Chapter 8

The team was short a member for almost three months, mostly thanks to Erin Strauss' rejection of candidates put forward by Hotch. He tried not to involve the rest of the team in his dilemma, but it became obvious to all of them that Strauss was doing her best to take advantage of an opportunity to handicap him. Rossi even tried to put his past relationship with Strauss to good use, to convince her to relent. When that failed, he put out word to a few well-placed ears in the hierarchy above her, realizing she'd seemed to have forgotten how well-connected he was. By the third month, pressure from above was brought to bear on Strauss to fill the opening now.

Much to her chagrin, the agent in the mix at the time was an old nemesis, Alex Blake. The two women had a history together, and it wasn't friendly. Years ago, Strauss had "let" Blake take the blame for a case gone very wrong, although both women had worked it, and much of the error belonged to Strauss. The details weren't public knowledge within the Bureau, but there had been many rumors. The very fact of her animosity with Strauss endeared Alex Blake to the rest of her new team, even before her arrival.

Said arrival was low key, during a time of extended stand-down for the team. They were even shorter-staffed than usual, with Morgan and Garcia having traveled to London to assist with security for the Summer Olympics. They'd been able to visit, and even work, with Prentiss during their travel.

Stateside, Alex Blake joined the team without fanfare. She was already acquainted with Hotch and Rossi through prior FBI assignments, and she knew Reid about as well as anyone outside the BAU, and Maeve, could. He had been a relatively frequent guest-lecturer in her linguistics class at Georgetown. Reid liked her well enough, even if he didn't feel particularly close to her. There were few people who were allowed to get close to Alex Blake. Her husband, in service with Doctors Without Borders, was one of those few.

JJ, being the only new BAU acquaintance stateside, was still making up her mind on how she felt about Alex. She trusted the judgment of her three male colleagues, and so was disposed to like the woman. But she wasn't Emily. Wasn't outspoken, funny, brash. No, Alex was quiet, serious, reserved. It would take some time to break the ice.

"I'm just saying that she seems hard to get to know, that's all." JJ was avoiding the pile of folders on her desk by chatting with Reid. "Not that she's not nice, just that she's all business, all the time, so I can't get a real feel for her."

Reid took a sip of his coffee. "You're just comparing her to Emily, JJ. Alex is a different person. She's perfectly nice, and very good at what she does. Really, I think you're just missing Emily." He should know, so was he.

JJ knew that Reid was right. She was missing Emily. And the months since Prentiss had been gone had been difficult ones for JJ. Even though they caught up on the phone from time to time, JJ felt more and more the need for her friend's presence. She needed a sounding board for the parts of her life that had gone awry. And as much as she loved Reid and Garcia, she only ever really discussed Will with Emily. In the way that people compartmentalize their friends, Emily was JJ's 'Will-friend'.

"Besides," Reid was going on, "we went out for a drink after work the other night, Alex, Hotch, Rossi and I. But you couldn't, remember? Will had to work late, right? You might have gotten to know her better, but you didn't go. She can't be responsible for that."

Reid's words were innocent enough, but his gaze was penetrating. This hadn't been the first social occasion JJ had missed because Will had arrived home too late. In fact, she hadn't made a single outing with any member of the team since before she married him. She'd even missed the brunch that she had, herself, arranged, when Will announced a conflicting commitment to help his friend with a car repair one Saturday morning.

JJ flashed defensive anger at him. "It wasn't Will's fault. They have him doing a lot of overtime. And what was I going to do? I have Henry. I can't leave him home alone. And I can't bring him to a bar."

Reid knew that. And he was one hundred percent sure that Will LaMontagne knew that, too. But. unlike Will, Reid didn't want to contribute to JJ's dilemma. Putting his hands up in a 'don't shoot me' position, he was conciliatory.

"It's nobody's fault, JJ. I'm just saying that Alex isn't holding back. You just haven't had a chance to get to know one another. Give it time. It will happen."

His tone made JJ realize that she'd misdirected her anger.

"I'm sorry."

She was getting very good at apologizing. To Will, when her work schedule interfered with his plans. To her friends, when Will's plans interfered with hers. And to Henry, when the tension in the household spilled over into loud argument.

Reid looked at her steadily. He was seriously worried about his best friend, but hadn't any idea how to go about helping her. Especially since she deflected any attempts at conversation around her home life. Many months ago, he'd promised to be there, but not to intrude. And now he had to keep that promise. She was becoming more and more isolated, and he didn't know how to change that. He longed desperately for Emily as well. He needed her insight.

"Nothing to be sorry about, JJ. We all have our responsibilities." Reid decided that a change in subject was in order. Except that he knew it wasn't entirely a change in subject.

"Hey, I was thinking about taking Henry to the zoo this weekend. That new panda cub is finally out in public. Do you think he'd like to go?"

He saw her discomfort and added, "I mean, if you guys don't have other plans."

In truth, JJ wasn't the only one who'd become isolated. All but two of Reid's planned outings with Henry had been cancelled, most at the last minute. A birthday party, or plans with Will, or even, "he's very tired", had all been given as reasons. Reid had never known Henry to be too tired to do anything. He missed his godson, one of the few bright lights in his life. And, in truth, he resented Will LaMontagne for interfering in their relationship. But he'd had an argument with himself about it, right in the middle of a phone call with Maeve.

"I miss him. He's so much a part of what's good in my life. And I get angry with Will for making plans after we've already got something scheduled. But then, I realize, Henry is his son, and Will works, and maybe he doesn't have any other time he can do things with him."

He'd listened for her response, but there was only silence on the other end of the phone, so he continued.

"I mean, how can I be angry with a father for wanting to spend time with his own son? Especially after how my own father treated me?"

He'd shared so much with Maeve. His childhood, his mother's illness, his father's abandonment of them. It had all come pouring out as their connection strengthened. She'd become the person he trusted most in the world, despite the fact that he'd never met her. But he felt he knew her better than anyone, better even than he knew himself. And she knew him equally as well.

"Spencer, you shouldn't apologize for your feelings. You love that little boy. He has your heart, isn't that what you told me?" When he had, she'd loved him for it.

"I do love him, Maeve, but I'm not his father. I don't have a right to him."

There was a pause, and then. "Rights. Do rights have any place in love?" She sounded wistful.

He didn't understand. There seemed to be a subtext to what she was saying, but he couldn't make it out.

"What do you mean, Maeve?"

He heard her sigh. "Spencer, we love who we love, don't we? And we love how we love. It's not something that can be dictated. It doesn't have anything to do with having a right."

Her voice had gradually become sharp as she'd made the statement, and Reid picked up on it.


She sighed again. "It's nothing, Spencer. Just the usual. That he feels like he has a right to me. A right to my life. And that I have no rights at all. I live in hiding, I've given up everything that gave my life meaning day to day…."

"Maeve, I don't know why you won't let me help you. I told you, my team is the best. This is what we do. We can make it right again." She'd told him about her stalker, about how it had caused her to leave her work, her home, her friends and her family. About how it was the cause of their strange pattern of communication.

He'd studied psychology, and was familiar with the behavior of the chronic victim. Having grown accustomed to the strategies of protecting herself, Maeve was clinging to them. They had become the 'known', and everything else was a vast 'unknown'. Even the promise of help from Spencer was too uncertain for her to let go. He'd been trying for weeks, even months, and had not yet broken through to her.

"I can't, Spencer, not now. It might put you in danger. I can wait him out. We can wait him out. Didn't you say they usually move on if things get too quiet?"

"Only the obsessives, Maeve. And we don't know who your stalker is. If he's stalking you for a reason other than obsession….if he's vengeful, or even psychotic….well, it may not work the same way."

"Can we just give it more time, Spencer? Please?"

She held all the cards. He didn't know where she was, and couldn't reach her, let alone identify the stalker. He would have to give in.

"All right. But please, be careful."

As he thought back to that conversation, an idea struck Reid. He was surprised he hadn't thought of it before. The chronic victim. The one who clung to the 'known' because the alternative was too risky. Was there a second one? Was she standing in right in front of him? Was it his best friend?

He was pulled out of his reverie by JJ's response to his question.

"We don't."

He was confused, having forgotten what he'd asked. "You don't?"

"Have plans. We don't have any plans for the weekend. That I know of. But I'll have to check with Will to see if you can take Henry to the zoo."

Don't you get a say? Aloud, he responded, "Okay, well, why don't you check and let me know? I'd really like to see Henry, no matter what we end up doing. It's been a while."

He could see the regret in her eyes. She knew she'd kept Henry from him, even if inadvertently. But she'd made a commitment in her marriage vows, and she felt compelled to honor it. And then wondered why the word "compelled" had come to her.

"But Henry's been talking about those panda bears for ages, they learned about them in preschool. Why not let him go?"

Will sighed as though JJ was trying his patience. "Because, Cher, he would enjoy it more if he went with us...his parents. If the cubs are on display now, we'll take him to the zoo on Saturday."

"Will, I told you, Garcia and I are supposed to go shopping. We've been planning this for a while. There's a big sale on these boots that Emily loves, and we want to get her a pair. And besides, Spence misses Henry. And Henry misses him. They haven't seen each other in a long time. Didn't you realize we keep cancelling?"

He did, but he wasn't about to admit it.

"Penelope can't buy the boots by herself? JJ, you spend almost every waking hour with these people, can't you let them go for a weekend? Can't we have time for our family?"

She was upset. It always came back to this. "Them" versus "us".

In Will's mind, there was a clear dividing line between work and home. The people she worked with, the people she'd grown to love, were, in Will's mind, relegated to "work". That made them expendable. In Will's mind, the only people who counted were "family", as defined by him. And with both of their extended families so many miles away, the only family that counted was the three of them. As much as she loved her nuclear family….or had, once… was too small a world for JJ.

She held her ground. "This has been planned for a couple of weeks now. I'm going shopping with Garcia." She decided to go for the whole thing. "And I'm going to tell Spence that he can bring Henry to the zoo."

Will got that sullen look on his face. He wasn't happy. But he wouldn't overtly fight her. He would do what he did best. He would manipulate.

They'd been in the kitchen, JJ loading the dishwasher as Will watched. Now he went to the living room, where Henry was playing with his cars.

"Hey, Little Buddy. I've got some bad news."

Henry showed four year old concern. "What happened, Daddy?"

"Nothin' yet, Little Man. But I was going to take you to the zoo on Saturday, to see the new panda cubs."

"Yay! Miss Amy told us about them! I can't wait to see them, Daddy!"

Will did his best to look glum. It seemed like Henry had forgotten this was bad news. "Yeah, Buddy, but I can't."

Now Henry looked appropriately disappointed. "Why not, Daddy?"

"Because your Mommy already told Uncle Spence that he can take you. So I can't go." Will studied Henry for his response.

The little boy looked confused. He didn't know how to sort this out. It was good news, because he loved the panda cubs. Bad news because his dad wasn't taking him. Good news because Uncle Spence was. Bad news because his dad seemed so disappointed.

In the end, four year old empathy won out. Henry wanted to comfort the person before him.

"It's okay, Daddy. We'll tell Uncle Spence "next time"." He was familiar with this strategy, since his dad had suggested it so many times before. "I'll go to the zoo with you."

A satisfied grin spread across Will LaMontagne's face.

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