…you will?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Two reasons. One, Linda, my mobility instructor, wants me to start learning how to use the bus and Metro system. I'm honestly more than a little nervous about being out in the city on my own. Not that I plan to stop trying or that I'm going to restrict where I go but I'd feel a lot better knowing that a guardian angel was looking over my shoulder, just in case."

"I assume you're referring to Garcia." Guardian angels. Is that what we are?

"And two, you said Haley was in Witness Protection."

"Yes."

"Is that your department?"

"No, it's another branch of the government."

"Was that…Unsub someone who was after her husband, someone he attracted through work?"

"Yes."

"And what about Emily, the same?"

"Um, no. Doyle targeted her because of her previous job."

"And Will, you said bank robber, but as I understand it you don't chase bank robbers."

"No, he crossed paths with them at work, DC Metro."

"Mmm-hmm. We know Henry was almost random, they didn't know what his mother does for a living. And you said Maeve was being…stalked by a former student."

"So?"

"Haley was relying on Witness Protection and Maeve was keeping you away. So it sounds like evil can come from anywhere but once your team is involved the odds of safely coming home go up. Is that about right?"

Spencer stopped and blinked and blinked again as he re-ran the data. Gideon had kept Sarah to himself. Haley was being kept away from the team by Sam Kasselmeyer. Maeve was deliberately keeping her distance. But every time the team got involved early in the game they got their people home. "Yes. Yes it is."

"Then I can't think of better guardian angels." Susanna said with a smile.

For a moment Spencer was overcome with an urge so powerful that he felt helpless to refuse. He almost followed through with it right then. But at the last moment he didn't kiss her, instead he pressed his temple to hers. "Thank you." He whispered. Thank you for your trust in me.

"No." She murmured back before he felt her lips brush his cheek. "Thank you."

Police station
Phoenix AZ

The hardest part, Spencer realized, was seeing the mangled bodies of young women who had been missing for days and not picturing the people you cared about up there. She was fine. Really, she was fine.

Wasn't she?

Thankfully there was now a small box, one that Garcia had decorated to look, in her words, like the ultimate Steampunk amulet. Something about brown and brass and old watch parts. He had to admit, it was a very attractive piece by the time Garcia was done. And it perfectly hid the small GPS tracking device without interrupting its connection.

Spencer picked up the tablet that he was now carrying, the one unfortunate drawback, and opened the application with his password. They had all agreed to share the most vulnerable, just in case, and so on his map an orange dot blinked over Jack's school, a blue dot blinked over Henry's kindergarten and a purple dot blinked over the UDC campus.

"Everyone's all right?" Hotch asked quietly.

"Yep," Spencer nodded and turned back to the case.

Chapter 31

Chapter Text

"I need an opinion." Susanna said. "Do my dresses look frumpy?"

It was Saturday. Penelope had shooed Reid away long enough to have a girl's day with Henry's best friend, as he still insisted. She was starting with introducing her to the best burger joint in the neighborhood. Her first cheeseburger, it was adorable. "Who said that?" She asked.

"Holly's friends, they're sighted. Do they?"

"Kind of, but if they make you feel comfortable and confident that's all that matters. Do they?"

Shannon frowned. "I don't know."

"Okay. Why did you buy them in the first place?"

"I wanted something like what I wore at home, something comfortable."

"Okay, so comfort is a thing here. You do feel comfortable?" Susanna nodded. "This is good. What was the point of those uniforms anyway?"

"Some of the leading women in the church said we were supposed to look girlish and really feminine, that was the way to attract the right kind of men."

"Yeah, like pedophiles. Those dresses look like they belong on twelve year olds."

"Which was the other point of it; you were supposed to look very feminine but also hide your breasts and hips so you wouldn't tempt your brothers into sin."

Oh! Oh! Ew! "Please tell me you don't mean literal brothers."

"Well, yes…."

"Ew!"

"I know."

"Okay, when you say tempt into sin what do you mean exactly?"

"They said it was to keep them from having any lustful thoughts, because if they saw you and they did it would be your fault. But that doesn't make any sense. Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6. That's usually taken to mean that you don't need a priest or an intercessor, everyone goes to God on their own, for good or ill. So if a guy is thinking lustful thoughts, isn't that going to be his responsibility, not mine? Of course then there's the thought of not making it hard for the guys but my sisters got a copy of this modesty survey that went around the church on one of their trips, and it seemed like anything could tempt at least one guy, so what were you supposed to do? Then they said it would prevent rape…"

"Which is doesn't." Penelope told her. On that point she finally felt on solid ground.

Susanna sputtered to a stop. "It doesn't."

"Nope. If anything it's the opposite, Unsubs look for shy little mice, they're easier prey. No, what you need to do is avoid high risk behavior and go out into the world feeling very confident. Unsubs avoid confident women, they tend to put up a fight and Unsubs hate to work hard."

"So the whole thing they taught us about taking smaller steps and keeping your head down and not walking with too much pride…"

Penelope felt her anger flare. "Yeah, they were trying to make you into victims, not keep you from becoming one."

Susanna was quiet a long moment. "They always said that the girl who acted the most submissive would be the one who would attract the most truly Christian men. Their words."

"I don't care what religion they are, that's the best way to attract the abusers and the skeezy pervs. Really strong guys, like Reid and Rossi and my Derek aren't intimidated by strong, confident women. They prefer them because they enjoy the company of equals."

Susanna was quiet a moment more. "I never felt submissive. I always kept quiet to avoid my father's strap, but sometimes it was quite an effort."

"Sweetie anyone who reached out the way you did is in no way submissive."

"So how do I go about showing that? How do I make how I look reflect how I feel?"

Penelope chuckled, "Now that I can help you with."

From: Office of Pastor Bryan Goodwin
One Seminary Rd.
Mineloa, TX

To: Miss Susanna Holman
C/O Dr. S. Reid
FBI Headquarters
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20535-0001

Dear Miss Holman,

This is to inform you that you have come under church discipline. The following contract must be met to fully restore you to the church and to bring you back into communion with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reasons for the need for discipline:

• Communicating with strange men without the permission of your headship

• Lying to your family about said contact

• Staying alone in a motel with a strange man

• Wearing the garb of men

• Exposing yourself to strangers physically

• Removing yourself from the umbrella of protection of your headship

• Sharing private church business with outsiders

• Destroying the bonds of family and placing your sisters and younger siblings at risk

Plan of Discipline:

You will present yourself at the church main office effective immediately for proper chastisem*nt and discipline

You will no longer have any communication with anyone outside of the church

• You will turn over any funds or documents you have received outside the church to church leadership

• You will write out a detailed chronology of any sins you have committed prior to or since leaving your father's umbrella of protections, especially all sexual sins.

• You will share that list of sins with Pastor Allan and Mrs. Lydia Driscoll and submit to the plan they prepare for further education and correction

• You will confess to this list to the church body as a whole and beg forgiveness

If these conditions are not met promptly the church will have no choice but to enact further disciplinary measures against you.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Allan Driscoll for Pastor Bryan Goodwin

Van Ness-UDC Metro Station
Corner of Veasey Terrace NW & Connecticut Ave NW
Washington DC

Spencer

On the day after Garcia's insistence on a girl's day with Susanna, they had been called in to a case. As a result of which, even though he had spoken to her on the phone a number of times (okay, nightly) Spencer hadn't actually seen Susanna since she agreed to wear the tracker. He certainly hadn't seen her in what Garcia insisted was her amazing new look. Not that he had any idea that anything was wrong with her old look. The complicated relationship between women and clothing and shoes was something he'd never understand.

She wasn't easy to miss anymore. She was heading his way from the Starbucks, using her cane to find the way. She still had a big hat to shade her delicate skin from the sun, this one with some kind of floral decoration, and a properly British school bag, but Garcia had replaced the hardware with something brass and ornate. She had also replaced the big, cheap, plastic sunshades Susanna had been wearing with round sunglasses with leather shades on the side to block out any UV rays that would cause more damage. A long, full denim skirt and simple white shirt completed the look, but something was suddenly giving her a very attractive figure under that shirt. Huh.

She still looked pretty, with her pale skin and long, pure white hair, but she no longer looked otherworldly. She looked better now, more confident as she strode across the plaza. But more than that, she lookedinteresting, like she had new and different thoughts in her head. She looked like someone he would like to meet and get to know better, but that he would be too intimidated to approach if he didn't already know her, a feeling compounded by not being the only man watching her walk. Okay, Henry was getting that new dinosaur set. "Susanna!" He called to her.

She instantly corrected course and headed for the sound of his voice. "Spencer?"

"Yes."

She stepped easily into his arms, stretched up to give a gentle kiss to his cheek. "Welcome home." She said. "I missed you."

"I missed you too." As he held this bright, confident woman in his arms he thought of the letter in his bag and wanted to laugh with the sheer hubris of it all. "Come on, let's go somewhere."

"Where?"

"Come on."

Chapter 32

Chapter Text

Dear Leah,

I meant my next letter to be full of the wonders I have experienced since last I wrote. Unfortunately I must take care of another matter first.

I have received the letter concerning the church discipline process being threatened against me. Given that I no longer consider myself a member of the church I do not intend to respond in kind. What they think is no longer my concern. I am, however, concerned that you might believe their lies and think poorly of me, and perhaps given that might not seek your own freedom in the future.

To that end let me attempt to explain myself and reassure your mind.

I freely admit that I sought contact with a man Father did not know. He was not entirely unknown though, I reached out to Henry's godfather specifically because I believed Henry when he said that he had been taken against his will and that his family, including his godfather, were in law enforcement. My intentions were not to commit any form of sin but rather to rectify a sin; that of taking a child away from his loving mother and father. Yes, I did say father, Henry has always known his father, and his parents are now married. I do not consider reaching out to return a child to his rightful home a sin in any way. Neither do I consider lying about it a sin since I believe that Father was a party to this wrong.

I did not stay alone in a hotel with a strange man; I stayed alone in a hotel. I swear on my honor nothing happened that night. Henry's godfather has been a complete gentleman and I have been blessed with his help and his friendship, nothing more. And no, I did not suddenly turn into the whor* of Babylon and seduce him. I had a hot bath and a good night's sleep; that is all. Ever since then I have been willingly chaperoned every night and not by militant lesbians either. By a sweet old widow who is teaching me how to cook.

I would not have worn the garb of men had our mother not insisted I leave my clothing behind. That was all that was available at the time. I would have considered wandering about naked the greater sin. Since that day I have not worn the garb of men once. I don't know how men do it; it's not at all comfortable.

I assume that by exposing myself to strangers they mean allowing a doctor to examine me. He never got my clothing off and I was well chaperoned the entire time. The doctor was far more concerned with the state of my heart and my eyes than my body. Both are as fine as can be expected if anyone there cares to know.

Yes, I have removed myself from under the protection of my headship. I want to live a life, not be a burden and that is not something I can do on a farm. And so I have and I do so willingly, absolve him of all responsibility for me. Should anything happen I will personally answer to my Creator for my decisions.

Yes, I shared church business with strangers. I've been asked not to say anything about that and I agree with their reasoning so I won't but I will say that I feel that I have answered to the greater good in doing so.

And as for destroying the bonds of family, my hope for my family in all of this was to give each and every one of you a chance at a future. To have the little ones grow strong with full bellies and full minds, and to give you and Rebekah and Ellen a chance to find the husbands you desire and start the families you long for. I was not trying to destroy my family but to save it, and that is still my fondest hope for you all.

Now I do not intend to present myself to the church. I fully intend to continue my relationships with my friends here. I will not turn over any funds or documents that might be in my possession. And I will not share any sins I have committed with Pastor Driscoll or anyone else, nor will I beg forgiveness of the church. If I wish to confess and beg forgiveness I will do so at the foot of the cross and nowhere else for that is where true forgiveness and grace may be found.

Now hopefully in my next letter I shall tell you of curry and e-mail and the Metro line and how to cook eggs and sausage when you can't see what you're doing. And hopefully they will let you write back, soon.

Your loving sister still,
Susanna

Firehook Bakery
3114 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington DC

Spencer

Spencer had written it all without response, but the words had filtered in to the lucid part of his brain for consideration. Now he had to ask. "whor* of Babylon? I would have thought they would be more concerned about rape."

"No." Susanna chuckled without humor. "For all that they preach of the terror of rape in the city they don't actually believe in rape. If a woman is raped she must have the heart of a harlot, completely unredeemable, and thereby she somehow seduced the man into losing control simply by her presence. Women who come forward with accusations tend to just disappear."

"That's deeply disquieting." He had been concerned with a false allegation, so much so that he had quietly discussed it with Hotch, who already knew that he wasn't capable of such things and was on his side. "I know I'm not supposed to bring my personal feelings into this but can I just say that I'm glad you're out of that system?"

She smiled at him. "Yes, you can say that. Can we switch to happier topics or should I be more concerned with their threats?"

"Happier topics, please. The first question being do we need more coffee or more pastry?" He had figured they needed some sweet to go with the bitter of that letter so he brought her to one of his favorite coffee places.

"Another piece?"

"The joys of being chronically underweight." Everyone said that someday he'd have more than a 28 inch waist but so far it hadn't happened.

"I don't know; that lemon tart is going to be hard to beat."

"Ever have cheesecake?" She shook her head. "Cheesecake. And we'll get a chocolate cake for you to take back to the house. Hold on." A few moments later he returned, cheesecake for her, chocolate cake for him. "You said you had some paperwork?"

"I do. Nancy…she the social worker Penelope asked to work with me…has had me doing all this testing over at the school, she said it was placement testing, checking for learning disabilities, I don't know what but the testing center gave me the results today…" She pulled a file out of her bag.

A thin file. "But not in Braille?" Oops.

"Yeah. Granted I wouldn't know what I was reading anyway. Help."

"My pleasure." Academic tests, something with which he was intimately familiar. "Um, well, no learning disabilities, unless you count blindness."

"Yes, but I'm learning to work around that."

Ah, they had done an IQ test. He sat and stared at it a moment. "What?" She asked.

"They performed an IQ test. They do, it's considered a measure of academic potential."

"That bad?"

"Actually that good." Not as high as his, of course, but he was a rare bird. But she was up around both his mother and Maeve, which given the bias against those with non-standard experiences was impressive. It was like a girl being pretty, he thought. I don't care what she gets on an IQ test just like I don't care what she looks like. But I do like looking at blonds with soft curves and I'm most comfortable with a woman who I can talk to about anything and not have to hold myself back and those women tend to score very high.

"So you're saying that as long as I put the work in there's no reason not to succeed?"

"Exactly." He shuffled over to the placement tests. "Huh."

"Huh what?"

"Well according to this you tested into and out of higher level classes in English language and composition, in everything but modern literature, and in history prior to World War I. You're also fluent in Latin and Ancient Greek. But your modern history and literature scores are near zero. You also didn't even finish high school math and your science scores are pretty dismal."

Susanna nodded. "That's about what I expected. Church curriculum doesn't cover the modern era, too sinful and corrupt and not really needed for understanding the bible and church history, Momma couldn't teach math past level 7-8, Father refused to teach me with my brothers and they use what they call Creation science. I'm just glad I got to use the boy's curriculum instead of the girls."

"They segregated their curriculum by gender?"

"Not…deliberately? I'm not…boys are expected to have their own interests, to follow them as they grow, to eventually develop them into a business or perhaps a calling of some kind. And once they reach their teens their studies are usually supervised by their fathers who, even though they work more or less never really do as much work. But…by the time a girl is twelve or thirteen she has at least six little ones under her and her mother is exhausted from repeat pregnancies and it's heavily implied that taking four or five hours a day for you is selfish. You're praised for helping with the other children, for teaching them how to read and write enough for the bible and day-to-day business and for feeding little ones and changing diapers and cleaning house, not for studying. And their mothers don't have time or energy to really supervise their studies any longer and their only goal is to be a wife and mother anyway. They call it getting a PhD in homemaking but in reality none of those girls make it past the 8th grade. The intention is there but it just never happens."

"But it did for you."

She shrugged, "Hard to help around the house when you're blind, or so they thought. And when our homeschool co-op invested in a copy of the curriculum in Braille the church sent out the entire thing. I just kept reading. Of course now I have to catch up with the housekeeping stuff…"

"Yeah, but it's not that hard."

"Exactly," she beamed at him.

He couldn't help but smile in return. "If you have a copy of the course catalog I'll help you pick out the classes you need to catch up."

"Deal."

Chapter 33

Chapter Text

"Dinosaurs!" Henry crowed as he ran across the vast hall.

Their family therapist had told JJ and Will that it was time for Henry to start exploring the world again, to re-learn that the world around him was a place that could be experienced without fear. That meant going out with someone not Mom, Dad or Grandma.

Enter godparents. And a new best friend.

"Hey, slow up." Penelope told him. "We don't need to be running in here."

Susanna laughed. "You don't know how many times he told me about dinosaurs." She said to the gentleman standing with her.

"I can guess." Spencer replied. "Thankfully they have a number of hands-on exhibits here."

"I'm looking forward to that." She looked up at the dome over the massive African elephant in front of them. "Ah, the Great Temple of Heresy. Please tell me you'll show me all of it."

"All of it?" He teased gently. "Heretic."

"Perhaps. I still haven't decided about that."

"No? From your letters to your sister you sound rather…devout still."

"Those are words she can hear. For myself I…I just don't know what I believe anymore. But at the moment it's not a priority, let's just say I'm remaining open to the possibilities for now."

That almost mimicked his own Agnosticism. "I heartily agree."

"Oooo," squealed an obvious tourist. "Are you two historical reenactors?"

They paused a moment. "Um, no," they said in unison.

Penelope chuckled. "You really need to learn to dress down."

"Actually I'm quite comfortable." Susanna said as she tweaked her brown twill skirt.

"Besides, that would be…disrespectful." Spencer added. He'd worn tweed for the occasion.

Penelope barely hid her eye roll, "Right."

"Dinosaurs!" Henry insisted again.

"All right," Penelope replied. "Just be patient. Remember, Susanna has to see with her fingers, not her eyes."

They entered the display hall, Henry running on ahead, dragging his godmother along. "I don't think I'm going to be able to appreciate much of this." Susanna sighed.

"You might be surprised." Spencer replied. He smiled at a docent on duty, "Anything she can look at?"

"Sure." The woman replied. "She can start with this replica of a fish fossil." The docent proceeded to explain the exhibit while Susanna's fingers drifted over the plaster replica. Susanna replied with a series of questions about how they could tell the age of the fossils, how they could tell the age of the earth itself, when humans came about in relation to the dinosaurs. She quickly exhausted the poor docent's range of knowledge but Spencer was in his element, gladly answering all of her questions in great detail.

They were in the middle of this discussion, well maybe the first third of it, when they headed for the main exhibit of the hall. Susanna stopped in the middle of the walkway and placed a hand on his arm to interrupt him. "Spencer, what is that?"

He followed her gaze up. "Tyrannasaurus Rex, commonly called a T-rex. It's actually the third largest carnivore in history; they've found two other species, Giganotosaurus and Spinosaurus, although Spinosaurus may have actually been a scavenger, not an actual predator."

"It's immense!" She moved closer, tipping her head to get the best look she could. "I wish I could see the details."

"You can't?" Well no, he thought, she couldn't.

"No. But the size…"

"Excuse me." Someone said close to Spencer's elbow. He turned to find another docent holding an object in his hands and surrounded by a small flock of children, Henry included. "Now, now, hang on kids. You can all see with your eyes, but I believe this lady can only see with her fingers. Why don't we let her go first?"

"What is it?" Susanna asked.

"A Tyrannosaur tooth," Spencer told her. He watched as the docent let her hold the tooth, as she ran gentle fingers over the length of it. As he watched he noticed some feeling… "The edge is serrated to help rend the muscle fibers in its prey. The T-rex only has this kind of tooth; it doesn't have anything for grinding. For him it was just shred and swallow."

"Good heavens. Thank you." She murmured to the docent who started sharing with the children. "You know my church believes in Young Earth Creationism. They believed that before the Fall people coexisted with dinosaurs, maybe even rode them, and after they became the dragons of legend and knights literally went after them with swords on horseback." She looked up at the giant T-rex and beyond it the massive brontosaurs. "What do you think, Percival? Think you can take one on?"

Spencer fought the desire to say anything for a long moment. "I'm sorry, Fleur." He said at last. "I don't want to show any lack of respect but that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

"I heartily agree." Susanna looked up again, "Fleur, huh?"

"No?"

"Much better than Blanch."

He looked at her again. "It fits you."

She smiled. "I'll accept that compliment, thank you. So, what's next?"

Henry ran up to them. "I want to go see the bugs!" He announced.

Susanna shuddered, "Oh boy."

After the insect zoo, where Susanna came face to face, or fingers to body, with a tarantula, a Great Horned Beetle, a frighteningly long millipede and a number of other bugs they went to the Discovery Room. It was a room set aside for the smallest visitors who preferred to get hands on with their museums. And hands on was just what was wanted here. "This is a sea urchin." Spencer said, placing the shell in her hands. "Class Echinoidea, phylum Echinodermata, same as that sea star you were just holding."

"Oh wow. What function do all these spines serve?"

"Protection from predators." Everything in here had fascinated her, all day long. He would have to find a way for her to be able to touch more exhibits. He watched her touch the fragile shell so delicately and felt that something again. "Do you want to move on to bones?"

"Sure." She handed him the shell and he handed her the skull at hand. "What is this?"

"Felis catus, the common house cat. And this is Canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog."

"I heard on the radio once that cats were obligate carnivores, they don't eat vegetations, whereas dogs are omnivores." She ran her fingers over the jaws of the two skulls. "You really can tell from the teeth."

"Yeah. Okay, I hope this one doesn't freak you out too much." He passed on the next in the series. "This one is human."

She ran her fingers over the skull for a long moment. "Henry." She called out. "Will you come here a moment, please?"

Henry ran over from where he had been showing Penelope the microscopes Spencer had shown him on his last visit. "That's cool." He said. "What is it?"

"A skull. Hold still, please." With her right hand on the skull she let the fingers of her left hand drift light as a feather over Henry's features, his forehead, the arch over his eyes, cheekbones, nose, jaw. Spencer watched as she ever so lightly and carefully mapped every possible inch, comparing it to the skull in her other hand, forming a mental topography of both. He found himself wondering what it would feel like to be touched like that, so lightly and so intently. What she would think of the topography of his body? What would happen if she wanted to look everywhere? What would it be like to be touched like that, not rough and possessive and cruel but so very gently? That twinge of something grew suddenly, hard and hot and for a heartbeat it overwhelmed everything.

"That tickles." Henry told her.

"Oh. I'm sorry. Thank you." He ran off and Susanna passed back the skull. "It is human."

Yes, Spencer thought, and so am I.

Chapter 34

Chapter Text

Dear Susanna,

Father has instructed me to write to you and tell you that as you have chosen to leave our home and live a life of sin you are no longer a part of our family. You may return to us once you are fully restored to the church. Until that time I will not be allowed to respond.

Leah

Sister –

Father made me write that. They read your letters. I believe you. Please keep writing. Stay away. Good luck.

Leah

Bellflower House
3625 Yuma St. NW
Washington DC

Spencer

Susanna sighed as she put both the letter and the hastily scribbled note back in the envelope. "Poor Leah. Part of me wishes she would just leave, but she's really the only one caring for the other children, I don't know what they would do without her.

"Your mother…"

"My mother has had seventeen children in twenty-seven years. She's too exhausted to do anything anymore."

"That still doesn't make it Leah's responsibility."

"And that doesn't make the need go away. What do you do when you're confronted with a screaming, hungry child and all the so-called adults walk away?" She sighed again. "I don't suppose you have one of those hugs to spare."

Spencer looked into his mug, this all sounded exceedingly familiar. "I think I could use one myself." He admitted. A moment later she was on the couch beside him, tucking her legs under her and curling up against his side. Putting his arm around her shoulder and feeling her weight and soft heat was remarkably comforting. "Remember how I told you about my Mom, how she's in a care home?"

"Yeah."

"She's, um, schizophrenic. It's a mental disorder, she has trouble telling what's real and what's not, she sees and hears things that aren't there, she's paranoid, it's…it's not something that can be cured, and medication only does so much and after a while it stops working."

"I'm sorry." Susanna murmured.

"When I was ten my Dad left." Spencer went on. "They had been through some very difficult experiences and Mom's condition was getting worse and he just couldn't handle having a sick wife and a freak for a son anymore so he left. He left a note for me to find when I came home from school." Even after everything that had happened on the Gary Michaels case he was still deeply angry with his father. "And Aunt Eunice wouldn't let us move in with her and Uncle Phil, she said Mom was too much to handle and she didn't know what to do with me." He looked into his coffee mug, which still wasn't giving up any answers. "What do you do when you have a sick woman who needs care and all the so-called adults walk away?"

"What did you do?"

"Eventually? I walked away." He admitted. "That's the problem, childhood and young adulthood are finite; you don't stop growing just because no one else is willing to take the responsibility. I was accepted into CalTech when I was thirteen and I went. I told Aunt Eunice that her sister was her responsibility and she could either step up or not but this chance wouldn't come again. My behavior was allowing Aunt Eunice to shirk hers. How old is Leah?"

"Twenty-three?"

"And how old is the youngest?"

"Fourteen months."

"If she raises that child for your mother then she'll be 39 by the time that task is over. She could still start a family then but it will be a lot harder. So she has to choose to give up her best years to start her own family or to stop allowing her parents to shirk their responsibility. But that's her choice to make."

"I know. I just wish I could do something."

"You can. You can build your own life so that if she wants out she'll have someone strong enough to help her." His mug didn't hold answers but it did hold good coffee. "In my studies I've noticed that that seems to be a trend in our generation. Not all, of course, my Mother was just ill, for example, but many of our parents tend to be remarkably self-centered."

"So you think they rejected me because they didn't want to deal with the difficulty of raising a disabled child?" She felt him twitch at the question. "Spencer, I know they never wanted me, the care they gave me was their Christian duty, no more. They preferred it when I stayed in my room so they wouldn't even have to look at me."

Spencer was quiet a long moment. "Actually, there may be another reason."

"Oh?"

"Assuming your mother was an Evangelical Christian before ending up with the cult? And if my math is correct she was sixteen when you were born?" She nodded. "Eighty percent of Evangelical teens have sex before they turn eighteen, and due to the cultural feelings about birth control one in four of those will get pregnant. How old was your mother when she married?"

"I assumed…" Spencer could see the connection firing on Susanna's face. "Are you saying…?"

"It takes two adults carrying the recessive gene in order to produce your kind of albinism. Statistically you should have had two or three brothers or sisters with your health problems. But you're the only one. So either your parents are incredibly lucky or…"

"…John Holman isn't my father." She finished. "That would be why they never wanted me around, just looking at me would be a reminder that Mamma conceived me with another man, and that she wasn't pure on her wedding day."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm not. That explains a great deal and validates my experience. Iwasonly kept around for Christian charity. I'm sure they're much happier that I'm gone, or would be if they weren't facing prison." She was quiet a long moment. "I wonder what happened to my birth father."

"They might have prevented contact."

"No. They believe very strongly in fathers taking responsibility for their children and my mother was ashamed to have me around. If my father would have stepped forward they would have turned me over, probably without asking any questions."

"We could try to find him, if you like. Garcia can find almost anyone."

She rested against him and considered that a long moment. "No." She said. "I am quite done with family, I think. They don't want anything to do with me so why should I force myself upon them. I think I'd rather stick with my friends, if they'll have me."

He smiled at that. "They will. I just hope they'll keep having me."

"What do you mean?"

Oh boy. "Schizophrenia is genetic. Granted I'm getting a little old for the first symptoms but I'm not entirely out of the woods."

She nestled against him with a gentle smile. "I'm not going anywhere."

He knew the team wouldn't, but only Maeve had ever really said it directly like that. Hearing it made him feel all over warm again. For a moment he rested her cheek on her silken hair. "Thank you."

"So we're rather in similar boats. Is your mother still aware…?"

"As aware as she can be. I know she loves me and always tried her best, but the illness got in the way. And its entire possible that your mother has been brainwashed. Our fathers however…"

"Yeah."

"Thankfully we have good role models."

"We do?"

"Hotch, Will…"

"Will is a wonderful father." She agreed. "I hope whoever I find is a father like that, when the time comes."

"I hope I can be a father like that when the time comes."

"Well you're already a great godfather. I'd say you're well on your way."

They were quiet a little longer. "Are you going to keep writing to Leah?"

"Yes." Susanna replied. "That way she knows there's someone there for her. Even if she isn't my sister, she's always been my friend."

Chapter 35

Chapter Text

From: Office of Pastor Bryan Goodwin
One Seminary Rd.
Mineloa, TX

To: Office of the Director
FBI Headquarters
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20535-0001

Dear brother or sister in Christ,

I am writing this letter to you with a heavy heart. Susanna Holman, a member of the Liberty Vision family, has admitted to a pattern of unrepentant sexual sin with a man outside of the church. In addition, she kept this sexual sin secret and actively and repeatedly deceived and lied to many in her family and in her church including her own father about the purity and intent of this relationship.

In a letter sent out on _ Susanna was brought under church discipline. Susanna was told why she is under discipline, steps to take in walking out the discipline with church leadership and the hope and goal of repentance and restoration.

In response to this letter Susanna informed her sister that she was leaving the church instead of agreeing to the plan of discipline and remaining to walk out the consequences of her sin. As a result, Susanna did not leave the church as a member in good standing but instead left the church as a member under discipline. This means the discipline and consequences of her sin will continue to follow Susanna.

Our model for this is Matthew 18:15-18. Susanna was confronted in her sins, called to repent and as an act of repentance, submit to her headship and church leaders. At this point in time Susanna has, in general, admitted to sexual sin and deceit. However she is refusing to take the steps necessary to demonstrate genuine godly sorrow and repentance. She is also refusing to own full responsibility for her sin and the ensuing repercussions. In other words she is running from facing the results and realities of sin.

Because of this Susanna's actions have put you, the greater community in Christ, in a position to need guidance on what steps to take in your interactions with Susanna. When a member under discipline refuses to follow the guidance of the church Matt. 18:14 states:

"If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." (Matthew 18:17)

Susanna's sin has put the leadership into the position of escalating Discipline. In leaving the church under discipline she has removed herself from the protection, covering and fellowship of the church.

Susanna needs to understand the church (including all of its members) is unified in God's discipline process as led by his anointed elders. During this difficult time please elevate Jesus and the Cross, not Susanna and any relationship you might have with her.

Please do not grant her gainful employment or education. Do not offer her sanctuary of any kind, including housing, financial help or medical care. Do not offer to share a meal or join in any conversation except those necessary for her to return to the church to fulfill her plan for repentance. To do so would be to expose you to the consequences of her sin and the workings of Satan. Please help her to live the seriousness of her sin so that through her shame she can be restored to Christ.

The hope and goal of church discipline is always restoration and repentance. Please pray that Susanna will turn and repent so that we as a church may rejoice in her restoration.

In Christ,

Pastor Allan Driscoll for Pastor Bryan Goodwin.

BAU Headquarters
FBI Building
Quantico, VA

Spencer

"Can you believe the arrogance!" Strauss said, putting down the letter.

This, Spencer thought, is why Hotch is the boss. He didn't even crack a micro-expression. "We believe this is an attempt to intimidate someone who might be a potential witness."

"Is she?"

"Not at this time. The most she could testify to would be to Henry's presence at the home, something we independently verified when we arrived on scene. She was not directly witness to any abuse that happened. And she's not considered a confidential informant; that ended when we arrived on scene as well."

"What is her role in the case then?"

"More of an unofficial advisor," Rossi said. "She knows the way the average cult member thinks, she can translate the jargon, she knows what Goodwin has been emphasizing in his sermons, we've never had someone from one of these cults so willing to be so open with us before. She's turning out to be quite the resource."

"She's expressed an interest in formalizing that relationship, once she's completed her schooling." Spencer told them, "Maybe with the Counterterrorism center."

Strauss blinked at him. "I don't see any reason to wait on that. As a formal employee we'd have more options for her protection."

"I don't know that she's psychologically capable of holding down a job right now." Spencer admitted. "She's still trying to process out of that world and into this one and still learning to work with her disability in an urban environment."

"Understood, I'll talk to Counterterrorism, we might be able to do something along the lines of a consultant on call." Strauss looked at the rest of the table. "How is this supposed to be intimidation anyway, they have to know that we would ignore this."

"Because they didn't just send it to us," Morgan said, coming into the room. "My pastor read that letter out at services on Sunday. Blake and Garcia and I did some checking around this morning, they sent that to every church in town, every university we could contact and every doctor we were able to reach."

Everyone was shocked. "Good heavens." Strauss said. "Is anyone taking it seriously?"

"Some of the pastors, thankfully not all. A couple of the doctors but not the ones Reid was looking at to help her. A couple of the private universities, but again, not all and not UDC. In a smaller town this kind of thing would be isolating, but not in a major urban environment, there's always an option to get what you need from someone who doesn't care."

"That's why they terrify their people about the cities, so they won't go somewhere where the cult has less control." Rossi pointed out.

"Good to know. Well, let's see what we can do to keep our informant safely under the wing." Strauss replied, ending the meeting.

As they cleared out Spencer went up to Morgan. "Why did your pastor read it out loud?"

"He wanted everyone to stay away from her. I told him afterward that I was familiar with the situation and that they were trying to intimidate the victim of a crime."

"What did he say?"

"He said that he wasn't going to cross another church and anyone who was should be under discipline themselves." By now they were at the coffee pot. "I'm not going back."

Spencer was stunned by this. Talk about unfair consequences. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. Not your fault. I've gone without a church before. Any church that sides with an Unsub like that is not the place for me."

Spencer was going to say something more but Garcia was at his elbow. "Hey. Come on, we have a problem."

Bellflower House
3625 Yuma St. NW
Washington DC

"Personally I find this absolutely ridiculous! The nerve of these people! They think they can run everyone's lives for them! Well they can't!" Cheryl Lakewood said. "Neither I nor my company will be responding to this…this harassment! If anyone is concerned please speak up now and I will find a space in a different residence for you, but Susanna isn't going anywhere."

Spencer and Penelope had come in just in time to find Cheryl reading the copy of that letter to the other residents. Susanna was standing off to one side, clearly shaken.

The room was quiet for a long moment. "Right," Natalia, one of the housemates said. "So if there isn't going to be any drama I'm getting back to work."

"How much longer until Moot Court?" Holly asked.

"Two weeks." With that Natalia left.

"So what did you do?" Kim, the third housemate asked.

"I left." Susanna replied. "I came here to go to school. And I spent the night in a hotel by myself. Spencer was in the room next door."

"That's it?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, if you do something actually kinky let me know. In the meantime I'm going to go watch Days." With that she bounced as well.

Holly, her actual roommate got up and came over to her. "You do realize this is completely unfair and total harassment, right?"

"Of course I do."

"Good. Because none of us want you to go anywhere, especially back to them." With that Holly gave her a huge hug and went out herself.

That left Mrs. Knox. "They can kiss my ass." She told Cheryl before turning back to the kitchen.

Cheryl turned to them with a smile. "Well, I guess that settles it." She said, patting Susanna on the shoulder. "You're not going anywhere unless you want to."

"I'd rather stay."

"Good. Unless the FBI needs this…"

"We might." Spencer wasn't sure, but there might be a stalking or harassment suit in here somewhere.

"In that case you can have it; I won't run it through my shredder. If anyone needs anything just call me." With that Cheryl left as well.

Right, Spencer thought, crisis over. Except… "Are you okay?" He asked Susanna.

In reply she turned and hugged him, hard, burying her face in his shoulder as Penelope hugged her from behind. "Friends are family." She told him.

Yes, he thought, they are.

Chapter 36

Chapter Text

Dear Susanna,

Father has again allowed me to write to warn you of the danger you are facing. It appears that Joshua's birth family is not as good as they appear to be. Specifically that godfather of his of whom you speak so highly. Did you know that his mother is crazy? I mean locked in an asylum crazy. And he put her there years ago, just abandoned her like she was an animal he no longer wanted. And did you know that he's a gambler? He's notorious around the casinos in Las Vegas; they've even banned him for cheating there. And he's a drug user as well, a church member saw him leaving a meeting…

BAU Headquarters
FBI building
Quantico, VA

Spencer

Okay this was getting ridiculous. More than that, it was gettingpersonal.

Spencer stepped out of the conference room and sighed. Thankfully everyone here understood without his having to actually say anything. John, after all, went to the same NA meeting he did, Strauss was still in AA, and Hotch…sometimes he thought Hotch felt like he was responsible. After all, he let Gideon handle everything knowing that Gideon was having his own problems.

Anyway, everyone had settled on the story that he was at that meeting to support a friend. This story was backed up by his passing every drug test clean and by the fact that John had been there when he received his five year coin. The ban from the gaming commission was new news, more or less, but it wasn't like he could help counting cards. He just wasn't going to tell anyone about how much he had won before he was caught was all. And everyone knew about Mom. Everyone knew about all of it now.

Everyone but one person. He headed down to his desk and started gathering his things. "What's going on?" Blake asked.

"I was at an NA meeting…supporting a friend." The pause in the middle told the lie, but Blake knew anyway. She'd been one of the few who picked up on something wrong when he was using. "Somehow Goodwin found out and he had Susanna's sister send her a letter trying to scare her back to the fold."

Blake grasped the situation and sighed. "You have to go tell Susanna the truth."

"I have to go tell Susanna the truth."

Bellflower House
3625 Yuma St. NW
Washington DC

"Where were your friends through all this?" Susanna asked as she folded her hands into his.

Spencer had just finished telling her all of it, Hankel, getting addicted, getting clean, all of it. He was proud of how long he had been clean, but if there was one thing he had learned this past year it was the simple truth, once an addict, always an addict. Period. "I don't think they noticed." Spencer admitted. "Emily was new to the unit and Hotch was having problems with his marriage and a baby at home and Morgan was dealing with his own demons… I think they all thought Gideon was handling it, but with his PTSD he really just couldn't. Part of it was my fault, growing up I knew it was better to keep things to myself, especially when it would upset the other person. And Gideon was already feeling guilty."

Susanna was quiet a long moment. "That's not all of it, is it? I can hear it in your voice."

Damn. "I didn't want to stop." He admitted at last. "I only stopped because if I hadn't I would have lost the real thing…the real friends I had instead of a false comfort." He'd explained this once, in a letter to Maeve. He couldn't have talked about it before that. "When I was young it…school was hard. And Dad wasn't there and…I know Mom tried but sometimes her illness got in the way. When she was having a lucid time I used to snuggle in bed with her and she would read to me. That always felt so…safe and so…good. It was a time when I didn't have to be afraid or uncomfortable; I didn't have to hurt at all. It was…good. I don't know how better to describe it."

"It was love." She said simply.

"Yes. Years later, before this happened, I met a girl named Lila. We were in LA, she had a…a stalker…I was supposed to be watching her and she…there's this theory called transference. She transferred one set of feelings to something else and to me. Desire, mostly. She pulled me into her pool and tried to…"

Susanna blinked in alarm. "Oh!"

Oops. "Well, no, not that. But I was twenty-four and felt all of twenty-one at most and she was…is very attractive and for a moment…" It was a good thing it was dark out here in the garden, he could never say this if he could see her face. "…lust can be a part of love. For a couple of minutes in that pool nothing hurt at all. But it wasn't right in so many ways so I pushed her away." Susanna smiled as if she completely understood. "Look, I've never been good around girls, I'm shy, I get nervous, I tend to babble and say the wrong thing…Dilaudid takes all the pain away; all of it, even the mental and emotional kind. You feel very warm and safe and very good. I guess when I felt that first hit I realized that Tobias was sharing something that felt a lot like love."

"A false love."

"True, but a love that wouldn't laugh or call me a freak or walk away. Just like it was always there for him."

Susanna held his hand a little tighter. "I can understand that."

"I had to choose between false love and real friendship and I chose my friends."

"Believing you would have to live without love."

"Yes. And I did, for years. I made myself sick with it, literally. I started getting these horrific headaches from the stress and feeling so alone. That's kind of what led me to Maeve. That's when I realized what it was."

"Because you felt it with her."

Now here was the sticking part. "Kind of. The potential was there, the anticipation, but we never had the chance. I have to admit, there have been some hard times since then, but I have stayed clean."

"I'm proud of you." It was so simple, but her acceptance was a warm thing in that corner of the garden. "And I understand."

Somehow he thought she might, at least part of it. "Do you?"

She was quiet a moment as she gently rubbed his fingers. "I still have nightmares." She admitted. "I still dream sometimes that I'm in my room back home and it's too quiet. I go downstairs and there's no one. They all forgot me. You know, I'm seeing that therapist that Penelope recommended, but I don't care what she says. I know I'm dreaming about never being loved. A Trappist monk named Fr. Louis once said 'Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another.' Maybe we're both afraid of never truly finding our destiny."

Spencer sat rock still, not even daring to breathe. "Thomas Merton." he said at last. "That quote is from Thomas Merton."

"Oh. It said Fr. Louis on the front of the book." She replied. "The paper was different though; it might have been a replacement cover. But the point is, given how everything is changing I'm going to try to have hope that my destiny is waiting for me."

Thank you Maeve, he thought. Thank you for teaching me how. I will always love you, but now I understand. He reached up and gently brushed a lock of hair off Susanna's face. "I think…"

His phone started ringing.

Chapter 37

Chapter Text

"Do we think it's the Black Knights?" Spencer asked upon joining the rest of the team

They were standing well back from the library, watching as the bomb squad headed in, robot first. "That's a possibility." Rossi said. "The note sent to the media read '1 Cor 119'. Mean anything?"

"First Corinthians, chapter one, verse nineteen: It is written in scripture: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the intelligence of the intelligent." Spencer nodded. "That sounds like them."

"I thought she got her books from a library." Blake said.

"It was the homeschool collective's library, not the local one."

"Think Susanna would come in tomorrow; tell us how they felt about public libraries?" Rossi asked.

"I'm sure she will, but there's something else to take into account." Spencer took a deep breath. "Until late last year the MLK library housed the system's adaptive services. They had to move to an online catalog and delivery services, the entire system has a major issue with safety and the number of homeless who use the library buildings as a shelter, it was getting too dangerous for their adaptive services' clients to actually come to the library to browse."

"Adaptive services," Rossi replied. "You mean the Braille library."

"Apparently a staffer went into the Braille library last year and found a young woman browsing the books while a homeless man masturbat*d in front of her. She didn't even realize he was doing it. They couldn't staff that part of the library so they closed it out of concern that next time an encounter could get violent." It was unfortunate, he would have delighted in taking Susanna down here, letting her run her hands over shelf after shelf of new books. But she had it all at her fingertips, they delivered now.

"Could the Black Knights have known that they moved the Braille books?" Blake asked.

"I don't know. The library website isn't very clear."

"So this could be part of their pattern of intimidation as well." Hotch surmised, "All right."

Morgan came jogging back from his position forward with the bomb squad. "It's not really an explosive so much as an incendiary device. The goal seems to be desctuction."

"Was it placed in Room 2C?" Spencer asked.

"Yeah, why?"

"The former Braille library?" Rossi assumed.

"Yes."

"Not anymore, it looks like it's holding some kind of archives." Just then there was a loud whomping sound followed by glass breaking. They all turned to look as people started running and smoke started billowing. "Or was. There goes the robot." Morgan said.

"At least it wasn't a person." Hotch muttered.

"Amen to that." Rossi agreed.

Georgetown University Medical Center
Ophthalmology Department
Pasquerilla healthcare center
3800 reservoir road,NW
Washington, DC 20007

It wasn't just that Spencer was glad that the library had not completely blown up (really, that was just unconscionable), that the sprinkler system and fire department had stopped the fire before any real damage was done outside of that room, it was that he was almost glad that it had interrupted them. He knew how he was starting to feel for her but he didn't know how she was feeling about him, and if he had done what he wanted in the garden that night he might have blown the whole thing.

So he was being patient and biding his time. But he had been noticing the symptoms, he had that heavenly dopamine/ norepinephrine high he used to get when it was time to call Maeve or when he was expecting a letter, except now it was so much stronger because he was looking forward to actually seeing Susanna, to holding her in his arms and catching her soft herbal scent. When they had been working on the library bombing some part of his brain was always thinking about her, wondering what she was doing and what she was thinking or feeling just then. Intense, romantic love was very akin to an obsession and he was rather obsessed.

That was precisely why he was sitting in his third doctor's office waiting room in as many days. At Garcia's suggestion Susanna had hired a social worker, someone to act as a case manager and advocate and general helper, someone Cheryl had worked with before as well. Nina was impressively helpful when it came to managing the complicated world of insurance and benefits and charity help that Susanna was relying on to launch herself into the world, and was on hand for each first appointment to help negotiate between her and the staff, but Susanna still asked him to be here for some ineffable reason of her own. At this point unless the world was ending he was not going to say no.

The first appointment had been her new general practitioner, who had given her a good once-over physical and then a mostly clean bill of health. She was still slightly underweight and a bit frail, but according to the GP all she needed was a healthy diet, a daily walk, a multivitamin and to start using some weight machines somewhere. She went home and had her roommate show her how to use what they had down in the basem*nt and that was that.

Her second appointment had been for the dermatologist, as her health condition put her at a very high risk for skin cancer. Thankfully that doctor hadn't found anything of any concern. She had prescribed sunscreen, SPF 30, waterproof, right down to the brands for her body and face and lips, to be sprayed on over every inch and before clothing, to be reapplied if she did anything more than daily exertion or got at all wet, and to be scrubbed off every night. No exceptions, no excuses, no leaving her room without sunscreen, period. They had stopped on the way home for the brands the doctor had insisted upon and Nina then ordered extras by the case.

Today was the third doctor, the one for her eyes. Spencer opened his when the nurse came out. "Dr. Reid?"

Back in the exam room he found Susanna in the exam chair and Nina patently supervising. "So there is good news and bad news." Dr. Lustbader said. "As I was explaining the pigment in our eyes act as shields to protect the internal structures from UV light. Because of the lack of pigment in Susanna's eyes her eyes are completely open to UV rays from the sun which can damage the structures in the eye. Now if this had been caught when she was young she could have been made to wear sunglasses and even prosthetic contact lenses which would have blocked the UV rays and protected her vision. That unfortunately didn't happen. The cataracts that formed in this case are the body's ways of trying to protect itself from any further damage. The first chunk of bad news is that I'm having trouble seeing around the cataracts to assess any nerve damage that may have resulted from the sun exposure. The good news is that those cataracts are ready to come out and because you have retained some vision even if there has been some nerve damage taking them out should result in a substantial improvement. We may not be able to get your eyes back to the point where you can read normal print or drive but we should be able to give you back normal color vision and enough sight to be able to navigate the city more safely."

"Anything would be wonderful." Susanna said with a smile.

"Now after surgery you will need those prosthetic lenses and you'll have to keep wearing sunglasses outdoors. For now I want you to wear them indoors during the day as well, especially in places with lots of windows, just in case."

"When can we get the surgery done?" Spencer asked. "How long will she have to be in the hospital for it?"

"More good news and bad news," Dr. Lustbader replied. "The good news is that it's outpatient surgery and since your vision is so poor right now I'm willing to do both eyes at once. That will mean total blindness for two weeks while your eyes are healing but then it will be over and done with and you'll only have to go under anesthesia once."

"The bad news is her insurance." Nina said. "I checked before we came here. This surgery requires pre-approval, which can take up to six months."

"But once it's approved we should be able to get you in within two weeks." The doctor finished.

Oh, so close! Spencer and Susanna both laughed even as they groaned. "At least we can get the process started today." Susanna said.

"That we will," Dr. Lustbader said. "And I will see you back as soon as we can get it all done."

They left the office, and said their good-byes to Nina. I'm relieved, Spencer thought, hopeful but relieved as well. But I want this for her, this is good for her, so why am I glad for the wait?

Chapter 38

Chapter Text

The problem with having a deprived childhood, Spencer thought the next time he took Susanna out, is that you want to go back and make up for everything you missed. But those things are geared toward children and adults can, at times, feel uncomfortable entering the realm of childhood. Unless they have an escort.

"I want to see the lions!" Henry announced.

"We will see the lions." Penelope replied. "And everything else. But remember, Susanna needs to take her time to try to see as much as she can, okay? Now hold still while I slather." It was a battle of wills between a wiggly five year old and a godmother with a bottle of sunscreen.

"Okay." Holding still was clearly a relative term here. "Did you put your sunscreen on?" He asked Susanna.

"Yep, every inch." She was wearing a big hat to block the sun and her sunglasses with the leather shields as well. But on a pleasant spring day she'd opted for a dress that bared her arms and very nearly her knees. In her world, as he understood it, this was absolutely daring fashion. "I tested it in the backyard yesterday." She said, turning to him. "The doctor was right, this really stays on. Not even a tingle all afternoon."

"Good." Her skin was still as snowy white as ever. Some people stared but only for a moment, she just didn't stand out like she had in the cult dresses. "They have a petting zoo, you know. Farm animals from the look of it."

She smiled at him. "Have you ever been?"

"Um, no." He didn't even want to think about the cesspool of bacteria in there. But it was hands-on, so he'd just stuck some soap in his bag for after.

Her smile turned into a grin, "Hey Henry, mind if we do the petting zoo first?"

Henry huffed with impatience. "Okay."

Once at the petting zoo Spencer was given a vivid reminder that Susanna had grown up on a farm. Even without sight she expertly caught a chicken, wrangled a goat and milked a cow, almost better than the handlers. And what was worse, Henry was helping. "I like the bunnies." He said as he gently pet the one cuddled in Susanna's arms. "They're soft."

"Yes they are. I'm glad they have a home here." She gave the rabbit back to the keeper and moved back to Spencer's side. "That one's family sized." She murmured.

"Family…" Wait, the penny dropped. "You don't mean…"

"Henry had rabbit for dinner more than once? They reproduce quickly and easily, makes for a good meat animal. We probably shouldn't tell him though."

"Or Garcia." Or him. For a moment he was quite glad he was a city boy.

"I will say, in my family's defense, that they always cared for their animals well. Especially Daniel, he loved them dearly. I had hoped he could try for a vet…"

"Well, they offer educational programs in prison, maybe he still can."

"I think I'll keep my fingers crossed on that."

As they were heading for the restroom to clean up a fearsome roar echoed across the park Susanna jumped a little and clutched Spencer's arm a little more closely. "What was that?"

"One of the big cats," he replied.

"Actually that was Kavi." Someone nearby said, "Our Sumatran tiger male. He needs some dental work done, it's making him cranky. Hey Spencer."

"Hey Jay." The places where you run into old school friends. He had forgotten that Jay was working here now.

"A tiger," Susanna marveled; "A real tiger. I wonder how close we can get."

"Unfortunately not very." Jay replied.

Huh. "Susanna, this is Dr. Jay Holden, he's a biologist on staff here. Jay, Susanna." As he made introductions Spencer began formulating an idea.

Over the course of the day Susanna got to get up close with a sloth, an armadillo, an Aldabra tortoise, a boa constrictor, and even a small monkey, but later that evening, after taking Henry home and when the zoo was quiet, Spencer and Susanna returned to the zoo. "What are we doing here?" She asked

"My friend Jay owed me a favor." He said. "Come on."

They met with Jay, who led them deep into the Great Cat complex. "Okay, we only have a few minutes while the team is getting set up." Jay said.

"More than enough; I owe you for this." Spencer's voice was hushed as he looked at the magnificent beast lying out on the table. "You're sure he's out?"

"Completely. Wouldn't dare replace that tooth any other way."

"What is it?" Susanna asked.

"Come here." Spencer took her by the hand and the waist and led her over to the table. "Susanna, meet Kavi." And he gently placed her hand down on that furry head.

She gasped. "Is it…"

"A tiger. It's all right; they had to put him to sleep to fix his tooth. There's just enough time for you to have a good look.

Slowly, gently, she started running her fingers over the magnificent body before her, over the broad head and soft ears, the wide nose, the full muzzle. She shuddered slightly as she grazed over a fang designed for meat, smiled slightly as she felt the fine tracery of whiskers. Ever so gently down the thick front legs, to rest a massive paw in her hand and test the sharpness of a claw. Then up over the broad back, over that barrel of a chest and through the thick fur. Back along to the length of the tail, that thick rope of muscle and bone, before back up and over a muscular haunch to the back paw. And lastly up between them, to lightly, gently trace over his testicl*s.

Spencer couldn't help it; all those feelings came rushing back as he watched her. This is what she will do, he thought, she will touch me this carefully, this intently. If this happens she will know me like no one else. She doesn't need to look at me, and I think I'm glad of that, but I don't know why. I do know that I want this very much. Then she got to the last and he felt something hot and dark twist in his belly, making him almost dizzy with the intensity. But not so much that he couldn't see the look on her face. "Are you all right?"

She gasped a little when he spoke. "Yes." She said. "Thank you, Jay, he's magnificent. And thank you Kavi." She gave the tiger one last stroke along his side and then they got out of the way.

But the strange look did not leave her face, even as they were quickly walking back to the car through the late evening air. "Are you all right?" He asked

She nodded. "Yes, but…I think I'd like to go home now, please."

Uh-oh, she was not all right. "Okay."

He took her back to Bellflower house and walked her up the stairs. "Susanna…"

"I'll call you tomorrow, Spencer." She said, pressing a kiss to his cheek before stepping away. "Thank you. Good night."

"Good night."

Chapter 39

Chapter Text

Today was good, Penelope thought as she settled in with a romance novel and some hot cocoa. Today was wonderful. Henry had a blast, JJ was getting a handle on her son being out in the world, and Susanna and Spencer were coming along nicely. They had all been so worried for him, after Maeve and all, but now that he had the kind of sweet, good natured girl he deserved, one who was actually meeting him face-to-face, everything was coming up roses again. She could relax and bask in the glow of all of her kittens happy in their lives tonight.

And then her phone rang. "Okay, why are you talking to me and not Susanna?" She asked.

"Because I screwed up somehow," Spencer replied. "I knew this was going to happen. I knew this was all going to end horribly."

Oh, god, drama. Thankfully her mug of cocoa was large and hot. "Okay stop, breathe and tell me what happened; every detail."

"I took her to see Kavi. He was sedated for a tooth replacement and while they were setting up she was able to get a good look at him."

"That's a good thing!" When Spencer told her what he was planning she'd been so excited. Getting to pet a real tiger, what girl wouldn't want to do something amazing like that? "Right?"

"I thought so but as she finished she…I don't know, I couldn't read her body language. But something shifted and then she just wanted to go home and get away from me. I could read that much, she didn't want anything to do with me anymore." He sighed. "I knew this was going to happen."

Penelope opened her mouth to answer but her line blipped. "And that's her now on my other line. Stay!" She clicked over. "Hey sweetie, I didn't expect your date over this soon. What's going on?"

"I…don't know." Susanna was breathing hard, her voice all fluttery. "I don't…I don't feel right."

"Do you feel sick?" Uh oh. Could people be allergic to tigers? "What are you feeling sweetie? If you need help Spencer's just around the corner."

"No! No, I don't…my heart keeps fluttering and I'm kind of light headed and every time I think about him it gets worse."

Wait. "Ohkaaay. Hold on, I have someone on my other line. Just lie down and let me get rid of them and then I want you to tell me how all of this started, okay?"

"Yeah."

"Great." Back to line one. "Okay, still trying to figure out what's going on, but my best guess is that she's not mad at you."

"She's not?"

"No, but I think I might be mad at those cult bastards."

"Did she have a flashback or something? Because that would explain…"

"I don't know yet. Hang up so I can find out." Penelope sighed. Back to line 2. "Feeling any better?"

"If I don't think of Spencer," Susanna replied, and then she groaned.

"Okay, start at the beginning."

"Spencer took me to see a tiger…"

"Which was or was not wonderful?"

"It was! Kavi is magnificent. You could just feel the strength in him, his paws are huge; he was just…amazing… I never thought I would ever get to do something like that."

"Okay, and you sound better already. So when did you start feeling weird."

"When I got to his tail and his back legs. He had these things under there, really soft and warm and kind of heavy. They felt like they would dangle away from his body."

Penelope started blinking. "You mean his…testicl*s?"

"Is that what they're called? I didn't know if it was just a tiger thing but then I thought that maybe it was because he's a male tiger…"

Okay, there was no way she could not know this. "Yeah that would be it. Or, two-thirds of it."

Susanna was quiet a moment. "Do all men have those?"

"Seriously? Okay you grew up on a farm, surely you had a look at…boy goats or something."

"Oh, Father never let us around the billy. The girls only looked after the nanny goats. Daniel looked after the billy."

This could not be happening. Except it was happening, you didn't need to be a profiler to hear the truth in her voice. "Okay, Susanna, do you or do you not know how babies get made?"

Susanna was quiet another long moment. "Not really." Penelope couldn't help the long breath she took in. "Mamma always said she'd explain it the night before any of us got married. She said we didn't need to know before then. And there was only so much on NPR…"

"Oh my gawd you are serious."

"Well, yeah." Susanna was quiet a long moment. "Anyway, when I thought that I started wondering if Spencer had…"

"Okay stop!" Penelope could go no further than this. "I cannot discuss what Spencer may or may not have, it's against company policy." And much more than she could handle.

"Oh. Sorry. And then I started feeling really strange and it got stronger the closer he came so I decided to just go home. I didn't know what else to do!"

"Okay, here is what you're going to do. You are going to go take a shower and scrub off that sunscreen and then you're going to eat something if you want to and then you're going to go to bed. And I am going to call your therapist and if it's all right with you I'm going to tell her what you just told me and she is going to meet you just as soon as she can and discuss all of this with you, all right? So you just sit tight and hang on and things will become wonderfully clear. All right?"

"All right," Susanna breathed a sigh of relief. "Do you think I'll ever be able to feel normal around Spencer again? I don't want to lose him."

"Talk with your therapist; she'll help you work everything out. For now get some sleep."

"Okay. Thank you. Good night."

"Good night sweetie." Penelope hung up the phone, sent a quick text to Marsha the therapist, grabbed her pillow and used it to smother the cackles for a time. Holy Hanna, that poor girl went beyond virgin. And she had to end up with the guy with the worst luck with women of all time. Speaking of. "Okay, she doesn't hate you."

"Then what was wrong?" Spencer asked.

"Something…kind of like a flashback, kind of like a realization of how screwy things were. Anyway, it provoked a very strong emotional response…"

"Emotional response? I didn't recognize it."

Of course not, Penelope thought, because poor Maeve died before you could see her go all pantsfire over you. "Trust me on this one. And it was the first time she ever had to process that so she kind of pulled away…"

"…to process. That makes sense." He breathed a little sigh of relief. "But I don't understand…"

"And I am not going to explain it further because it is her right and privilege to do so. I have already sent a text to her therapist to tell her that Susanna really needs to talk to her tomorrow and I know that Marsha will work it out with her."

"But if I can help…."

"No, genius, stop genius. I know you're a genius but that's not your job. Your job is to be loving, supportive boyfriend…"

"We're not…"

"Reid." The long silence followed by the sigh ended it. "Your job is to be loving, supportive boyfriend and right now that means giving her space to work it out with her therapist and then letting her bring it to you in her own time and her own way, okay? Right now you have the hard part, you have to be patient. So go read a few bookshelves and wait, she will get back to you."

"But what if she doesn't?"

"Sweetie, she wasn't worried about what all this might mean for her. The only thing she was worried about was not seeing you again. She really doesn't want to lose you."

"She won't." Spencer answered that quickly. "Whatever it is we'll work it out."

"I'm sure you will. And before you even go there tonight it's not rape or abuse or anything really bad like that, okay?"

That got her another sigh of relief. "Okay."

"Now I will see you in the morning. Good night."

"Thank you Garcia, for everything. Morgan is right, you really are a goddess."

Penelope grinned at that. "Yes, I know."

Chapter 40

Chapter Text

Of course the day after their trip to the zoo was a Monday, and of course they were called out on a case.

On the one hand it was considered bad form to spend too much time worried about life back home where there was a case that needed solving. And even distracted, the amount of brain power he could apply to the case was easily more than what the FBI expected so that wasn't really an excuse. And her tracker did show that Susanna stayed home most of the day, only taking a gentle walk around the quiet, low-risk neighborhood about mid-afternoon. And Garcia did say that the proper role of a loving, supportive….ok, yes, boyfriend…at this time was to be patient and wait for her to make the first move.

On the other hand, every insecurity he had was screaming for mercy.

About the twentieth time he checked his voice mail that day he found a message. "Um, hi, it's Susanna. I know you're out on a case and I don't want to interrupt but if you have a chance could you call me, please. We need to talk. I'll be up until midnight."

"What's wrong, kid?" Morgan asked. In response Spencer played the message. "Go." Morgan said. "You're going to be useless until you hear it."

He went, finding a quiet, somewhat private corner of the department. She answered on the second ring. "Spencer?"

"Susanna. Okay, I know we never discussed the whole potential boyfriend/girlfriend dating aspect of anything but please tell me you're not breaking up with me." On top of everything else in his life he really didn't think he could take that.

"No No! Actually I was expecting to ask you that question at some point."

Spencer let out a sigh that seemed to come from his toes. "No. Whatever it is we can work it out somehow. I promise."

"Yeah, that's what Marsha said. She said we just need to talk about it and it should be okay. At least I hope it will be okay. But I don't think we should talk about it while you're at work."

"What are we talking about?"

"Um…um…" Deep breath on her part. "Sex."

Oh hell. "Yeah, probably not at work. Just tell me you're not developing a fondness for girls." Lila had, after him. Kind of put the whole quash on any chance of trying with her after her Unsub went to trial.

"What? No, you. But it's…really complicated. Marsha said that what Pastor Goodwin preached…it's complicated. But she thinks it will be okay if we can talk about it."

"Honestly, not something I find easy to talk about." I think I'd prefer taking a sword to a T-rex, he thought, but no one ever gave a knight an easy challenge. "But we will, when I get home."

"Same here. All right. Just…one thing I want...I just don't want to mess this up and I…"

"Susanna, whatever it is we can work it out, I know we can."

"Spencer I…I think I'm falling in love with you."

The sound of the busy police station fell away, the light dimmed, the earth stopped rotating under his feet, and every living being in the galaxy held its breath. Sometimes, he thought, you really do get a second chance. "I love you too."

He heard the smile come back into her voice. "Well then. I guess I'll talk to you as soon as you can."

"Yes, absolutely."

"Good night Spencer."

"Good night Susanna."

He kind of floated back toward the conference room. "Well?" Morgan asked. "It doesn't look like she broke it off."

"No, just the opposite."

"Oh?"

"And I didn't make the same mistake this time." Not like he had with Maeve.

Morgan grinned. "Good."

Travelodge Bangor
482 Odlin Rd,
Bangor ME

Later that night it hit him.

Just tell me you're not developing a fondness for girls
No, you

Sex had never been an easy thing for him. Lila had been so out of his league. Even Maeve had been almost more than he thought he could handle. Susanna might be okay though. Maybe.

If only he could stop feeling Diane's hands on his skin, stop hearing the kids in high school laughing…

His wrists were burning as he tried to get them free of the plastic restraints. "Help, please! Leave me alone!" He cried but they only laughed harder. He could hear them all around him but couldn't see due to the blindfold on his eyes.

"Look at him, he's so skinny! There's, like, nothing to him!"

"He's so white the glare's making my eyes hurt!"

"Are you sure he's even a boy?"

Spencer felt the blade at the waist of his underpants. "Nonononono!" But the blade cut and his last bit of clothing fluttered away.

"Barely." The boy wielding the knife said.

"I can't even see it!"

"It's so small!"

"Not much to lose then…." Spencer felt them up behind them…

Spencer sat straight up in bed, gasping. Damn the nightmares anyway.

He got up and made his way to the bathroom by the light of the nightlight he always packed with him. Once there he gazed at himself in the mirror. Not much to look at especially compared to someone like Morgan. Granted he was better, after he'd actually hit a home run at the baseball game (he still couldn't believe he'd done that) and with Maeve's encouragement he'd gone to Morgan's gym (nothing like a big, confident friend for someone who could still hear the high school taunts ringing in their ears) and placed himself into the trainer's hands. But still, there was only so much to work with here. He was glad Maeve hadn't seen it; for all that she'd indicated that she was interested he still thought she would have just ended up laughing. At least Susanna wouldn't see…

He stopped and stared at himself in the mirror. Was that why he was so glad her surgery was delayed six months? So that if they did end up together she wouldn't actually look at him? How seriously twisted was that?

Maybe she wasn't the only one who needed a therapist when it came to sex

Who was he kidding? Shedefinitelywasn't the only one who needed a therapist when it came to sex.

After he was finished in there he went back to the bed and sat. Sex had always been a minefield for him. Thanks to the girls in high school and spending his teen years staying with one of the professors from the Mathematics department he had managed to completely quash his sex drive early and hard. He had honestly believed that he was asexual; he had no drive to mate at all and any need for attention and affection were well met by his mother, who'd had trouble with her little boy growing up on her anyway. Then he'd had to put Mom into Bennington, which had cut that source off for years, something he'd simply endured until he met Lila when he was twenty-four. That was the first time he'd ever felt that kind of attraction, and when she pulled him into the pool and kissed him she'd woken something dark and hot that for a moment had nearly blotted out everything. It wasn't until after that case, thinking about Lila and those bikinis of hers, that he'd realized that he could achieve the same dopamine release in his own bed, with no need for anyone else.

Then the opiates killed it. No need for a sex drive, or affection or attention when you can get all of it and more from the needle in your arm. Besides, it stopped working, he stopped working anyway. And after he got clean, just in case, he stopped that too. Too many stories of guys transferring their addictions and ending up paying a string of prostitutes just to keep up.

Fast forward several years and the headaches were getting worse. Maeve realized she was attracted to him and turned his case over to a different doctor in DC, one more holistic than the one he'd seen at Georgetown. One who prescribed vitamins and more sleep and rest, and after a gentle inquiry, that he try again. Which he did. Once. But he'd felt so dammed lonely to still be doingthiswhen he was thirty that he simply could not make it work.

Maeve had promised him that they would, that she knew what to do and would show him and help him. He'd almost been intimidated by her in that regard. She knew so much when it came to that. But she had gone before she could show him anything. Instead it had been Diane who had run her hands down his chest right in front of Maeve. Diane who had brought that dark, hot thing back to him. Diane who had tricked his body into reacting right where Maeve could see. He knew, he had to know, that Maeve understood that it was only a physiological reaction by an inexperienced body to a new sensation. He had to believe that or else he would lose it completely.

Of course after that there was nothing. He didn't even want to consider it anymore. He wanted to be safely asexual for the rest of his life, just let that part of life slip away with Maeve.

And then Susanna said she wanted to breathe the air in Africa.

Sleep, he thought, tonight I will sleep. And tomorrow we will catch the Unsub. And then Susanna and I will talk, and take it from there.

Chapter 41

Chapter Text

"You know you're on my syllabus for tonight." Blake said, gently. "You do remember?"

Spencer stopped. He'd finished his paperwork on the plane, and was currently nearly running out the door to meet Susanna. He'd agreed to that lecture months ago, before he even met her and now….

"Oh! You and those puppy dog eyes." Blake shook her head. "Okay, I'll swap with you but you have to come through next week."

"Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" With that he was flying out the door again.

North Cleveland Park
Washington DC

Susanna was waiting out on the front steps when he pulled up. "Spencer?" She asked as he got out of the car.

"Yes."

She reached out to him, taking his hand and then pulling him into her arms, something he did not resist. "I'm glad you came back." She said to the crook of his neck.

"I'm glad you asked me."

"I'm sorry I got so upset the other day. Meeting Kavi was amazing, thank you for that."

"You're welcome. I was just worried about you. What happened?"

She looked back at the house a moment. "Walk with me?"

The house was located in a quiet, residential neighborhood, a good area to quietly walk and talk. "Please tell me no one hurt you." He said gently. He would work with it if someone had, but he might have to find them and hurt them, severely.

"What?" She looked surprised by that. "Oh! No. No, not at all. No, it's that…" She sighed. "This isn't going to be easy, is it?"

"Take your time." She still wanted him around, they were talking, she could take all the time in the world. They could walk all over Washington, he wouldn't mind.

She tried. She did. She made a few false starts, but soon enough found a starting point. "You have to understand what Marsha's been calling purity culture." She said. "It's not just about waiting until you're married."

"I figured, based on some of the things you've talked about, and they've threatened about, that it goes considerably further than that."

"It does. It's not just the physical, although that is a big part of it. Waiting until you're married is common to all religions but in purity culture it takes it to the point of not touching at all before marriage, even saving your first kiss for the altar. It's not even about the emotional aspect, although that's a bigger part of it as well."

"Emotional aspect?"

"Purity culture teaches that every time you enter into a relationship with someone you give them a piece of your heart. When you break it off with them you lose part of yourself, something breaks inside of you that can never be mended. Because of that you're taught to carefully shepherd your heart, to not allow yourself to feel anything for anyone until after the wedding. But there's also the…oh, I guess you could call it the intellectual aspect as well. In the purity culture every…sexual experience you have takes something away from your future spouse. Every experience, even if no other human being is involved. Even an arousing thought or fantasy or a boy at night in his dreams, all of it is the sin of adultery."

"That's why they didn't let any of you stay alone for more than five minutes." Spencer nodded. "I remember."

"Mamma said she'd tell us how babies were made the night before we married, there was no need to learn before. All we needed to know was that when we were married and right with God he'd start planting babies in our bellies. We'd know it was happening because the sign of Eve's curse would go away." She chuckled a little. "Thankfully I learned a little more from listening to the radio and from that odd bundle of books that came in over the past few years, but not much more."

"Not much more?"

"Not as much as I learned from Kavi." The hard part was not laughing here. But walking arm in arm meant she could feel it. "You're laughing, aren't you?"

"I'm really trying not to." Oh good heavens. His first experience had been almost getting to first base with Lila Archer in her pool. Her first had been getting to third base with a Sumatran tiger. But knowing that he understood why she had pushed him away. Hadn't he pushed Lila away in response to the sudden shocking intensity of it all?

"Oh! I always felt so guilty about what I was learning, I knew that if anyone found out they would cut me off from the books and my radio and then I'd have nothing to do but sit in my room all day and wait to die. I knew I was doing something so very wrong, that there was something wrong with me, something twisted that I was interested at all. But at the same time I was so very curious about it all. I veered between hoping somehow someone would magically show up in my room and care enough to overcome his anger that I had been cheating on him all that time and then letting me learn…" She turned bright rose in the cheeks just then. "And giving up and living a life without anyone. I just kept trying to shut everything down and approach it from an unemotional, intellectual point-of-view, thinking that if I could learn about…that without actually feeling anything then I wasn't doing anything so very wrong. And I succeeded, nothing ever dropped below my ears….until I met Kavi."

"That sounds familiar?" Spencer said

"It does?" Susanna co*cked her head, curious.

He patted the hand she had wrapped around his bicep to calm her. "I have a confession to make. You're not the only one new at this."

"Oh?"

"Granted, I didn't shut down because God or a pastor told me to. I shut down because my growing into my sexuality aggravated my mother's illness, and because it goaded my peers on to ever more cruel bullying behavior, and because the university I attended was responsible for me and so didn't allow me any real chance to get to know girls. By the time my mother was safely housed and the bullies were left behind and I no longer needed a chaperone from the university I had my first PhD and was teaching and could no longer date students my own age. I just shut everything down…"

"…convinced yourself that it wasn't something you needed…"

"…that I was completely asexual, yes. Until Lila pulled me into her pool. My version of meeting Kavi."

She gave him a small, almost knowing smile. "Kind of a shock to the system, isn't it?"

His ears immediately caught fire. That first ever hot rush of desire. "I'll say." He agreed. It was a secret, he thought, experiencing that when you were old enough to appreciate it. A secret he could finally share.

But then she had to ask the one thing he was almost hoping she wouldn't. "What about Maeve?"

Oh. "She died before we had the chance to really see if we felt that way. I mean, she wanted to, she'd been engaged before and had vastly more experience…sometimes it was a little intimidating, to be honest."

"I can see that."

"The thing is…the woman who killed her…Diane…she wanted to take everything from Maeve at the end…she got a lot…uhhh…a lot closer than I wanted…"

Susanna squeezed his arm tighter. "Oh, I am so sorry."

Spencer took a deep breath. "So you have guilt and I have a lot of…okay fear about the whole thing. And we have roughly the same amount of experience. I'm not certain that intellectual knowledge counts for much here."

"So we're starting from the same place."

"More or less," he stopped for a moment. "I assume now we need to talk about what happens next, would you like to go get some dinner while we talk about it?"

"Yes."

Chapter 42

Chapter Text

They didn't talk over dinner. The restaurant was too crowded and too noisy and by common accord they needed a break and to remember why they liked each other so much in the first place. But it was a topic that had to be tackled and the quiet walk home was the best time and place. "So how do we do this?" Susanna asked.

"I don't know." Spencer replied. "I guess I always figured it would just happen naturally."

"I don't know, I think we're both too messed up for this to happen naturally."

They walked for a few minutes while they considered it. "There is one thing that concerns me." Spencer admitted.

"Oh?"

"It's, um….research has shown that it's not unusual for women who have suppressed their sexuality out of societal induced condemnation to indulge in fantasies of being forced when they start to re-discover themselves. It's supposed to be a way of alleviating the guilt."

"It's not my fault father, he made me enjoy it?" She murmured.

"Something like that. If that's what it takes to heal, you know, but…with the work that I do I just can't go there. I've seen too many real victims." There was no way he could ever force her into anything, even in play.

"Marsha and I talked about that. She said it was controversial but in the tradition she trained in it was considered a bad habit. I can't say that I've gone there or really anywhere else, but I don't want to get into that habit of mind. She said I should be working on taking agency, taking responsibility and ownership of how I feel."

"Good advice."

"What about you?"

"What about me?"

"Spencer, from what you've told me every encounter you've had was a woman pushing her will onto yours, taking your agency away. Seems to me that might be something you need to work on as well."

Ah. "I'm not that kind of a guy."

"Man."

"What?"

"Man. Marsha said it was important to stop infantilizing myself, girl, boy, guy, gal. Woman, man. Man. What do you mean?"

Spencer blinked. He'd never thought of the sort of dignity precision of language could impart. Morgan and Rossi did still call him 'kid' from time to time and 'pretty boy' and it was all teasing fun but something about hearing her say 'man' like that... "I'm not an alpha male, not the take command type like Rossi or Hotch, for example."

"Which means you don't like taking the lead with girls? Women?"

"It means I've never really taken the lead in anything." That was not entirely true; there was that one time with Austen, which hadn't gone past that phone call. But it had felt remarkably satisfying. "I'm too nervous around…women."

"You're not nervous around me." Susanna pointed out.

"You're not like most women I know."

"Oh?"

"You're…I don't know…gentle." Even Maeve had taken control of their relationship from the get go. But he had a feeling that if he asked Susanna to let him help her stop a stalker, she'd trust him to fix everything.

Wait.

"Why did you stop?" Susanna asked.

"Trust." Lila had, in her aggressive way until the case was over. Austen had when it became emergent. But both of those cases had been professional first, they were hiding behind his badge more than him. Maeve never really did.

"What?"

He started walking again. "What are your feelings about this anyway?"

"I was raised to believe that men take dominion and headship over everything, especially their families."

"See, you need to change that."

"Yes, but how much? You know the only reason why I'm not as afraid in the world as I should be is because I know I have my knight looking out for me."

Now his ears were burning… "Well, I…"

"And there isn't anyone else I would trust with this sort of thing."

There they went with the trust thing again. Somehow she was making him feel taller. "All right…"

"But I also agree with Marsha that it's important not to be a doormat, to claim your own wants and needs and feelings and express them and ask for them to be met."

"Which is good."

"So I guess what I'm saying is that I trust you to take the lead but that doesn't mean that I'm not going to speak up and that I'm not going to say no if you ask me to do something I don't want to do."

Okay, he could be on solid ground there. "Susanna, if I ever try to make you do something you don't want to do please take my gun and shoot me."

She nodded at that, "If you insist."

"I do. Has this conversation gotten us anywhere?"

"I don't know."

"What do you want anyway? I mean do you want to get married?" A red light went off in Spencer's brain. "I mean in the abstract. Do you want a family? Do you want to…wait for certain things until you're married? What?"

"I would like to marry someday, yes, and have children of my own. But I know I don't want to start a family until after I have my bachelor's degree, I don't want to try to do that full time and raise a family."

"And that's, what, five or six years?"

"About that; granted I know that puts me at thirty-two at the earliest, but I don't want a full quiver, one or two children would be enough for me. That way I can give them each the attention they deserve."

And he would be thirty-six at best, not exactly past the threshold for schizophrenia, but so close to it that the odds would be on his side. "I can understand that."

"And if it were to come up I don't think I would marry for at least a year, maybe a year and a half."

"Oh?"

"I want ample time to learn how to live independently; especially if I happened to be married to someone who traveled often for work."

"Good point."

"I…I think I'd like to be betrothed for a time first. Committed to working toward that with someone, to getting to know them, to sharing experiences with that in mind. Belonging to but still somewhat independent, until I'm comfortable enough to marry as an equal, more or less. Even if he is, say, my alpha, someone I can trust with….everything. Does that make sense?"

Her alpha? "I think so."

"As for the other…" She was quiet a moment, then she chuckled a little. "I'm almost afraid to answer in case it will sway your feeling."

"I could say the same."

"How firm are your convictions?"

"Very."

"As are mine. In that case…" Susanna took a deep breath. "I want to wait, not for everything but for the…major part. But I'd like to hear your answer before I give my reasoning."

"I want to wait as well." Spencer replied, even as he sighed a little in relief. As hard as it was to admit, even at his age he wasn't quite ready. "There are certain biochemical changes that occur when you…we need to be able to say this, don't we?"

"According to Marsha."

"When you have intercourse, that binds you to the other person. That's probably where the myth of losing pieces of your heart got started. I don't want to get bound to and torn away from a large number of women. No, that's not it."

"Oh?"

"I've had a…lot of losses over the years, my dad, my mentor, good friends. I don't want to become that close to someone and then have them leave. Not that marriage is a guarantee but it comes with the best odds."

She smiled at him. "Your reasoning is sounder; I just want the romance of being able to say him and him only."

Spencer felt his ears catch on fire again. "Well there is that."

"I don't want to wait for everything though."

"Oh?"

"Yes, the whole idea of going from nothing to your first kiss at the altar to, well, everything a few hours later doesn't make sense. What if you don't feel that way about each other?"

"Good point."

"For example, I'd, um…if I may, I'd like to look at you."

Spencer felt the world slow to a crawl around him and the night air grow thick and heavy. There was a low brick wall right there, holding back part of the hill, just right for him to sit and be at her height. "All right."

She stepped closer, close enough for him to shift his legs out of the way. Her touch was as light as butterfly wings over his hair, his brow, gently skimming the sharp angles of his cheeks. She traced up the angle of his nose and for a moment he almost felt fear as she lightly felt the curves of his eyes and feathered his lashes. Then back down over the hollow of his cheeks to cup his jaw and brush warm fingers over his lips, testing their softness, their resilience. Finally she traced down over his chin and the fine bristles coming out on his neck to his collarbones where her hands rested. "You are a very handsome man, Dr. Reid." She murmured. "May I…?"

He felt intoxicated, high, swimming through a drugged haze. She was so close he could catch her scent, the herbal fragrance of her soap, the tang of sunscreen, something rich and almost floral under it. She was so close he could feel her heat, almost feel her curves against him, could feel her skirt against his thighs. "I…"

Her fingers traced back up, sure of the topography now, traced back up to his mouth before she leaned forward and gently pressed her lips to his. It barely lasted long enough for his befuddled brain to realize what was happening. "I'm sorry." She murmured as she pulled away.

Spencer Reid had been kissed exactly three times in his life. The first time had been overwhelming and shocking; the second time was revolting and horrible. This was different. This was comfortable in it gentleness, safe in its time and place and order. "I'm not." He murmured back, before threading fingers through hair as soft and warm as down feathers and cradling the back of her head and for the first time ever he kissed the woman before him and it was right at last.

It was forever and not nearly enough time before that kiss broke. She rested her temple against his for a moment. "Hi." She said softly.

He had to smile; he just realized it as well. It had been teasing on the edge of everything but tonight made it all concrete and real, he really did love her. "Hi." He replied, and then he kissed her again. This time he teased her lips apart, before tasting her as Lila had tasted him. She tasted of cinnamon and milk and honey and as she made some small sound and pressed against him, her arms twining around his neck, he felt that hot, dark thing unfurl within him and threaten to consume him. She's feeling it too, he realized, it's taking her too. She not ahead of me or behind, she's right here with me where no one else has ever been.

"Yes." She finally murmured against his lips. "Yes."

And the night sky spun around them.

Chapter 43

Chapter Text

Eventually someone walked by walking a dog and he politely cleared his throat and at that moment Spencer and Susanna realized that they should probably stop kissing on the sidewalk and start heading home. They walked in comfortable silence for a while before Susanna spoke up. "What are you thinking?"

"That I have abandonment issues." Spencer admitted. "Maybe you aren't the only one who should be in therapy?'

"Oh?"

"Betrothal. Definition, a mutual promise or contract for a future marriage. Which is probably not something we should be talking about right now."

"We shouldn't?"

"We've only known each other for ninety five days." Granted for the last seventy of those days he had seen or at least spoken to her nearly every day. He realized that the best part of every day now was reconnecting with her again, seeing her smile or at least hearing her voice. There was this thing, this connection, that kept pulling him to her from any distance away, even across the country.

She laughed. "In my old life we'd be married with a baby on the way by now. Not just working toward becoming fully engaged in a year or two."

"Really?" Fast was clearly a relative term. "The problem is that I don't want to lose you. I don't even want to send you inside." They had reached the house, which for a moment seemed like some great, evil sinkhole that would pull this lovely warmness away from his side. "I have this bizarre urge to take you home and tuck you away in my sock drawer. Or maybe ring this house with barbed wire. Paint 'I belong to' on your forehead. I'm sorry; I don't know what I'm saying."

But she was laughing, delightedly, even as she led him toward the large, old swing in the shadowed part of the porch. "You never told me, marriage? Children?"

"Yes, to both. Maybe." Emily had asked him about baby geniuses once, and then there was Henry and in the back of his mind he'd considered it ever since. "I mean yes, to marriage. I'm not Morgan, I always wanted to…belong to one…woman and just have one person there for me. As for children, um, maybe. My mother's illness is genetic and I'm not out of the window for showing first symptoms yet."

"Oh."

"But in another five years the odds would be in my favor, and if all went well with it then yes, I think I would like…a child. Maybe…two." He could still remember the first time he held Henry, so very brand new. From that moment he'd been hoping to have some of that magic for himself somehow, someday. He pulled his knees up, even as she nudged his arm to be let in, and soon they were curled up against the pillows, tucked into the shadows, in their own world. "Betrothal, I like the idea."

"Do you?" Susanna asked.

"I've never been the date around kind. And I like the thought of…belonging but being independent for a while. You know, working toward something rather than having it happen suddenly. I prefer time to adapt to change."

"I like the thought of that too." She admitted. "And I know you're not the kind to try to lock me into a woman's place, home and babies and nothing else."

"Never." He couldn't even imagine. "I want you to chase every dream you have. I just want to always be able to come home to you, wherever that is."

"I always want you to come home to me." She replied. "I always want you to tell me about the amazing new thing you did or learned that day. I never want you to stop talking with me."

That, he thought, was something he could easily do. There were details, thousands of details, but in so many ways they wanted the exact same thing, enough to take the next small step. "So do you want to then?"

"Do I want to what?"

All of a sudden he was too nervous to outright ask. "This whole betrothal thing…."

She was grinning, so brightly it almost eclipsed the moon. That was proper for her; she belonged to the moon somehow. He would never look at the moon again without seeing her. "You mean will you marry me? Someday, without any rush."

There was some click, as the world became right "As I recall the legend Blanchfleur asked Percival. I'm not going to make his mistake. Yes. Yes I will." With that he leaned in and started kissing her again. She still tasted of cinnamon and milk, but that hot dark thing was for now overwhelmed by joy.

He was so lost in those kisses that he didn't hear the car come to the curb, or the gate opening, and he only vaguely registered the sound of boots on the porch. But the voice filtered in to his consciousness. "I'm guessing his phone's been off." Morgan said. "We're on our way." He hung up the phone. "Reid, I am so sorry to interrupt. You have no idea." Spencer stopped long enough to give Morgan his best 'this better be worth it' look. "They've got a shooter over at Georgetown.

In that instant his mind clicked over with the risks, issues, concerns…wait… "Alex."

"She's not answering either."

But Spencer was already moving. "Come on." He said as he tugged Susanna to her feet and led her into the house. "Mrs. Knox?" He called.

She came up from the basem*nt. "Dr. Reid, what is going on at Georgetown? They just broke into my shows."

"I don't know; we're on our way there. Is everyone in for the night?"

"They are now."

"Good. Lock up behind us and if anything strange happens at all call 911." He turned and cupped Susanna's cheek. It wasn't just Percival's mistake; he didn't want to make his own again either. "I love you."

"I love you too." She replied as she kissed him quickly. "Come home to me."

Chapter 44

Chapter Text

"Oh my god," Morgan said when they finally made it to the building.

Spencer quietly agreed. This was a circus, a mess of DC Metro, FBI, first responders, and who knew what else. "There they are." They traced the edges of things until they got the rest of the team. "Are you okay?" He asked Blake

She nodded, "Yeah, not a scratch."

"That's not what I'm asking."

She managed a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "I will be."

"What happened?" Morgan asked.

"He happened." Rossi said, nodding down to the young, clean cut male in the long coat, the body that had everyone's attention. "Multiple witnesses said he came into the building and stopped to look at the floor map. A security guard asked if he could help him and he asked for room 213. The guard told him, he thanked the guard, and started walking away. The guard must have seen something; he put his hand on his weapon, and the guy shot him. Then he started aiming for the women in the room as he walked toward the stairs. Eight wounded; two critical and we lost the guard."

"Aiming for the women?" Hotch asked

"Having a woman die violently in front of witnesses got you more conversion points in that gamr." Rossi replied.

"This is as far as he got?" Morgan asked.

Blake nodded. "I heard the commotion, came out to see what was going on, announced FBI, he...grinned at me and fired and I just had to..."

"213 is your room." Spencer said. "Do you recognize him at all?"

She shook her head, "No, not at all. And no one is holding any grudges against me, not that I know of."

"Any ID on him?" Morgan asked.

One of the DC Metro detectives came over. "Not a thing. Just this." He showed them a plain index card with a bible reference on it. Lev. 10:20 "Mean anything to you?"

"If a man commits adultery with a married woman, committing adultery with a neighbor's wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be executed." Spencer said. "He thought you were an adulterer?"

Blake shook her head. "Sean and I have an open marriage, but we've always been like that. It's nothing new. If Sean felt like I was cheating on him he'd make us an appointment at a counselor, not hire a hit man. Could he be one of the Black Knights?"

"Could be," Morgan said. "He fits the MO, clean cut, no ID, bible verse."

"In that case maybe he wasn't after me." Bake said. "My syllabus is online; I had a guest speaker scheduled for tonight." She nodded toward Spencer.

That was a disquieting possibility. "But why adultery?"

"I think we know." JJ and Will walked up to them. "They found his car; counterfeit plates, nothing in it but more guns and ammo and this." She was holding a well worn and marked up bible in a cloth cover.

"We're going to want to analyze that." Rossi said.

"But why would they think I was committing adultery." Spencer protested. "I'm not married."

"This is why." Will told him. He opened the cover and pulled a folded paper out of one of the pockets. "It's a church bulletin from Liberty Vision Ministries."

"They probably mail out thousands of those." Morgan pointed out. "That's not enough to link them."

"Yeah, but this might be." Will turned to the back page. "I hereby publish the banns of marriage between Pastor Bryan Goodwin of Mineloa, TX of and Miss Susanna Holman of Basco, Illinois. This is the first time of asking. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it."

"Oh hell no," Spencer protested. He was about to say 'she said she would marry me' but this wasn't the time or place.

"She can't have agreed to that." Blake protested.

"They practice arranged marriage." Rossi replied. "Her parents probably agreed for her."

"That might be why her parents isolated her, why her father was protecting her." Hotch said. "He knew he wouldn't be able to say no to Goodwin."

"It's another culture." Will pointed out. "Not that different from where I'm from. Poaching on another guy even before the wedding is adultery."

"But why go after him?" Morgan asked. "Why not go after her."

"I think I know." Spencer replied. He pulled out his phone. "Garcia?"

"Is everyone okay? Tell me everyone is okay!" She fluttered on the phone.

"We're fine, Garcia. Is Bellflower house considered a medical group home at all?"

"Yeah, Mrs. Knox is an LPN, why?"

Spencer looked at the group. "Every service we've contracted for her so far has been a form of medical treatment. All the records would be kept secure under the HIPPA laws."

"Meaning without realizing it we effectively took her off the grid." Rossi nodded. "So they're targeting you instead."

"I prefer it that way." Spencer told them.

"Yes, but let's not make it easy on them." Hotch said. "As soon as we head back to the office we'll see about some kind of protection, preferably for you both."

Bellflower House
3625 Yuma St. NW
Washington DC

"What?!" Susanna was visibly shaken by the news.

"It doesn't mean anything." Spencer moved to sit beside her, to calm her. "Your father doesn't have that kind of power over you any longer."

"I…I know, I just…" She was still upset. It was understandable; he thought as he pulled her into his arms, in her world, her former world, fathers controlled their daughter's lives to the extent that she would not have been able to say no. But here she could.

"Miss Holman, unfortunately your medical issues prevent you from being a candidate for Witness Protection." Hotch said. "As a consultant to the NCTC we can assign a guard to you 24/7. We interpret this last incident as a direct threat."

"Whatever you think best." Susanna replied. "I can't go back there."

"All right. We'll work it out with the management here."

"What about you?" Susanna asked Spencer once Hotch and Rossi moved away.

"I'm getting a bed." He replied. "Morgan is sleeping on my couch until this is over. We'll find some reason to get into Goodwin's compound, I know we will."

"Good." She nudged his elbow until he let her nestle into his arms. "Did you tell them?"

"Not yet, but I will if you want."

"It's too early to make a fuss, but family should know. And they're family." She tipped her head up at him. "If you still want to, now…"

He pressed a kiss to her temple. "I will never hold anything done to you without your permission against you. Nor will I ever hold anything against you that you do to survive." He told her honestly. "If anything happens do what you have to do to keep going, because I won't ever stop until you're home again."

She smiled a little, nestled back into his arms, and sighed. "Yep, my knight."

Yes, he thought, I am.

Chapter 45

Chapter Text

Chapter forty-five
Bellflower House
3625 Yuma St. NW
Washington DC

Susanna

Mrs. Knox said a hot milk bath and some chamomile tea were supposed to be a soothing combination. Marsha said that she was supposed to not worry; she was safe in the city and in this house and with her knight and guardian angel looking after her. Nina said that she was a free and independent woman and there was no legal way they could force her to do anything.

Susanna thought they were all nuts.

The hardest part was trying to convince herself it wasn’t real. She kept wanting to panic, sure that her parents really had sold her off like this, that she was really going to be made to marry some horrid old man. It was still hard to believe that none of it could happen, that she had the right to say no. Sometimes her head was still swimming with the thought that she had any rights at all.

She sighed and slipped a little lower in the bath water; if she didn’t relax she’d never get any sleep. There was another way, something she’d read about in a book Holly leant her. But Marsha had told her to be careful of her thoughts if she tried this, to remember that the right to say no came with the right to say a wholehearted yes. The trick was not to think of anything rough or forceful or hardness or anything cruel. Instead she remembered Spencer, how he felt in her arms, the slender strength, the way he felt so sturdy and solid when he guided her, and his hands, those long, slender fingers that would be so precise. She could picture how he would feel in that soft bed next to her, the heat of his body, the weight on the mattress. What would happen if she took his hand and placed it right here, or here, invited him to touch, to experiment, to learn until they were both satisfied? What would happen?

As she pictured his touch in her head she played it out, there in the heat of the tub. According to Marsha and Nina doing this was normal, even healthy. It was good to know what you liked; she could experiment on her own and be able to guide him when the time came. According to the book if was supposed to be good here, and here, and here. She quickly learned that the book was right, that was amazing. But it also made you crave more, and more and more…

All of a sudden some giant wave lifted her up to the sky. Without realizing it she cried out with the intensity of it all as an entirely new world opened to her. What was that, she thought. Did I just do that? Did I just do something that big?

Even as she was trying to catch her breath there was a tap on the door. “You okay Suze?” Holly asked.

“Yeah.” For the moment she felt more than okay, her entire body felt warm and tingly and very, very good. “I’m all right.” She was, and she was finally relaxed enough to sleep. She got up and rinsed off and took the rest of her tea to bed with her.

This was how the Prince woke Sleeping Beauty, she thought as she drifted off. By teaching her just what her body could do. I can’t wait to try more.

Ponce de Leon Co-op
4514 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC

Spencer

Tonight, well this morning, he got to sleep on an air mattress set up in his bedroom because, according to Morgan, he should have gotten a bed. Morgan had the couch. “I don’t need a babysitter.” Spencer had protested.

Morgan turned to him in all, well mostly, seriousness. “How long have we been working together? Not to the day.”

“Twelve years.”

“Look, man, you’re the little brother I never got. All I want is for you to live a long and healthy life and be happy with your lady.”

“Thank you.”

“Now in those twelve years I have learned that if I leave you alone you will screw that up somehow so for now I am on your couch.”

He’d let Morgan have the first shower, mostly so he could stay in there longer and soak up the heat and have a chance to think. It had been quite a day, he and Susanna defining their relationship, deciding to work toward an actual partnership. No, he thought, deciding to work toward marriage, she was already his partner. He had one now. And those kisses, the softness of her lips and the way she melted in his arms. The feel of her against him and those little broken sounds she made. Yes, he admitted, there was something greedy and possessive in thinking that he was the only one who would ever know that, he was the only one she would ever melt for. And she’d be the only one who’d ever know his melting; he knew he could trust her with that for she alone knew what a rare and precious gift it could be.

He was so lost in thought he didn’t realize what he was doing, that the hot, dark thing was creeping up on him again, that with the warmth of water and the slick of the soap he was doing something he hadn’t done since Maeve. It had been once, the first time since Tobias had introduced him to that false form of love, and it had felt so achingly lonely, not knowing when he’d ever hold Maeve in his arms. Now he knew that Susanna would be there tomorrow and the next day and forever after and he could savor this as the prelude to everything wonderful. He thought of her skin and the softness of her hair and feel of her fingers on his face and the way she touched Kavi and within moments he was biting back a groan as he finally let himself go.

We’re mixing our legends, he thought, Sleeping Beauty just woke up the Prince.

Chapter 46

Chapter Text

Chapter forty-six
Ponce de Leon Co-op
4514 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC

Spencer

The next morning Spencer sat on his couch while Morgan was in getting dressed. It seemed like all his major emotional issues had worked themselves out on this couch. Thankfully this was the finest to date. "We need to stop by a jewelry store." He told Morgan as he came out of the bathroom.

"Why?" Morgan asked. Spencer didn't want to answer, not quite yet. Besides, Morgan was a good enough profiler, he shouldn't have to. "Oh, you are not." Morgan said.

"We already started discussing it."

"What part of take it slow was hard? She has yet to…"

"Morgan." Spencer interrupted him. "We're not eloping; we were talking about a year to a year and a half from now."

Morgan nodded. "Better, better. So why a ring now?"

Spencer sighed into his coffee. "After last night I'm feeling a primal urge to mark my territory."

Morgan chuckled. "What, you think he's going to take her from you? Not literally, you know what I mean."

"Absolutely not. I just…." He sighed. "I want everyone to know that she belongs to someone. That we both do."

"Okay, I'm tracking. Go talk to her first. If she agrees we'll go."

Bellflower House
3625 Yuma St. NW
Washington DC

Spencer had never really inquired as to what Susanna did with her day. He knew she was learning to get around with her mobility instructor, to do the simple things like go to the bank and the grocery store and to use the Metro. He knew that she was learning to use the computer and that she was catching up on what reading she'd need for college. And he knew she was learning to cook, she'd promised him meatloaf once it met her standards. He knew she met with Marsha and Nina and she'd been back to the doctor for more vaccinations, and that she walked every day. But he never inquired about what else.

Apparently one of her roommates, Kim, had introduced her to the joy of the workout DVD. They were in the basem*nt, the DVD going, an added voiceover describing each move for those who could not see them. They were working up a serious sweat. And they were doing it in workout clothes. Specifically Susanna was in these remarkably small shorts and a sports bra, showing off sleek legs and a soft but flat tummy and breasts that simply could not be as round and resilient as they looked and….

Yep, he thought, that would be my sex drive, awake at last. "Hi."

She stopped running in place and turned to him, her downy soft hair bouncing in its ponytail, her cheeks turning bright rose pink. "Spencer, hi. I wasn't expecting you; I'm not exactly dressed for male company."

"Don't worry, you're beautiful." He caught her by the shoulders to kiss her, not willing to pull her against him and have her feel exactly what reaction her attire was causing at the moment. Besides, "You're also damp."

"I know. I'm going to go take a shower. Can you stay?"

"As long as you need."

"Give me about forty-five minutes. " She pressed her temple against his. "I want to talk."

"All right."

She all but ran upstairs. Kim, meanwhile, clearly far more comfortable in workout gear around men, finished up and put everything away. "Hey, Doc." She said as she worked, "Anyone here with you?"

"Yeah Kim," Morgan replied. "He's not alone."

"Hey Derek," she beamed in his direction before turning back to Spencer. "Your girl there isn't feeling very well."

He frowned, "Why not?"

"I don't know. She was all nerves this morning. I was hoping some endorphins might calm her down. Not a clue if it worked."

"It always works for me." Morgan said.

"Yeah, me too. Well, fingers crossed. Later!" With that she slowly sauntered her way to the stairs.

Spencer had to admit, she had the body to carry off that move, and from the way Morgan was watching he felt the same way. "Seriously?" He asked when she was out of earshot.

"Man, that girl is tight."

"She's a college student."

"Grad student, that makes all the difference."

They went up to the kitchen where Mrs. Knox was sitting with Pendleton, the guard on duty at the moment. There was coffee, there was something to eat, there was checking in with the office but no one was really in yet. There was checking in on the case, which was not as depressing as it could have been, so far no one other than the security guard had died. There was, in general, waiting.

Eventually Susanna came down. "Come on." She said, taking Spencer's hand and pulling out to the back garden, to a bench at the far end that was tucked into a private nook of greenery.

"What's wrong?" He asked as he sat and pulled her down into his arms. Something was wrong, she was clearly flustered.

As he watched she took a deep breath. "Will you marry me?" He couldn't help it, he started laughing. "Why are you laughing?" She asked

"I was thinking about the same thing this morning."

"About running off and just doing it?"

"Well, no…" It had taken a few to sink in, he was too wrapped up in his own mind to see it, but now he really looked at her. "What's wrong?"

"Spencer…" She got up and started pacing, too restless to sit. "I don't want him to think he can make any claim on me. I don't want him to try…"

"He's not."

"You don't…"

"He's not!"

"Spencer!" She stopped and faced him. "I am so scared right now…"

"Come here." The bench was wide enough for him to get his feet up, so he could wrap her in his arms and legs and hold her close like he held Henry when he was upset. "I'm scared too." He admitted. "I want to promise that I'll always keep you safe but none of us can make that promise any more. I can only promise that I'll never give up and he'll never change the way I feel."

"He'll never change the way I feel either." She said as she leaned into his chest. "After last night I just don't want him to…" She shuddered in his arms.

"Don't want him to what?" She didn't reply; instead her cheeks turned bright rose. Ah. "You too, huh?"

"You mean, in the bathtub…"

"Shower."

"Oh."

"First time in a…while."

"…ever."

"Oh."

"That's what he wants, isn't it? That's what he wants to do." She was shivering again. "I just…I am scared out of my mind at the thought of…."

Spencer was suddenly sick at the thought. "Don't even think about it." He said. "Just don't." He couldn't bear the thought of that reptilian old man touching her in any way at all.

Susanna took a deep breath. "I'll try." She said. She rocked lightly in his arms for a few moments and then, "I have to admit something."

"What?"

"Now I'm curious."

"About?" Now it was his turn to read body language. Oh. "So am I. You know, there's a lot we can experiment with that doesn't involve…"

"We could."

"We'd need privacy though. And a real bed. We're going bed shopping today, want to come with?"

She leaned back to look at him. "Yes, I do."

"All right." They were quiet a moment more. "Why did he accuse me of committing adultery?"

"In purity culture once you agree to court someone you're basically committing to marry them. It's a commitment considered as strong as marriage. So by announcing the banns he was declaring us a committed couple."

"But you never agreed."

"No. But everyone will assume I did, he just has to get someone to lie and say they witnessed my agreement."

"So all you need to do is ask and agree in front of a witness and you're more or less committed?"

"Pretty much. The process ends when you show proof that you, ahem, started working on a family."

Ugh. "Thankfully our friends will just assume that part." Spencer pulled out his phone and sent a quick text. A moment later Morgan came around the hedge. "What?"

"We need a witness." Spencer looked at the woman in his arms. "Susanna, will you marry me?"

"Yes, I will." She replied.

"Next year?" Morgan asked.

"Or a little more," Susanna replied. "I have a lot to do first."

"Okay then, you're witnessed."

Spencer grinned at Morgan even as he nuzzled Susanna's cheek and saw her smile. "You know, I'm going to need a Best Man."

Morgan started laughing. "Now that is a dream come true, I accept."

"Dream come true?"

"Bachelor party pretty boy," Morgan sauntered back toward the house. "You know I have to tell my baby girl."

"Just ask her not to make a fuss; it's not time for that yet."

"Yeah, good luck with that."

Susanna turned and pressed a kiss to his jaw. "Thank you."

"No, thank you."

Chapter 47

Chapter Text

Chapter forty-seven
Mattress Warehouse
4437 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC

Spencer

He’d never actually bought a bed before. He’d had the one his parents bought him in Vegas and then he stayed in a guest room with his host family at CalTech before moving into the dorm and then the dorm at the Academy. Once he had to find his own place he’d come across his couch at a thrift store and it was comfortable and he was busy and so he never felt the need to change. He’d packed away his featherbed and wool pad and not given it a second thought until it was time to make Susanna’s dorm bed more comfortable.

Now there was this. “This probably shouldn’t surprise me.” He said as he relaxed back into the remarkably comfortable mattress.

“What shouldn’t surprise you?” Susanna asked as she moved to his side. Morgan was wandering around as well, as was poor Pendleton, just in case. She felt the edge of the bed and started making her way around it.

“That this is called a Western King.” He replied. “It’s longer and slightly narrower than the standard or Eastern King. We tend to grow tall and skinny out west I guess.”

“I’ve always wanted to go out west. See the mountains, the ocean, the desert. Seattle, San Francisco, maybe Denver.” She reached his side and settled down next to him. The bed really was the perfect size, long enough for him to stretch out but she wasn’t too far away. “Very comfortable,” she commented.

He turned toward her, just looked at her there. If this was his pillow, he thought, if this was their bed. He reached out to cup her jaw, just barely brushed it. “May I…?”

“Spencer, you have blanket permission to kiss or touch me whenever you like. Granted I reserve the right to rescind that but you don’t have to ask every time.”

In response he gently stroked her downy soft cheek. “You have the same permission, you know.”

“Thank you.” In response she ran her hand over his chest, a thoughtless caress. He had to stop her before she hit an area too ticklish or sensitive. “You know, if we weren’t in public….” She murmured.

“I know.”

“Reid, where did you go?” Morgan called out.

Ah, but they were in public. “Over here.”

“You two look comfortable.” Morgan said as he came around the corner with Pendleton not far behind. The younger agent caught sight of them and then politely looked away.

“This one,” Spencer replied.

“Good. Let’s get it done.”

Mazza Gallerie
Friendship Heights
Washington DC

Next it had to be new sheets, and new pads, and new pillows and new everything else. Wool pads were not easy to find, so he dragged them all back to where he’d found the one for Susanna’s bed. Pendleton looked decidedly uncomfortable with it all. Spencer and Morgan kind of chuckled, Spencer was out running errands with his….his fiancé, this was accurate if still shocking, and Morgan was on one level hanging out with friends, however the agent assigned to Susanna was a definite third wheel. But you had to break the new recruits in somehow.

As they headed toward the shop, another store caught Spencer’s eye. This place had distinctive robin’s egg blue boxes in the window and would probably make him dip into his poker fund. But it might be completely worth it.

“Really?” Pendleton asked, clearly a little surprised.

“Might as well do it right.” Morgan replied.

“What are they talking about?” Susanna asked.

“Is it too early for a ring?” Spencer asked in return.

She turned bright rose again. “If you’re talking about…an engagement ring, then, well, maybe. I mean, it’s not like we’re ready to start planning the wedding.”

“Oh.” Spencer actually felt a little disappointed.

“But if you’re just talking about a little reminder, no stones or anything…”

“We could do that.”

“Not silver though. “

Spencer remembered the ring Susanna’s mother had made her leave behind. “Silver rings have a specific meaning?”

“They’re usually given to remind you of a vow of purity. I’m sorry, I won’t commit to remaining that ignorant or that innocent ever again. I have a life to live.”

“Is that why your mother insisted you leave it behind? She thought you’d broken that vow?”

“Yes. But then in their minds I had.”

In the best of ways. “We can do gold.” Spencer told her as he led her into the shop.

“What about you?” Susanna asked.

“What about me?”

“You should have a ring as well; you belong to me too, don’t you?”

“Good point.”

They left with a plain gunmetal grey band on his finger, something that wouldn’t catch attention or get in the way at work, and a little gold bow on hers. It looked exactly like he had taken a string and tied it there so no one would ever forget that she belonged.

Ponce de Leon Co-op
4514 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC

They arrived back at his apartment just in time for the bed to be delivered. While Susanna waited out of the way in the kitchen Spencer and Morgan drafted Pendleton and they managed to manhandle the beast up the stairs and into the bedroom. Once there they made quick work of the frame and then Morgan went to toss the trash and wait for the pizza, leaving Pendleton to hang out in the living room while Spencer and Susanna put the bed together.

Of course once it was together they had to try it. The door was closed, and the light was quiet. They stretched out and sighed. “Very nice,” Susanna said.

Spencer rolled to look at her. She looked right at home there, he thought, with her down soft hair spread out over the pillows. He’d chosen pale colors of sheets instead of white to set off her hair, he hadn’t realized that before. I’m going to have to put that film over my window, so she can lie there in the sun like a cat. It’s going to be so beautiful. At that moment he realized just what was going to happen in that bed, what they would do together. He caressed her cheek and in that moment he felt the hot, dark thing roar to life inside him and it came into her eyes as well and just like that she was reaching for him and kissing him, hard.

They rolled together, not having any clue, but she felt so good in his arms, the way her curves pressed against him. He wanted to bury himself in her somehow, to wrap up inside her and somehow wrap her up inside him at the same time. He kissed her over and over, breaking off to press kisses to her cheek and her jaw, as she murmured yes over and over and held him that close. She pressed kisses where she could reach, his lips, his jaw, his neck, until he felt her smile and then she almost bit, hard, pulling a groan from his throat and sending a flare of heat right to his groin and just that quickly he went from stirring to harder than he’d been in his life. Then she rolled, pulling him down on top of her, and at that moment the world almost seemed to hold its breath. He braced himself on his elbows, gently taking her face in his hands, while she slowly rolled her hips up into his, feeling the hardness there. He watched the realization what could be, what would be, come into her eyes and for a moment he thought this is it, now she’ll want nothing to do with me. And then he watched her slowly smile.

“We got pizza!” Morgan called from the other room. In that instant they sprang apart, rolling to opposite sides of the bed, frantically straightening the covers and their clothes somehow at the same time. When Morgan opened the door he found them collecting all the packages and wrappers. “Got pizza.” He said quietly.

“Oh, uh, yeah…good. Good. We’re…right, that’s good.” Spencer stammered as he turned to Susanna. “Pizza?”

“Please.” She replied, pardoning herself as she slipped past Morgan at the door and a scowling Pendleton.

Spencer stopped as Morgan started chuckling. “What?” He asked.

“You’ll see in the morning.” Morgan replied.

Chapter 48

Chapter Text

Chapter forty-eight

BAU Headquarters
FBI Building
Quantico, VA

Spencer

“Oh my god!” Garcia fluttered as she ran up to him. “Is it true? Did you get engaged? Is that a hickey?”

“Um, not exactly.” Spencer replied. He’d been wondering exactly how to explain this since he got on the train this morning. “Morgan said it sounded like ‘going steady’ to him but ‘betrothed’ sounds much more dignified. And no comment.”

“So you’re not engaged? What’s the difference?”

“She was raised to believe that you didn’t get ‘engaged’ until you were ready to set a date for the wedding.” He settled everything at his desk and went to get coffee. “But she doesn’t want to take that step until she’s ready to live on her own since I’m out of town so much. So we’re looking at least a year off, probably more, before we get to that part.”

Garcia nodded. “Which means you’re not moving too fast at all. Oh, this is still awesome news, I am so happy!” She pulled him into an immense hug.

“Thank you.” He said to her shoulder. “So am I.” He was. It felt good to be settled like this, to know she was there for him.

“And I heard you have a real bed now as well.”

“Which is very comfortable.” And after remembering what he and Susanna had been doing in that bed last night he had done the next thing and then slept very well. “Thank you for making me do that.”

“See, your goddess knows all. So can I go call her or was it bad for you to tell us?”

“No, you can call her. But she probably won’t answer, she was meeting with Marsha this morning.”

“Okay, I’ll call her at lunch.”

The morning was quiet as they went over what had happened at Georgetown, did paperwork, settled into the work week. Right before lunchtime Garcia came back down to the bullpen. “Hey, Reid, how long was Susanna supposed to meet with Marsha?’

“Um, I think ninety minutes. Why?”

“Because she’s not answering her phone.”

That was odd. “She might have forgotten to turn it back on.” So why did he feel the panic starting? “Did you call the house?”

“No.” Spencer pulled out his phone and dialed. It rang and rang. “Try Pendleton.”

Garcia checked for his number and punched it in to the nearest phone. It also rang and rang. Now he saw his concern mirrored in her eyes. “I’ll go tell Hotch.” She said.

While she did that Spencer pulled out his tablet. He opened the tracking program to check, surely it was just some kind of mix-up…

There was an orange dot over Jack’s school and a blue dot over Henry’s, but there was no purple to be seen.

Spencer contracted the map. Everything she needed was on the northwest side of town. But there was no purple dot.

He contracted it to see the entire district. No purple dot.

He contracted it to the central Eastern seaboard. No purple dot.

He contracted it once again. “Hotch!” He called out.

The purple dot was just landing in Texas.

Chapter 49

Chapter Text

Chapter forty-nine
Gulfstream G-IV
Tail # N4SP

Spencer

"This is entirely my fault." Spencer moaned. "I did this."

"Where are you getting that?" Morgan asked.

"I was so wrapped up in that letter from Leah, when she told everyone about my being at that meeting; I never stopped to ask how they knew. They've been watching me this entire time. For all we know they've been manipulating us all along."

"Why would they do that?"

"Elderly women don't get points in that game. Rossi told them. "FBI agents are worth quite a bit. They could have assumed that Mrs. Knox would be comfortable going out and leaving Susanna with Pendleton."

"I wonder what they did with him." JJ said.

"Too soon to tell," Rossi replied.

"I should have known." Spencer moaned again. 97 days. That was less than he'd had with Maeve. "I led them right to her."

"And we're going to get her back." Morgan replied. "Susanna is not Maeve; this is not the same thing."

"That was the Dallas field office." Hotch said, hanging up the phone. "They're heading out there with SWAT, the state police and everyone else they can manage. I doubt this will last long."

"No one wants another Waco." Rossi nodded.

"We'll be meeting them in Minaloa."

Liberty Vision Compound
Mineloa, TX

They met the local agents outside the gate. "No one's come in or out." The agent in charge told them. "But this isn't what we expected."

"No, it's not." Rossi replied as they assessed the scene.

The fields on the outskirts of the compound were full of RV's, the closer ones full of cars. And on the front gate and adorning the uniforms of the gate guards were floral decorations. "We tried to get a look from some of the hilltops." The lead agent told them, "This place is crawling with children."

"Great." Morgan muttered.

"There may be an easier way of doing this." Rossi said. He looked at the team. "Matthew 25:6"

"But at midnight there is a cry, Behold, the bridegroom! Come ye forth to meet him?" Spencer asked.

"Take your vests off." Rossi replied. "Everyone else, circle the place and come in quietly….."

At the door they were met by an usher. "We're on the bride's side." Rossi told him.

"Oh. The ceremony just got started."

"That's all right. Have they gotten to the point where they ask about just cause for the bride and groom to not be married yet?"

"Um, no?"

"Good."

They filed quietly into the back of the hall. A large number of people and every child that had any hope of sitting still were watching Pastor Goodwin standing at the altar with another older man who was probably his Best Man. Leah Holman was standing there, dressed as a Maid of Honor, looking very uncomfortable and dubious. And a clearly furious Susanna was being firmly held in place by her father and…Agent Pendleton.

"Brian, will you have Susanna to be your wedded wife, to live together in the covenant of faith, hope, and love according to the intention of God for your lives together in Jesus Christ?" The minister asked.

"I will." Goodwin replied.

"Susanna, will you have Brian to be your wedded husband, to live together in the covenant of faith, hope, and love according to the intention of God for your lives together in Jesus Christ?" The minister asked.

"I…WILL…NOT!" Susanna shrieked as she struggled to get away.

The minister didn't even look up from his book. "If anyone has any reason why this couple should not be married, let him speak now or forever hold his peace"

"I've got one." Rossi called out. The entire congregation made a surprised noise and turned to look. "She agreed to marry him." He gestured to Reid.

The shock must have loosened John Holman's hold. It certainly loosened Pendleton's. Susanna wrenched free of them both and landed in Goodwin's arms. He said something no one heard clearly, but whatever it was it caused Susanna to turn and bring her knee up sharply between his legs. Goodwin let out a high pitched scream and pushed her away, doubling over in pain. She took the opportunity and ran down the aisle, stumbling into things as she went. "Susanna!" Spencer ran forward just as he saw the flash of metal from the altar. He caught her in his arms and pulled her down to the floor, out of the line of fire.

"Nobody move!" Morgan called out sharply as the entire congregation let out a frightened gasp.

"You don't want to do this with all these kids in here." Rossi said. "It's over Michael."

"I knew you'd come." Susanna murmured into the hollow of his throat.

"Always," he murmured back. Then he felt the team moving past him and he turned to look. The minister had made Michael lower his gun, and Morgan was just getting to him. Pastor Goodwin was still clutching himself in agony. Yep, Susanna was so not Maeve. "Where did you learn that?"

"Kavi gave me a clue."

They finally, slowly stood up. "Miss Holman." Hotch asked. "Do you know who kidnapped you?"

"Yes, Jeremiah West, Tom Smithson and Agent Pendleton; he let them into the house as soon as Marsha left. They brought me here in Pastor Goodwin's plane."

"Well, that's good enough for conspiracy." Rossi said, turning to arrest the still shaken pastor. By now other agents were filing in. "Secure the house and outbuildings and any paperwork you find, we'll need to see just how far this conspiracy goes." He looked over at Pendleton. "And you're under arrest."

"How did you know?" Pendleton stammered.

"BAU, remember." Rossi kept his face a mask. "We read minds."

In the meantime the minister stepped over to Susanna. "Is this true?" He asked sternly. "Did you or did you not agree to marry Pastor Goodwin?"

"I did not, Pastor Allen. I agreed to marry Dr. Reid, and I did so in front of a witness. I would never agree to marry Pastor Goodwin. And before this goes any further I no longer consider myself a member of this church and no longer under its discipline, so you can take your letters and just…just…stuff them!"

"They you'll go to hell." Pastor Allen said simply. "Your father said he gave you to Pastor Goodwin for marriage."

"That's between me and God." Susanna replied. "I'm not a sack of grain to be traded about. I'm a free adult and as such I no longer consider myself under his authority or any other earthly authority. So I don't care what my father said, he can stuff it too!"

Just then Pastor Allen raised his hand and slapped her, twice. The crowd gasped. Spencer's vision went completely white. Without realizing what he was doing he shoved the pastor away from her and swung, his fist connecting sharply with the other man's nose.

The sudden sharp pain in his knuckles brought him back to reality. Then Hotch was there, pulling him away and Morgan was pulling the pastor up and in to cuffs. The pastor's blood was white against his crisp shirt as the blood dripped from his nose. "That's assault!" He cried out. "Police brutality!"

"That was getting between you and a vic-tim." Morgan told him. "You hit first, that's not okay." He sounded like he was talking to a kindergartner. Well, these people did seem to have a dim grasp of the basics.

Now Spencer's hand hurt. He accepted the handkerchief Hotch offered to wind around them as a bit of a brace, and nodded that yes, he was back in control. Only then did he turn his attention fully back to Susanna, and winced at the sight of handprints, bright red against her pale skin. "Are you all right?"

"I just want to go home." Susanna said, clearly shaken. "Please."

"Home?"

"DC. With you."

He pulled her in tight. "All right."

Chapter 50

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifty
Gulfstream G-IV
Tail # N4SP

Spencer

"Well, we were able to get into Goodwin's records at last." Rossi said with a sigh. "The team on the ground is boxing it all up and sending it to Quantico. And Goodwin has been arrested as part of the conspirators, a Federal judge is not going to take kindly to kidnapping an FBI agent's fiancée, regardless of what God supposedly said on the matter."

"What about Pendleton?" JJ asked.

"As it turned out his church was steeplejacked back when he was in the pipeline to join the Academy. When Goodwin realized what he had he targeted him for brainwashing, him and three other agents from across the country as well as a number of other government workers. While Pendleton is one of the conspirators the rest will be getting help."

"Good."

"And with a list of all of the Black Knights the Bureau and ATF are moving to find all of them and check for more weapons caches. If nothing else they'll be on the terrorism watch list from now on."

"Are they shutting down the church as a whole?"

"They can't. People have the right to believe what they want to believe and worship as they choose." Rossi sighed. "But any churches under his umbrella are going on the watch list."

"Susanna, how are you doing?"

"I'm all right." She replied. She had some bruises where they had hit her while trying to get her to comply, including the ones across her face, but otherwise she looked to be all right. "The doctor said I just need some ice packs and I'll be fine."

"That's not what I meant."

Susanna sighed. "It was like going down the rabbit hole; down is up, right is left. I kept telling them no and they just kept going like I wasn't even there. I never felt so invisible before. But I knew that if I kept saying no then nothing could happen. And I knew you were all coming for me, especially you." She said the last while taking Spencer's hand.

"Always." He told her.

"The one good thing was seeing Leah again."

"Is she ready to come to DC?" JJ asked.

"Not yet, she's still scared. But she promised to stay in contact no matter what the church says and she wants to at least come to our wedding. Although she was kind of shocked to hear that it's going to be in Las Vegas."

They all chuckled. "Let me guess." Morgan said. "Sodom and Gomorrah."

Susanna nodded. "She was relieved when I told her that it was only because Spencer's Mom is too ill to travel. You will all go there, won't you?"

"In a heartbeat." Rossi reassured her.

They settled in for a quiet flight. And it was a quiet flight, until they were about two thirds of the way into it. Susanna had been napping, but something woke her. "Spencer?" She called out, a note of panic in her voice.

Of course he had just left her side to go get tea. "I'm here." He said, hurrying back as people started to stir. "What's wrong?"

"I can't see!"

"Okay, not that helpful."

"No, it's like there's this blackness…" She made a motion in front of her eyes from the upper left diagonally to the lower right. "…and it's all squiggly below it until you get to the grey spot."

Uh oh. "Is it one eye or both?"

"One. My left. But my right is getting squiggly too." She gestured to the lower right corner of her field of vision.

By now they had everyone's attention. "What's going on?" Hotch asked.

Later Spencer would consider that it was only when the people he loved went away somehow that he fell apart. As long as they were there he could handle just about anything. "It's going to be all right. Just close your eyes and keep them closed." He took off his tie and tied it around her eyes to keep the light out. "You'll be all right until we get to DC. Okay?" She nodded nervously. "Now just stay here. JJ is right here in case you need anything." He nodded to Hotch and they stepped to the end of the plane. "I think one or both of her retinas are detaching."

"I thought she was cleared for travel." Hotch said.

"She was but her eyes are fragile due to all the solar damage over the years. She could have had a micro tear and gotten a bubble of vitreous fluid in behind her retinas. This could be caused by the bubble expanding from the pressure changes in flight."

"Do we need to land?"

Spencer looked out the window and took in the landscape. "No. There's no place to land that would be able to take care of it between here and DC. But we'll need to have an ambulance waiting; she'll need emergency surgery to save the sight she has. I'll call her doctor and alert his team."

"All right." Hotch moved to do what he could.

Spencer pulled out his phone and took a deep breath. Just hold on, he thought. Just hold on.

Chapter 51

Chapter Text

Chapter fifty-one
Georgetown Medical Center
Washington DC

Spencer

Waiting was the hardest part.

Hotch had not arranged for an ambulance to meet them at the airport. At the doctor's advice he had arranged for a LifeFlight helo to meet them there and take Spencer and Susanna straight to the hospital, avoiding traffic. Once at the hospital she had been taken straight back to surgery, and he was left waiting along with Nina, her social worker, and eventually Garcia, Morgan and Rossi. And they were waiting. Surely it only seemed like forever.

But it wasn't. Almost before they expected the doctor came out. "Susanna Holman?" They all gathered up and introduced themselves. "Well, the good news is that we were able to save her retinas." The doctor told them. "And while we were in there we removed the cataracts as well. The bad news is that we did observe some nerve damage in there. It's too soon to tell how much of the problem is actually caused by that damage and how the damage to her retinas will affect what vision she still has. There is nearly always some impact from this kind of injury."

"When will we know?" Nina asked.

"It's usually six months before the eyes heal enough for a final determination. We had to inject her eyes with C3F8 gas to provide enough pressure on the tears to keep them in place until enough scarring forms to seal the holes, which takes two months to be fully replaced by the natural vitreous fluid, at that time we'll be able to make an initial determination. Now because we removed the cataracts and she has no natural protection from solar radiation she needs to keep her eyes shielded for at least two weeks. She really ought to stay home and rest, no lifting, no bending past the waist. Oh and um…" He smiled a little at her fiancée. "No sex for two weeks."

Spencer felt his ears light on fire even as Morgan and Garcia managed to successfully fight off their laughter. "Yes, sir."

"To keep the pressure of the bubble on the worst of the tear she needs to stay upright for those two weeks as well, including when she sleeps. I suggest a recliner. I'll have the nurse go over everything with you; she's in for tonight, barring any complications she can go home after I check it over tomorrow."

They thanked him and went about what came next. It wasn't that he wanted to run off and have sex as soon as they landed, Spencer thought, but he had hoped to take her home with him. He'd truly longed to just have her there for one night, to know she was safe and watch her sleep and wake up to her in the sun on his pillow. Morgan must have seen his face. "You made it this long." He said. "Another two weeks won't kill you."

"Shut up." He just wanted to wake up to her was all. Maybe they would let him stay on a cot in her hospital room.

They did.

Susanna took the two weeks in stride. She already had all the skills she needed to navigate the world in complete darkness. And Mrs. Knox was thrilled to be able to put her nursing skills to good use again. They kept a security detail on her just in case, one vetted for church background this time, and because they had yet to round up all the Black Knights, but after the first two days Spencer felt comfortable enough to go back to work. Or he did after her urging. "Really, I'm fine." She told him.

"You're sure?"

"Penelope set me up with iTunes. All my favorite radio shows come in podcasts. And Mrs. Knox is teaching me how to knit. I'm quite content."

"But you're not out seeing the world." That seemed so unfair somehow.

"True, but I will again. You'll show me, I have faith in that."

Two weeks later the patches came off. "Oh, that is so weird." Susanna said.

"What is?" Spencer asked.

"You can see the line of the gas bubble." She drew a line in the air about where the edge was in her vision. "Everything's bright above it and grey and murky below."

"Hopefully bright is a good thing."

"Hopefully. Can I talk about the case publically now?"

"Yea, why?"

"There are a few people I want to thank."

The first was easy, because he'd been involved from the beginning. It was also harder, because they would be thanking Henry for the rest of their lives. "I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!" He screamed, jumping around the living room. "I told you to get married!"

"I'm just very glad you hid under my bed that night." Susanna told him.

"Me too!" He said, giving her an immense hug.

They took Henry along to say the second thank you. That was a little harder, but with Jay's help the right thank you gift was chosen. "He's going after it!" Henry screamed.

In his enclosure Kavi sniffed at the large, wrapped box. He stalked around it and sniffed a few more times. Then with a growl he reared up and pounced, shredding the box to get to the ox bones inside.

"I'm guessing he likes it." Susanna said.

Spencer nodded, "Oh yeah."

"And we're back on Coast to Coast. This is your host Art Bell coming to you from the high desert. Our guest for the first two hours tonight is FBI agent and noted author Dave Rossi, here to talk about serial killers, who they are and why they do what they do, but before we get to that we wanted to discuss a case we were able to help the FBI with a few months back, the case of several missing boys. That turned out well, didn't it Dave?"

"Yes it did." Rossi replied. "Not only did we recover all of the boys safely but we were able to crack a major domestic terror group as well. And we did it with your help and the help of your listeners. We owe you a great deal."

"I know I speak for all of us when I say anything we can do to hell in that regard. I'm assuming that's why you haven't been back with us before now, you wanted to get that safely wrapped up first."

"That's right."

"Now folks I have Dave here on a video line from Quantico and I can see that he's been joined by one of the other agents on the case, Dr. Spencer Reid, and a very attractive young woman. I'm told your name is Susanna and you were the woman we were corresponding with back there, right?"

"Yes, that's me." Susanna replied, a little nervously.

"Before we came online Dave here was telling me how it all turned out, he said you're starting college in the fall, you've had surgery to repair your vision but you're still not sure how that's turned out, aaaand he tells me that you and Doctor Reid here are going to be tying the knot next year. Is all that true?"

Spencer grinned as Susanna turned bright rose and took his hand. "It is. And I have to thank you and your listeners for playing such a big part in that. Thank you all for everything."

Chapter 52

Chapter Text

Epilogue

At two months the gas in Susanna's eyes finally absorbed. She went back to the eye doctor for an evaluation. As he had so many times before Spencer waited while Nina went in with her. Finally the nurse came out. "Dr. Reid?"

The doctor just happened to be at the nurses' station. "Well there's good news and bad news."

"Oh?"

"The bad news is that we were only able to correct her vision to 20/300. And she still has a number of scotomas, spots where the nerves were damaged, where she can't see anything. Now that might improve in time but I doubt it will improve all that much."

Spencer winced. His vision without his contacts was 20/300. She would still be legally blind at that measurement, unable to drive and unable to read normal text. But she'd be able to see her way around the house, be able to find objects and even navigate without her cane. And she'd be able to see traffic, a huge help in the city. "What's the good news?"

"That's a lot better than the 20/1000 she used to have. And we were able to fully restore her color vision." The doctor opened the door to the exam room for her.

Susanna's eyes brightened as soon as he walked in the door. "Spencer! I can see your smile!"

The Letter - TheKnittingLady - Criminal Minds [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

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