"You don't think the phone call was about Maeve?"
Morgan was directing his remark to Reid.
"It couldn't have been. I couldn't see it then, I was too caught up in worrying about her being taken."
Blake was still trying to puzzle things out. "But wasn't the phone call what made you worried about Maeve in the first place? Wasn't it how you knew she'd been taken?"
In Reid's brain, once the first block fell into place, all the rest followed easily. But he realized that wasn't true for most people, even those as intelligent as his fellow team members. He was accustomed to having to explain how he knew what he knew. He just wasn't accustomed to anyone wanting to take the time to listen to it. But the stakes were high now, and all ears were focused on him.
"Guys, I think the person who's copying the murders….the Replicator, I guess I'd call him….has been surveilling us. He knows too much detail about the killings he's copying. He might even be surveilling us individually. So I think he may have seen Maeve the night we were supposed to meet up at the restaurant, and started following her as well. If he was watching her, he may have seen her taken. He definitely had some kind of access to her pager, because that was the only way she knew when to call me."
JJ's hands were at her face, trying to cover her emotional turmoil. So many feelings were washing over her in the one moment. Outrage, that someone might have seen Reid's love kidnapped, and done nothing to help her, leading to such a devastating outcome. Anxiety about the unknown purpose of the Replicator. Fear for her son, now exposed for the second time to unnecessary danger as a result of the work she chose to do. She voiced the latter.
"So you think he's moving from following us to following the people we care about? Do you think they're in danger too?"
They could hear it in her voice. She was terrified for her son. Rossi reached his hand over to squeeze JJ's.
Hotch was ahead of her on this. "I've asked for security details at all of our residences." He directed his glance specifically at JJ. "And at Henry's and Jack's schools."
She took minimal comfort in that. Hayley had been killed while being serviced by a security detail. And the fact of Hotch requesting them answered her unspoken question about whether he and Reid thought any of them were safe. The answer was an obvious, unequivocal, 'no'.
Morgan spoke up. "Hotch, we have to take ourselves out of rotation. We need to focus on this full time."
He watched as his superior exchanged a glance with Rossi.
"It's been requested…..and turned down."
"What?" "Are you kidding?" "Whose bright idea was that?" The others simultaneously expressed their disagreement.
Hotch looked around the table, catching each team member's eye individually. "I'm told the decision was made much further up the line, but it was delivered by Section Chief Strauss."
Out of deference to Rossi and his prior relationship with the woman, the team had fallen into the habit of holding their tongues regarding their sometimes openly hostile section chief. Rossi silently thanked them for doing so today as well. He would take it upon himself to approach her later. He'd found he could be persuasive when he had her undivided attention.
Hotch continued. "For now, we'll continue to take new cases. But we'll continue working this one at the same time."
He looked around the table at six unhappy faces. "I'm not any more pleased about this than the rest of you. But I also recognize it as an opportunity. If we go out of rotation, the Replicator may go dormant. But if we're active, we may be able to draw him out."
Rossi saw the wisdom of it. "if nothing else, we'll be able to establish more of a pattern for him."
The rest were beginning to come around. Hotch was pleased at the level of professionalism displayed by each of them, that allowed them to accept the increased personal risk for the sake of putting away yet another predator.
"All right, people, let's get back to work. There's a sizeable stack of files on each of our desks."
The meeting broke.
Reid noticed JJ heading to the coffee bay, for an uncharacteristic second cup, and rose to follow her.
"Do you want to tell me why you were crying?"
"I wasn't crying." Looking at him, not able to keep up the pretense. "Well, okay, I was crying in the car. But I was together here, wasn't I?"
JJ's privacy was very important to her, even among the team. She'd rarely let any of them see her get overly emotional. That privilege belonged to Reid.
He smiled, recognizing her pride, and admiring her for it, yet again. "Okay, what were you crying about in the car?"
She could feel herself filling up again, and willed it back down. "I don't think I can talk about it here, Spence. Maybe later, after work."
"Are you inviting me to dinner?" He was hopeful.
She gave him a rueful smile back. "Sure, but don't get too excited. It's Friday, and it's Will's weekend. Henry won't be there."
He was disappointed, but only a little bit. And he wasn't about to let even that little bit show to her when she was already upset.
"Not a problem. It will give us time for some grown up talk." He was about to ask what was for dinner when he realized they didn't need to include Henry's palate in their decision making. Which might be looked upon as an opporunity...
"JJ, why don't we go out? You don't have to worry about what Henry will or won't eat, and you won't have to cook."
She brightened. "Wow, I haven't been out to eat in like…...forever! Sure, let's do it. It's a date!"
With that she headed back to her desk, leaving Reid holding his coffee and wondering. He knew it was just a figure of speech, but…...a date?
They dropped JJ's car at her house, and headed out together. He left the choice of restaurants to her and, much to his chagrin, she chose Chinese.
Great, now the secret will be out. Ever since that embarrassing dinner in New York so many years ago, he'd managed to avoid the issue of chopsticks. None of them knew he had yet to master the skill. But then he remembered that JJ was the only one who hadn't teased him that night, but instead tried to help him. Even then.
They found a small but popular place on the outskirts of the city, and followed their waiter to a table in the corner. After perusing the all-Chinese menu, they ordered several dishes to share, and settled back into the booth. Reid's curiosity about what had upset JJ this morning was tugging at him, but he sensed he should let her relax before probing. So he attempted to make small talk, and then realized that nothing in either of their lives lately leant itself to casual chatting.
JJ saw him shaking his head and asked what he was thinking. He told her, prompting a bitter laugh.
"You're not kidding." She sighed deeply. "Spence, when did life get to be so hard? I mean, weren't we young and carefree just…..yesterday?"
Having never been entirely care-free, he couldn't actually relate, but he knew what she was trying to say. And he was sorry she was feeling it as much as he was.
"It will get better. Isn't that what they say? That when things get so bad, they can't help but get better?"
She gave him a wry smile, but said nothing. He decided to go for it.
"What's so bad today, JJ? What upset you this morning? Do you want to tell me now?"
She seemed about to launch into the story when the waiter returned with their food. JJ put Reid off with, "Let's just enjoy our meal first, okay? Then we can talk. I promise."
For once, he was actually grateful to be awkward. He started trying to eat with the chopsticks and, as had happened every time before, dropped most of his food before it got to his mouth. This time, JJ did laugh at him. But it was an affectionate laugh, and he didn't mind at all. He'd gotten her mind off her troubles, if only for the moment.
"Spence, you still haven't gotten them down?"
"Believe me, it's not for lack of trying. I brought a set home one time and have practiced in private, but I think it's just something I'll never get. Don't we all have something like that?"
"Not Spencer Reid. He's the smartest person I know. Here, let me help you."
She slid over to him in the booth and took his implements in her hand. "Put your hand over mine, and feel how my fingers are."
Once upon a time, it would have been beyond him. To sit so close to a woman, even JJ….especially JJ, not all that long ago…..and to touch her hand. But they'd grown so close, in so many ways, that it almost came naturally to him. Almost. He could do it now, but he still felt every nerve ending in his fingers as they made contact with hers.
"Okay, now see how I've got them angled, one over the other? And see how I use my finger to lever this one when I pick up the food?"
His eyes were on the sticks, and the plate…and their hands working together. His brain was reacquainting itself with an old sensation, the one he'd always gotten when he was around her. At least, when he was around her BW…before Will. So much life….and death….had happened in the intervening time that he didn't quite recognize the sensation when it presented itself this time. Only that it seemed familiar, and pleasant, and somehow uplifting.
If JJ had any idea what was going on inside Reid, she didn't show it. She continued her lesson in the use of the chopsticks by placing them into his hand and positioning them on his fingers. Then she gently placed her fingers over his, to guide him.
"Okay, see? Now tip this finger…" He could feel the pressure of her finger pushing against his to guide him. "…and then hold it tight… ..keep it tight…."
She guided his hand to his mouth. For the first time ever, he got a full helping of food into his mouth with a set of chopsticks. JJ watched his eyes go wide in surprise and she giggled.
"Seriously, was that the first time? Ever?"
"Ever." More to keep her amused than anything else, he added, "I think I just need you to feed me."
She sniffed as she slid back to her place to resume her meal.
"You sound just like your godson. I was trying to teach him how to tie his shoes, and he decided it would be easier if I just did it for him all the time. I'm going to tell you what I told him….practice, practice, practice."
And so he did, with varying success, until finally JJ relented and let him ask the waiter for a fork.
"As long as you promise to practice at home."
They fell back into a comfortable silence as they finished eating. Reid broke it with, "Tell me another story about Henry. I haven't seen my little man in days, and I miss him."
He watched her smile come back, and then was alarmed when he saw her eyes fill almost immediately afterward. He admired her resolve when he saw her will the tears back down. But now he knew. It's Henry. Something about Henry.
JJ cleared her throat so she could speak. "He misses you, too. He was asking me last night about when you could come over again. He wants you to have a sleepover with him."
Her voice had become tremulous with the last few words. Henry had been excited to have Reid sleep over a few days ago, and been unhappily surprised to find that his Uncle Spence was gone by the time he awakened the next day. And that had all been Will's doing.
It was clear to Reid that there was something JJ needed to get out, and equally clear that it wasn't going to happen inside the restaurant. He hurried them through the rest of the meal, and didn't even consult her when he turned down dessert for both of them.
"Let's walk. If you want something else, we'll get ice cream, okay?"
She nodded and gathered her things. Outside, they found one of those clear, crisp early spring nights that seemed made for stargazing. But there wouldn't be any stars to be seen unless they got away from the lights. Reid took JJ's elbow to guide her in the direction of a small park nearby.
Walking along, his hand on her arm, he kept his eyes straight ahead.
"So, what was it? Why were you upset this morning?"
She was ready now. "Because of Henry. And the job. You. The others."
He didn't understand, but he could see that it was hard for her. She was already welling up again. He tried to tease it out of her.
"You know, I like to think I'm a pretty good profiler. A pretty good judge of human nature. And sometimes I can actually rival Alex in linguistics. But, even with all of those skills, I still have no idea what you were just trying to say."
He was rewarded with the small laugh he'd hoped to hear.
"Stumped Dr. Spencer Reid, have I?"
He didn't want her to deflect him, so he became serious again.
"JJ, really, tell me. You had obviously been crying this morning. What happened?"
She flashed him a look, and then turned her gaze ahead again.
"I spoke with Richard yesterday. My attorney, you remember?"
"I told him about the lunch, and a couple of other little things I'd been trying to ignore. I told him that you were suspicious Will was trying to set me up."
"And?" He still had his hand on her arm, and could feel her tensing up.
"And he said…he said that he thought you were right. That Will is probably operating on the advice of his lawyer. Not that the lawyer is telling him to lie about things, but he thinks the lawyer told him to look for things that would make him look like a good parent, and me like a bad one."
Now Reid was bitter. "And Will decided it meant he should manufacture those things."
"I don't know. It sounds like it. Maybe.."
Reid felt like JJ was bending over backwards to be fair to Will, not wanting to leap to a conclusion. But he also felt like Will was taking advantage of his wife's nature.
"So, did Richard give you advice about it?"
Silence, then a very shaky "Yes."
He could hear her distress. Reid stopped walking and used his hand on her arm to turn JJ to him. His dark eyes held hers.
"What did he say, JJ?"
She broke her eyes away, gathered herself.
"He said I should make sure Will has nothing to work with. That I should think about giving up my job with the BAU, and move to one with regular hours and no travel. He said it's no longer uncommon for children to be placed with their fathers instead of their mothers. And if Will can make a case that he's more prepared, and more available, the judge just might rule in his favor."
Tears were running down her face now. "I can't lose him, Spence. I can't lose Henry. He's…he's my whole life. He's my heart. I can't…..I can't lose him!"
This can't be right. She can't be asked to make this kind of choice, can she?
He brushed the tears from her cheeks with his thumbs.
"You're not going to lose him, JJ. We'll find a way."
She wasn't reassured. "How? By losing all of you? By leaving the team? I may as well have stayed with Will then."
Another thought struck her. "And what about what happened today? Hotch had to put a security detail on Henry's school because of my job! Don't think Will won't take advantage of that!"
She stalked off, trying to release some energy, and Reid had to double step to keep up with her. She was still working through all of the fallout from the new complication with the BAU.
"And how can I ask anyone to look after Henry, if it might put them at risk? But how can I not work with the team to find this….this….Replicator? It will take all of us, and if I'm not part of it….well, it will just go on longer. And one of you could get hurt. And how would I protect Henry on my own?"
At first he didn't know what she meant, but then his thoughts followed hers to the same conclusion. "Because if you're not with the team, the FBI might not provide protection. Not unless they can say you are targeted in particular."
She nodded. "And so far, the Replicator's only contacted you."
He guided her to a bench. He needed to think this through without calisthenics. He was nearly as panicked about not having Henry in his life as was JJ. And the situation was complicated, fraught with danger from all sides.
"Okay, so admittedly, we've got a problem. But no problem is insurmountable. We'll figure it out. And we're not losing Henry."
He took her chin and turned her face to him. "I mean it. Henry's not going anywhere." He can't. "Tell me you believe me."
She almost could, he was so adamant. "I want to. But, Spence…."
"No 'buts', JJ. Henry belongs with you. We both know it, and Henry knows it. I think Will even knows it. He's being petty and angry right now. But maybe someday he'll grow up enough to see that a father needs to do what's best for his son. We have some time, don't we? Nothing's going to happen right away, right?"
She nodded. The next meeting of all the parties involved was three weeks away.
"So that's a good amount of time to show that you've got a strong support system. And, if we're lucky, maybe we can get the Replicator out of the way. That leaves Will without ammunition."
"Except for the minor fact of an FBI security detail twenty four hours a day."
"Conceded. But anyone can come under a threat, JJ. Look at all the cases we've had. Most of those victims had no idea they were being targeted. They had no opportunity to defend themselves. At least we're aware, and are doing something about it. Just look at it that way."
She had to give a small laugh. "Okay, spinmeister. Maybe I should bring you to the next attorneys' meeting with me."
His own sarcastic laugh answered hers. "Oh, yeah, I'm just who Will would like to see walking in the door."
JJ heaved a great sigh, expelling some of the tension she'd been carrying all day. She sat and looked at Spence, wondering how it was he always made her feel better. Nothing had really changed in the space of their conversation, and yet she felt calmer, more assured. Just to be sharing the load, I guess. To not feel so alone.
Deep inside, a part of her realized it was more than that. If she'd simply wanted to unburden herself, she could have done it with anyone. But she'd only felt safe doing it with Reid. With the one person she knew would protect her heart as much as he would her honor.
Reid had turned his eyes to the night sky, watching the stars. For a brief second, one of them seemed to twinkle more brightly than the rest. The left side of his brain observed that there must have been a solar flare on that distant star some six billion years ago…more or less.
The right side of his brain took a far more unexpected turn. It saw the twinkling as a message of sorts. In the instant that he saw it, he realized that it had been hours since he'd last thought of Maeve. He'd gotten out of the perpetual mental loop of loss and guilt by focusing on someone else…the someone sitting next to him. But he felt guilty, as though it meant he was letting go of Maeve, letting her fall into his past, diminishing what she'd been in his life.
The star told him otherwise. It felt like a permission. It told him that the past….even six billion years of it….could still illuminate the present. That it could still bring delight, and wonder, and remain undiminished even as time….and life….moved forward. It felt like Maeve. It held her wisdom. It told him that it was all right to remember, but also to love, and to live.