Get Free Copy

100 free copies left

This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.

0
Free copy left
You can read our best books
Starcrier would love your feedback! Got a few minutes to write a review?
Write a Review

Midnight in the Garden

By Starcrier

Romance / Mystery

Midnight in the Garden

Midnight in the Garden


Gloxinia

The first time she escapes, he gives himself a pass because he didn't know who he was dealing with.

The team is in San Francisco and has been for about a week, hunting down a serial killer with a fetish for removing his victim's eyes and teeth, and Spencer wonders if it's a bad sign that he's not even surprised by these kinds of things anymore.

The team splits up, which, in hindsight, never really bodes well, and he and Morgan have been assigned to one of three warehouses where the UnSub is most likely to be holding – and torturing – his victims. So far, this particular criminal, Thomas Baker, has produced nine bodies and is escalating by the day, crossing gender, age, and racial lines with an ease only a rapidly-devolving spree killer can possess.

It turns out he and Morgan have the right address, because the moment his partner kicks the door in there's a muffled curse and the clatter of surgical equipment striking concrete, and the man standing over the table where a writhing preteen girl is strapped down sprints away.

They give chase, of course, but the man is young and in remarkable shape, and Spencer's knee still acts up at the most inopportune times, and neither he nor his partner see the baseball bat swinging from around the corner until it catches Morgan in the stomach. (This is the same bat, Spencer will later discover, that Baker had been using to immobilize his victims.)

His partner goes down hard and the killer bolts away, but Morgan is already waving him on, clutching his midsection and swearing like a sailor. Reluctantly, Spencer keeps going, revolver in one hand and radioing Garcia with the other – the analyst is already directing the rest of the team their way.

Baker makes it out a back door, and Spencer tries to put on a fresh burst of speed, knowing that if the criminal makes it to a vehicle they'll lose him again. Unfortunately, athletic endeavors have never been kind to him, and yep, there's the van at the mouth of the alley, and he can hear the jingling of keys in Baker's hand. Spencer thinks of the little girl lying on that table and no he can't lose this one he won't

And out of nowhere there's a whirl of black and a small cry, and Baker is flat on his back, a switchblade pressed against his throat and a bruise forming on his temple while a woman kneels on his chest. She looks as calm as though the situation is completely normal – perhaps even boring.

"This yours?" she asks idly as she glances up at him, flicking strands of black hair out of her face from where it has fallen loose from her braid. Her eyes unsettle him for a moment – secretive and gleaming and steel-grey – before he remembers the gun in his hand and levels it more directly at Baker, who is struggling and swearing but somehow unable to shake the woman, despite his obvious weight advantage.

"Um, yes, actually," he replies, gasping for breath and unsure of what else to say, and she seems to understand that the situation is mildly unconventional because she slips off him and helps Spencer yank him to his feet. Together, they press him against his own van as he struggles against the handcuffs, and he tells himself he's only allowing her to help him because his partner is probably still picking himself up off the ground inside the warehouse.

The switchblade disappears with a flick of her fingers – the movement is so fast it's impossible to follow and he's genuinely impressed with her sleight of hand.

Seconds later, the rest of his team emerges, guns drawn, from the building behind them – sans JJ, who is probably with the girl, and Morgan, who has no doubt already been carted off to the ambulance he can hear wailing at the front of the building.

Spencer turns back to the woman beside him, who is watching the agents none-too-gently haul Baker away. Only now does he notice the thin scar that begins just beneath her left eye and drags straight down in an almost perfect line to her jawbone.

"Uh, I guess I should say thanks," he mumbles, unsure of the protocol in this situation, and she turns her gaze on him, unreadable and cool.

"Anytime," she responds, extending her hand for him to shake, and when he stammers out an excuse she withdraws it without seeming even remotely offended – just intrigued.

"We'll probably need your witness statement," he says quickly, in an effort to gloss over his discomfort, and the look she gives him makes him feel like she can see right through him.

"Of course," she says, and the words are fluid, spoken with just the slightest trace of amusement as mischief winks in her eyes, and he's opening his mouth to ask her name when Hotch calls him. The unit chief is headed in their direction, likely wanting to get a brief explanation so he knows how much paperwork he's going to have to do, and Spencer turns back to the woman in order to make an introduction.

Except that she isn't there. The alleyway is empty where she stood not moments before, leaving nothing but the distinct scent of lilies in her wake.

When he explains what happened, the team teases him about being rescued by "Mystery Girl" for weeks afterward.


Orange Rose

The second time she escapes, she has help.

This UnSub is a wealthy businessman by the name of Jack Parker, which makes for an interesting change of pace, because instead of kicking in warehouse doors they're simply flashing badges at hotel security and calmly entering the lobby where the gala is being held.

The music playing the room is classical and refined, floating through the air with the same ease that the bubbles float through the ever-abundant champagne on the gleaming trays around them. Women glide with their partners in elegant gowns in this season's colors – not, he admits to himself, that he would know exactly what those were had Blake and JJ not been engaged in a detailed conversation on the subject on the plane ride over. It's not quite the type of scene where they normally hunt for sadistic killers, but that hardly seems relevant as they fan out, attracting concerned glances from the partygoers.

They stick to the edges of the room so as not to tip off their target, wherever he may be, and apparently it works, because Rossi spots him making a beeline for a woman in an elegant silver dress, no doubt his next intended victim. She's standing by herself next to the bar, her dark hair piled high on top of her head, already fitting the killer's type to a T: lonely and secluded and lovely. (If Parker has his way, he will lure her away from the group before drugging her and keeping her chained in a secluded area for days, torturing her into madness and later leaving her empty shell in a dumpster for the authorities to find.)

"FBI, put your hands in the air!" calls Morgan from somewhere to Spencer's right, and the man immediately whirls around, a snarl of disbelief crossing his features. The woman he was targeting turns to investigate the commotion with the rest of the room, and a quiet gasp escapes Spencer's mouth before he can stop himself – it's the woman from the Baker case; his eidetic memory places her at once.

Her eyes meet his almost alarmingly fast, and a bright smile touches her scarlet-painted lips. The little wave she gives him is dainty and sweet as though this isn't a supremely dangerous situation, and it's hard to reconcile this refined woman with the one who took down a murderer twice her size in a back alley four months ago.

In his distraction, he doesn't notice Parker moving towards her – most likely hoping for a human shield as so many killers do when cornered – until he hears the rest of the team cry out in alarm. However, before anyone can fire a single shot, the mystery woman ducks under Parker's outstretched arm and snatches a bottle of champagne from the bar, slamming it against his head in the same smooth movement. The glass shatters, slicing open the side of his face and spilling the sparkling liquid down his pristine tuxedo, and he drops, moaning, to the floor.

In an instant Rossi and Hotch are on him, kicking away the knife that had been clutched in his hand – perhaps he hadn't wanted the woman as a bargaining tool after all – and Spencer is making his way over to where she is braced against the bar, breathing heavily as leftover adrenaline courses through her system.

Before he can get there, however, another man in a crisp suit appears by her side, grabbing her upper arm and steering her gently but firmly away from the scene.

"Hey, wait!" Spencer calls, and she turns back to him, bringing her companion to a halt.

"We still need your statement," he finishes somewhat lamely, and the laugh that leaves her lips is light and airy, like wind chimes. She seems oddly collected after what just happened, but he remembers her nonchalant attitude about taking down Baker and decides that maybe it's not so odd for her, after all.

She pulls away from her friend, waving him on, and he retreats back only a few feet into the crowd of partygoers that have formed a circle around the FBI agents and the killer. Now that he's closer, he can see that her scar is covered by thick makeup – the only reason he notices is because he knows it's there.

"It's good to see you again, Dr. Reid," she greets with a soft smile, and he gives her a puzzled one of his own.

"You know who I am?" He's surprised, though he's not certain he should be.

Another smile. "After we met, I decided to research you a bit, see what I could dig up." She cocks her head at him. "What I found was impressive. You and your team are remarkable. It's a little surprising we haven't crossed paths before, to be honest."

"What makes you say that?" he asks, even though there are hundreds of better questions, but she seems pleased with his choice in query and toys with her earring. (Behavioral profiling would suggest that she's flirting, or at least interested, but he disregards that because it's him, and they've only met once, and that would be ridiculous.)

"We run in... similar circles," she answers, and there's an unreadable flicker in her eyes, glinting and playful.

Before he can pursue that enigmatic statement any further, Morgan materializes by his side with a charming smile that somehow still manages to appear both professional and concerned at the same time. Spencer is annoyed with himself for wishing, quite inexplicably, that he'd go away.

"Are you alright, Ma'am? That was quite the move you pulled back there," Morgan practically purrs.

The woman responds with a mischievous glance. "I'm perfectly fine. It wasn't the first time I've had to beat back a man." The two of them share a laugh, and Spencer ignores the swoop of disappointment he feels in his stomach – Morgan's always been better with women, anyway. Why should this one be any different?

"Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I'm afraid I have other engagements this evening and I really have to run," she bids, turning to go back to her companion, who by this time is slinking along the far wall by the door.

"Ma'am, would you mind filling out a witness statement first? You were directly involved, and it's only precautionary," Morgan presses, and Spencer thinks he's imagining the look of annoyance that flits across her face.

"The FBI certainly do love their statements," she says lightly, still edging away, "but I think I'll pass."

His partner takes another step forward, the agent in him stirred by her suddenly suspicious behavior, but his disarming smile still in place. "I assure you it will only take a moment of your time."

It's in that moment that her mask of playfulness drops, to be replaced with a sort of wicked amusement.

"No, Agent Morgan, you don't seem to understand," she says, and Morgan flicks a surprised look at Spencer, no doubt wondering how she knew his name, "I'll pass."

The moment the words leave her lips, the fire alarm goes off and the sprinkler system kicks in, raining water down onto expensive jewels and costly suits, and there's a mad scramble for the door as the wealthy flee to protect their possessions. The two agents are swept up in the flow, effectively separating them from her.

Spencer catches sight of the woman's companion moving away from the alarm positioned by the door, but before he can react, he's overwhelmed by the scent of lilies and there are lips against his cheek, and then she's gone, gliding easily through the crowd. He freezes in shock, but there's no time for that because the woman is getting away, and a second glance reveals that her friend has now disappeared as well. The stampede thins out after a moment, and he and Morgan pursue, now dripping wet as they make their way to the front doors.

At first, she's nowhere to be seen, lost amid the chaotic cluster of partygoers, and he believes she's already gone. But then he spots her standing at the curb of the parking lot by herself, her black hair mussed and dripping down her back. Her eyes glint the same silver color of her dress, and she gives him another little wave, playful and full of promise – we'll meet again.

He'll never admit it, but he's suddenly struck with the realization that she's attractive.

And then a black car with no license plate pulls up from out of nowhere, no doubt driven by her friend, and it doesn't stop, only slows, as she opens the door. She vanishes into the interior without a backwards glance.

He can do nothing but watch as the car squeals away from the hotel, and this time she really is gone.

Later, when he tells Hotch what happened and Morgan has finally managed to get over his incredulity, – "That was Mystery Girl?" – the unit chief recruits Garcia to look over the security footage from the hotel, to see if that yields any more information as to who she is or why she was there.

At first, the feed shows nothing out of the ordinary: the woman arrived at precisely five o'clock with her companion, flashed an invitation at the receptionist, and entered, only to mingle for two more hours until the BAU crashed the party. There is nothing special about her, nothing designed to make a person take a second glance. She flutters from group to group, the perfect social butterfly, talking and laughing with each one for a few minutes before moving on.

Something about this behavior seems mildly suspicious to Reid, so he looks closer. The first time he spots it after almost an hour of searching, he suddenly can't stop spotting it, sees it every time she moves to talk to someone, every time she places an unassuming hand on an arm or admires a designer handbag. Her methods are so fluid, so well-rehearsed, that he would almost be impressed if that sinking disappointment from earlier hadn't come back en masse.

"Wow," Blake hums thoughtfully when he points it out to her, "quite the little pickpocket, isn't she?" He thinks of the way she made her switchblade disappear four months ago and can't help but agree.

They will later discover she had lifted almost three thousand dollars, and the teasing only gets worse.


Daffodil

The third time she escapes, he tells himself it doesn't count because he isn't even chasing her.

He wakes up, briefly disoriented, in a hospital bed, blinking heavily as he tries to recall why he's here. There is a moment of panic before it all rushes back to him, and he relaxes when he remembers the overnight stay is only precautionary.

The UnSub had gone down swinging, and it turned out he'd been a little too close to one of those swings and had gone flying back against a wall; slamming him rather unpleasantly into unconsciousness. He'd awoken in the hospital with a concussion, and after a brief CT scan the doctors informed him that everything was fine, but were hesitant to release him once they discovered his history of psychosomatic headaches.

Hence the precautionary overnight stay.

He's not sure why he's awake, to be honest; he tends to sleep fairly heavily after a case – particularly the physically demanding ones – and the clock by his bedside reads four-thirty in the morning. Garcia was the last of his team to leave and had still been here when he fell asleep, he remembers; he wonders how long she stayed.

He notices something else on his nightstand, now that he's looking; it's looming and large and oddly-shaped in the dark, and he squints to make it out.

Spencer jumps in surprise when the lamp clicks on, momentarily blinding him and throwing light on a bouquet of flowers – daffodils and peonies if he's correct, and he usually is. It's an odd assortment if there ever was one, but his attention is immediately drawn to the person in the chair beside the nightstand, dark hair free and flowing around her face. She isn't smiling, not the way she was at the party two months ago, but there's something about her eyes that gives her a look of perpetual amusement.

"Hello, Dr. Reid," she says, seeming almost apologetic, and he attempts to sit up, blinking rapidly in the flickering lamplight.

"How... what are you doing here?" he demands, and she sits back in her chair, biting her lip.

"I was in the area and I heard you were hurt. I came to offer my condolences," she replies, waving her hand at the flowers, and his eyes flick over them, instinctively trying to place their meaning. They're too odd not to be deliberate. Peonies are for healing, he remembers, and daffodils...

"At five in the morning?" He can't keep the incredulity from his voice, and, just like last time, there are possibly thousands of better questions he could be asking. But it's early and he hasn't had his coffee, so his brain isn't operating on full-power quite yet.

Another apologetic grin, one that makes her scar wrinkle, and he has never noticed just how young she really is. Mid-twenties, maybe?

"Well your... analyst? Garcia? She didn't leave until around midnight and I couldn't very well let her see me. And it was hard to find the flowers..." She makes a vague gesture at the vase and gives a sheepish laugh. "I'm sorry. You weren't supposed to wake up. Didn't take you for a light sleeper, really."

The fact that she's even thought about this information makes him fight back a blush for reasons he can't quite explain.

And then his brain starts functioning again and he considers her behavior further, putting the pieces together rapidly.

"Who are you hiding from?" he asks, and she blinks at him in surprise before a huge smile breaks out across her face. Her scar is almost hidden by it.

"Clever man," she breathes, sounding awed, and before he can even properly react to that statement, she continues, "I may or may not have just angered some very powerful people with very large enforcers. What better place to hide than in a hospital at five in the morning?"

Offhand, he can think of approximately thirty-two more appropriate hiding places and intends to tell her this, before realizing the question is probably rhetorical.

"You're – you're a thief," he accuses instead without really meaning to, remembering the footage from the hotel, and she cringes.

"I actually prefer the term 'grifter'."

"That's what you were doing at the party two months ago, you were conning the guests."

"Well, yes." She's amused again. "Are you going to arrest me, Doctor?"

He frowns at her because she knows very well that he can't at the moment, and is about to respond when he sees her eyes flick over the book on his nightstand. She hasn't touched it, he would be able to tell if she had, but he can see that she wants to. He wonders what stopped her.

"You're a fan of Sir Doyle," she states, "but this book in particular is special to you, I can tell. Any reason why?" It's asked out of simple curiosity, nothing more, but he doesn't answer her, partially out of spite because she's nothing but enigmatic, and partially because he's not willing to discuss Maeve with her, this perfect stranger.

"Who are you?" he asks instead, and her eyes widen in surprise, caught off-guard for the second time that night. If she's really a grifter, she'll have several aliases, but she knows what he's really asking and why, and he watches as the war plays out across her face.

"That's dangerous information to have, Dr. Reid," she murmurs, her eyes never leaving his, "are you sure you want to open up that particular can of worms?"

No, he isn't really, but something in him has to know, needs to know, the name of this woman who dwells in shadows and is somehow so drawn to him. She takes his silence as an affirmative and drums her fingers in a gentle pattern on the armrest.

"Everyone calls me Angel," she states with a dismissive wave of her hand, and it's not entirely the answer he's looking for, but he accepts it anyway because he doubts he'll get any more out of her.

"Why are you really here?" he asks, and this is really a question he doesn't want the answer to, and the look she gives him is momentarily unreadable.

"I told you, I needed a place to hide," she finally says, smiling in a way that doesn't reach her eyes, doesn't even ripple her scar, and he takes a moment to reflect on the dozens of different grins she appears to have at her disposal. This one just looks weary.

"Yeah, but... why here?" he presses, "Why with me?" He thinks he's imagining the desperation that dances across her face as she goes briefly quiet.

"I don't know," she whispers after a small eternity, "I have no idea."

They are both silent in the wake of her confession, and he finds himself unable to meet her gaze. After a moment, he hears her shift in her seat.

"Who was she?" Angel asks, and he knows without having to look up that her eyes are on his book again, Maeve's book, and he can't quell the tide of resentment that wells up inside of him at how she's tracing just the lightest of touches over his old scars, hoping to understand them.

"What do you mean?" he stalls with a clear of his throat, still not looking directly at her, and he hears her shift again.

"You're an avid reader – what is it, like 20,000 words a minute? You devour books, you memorize them, you immerse yourself in them but you don't carry them around, you don't need to. This one is special to you and there's only reason it would be."

He does look up at her then, if only because he's so surprised at how much she knows, but it's her turn to avoid his gaze. "Grifter," she murmurs by way of explanation, "it's my job to research and read people."

He doesn't respond for a long moment.

"Her name was Maeve," he says before he even realizes he's talking, "and she's, uh... she's gone." The confession drives a knife into his chest and tastes like betrayal.

There is silence, and in it the memories threaten to drag him back down into the darkness of his own misery, as they always do no matter how much time has passed between that one, horrible gunshot and the present.

And then, after a moment, he feels her hand, small and soft and cool, against his much larger one, and he realizes this is the second time she's touched him – the kiss on the cheek had been the first and he feels like this is an inappropriate time to remember that.

"I'm sorry," she whispers, and there is a terrible sort of empathy in her voice, one that says she knows, intimately, the kind of pain he's in; the sort of empathy that pulls back a curtain to reveal deep scars of her own, and he closes his eyes against the sound, against the idea of this con artist caring.

(He thinks of the mark on her face and decides that maybe her past isn't as deeply buried as she pretends.)

And then the lamp goes out and he feels those gentle lips again – on his palm this time – and before he can even properly react, she is silhouetted against the open door, fluorescent lights from the hall spilling around her like a halo.

"Goodnight, Dr. Reid."

And she is gone once more.

He picks up the book and just holds it, for a while, and when the A/C kicks on the flowers on his nightstand dance eagerly, calling for his attention, and his eyes are drawn once again to the daffodils.

And when it hits him, what they stand for, his face heats and his stomach swoops and he's completely terrified and confused and a little bit... sad, all at once. While they typically signify great admiration and high regard, they can also represent affection - usually with the understanding that it's unrequited.

He doesn't tell the team about her visit, and when he is discharged and they make it back to Quantico, the first thing he does is visit the cemetery where Maeve had been laid to rest.

There are lilies there, not even a day old, and the sight of them only leaves him more disoriented than ever before.


Snapdragon

The fourth time she escapes, they really should have known better.

He's surprised to see her, but then, he always is. He's discovered that she has this habit of waiting until he's perfectly certain that she's left for good, before making another spontaneous appearance into his life and knocking him swiftly from his equilibrium. It's one of the most maddening things he's ever experienced.

So to see her now, less than a month after her hospital visit, in the interrogation room of the police station where the BAU has made their headquarters, has completely thrown him for a loop.

"Hotch, what's she doing here?" Spencer asks as his unit chief storms into the room – he's not angry; his boss is just incapable of doing anything without the calm, deadly force of an F3 tornado.

Agent Hotchner flips through the manila file in his hand. "She was in the warehouse this morning."

Spencer blinks in surprise and snaps his head back to look through the one-way mirror, watching as the woman known as Angel bounces a rubber ball against the ceiling, appearing bored out of her mind.

The BAU had been called to New York City to investigate a series of murders, in which each victim had been mercilessly tortured. The injuries had seemed methodical, controlled, designed to maximize and draw out the pain, which most likely meant the killer was looking for something, probably information. The four victims, who had all been identified as small-time conmen, were each left in public places, allowing the whole city to see their work. This hadn't rested well with the NYPD, who had no less than three undercover officers in deep cover in a local grifter ring. Their theory, upon hearing the functional purpose behind the torture, was that someone suspected the traitors among their ranks and was using lethal force to attempt to locate them.

It was plausible, the team had supposed, but a little unfounded, since behaviorally grifters weren't exceedingly violent. Still, chasing down every lead was key to finding this UnSub, and Garcia had managed to pinpoint a warehouse where the con artists in the area often conducted their business. Upon doing so, she had cheerfully directed the team there – alongside two trucks of SWAT members. Several dozen con artists had escaped the initial raid, but apparently Angel hadn't been so lucky. (It's a first.)

"I don't think she's the killer. She lacks the physical strength, and really doesn't seem to fit the profile," Spencer breathes out in a rush, realizing halfway through that Hotch would know this – which begs the question as to why he feels the need to defend this woman. Perhaps it's because he knows, deep down, that she isn't dangerous.

At least, he amends, remembering the champagne bottle and the switchblade, not like this.

Hotch levels him with a piercing, unreadable stare as Morgan and Rossi enter behind him. "I'm aware. However, it's likely she knows who does."

"You think she'll talk?" Morgan asks, and Hotch turns his gaze forward, peering through the glass at Angel, who is casually nursing a split lip. Spencer takes the report Morgan hands him, detailing just how much of a fight she put up in the warehouse – it had taken three agents to fully subdue her. Apparently, she is still refusing medical treatment of any kind, which would account for her black eye and swollen lower lip – still leaking blood in a steady ribbon of crimson down her chin.

"We'll see," his boss murmurs in reply before entering the interrogation room.

"Agent Hotchner," the woman purrs from her seat as her eyes settle on him, injured lip curving into a feline smile as she catches the ball she's been tossing and makes it vanish with a flick of her fingers. Spencer convinces himself he's not impressed by the display.

"I was hoping I'd get to talk to you," she continues, unruffled by the intense gaze the unit chief is sending her way.

"Why is that?" Hotch asks, choosing the controlled, professional tactic until a better one presents itself.

The woman cocks her head at him and leans back in her chair. Her hands, which for now remain unbound, flutter aimlessly at her armrests.

"You're the head of the BAU," she states, slowly, as though making sure he's aware of the fact, "that's a pretty big honor to bestow upon little old me, gracing me with your presence like this. You sure know how to make a girl feel special." She winks with her good eye, the one above the scar, and watches him with tangible amusement. Spencer realizes she's having fun.

Hotch surveys her for another moment before tossing the file in his hands in front of her. Her gaze settles on it with alarming intensity, as though she'd like very much to grab it and rip it to shreds, but she refrains. Instead, she cocks an eyebrow and waits.

"Angelina Chase," Hotch announces, and her eyes flicker with something like surprise, "Grifter and thief, wanted on multiple counts of fraud, grand larceny, falsification of identity, as well as escaping federal custody and resisting arrest. The government's been after you for a long time."

There is silence as she pins the unit chief with a measuring stare, unmoving, unbowed, unashamed. After a moment, she fingers the silver, lily-shaped barrette secured in her hair above her bruised eye, and smiles, breaking her lip open again.

"Ten points to Penelope Garcia," she says, and Hotch looks up at her sharply. Before he can respond, however, she cuts him off. "How long did it take her to run my prints? I bet she found my Juvie record too."

"She did," Hotch confirms, and Angel's grin only broadens.

"Clever."

Instead of responding, Hotch opens the case file and begins flipping through it, dark eyes scanning the information found there.

"Teenage runaway, arrested for aggravated assault," he states, and something about her seems to unfurl; the shadow that breaks across her face darkens her grey eyes to almost black. Spencer doesn't think he likes the edge of cruelty it gives her.

"Trust me, Agent, he had it coming."

"You put a man in a coma when you were sixteen," Hotch continues, watching her, "he has yet to wake up."

"If you ask me, they should've pulled the plug ages ago, done the world a favor," she snaps back, and the tremor in her voice is perhaps the first crack of vulnerability Spencer has ever noticed from her, "and don't say it like it's impressive. He wouldn't take no for an answer, if you catch my meaning, and when I couldn't get away, I picked up a pipe and swung. I didn't mean to do it, but I've never regretted it."

"The report says you continued to beat him even after he was unconscious," Hotch states, and there's no condemnation in his voice; he's just stating a fact. She looks down and away, and while she may claim to feel no remorse for her actions, Spencer knows guilt when he sees it. He privately wonders at what her life must have been like before that point, to make her carry that much deeply-buried aggression inside of her. He's seen brief glimpses of it with the switchblade and champagne bottle; mere hints at how very violent she could be if pushed.

"I know why you're here," she says after a moment, "you're after the person who killed those grifters."

Hotch leans back in his seat, giving no sign the abrupt change in subject fazes him – in fact, it has probably been his goal all along. He had likely counted on her to get to the heart of the matter in order to keep the spotlight off herself and her past.

"Do you know who we're looking for?"

"I know you're out of your depth," she responds immediately, as though there is no doubt whatsoever in her mind. Given her talent for reading people, Spencer imagines this probably doesn't bode well.

"How so?" asks Hotch, unruffled.

She studies him. "I can't say much. But I can tell you he's suspected a mole for a long time now, and he's not going to stop until he finds them all. If you want this to end, tell the cops to withdraw their informants."

"Who is it? Who's doing this?" Hotch leans forward, gaze piercing, and Angel just looks at him, her face a mask.

"I am many things, Agent Hotchner," she says softly, "most of them illegal. But I'm not a snitch. Once you get a reputation for cooperating with Feds, it's almost impossible to get clients. Freelancing is fun, but it doesn't always pay the rent."

"Miss Chase, people are dying."

"And you could stop it by removing the undercover cops. You do that, he'll call off his dog."

"What?" Hotch's eyes narrow on her quickly. "What do you mean, 'his dog'?"

But Angel has gone completely still, her eyes closed as if in silent protest of her own words.

"Angelina, are we looking for a team?"

"No," she says quietly, firmly, "people don't work with him, they work for him. And that's all I'm going to say about it."

Hotch continues to question her, but Angel, true to her word, has fallen stubbornly silent. Finally, after ten more minutes of this, Hotch exits the room, the door slamming definitively behind him.

The ball is back in her hands within moments, and she launches it at the ceiling once again in obvious boredom.

They're able to give a profile – white males, dominant/submissive relationship, the dominant personality is a sociopath, accustomed to control and giving orders, while the submissive is psychopathic and devolving – but it's not enough to locate them, and a record three bodies appears in Central Park that afternoon. It's likely a retaliation for the raid on the grifter ring, and two of the victims are so unrecognizable from their injuries that the ME has to resort to dental records as a means of identification. It doesn't take a profiler to realize this is extreme overkill, which means the situation is deteriorating quickly – they need answers and they need them now.

Hotch is relentless in his questioning of Angel this time, but she doesn't say another word, just stares at him with no small measure of amusement until he leaves again. Spencer divides his time between building a geographic profile and watching her, though her movements never change from tossing that ball up and down, up and down.

"Hotch, maybe Reid should try talking to her." Spencer nearly spills his coffee when he hears Morgan's suggestion, and carefully diverts his attention to his maps once the idea is seconded – by the entire team.

"Why me?" He pretends to be confused even though the answer is glaringly, alarmingly obvious, at least to him, and Morgan shrugs.

"She seemed interested in you at the party, man. Maybe she'll respond to a friendly face."

He's about to object when Hotch does that thing where he orders-without-ordering, and Spencer can feel one of his migraines coming on.

"I'll try," is all he can really say, and as Rossi and Blake are sent out to do interviews and JJ meets with the families of the new victims, Morgan and Hotch follow him back to the interrogation room. They halt at the observation mirror, and, with a nervous adjustment of his bag, he enters the room where she's been seated for most of the day.

The moment her eyes meet his, she straightens in her chair and a lovely – not that he would ever admit it – smile breaks out over her face.

"I was wondering how long it would take them to send you in, Dr. Reid," she greets, and though the words have a smug ring to them, it's tempered by the signs of genuine delight in her expression. The sight makes him distinctly uncomfortable and warm and just a little bit flustered, all at once.

He sits down before any of this becomes obvious.

"We could really use your help here, Angelina," he murmurs quietly, and her smile dims just a fraction.

"Sorry. Not even for you, Handsome."

Spencer opens the case file in his hands and lays out the pictures of this afternoon's victims – bloody, grotesque, and bent at unnatural angles – before her eyes. It's a testament to how much she's obviously seen that she only flinches once.

"This is what he's doing to them."

"It's not my problem," she snaps back with uncharacteristic heat, which means he's getting to her.

"You're the only one who can help us, and I think you know that. The other ones we arrested today are small-time, but you know who's doing this and you can stop him," Spencer presses, pushing the pictures closer to her. "You can stop this."

"I'm not one of your good guys, Dr. Reid," she snaps again, "you can't appeal to my better nature because I don't have one."

"That's not true, and I think you know it," he replies boldly, leaning forward, "This guy is killing people just like you, people who are just trying to make a living, in the most horrific ways possible to protect his own interests. Do you think he would have spared you? Does he trust you that much?"

She flinches again, imperceptibly, and he draws back. For a moment, neither one of them speaks. After a few seconds, her soft, raspy voice cuts through the silence.

"When I was fifteen, I ran away from home with my best friend – his name was Logan. When I was sent to Juvie at sixteen, he wrote me every day. And when I made parole for good behavior at seventeen, he was waiting for me at the gates. It wasn't really surprising that I fell in love with him, or he with me. I violated my parole and we ran, together, so far away no one could track us down, and when I turned eighteen, we were married. He got a job as a mechanic, and I... well." She gives a sheepish smile. "I've always been a thief."

"What happened?" Spencer asks, not certain he really wants to know or why he's asking, but some part of his brain that is still functioning normally suggests that she's probably leading up to something case-related, and he chooses to believe it.

Her smile melts off her face, to be replaced with intense, overwhelming grief. Her voice catches on the emotion, but her eyes remain dry.

"I was nineteen, and we were walking home from dinner. There was this shady alley we'd walked through a hundred times before, but this time... It was just some junkie with a knife, looking for cash to buy a fix, and Logan was always a peacemaker – it was part of why we got along so well. He tossed him his wallet, no fight, no fuss."

Her voice catches again, and she's momentarily silent. When she speaks again, her walls are back up and her voice is as cool and level as the first time he'd ever heard it.

"The junkie stabbed him anyway. Straight in the stomach, Logan never stood a chance. I screamed and tried to help..." Her left hand finds its way to her face, tracing over the scar there. "He did this to me, and I don't really remember anything else. When I woke up, I was in the hospital with a concussion and twenty-eight stitches in my face, and they told me Logan was dead." She takes another breath. "I went a little bit crazy after that. Stole from anyone who crossed my path, conned any sucker who looked twice at me. That's when he found me."

Spencer doesn't have to ask who she's talking about now.

"He told me I had potential, and he took me in, taught me how to be the best grifter in the game. Paid for Logan's funeral expenses, gave him a gravestone, sent a bouquet every year since. I mean, I knew he was dangerous. People who crossed him didn't end up penniless – they disappeared. I never questioned it, and I stayed alive."

"Angelina, you have to tell us who he is. I know he helped you, but he can't be allowed to continue to do this to people. Is this the kind of man you want to protect? Is he the kind of man Logan would want you to protect?" he asks softly, pushing the pictures towards her once more. Her gaze is immediately switchblade-sharp, locked on him with a dangerous sort of intensity. It's hard to breathe under a look like that.

She looks down at the photographs before her, studying them for what seems like hours, before looking up at him again. Her eyes are bright, gleaming, unreadable. Finally, she redirects her gaze to the mirror behind him.

"Agent Hotchner, you're going to want to come in here for this."

Within moments, both Hotch and Morgan are entering the room, and Angel sits back, completely in control of the situation but wearing the look of someone who didn't much care to be.

"His name is James West, his enforcer is just called Z, and he can sniff out cops and Feds better than a bloodhound. If you try to get within two miles of his place, he'll bolt and you'll never find him again – and Z won't stop killing. The guy's always been crazy, but West has always kept him on a short leash. Now that he's loosened it a bit, I don't think he'll have as much control over Z as he used to. He's... what's the term you guys use? Devolving?"

Spencer nods, and Hotch stares at her intently. "But you're one of his – he'd never see you coming. Can you get either of them to admit to the murders?"

Angel hesitates. "They won't be back in touch with one another for a few more days. Z will still be cleaning up his mess from this afternoon – the two don't associate until they're certain nothing can be traced back to West. But if you catch West," she admits, "and you can somehow tie him to the murders, he'll cut a deal and give you Z. He's smart, he knows how to use everything to his advantage. But if you catch Z, he won't give you West."

"Do you know where West is right now?" Morgan asks.

"Yes," Angel says, "but he'll know I was arrested."

"You can say that we didn't have enough to hold you, that we were so focused on catching the killer that we didn't find your background," Hotch supplies.

She looks thoughtful as she rolls her ball between her fingers again. "I can probably spin that. So what, I'll be wearing a wire?"

"Yes. All we need you to do is keep him talking, and keep him still. Try to get him to confess, and the moment he does we'll move in."

She's quiet for a moment, and Spencer feels her eyes on him briefly before they flick back up to look at Hotch.

"What happens to me if I go through with this?"

"I can tell the DA you cooperated and see about getting you a reduced sentence," Hotch offers, and Angel nods slowly, as though realizing she won't get anything better.

"You may want to call the rest of your team back, Agent Hotchner. The fun is about to begin," she says, flashing one of her dangerous smiles, and that's Spencer's first indication that all of this is about to go terribly wrong.

West, apparently, owns a small bar on 86th Street, Upper East Side, and the team is parked in a service van about a block away, a few plainclothes loitering in the surrounding area.

Spencer can only hope Angel provides enough of a distraction, because he gets the feeling all of this would be fairly obvious to a professional grifter like West.

They don't have a visual on the bar, because according to Angel that would be pushing it, so the only way they can monitor anything going on is through the wire they've looped beneath her jacket.

"She's going in," Hotch announces as he climbs into the truck, and a young officer presses a few buttons on the computer console in front of him. With a hiss of static, the com springs to life, and Spencer can feel everyone around him tense imperceptibly.

"I don't know how you guys ever get anything done," Angel is muttering, "you couldn't possibly have picked a more obvious hiding spot. Alright, I'm going in. Hope this thing is on, otherwise this is going to be extremely awkward for everyone."

There's a ding as a door opens, and the mic isn't picking up anything but Angel's footsteps on the hardwood – the bar is empty.

"Angel, baby." Or maybe not. The speaker's voice is oil-slick, and Morgan hands him the file as he beckons for it – James West is 5'8'', with black hair, black eyes, and a crooked grin. He's a few years younger than Hotch and has only been arrested once, for racketeering – but those charges were dropped and it's unclear why.

"I heard you got caught. Looks like they roughed you up a bit, huh?" West continues, and the note of suspicion in his voice is virtually impossible to miss. Angel releases her wind-chime laugh.

"Yeah. I haven't slept in a few days, so they caught me by surprise in the warehouse this morning. Fortunately for all parties involved, I managed to convince them I was one of their undercover cops. Can you believe it?" Hotch glances back at Spencer, who furrows his brow. That isn't the lie they'd rehearsed with her, and if she's already improvising it can't mean anything good.

West's laugh is reminiscent of a hissing snake. "You conned the Feds. Only you could swing something like that. I've taught you well." There's a sound of liquid being poured into a glass. "Drink?" he offers, and they can hear her move closer to him.

"You know I don't."

West grunts in acknowledgement. "So what are you doing here, baby?"

"I'm looking for Z, actually. Before I was so rudely interrupted, I had a con planned in a rougher part of town today, and I wondered if you could lend me the muscle." Her reply is so fluid, so natural, that Spencer almost believes her.

"He's not here. Gave him a few days off. Sorry, Doll." West's reply is equally as smooth, and the team trades glances. This may be harder than they'd anticipated.

"You know," West continues, and there's a chink as he sets down his glass, "there's a rumor going around that you know the Feds that are in town."

Angel gives another laugh. "I don't know them, honey. I ran into a few of them a couple of months ago while I was freelancing with Cameron in Los Angeles. The gala, remember? But I clean up nice, so they didn't recognize me at all today."

Spencer frowns at the speakers. What is she doing?

West isn't about to be diverted. "Fascinating," he remarks dryly, "But I've also heard some things about you and that kid, the super genius."

So West has done his research too. That can't be good.

"He's pretty," she concedes, and Spencer feels himself flush without his permission, "but he's hardly a genius. He was the easiest mark of them all. Still grieving over his dead girlfriend. All I had to do was flash a pretty smile and tell him a story and viola, he's eating out of my hand."

West's laugh is louder this time, barking. "Did you tell him about Logan?"

"Yeah, and he actually bought it. Like I said, hardly a genius."

Spencer can feel his stomach sinking lower and lower the longer this conversation lasts; the team's eyes are on him but he continues to stare at the speakers as though doing so will yield answers.

"Anyway," she continues, "they're looking in the wrong direction, so you're safe."

West snorts. "I'm always safe, Doll. That's why I have Z – he does the mindless dirty work and I stay here, drinking tax dollars away while the Feds scramble for an explanation."

There's a creak, and his voice his closer now. "See, that's the beauty of this little partnership. He's a mad dog, but he's stupid, he needs to be guided by someone with a brain. That role falls to me."

There's some brief feedback as she adjusts her jacket, and Hotch presses stop on the recorder. "We got him."

"Now we just gotta wait for Chase to get out of there," Morgan mutters.

"How much have you had?" Angel is saying, and she's laughing but there's a quieter lilt to it this time, an emotion behind her words that Spencer can't quite place.

"I'm celebrating," West replies, picking up his glass again, "Z's closer than ever to finding the worms, and then we'll scram for a few weeks, and your boy's impressive success rate will drop a few points."

"My boy?" Angel questions dryly.

"The genius, whatever his name is."

"Dr. Reid."

"Yeah, that one."

"What's she doing? She needs to get out of there so we can move in," Blake says, shooting a questioning glance at Hotch, who shakes his head, just as lost as all of them. Spencer kind of wishes she would hurry it up, because he's not really interested in listening to them talk about him anymore.

"You know, I do sort of feel bad about conning him... he is pretty," Angel muses, and they can hear her stalking closer to West.

"Did you feed him the junkie story?"

She's briefly quiet. "Yes."

West laughs once more. "Cute, Doll. You know, I've always regretted that. But Logan should've kept his mouth shut, and maybe I wouldn't have had to shut it for him, you know?"

"Yeah, I know." She's quiet again. "So I was thinking of leaving the doctor with a... a sort of consolation prize."

West chuffs out a derisive snort. "You always were cruel, Baby. What'll it be?"

When she speaks again, there's a lifetime of malice in her tone, fury and vengeance packed into a single word. 

"You."

There's a small cry from both parties, a masculine groan, and a thud, and then the line goes dead.

Immediately Hotch gives the order to move in, and the plainclothes in the area withdraw their guns as the team spills from the truck.

The bar, as Spencer had first presumed, is empty; it's got a homey, dingy feel to it, and the wooden floorboards creak under their new load as the officers enter. At the head of the room is a long wooden counter, gleaming with a hundred bottles of liquor, and Angel is nowhere to be found. Instead, James West's body is lying face down beside the barstools, a spilled glass of something dark lying next to him and her wire thrown carelessly onto his back.

There's a lily barrette sticking out of his right shoulder, and one of the paramedics declares it to be coated in some type of powerful sedative – but West will be perfectly fine.

"Hotch," Morgan asks with a helpless gesture around the room, looking lost, "what was this?"

The unit chief stares at the unconscious grifter as they lift his body onto a gurney and handcuff him to the railing.

"A con. She allowed herself to be caught, knowing we'd have to use her to get to West. She must have resisted initially in order to sell the act."

"Why would she wanna do that? You heard what she was saying back there." Morgan is still incredulous, but Spencer's eyes light on a small white napkin that had probably supported West's drink a few minutes prior.

"For Logan. West killed him and Angelina's probably been waiting to take him down ever since," he hears himself saying, picking up the flimsy object. "She couldn't do it herself, not without risking Z's anger. But if we took care of him, she'd be in the clear."

Rossi's eyes go wide with something like respect. "She tricked us both."

Spencer is only half-listening to the rest of the team theorize about what really happened to Logan and what, if anything, she said during her time in the interrogation room is true; his gaze is fixed on the napkin in his hands.

Sorry, it reads, and that's all it says, and he's more confused than he's ever been.

West gives them Z within hours of waking up, and Spencer wishes he could feel some measure of relief that yet another psychotic killer is off the streets.

But all he feels is lost, and he when he gets back to his apartment, there's a single lily resting on his kitchen counter.


Sweet Pea

The fifth time she escapes, he lets her go.

I don't have time for this, he thinks the moment he spots her in the police station as the team is giving a profile; she's lingering in the back, her eyes alternating between himself and the pictures tacked on the cork boards behind him. They're dealing with a child-killer, which always takes a toll on the BAU, individually and as a whole, and right now they've got three dead kids, the last of which turned up this morning and has yet to be identified or claimed, and a fourth that's just gone missing. He's not in the mood to deal with her mind games or cons, but the team hasn't spotted her yet and he doesn't call attention to her.

As soon as the gathered police are dismissed, everyone scatters: Hotch and Rossi to investigate the most recent crime scene, Blake and Morgan to the abduction site, and JJ as always with the families of the victims. It's an old song and dance, but they know it intimately and it gets results, so he's hardly surprised when the job of geographic profiling, as usual, falls to him.

He meets her gaze once, then turns his back on her, tracing red circles around the relevant areas on the map as he searches for a connection between them.

It takes her thirteen-point-four seconds to approach him, but he still doesn't face her. Two months have passed since New York, and he's annoyed with himself for keeping the napkin – it's tucked between the pages of a book in his bag.

She doesn't say anything at first, just watches him work, and her gaze travels over the pictures of the dead children on the board.

"Hi," she says after a while, and he doesn't respond. There's something he's missing about the geography of the crimes, it's right there, lingering at the forefront of his mind, but she's right next to him and smelling like lilies – she'd left more on Maeve's plot three days ago – and he just can't think.

"You're disrupting a police investigation. I could have you arrested," he says, his tone uncharacteristically icy, and he watches her flinch out of the corner of his eye.

"You could try," she responds with only the barest trace of her usual amusement, and shifts her weight back and forth uncomfortably. He wonders at it briefly, before writing it off – there's no way to tell if her anxiety is genuine or just part of a con, and honestly, she's infuriating.

"What do you want?" he asks, the ice in his tone leveled some, and she seems to relax.

"To explain."

"I'm a little busy right now."

"So am I, but I might not get another chance."

That makes him stop and look at her. He can't pinpoint exactly what it is about her that seems sincere, but her eyes are begging him to listen and there's a certain pent-up anxiety in her frame that he's not sure a person can fake. Taking his attention as a sign to go ahead, she inhales quickly and speaks.

"I'm not sorry I conned you. You need to know that before I tell you anything else. I had to take West down, and once your team came to New York, I knew I had my chance; you couldn't have caught him without my help. But I am sorry for everything I said, and I... I shouldn't have mentioned Maeve."

He goes immediately stiff with anger upon hearing her name fall from Angel's lips, but she doesn't notice.

"And I didn't mean to insinuate you weren't intelligent, because you're actually brilliant, and I –" She seems to realize she's rambling and cuts herself off with a bracing inhale.

"Just listen, because you deserve the truth, and that's not something I say to anyone. I was married at eighteen to a man named Logan, and we did run away together. But the truth is I was involved with West way before Logan died – since before I was sent to Juvie, actually. Logan kept trying to get me to go straight, and I wouldn't; we argued about it all the time. Eventually, he started threatening to turn West in, and West found out about it and had him killed. And he did this to me himself, as a warning." She drags a finger down her scar, her gaze growing cold and dark. "The greatest con I ever ran was convincing him I was only loyal to him; that Logan wasn't anything other than a distraction. What happened in New York was the result of years of planning, of waiting for the right moment. So no, I'm not sorry that I conned you, but I'm sorry for the way I did it."

She huffs at the end of her speech, looking almost like a scolded child, and refuses to meet his eyes. He watches her a moment, and then turns back to his maps wordlessly, still searching for that one link he knows he's missing.

There's a quiet sigh from beside him. "I am sorry, Dr. Reid."

She's leaving again. The thought makes him distinctly unsettled for reasons he can't quite name, and when he speaks again he still doesn't turn to look at her.

"What did you mean when you said you might not get another chance to explain?"

She stops, and the smile he can hear in her voice isn't so much amused as it is... weary. "West had dangerous friends, Dr. Reid, and he's sent them after me from prison. I've managed to avoid them so far, but they got close last week and I... well. I have to go into hiding. Disappear. I'm already putting you at risk just by talking to you, which is why I wanted to meet you here in the station."

It hits him then, what she's doing, why she's really here, and something in his chest begins to ache.

"You're saying goodbye," he murmurs softly, turning once more to face her, and when her eyes meet his she seems to curl in on herself. Only now does he notice how prominently her scar stands out on her sunken cheek, how dark the circles under her eyes are, how her fingers tremble as they card through her dark hair. She looks nothing like the curious force of nature he saw pinning a man to the ground in an alley, so many months ago. Now, she just looks... human.

"I am," she affirms, before attempting a weak grin, "I won't be bothering you anymore."

He realizes with a start that that isn't what he wants. For the first time since Maeve, he's interested. Angel, while not on Maeve's intellectual level, is a puzzle to solve, a riddle in human form; someone who counters who he is and what he does with alarming accuracy. He... feels, for her – and what exactly that means, he isn't quite sure, but he does know he doesn't want her to leave again.

"We could help you," he offers without thinking, remembering half a second later that he'd once made Maeve the same promise, "if you made a deal, we could –" He stops when she shakes her head.

"This is my burden to bear, Dr. Reid," she says, "Part of being a grifter is knowing how to face the consequences when your actions catch up to you." She frowns briefly. "Of course, ideally your actions don't catch up to you, that's sort of the point of the whole thing, but everyone makes mistakes. And I knew what I was getting into the moment I decided to end West."

He doesn't know what to say. He's always been terrible at handling situations like this. However, he's spared from any awkwardness by the small, genuine grin that spreads across her face. She nods at the map tacked on the board behind him, dotted liberally with crimson circles.

"Looks kind of like a star."

Startled, he whips around, taking a few steps back to see it from her perspective. He'd been so focused on individual locations and their surrounding establishments that he hasn't seen the pattern between abduction sites and the sites where the bodies were disposed of until just now. Oh, he is slow. The UnSub is picking the children because of their location at the time, not the other way around! He's seen this before, how had he missed it? Quickly, he calls Garcia, and soon the whole team knows his theory – and, judging by the fact that there's a few missing points in the star on the map, they can narrow down where he'll strike next.

Spencer turns around to show Angel, already knowing she'd be gone, just like every other time.

Except she isn't. She's still standing there, watching him work, a gentle, admiring smile on her face. It occurs to him that if she's ever going to be arrested, it will be right now, in the middle of a police station, surrounded on every side by cops. All it would take is him raising his voice a little, and she'll be in custody, on her way to pay for her crimes.

He can't bring himself to do it. Instead, he nods at her once, and her grin expands to near-blinding.

"Happy hunting, Dr. Reid."

And she sweeps from the room without looking back.

Every other time she's disappeared, he's always been left with a certain foreboding; a deeply-buried acknowledgement that he'll see her again. He doesn't have that now.

The young doctor redirects his attention back to the map, ignoring the burning in his throat with practiced ease. He's got kids to save.


Red Tulip

The sixth time is altogether different.

Spencer knows that the BAU taking on six major cases over a period of two weeks is, while ill-advised for everyone involved, fairly normal, but it doesn't stop him from sighing in relief once the lull between killers finally hits. He, along with the rest of the team, is looking forward to the time off Hotch promised them as they'd made a hasty exit from Quantico at two this morning.

He makes his way up the steps to his apartment and flops rather ungracefully down on the sofa once he gets the door open, lacking sufficient motivation to even make it to his bedroom. It occurs to him, in the brief few seconds before he falls asleep, that he maybe should make a cup of tea to relax his mind and body, but the thought is swept away by a rising tide of exhaustion and he succumbs to it in a matter of moments.

When he is awakened a few hours later by a knock on the door, sunlight is streaming in through his blinds and his neck and back are sore from the couch and the tension of the past few days. Groaning softly, he stands to his feet – staggering briefly from a sudden rush of vertigo – and stumbles to the door, remembering just in time to look through the peephole first.

Startled into immediate awareness, he disengages the lock and pulls back the chain, throwing the barrier open in shock.

"Hello, Dr. Reid," Angel greets, with the same sheepishness she'd displayed in the darkness of his hospital room so long ago. It's been six months since he last saw her, six months of knowing she'd never cross his path again, six months of trying not to think about her – but in his case, trying not to think is like trying to bottle Niagara Falls.

He notices the way she angles her head down in an attempt to hide the white bandage on her forehead, covered slightly by a knit cap that completely conceals her dark hair. She's grown, if possible, even paler than before, but there's a certain confidence in her steel-grey eyes, a subtle victory she carries in the set of her shoulders, and he knows these past few months have changed her irrevocably – for better or worse, he can't quite determine.

"I – I thought you –" Even he isn't quite certain what he's going to say, but she smiles brightly at him in understanding.

"Yeah, I did too." She nods past him, wringing her gloved fingers. "Can I come in?"

After a moment of studying her, he steps aside and she glides through, and he knows by now to expect the sudden scent of lilies that immediately assails his nose.

"What happened to West's friends?" he asks, because he doesn't know quite where to begin, and the smile she gives him is eerily triumphant.

"They are no longer West's friends." She doesn't seem keen on elaborating, but when has she ever, really, and he merely sighs instead of pressing and goes to make a pot of coffee.

"Want any?" he offers, because he's already harboring a fugitive, so he might as well go the whole way and be polite, and she nods as she removes her gloves.

"Black, please." She's surveying the titles on his bookshelf, her expression flickering from interest to excitement to curiosity, before finally settling on amusement and staying there. He's noticed it's her default response to the rest of the world, which makes him wonder if it's her version of a mask.

"I love Voltaire," she murmurs, "Candide was brilliant."

He gives her a quizzical look, and she returns it. "What? I didn't finish high school, but I'm not uneducated, Dr. Reid. You never know what kind of subjects a high-profile mark wants to discuss. I find it helps to be well-read."

Spencer merely nods, finding it difficult to be talkative before he's consumed his daily caffeine intake, but he privately wonders if that isn't just an excuse – if deep down Angel harbors a desire to learn.

He pours the coffee into a pair of mugs – his is a stupid souvenir Morgan gave him as a joke with Einstein's theory of relativity printed on the side, and hers is simple, baby blue. She accepts it gratefully, and they drink in semi-awkward silence, his kitchen counter a barrier between them. Finally, once his brain has begun to function normally again, he looks up at her.

"Why did you come back?"

She's quiet, staring into her coffee and drumming her nails – broken and chipped above purpling knuckles – twice against the ceramic mug. After a moment, she cocks her head at him.

"You know why."

He does, and the fact that she's actually acknowledging it makes him set down his mug shakily. She continues. "I don't really expect you to... feel the same way. I mean, I wouldn't even blame you if you hated me. And you're still in mourning and I get that, believe me..." her voice trails off, and if he doesn't know better, he'd say she's blushing.

"I would even understand if you thought I was conning you. I'm not, if my word means anything, which it probably doesn't."

There's more silence, and she makes a frustrated noise in the back of her throat and picks at the bandage on her forehead nervously.

"Oh would you just say something already?"

"Like what, Angel?" It's the first time he's used the name she gave him, and they both freeze upon hearing it. He recovers first. "You're a fugitive who conned my team. Even if I did feel something for you, how could I trust you?"

"Because I'm trying, Dr. Reid. I'm trying to be honest with you, for you, because I –" She shuts down immediately, but they both know what she had been going to say, and the near-confession hangs in the air between them almost tangibly. They're both silent once more, and he's not sure where to go from here. But the fact that she's using his formal address in such a bizarrely informal setting confuses him.

"Spencer," he responds without thinking, "you can call me Spencer, you know."

As though he's flipped a switch, her entire body straightens and the biggest smile he's ever seen from her breaks out across her face.

"Thank you."

More confused than ever, he blinks at her. "What for?"

"You gave me your name. That's a huge display of trust to someone like me. Why did you think I wasn't using it before now?" she asks, taking another sip of her coffee, and he blinks once, twice, three times.

"So when you gave me your name in the hospital..."

She looks up at him, and he doesn't even have to finish the sentence. He shifts on his feet, unsure of what to do with this information because this is still so new to him, and Angel sighs, setting her mug back on his counter softly.

"Look, uh, Spencer," she murmurs, seeming to test out the word, and he discovers he likes the sound of it on her lips, "if I've misread something, if you don't feel the same way, or if you do, please say something."

He doesn't. He can't, because Maeve's book is still right there, peaking out of his bag, and to respond the way he wants to would be a betrayal. Angel waits four-point-seven seconds, and then nods once, her jaw set and her eyes lowered.

"Right."

She turns to leave, and he knows she'll never come back, because nobody is better at running than her, and he can't let her do that. Not this time.

"Did you mean it?" he asks, and she whips back around to face him.

"Mean what?"

"That you're trying?"

She stares at him then, long and hard and searching, and gradually moves in his direction. She stops about a foot away from him.

"Yes."

It's a simple thing, that word, and she's got no way to prove it to him, no way to show him she's sincere, and perhaps that's why he accepts it – because she can't try to con him into believing this.

He gives her a small smile that she doesn't return, focused as she is on his reaction, and looks down at the floor before forcing himself to meet her gaze.

"Stay?" It isn't much, but it's all he got, and he hopes she understands that.

Spencer can see the war play out across her face. She's surprisingly easy to profile – from what little he knows of her background, he knows she's been running her entire life, escaping when situations slip past her control and fleeing when the darkness threatens to crush her. Right now, she's likely thinking of Logan, of the last time she stayed and how that had ended. He waits, and silently prays she'll trust him, as she's asked him to do for her.

She doesn't smile, not exactly, but her look of amusement has returned, and he catches a whiff of lilies when she reaches out and takes his hand.

And, for the first time since they met, she stays.

Write a Review Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Starcrier
Continue Reading
Further Recommendations

Jessie: I wrote a review on fanfiction but I thought it would be fitting to write on on here too :) This story was honestly stunning. I am a budding writer myself and to read this- to FEEL this- reminded me of why I am honoured to have this passion and drive for a craft that is just so raw and beautiful.

Usagi Kita: This story is emotional from beginning to end. You get to watch the characters struggle and grow, maturing in different ways so that they come to be the people they are meant to be. Inea is insanely adorable, and his antics made me laugh more than once, and Kaedon is perfect for him in so many wa...

Ali Albazaz: I started reading "Caged" few hours ago and I'm on chapter 7 now. Caged is definitely one of the most addictive stories I've ever read. Thank you so much for writing this novel.

Alex Reltin: This is a great story! I love how well you go into detail and emotions of Capri, and Mel. You have amazing dialogue and overall it's just a thrill to read!The only critique I could find is that some of the paragraphs should be separated. For example:-"If Nia would have just let me take the car an...

Jenn Deering: This is a go-to story for when you're needing a little happiness in your life. It's well-crafted, and characters are true to their show-selves. The pace is right, there are minimal grammatical errors, and the plot is fresh.

CurlyRed: I read this entire book in just under 4 hours I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN! i found myself emotionally attached to the characters and making personal connections that i had never experienced before while reading a book! I was constantly wanting to read more, every chapter left me on a cliff hanger tha...

Animeviewer: It is one of the best stories I've ever read. This story will have you riding a roller coaster of emotions and nearly dying to know what happens next.You will get very attached to the characters and in my case I relate well with some of their very traumatic or emotional experiences, Just Juliet f...

PurpleInkling: Hippocrite is spelt hypocrite.Also it is an awesome story! A good one after so long. I was hoping someone would write a good fanficiton playing off what Ron said at the station. You are doing a remarkable job. It would have been interesting if Albus had also ended up in Ravenclaw though that mig...

LouiseJ2: I enjoyed the detail you went into with regards to the case. It made the UNSUB appear believable. The crisis in the middle of the story was my favorite part, very dramatic but not over the top. I feel like sometimes pairings can be overdone but I liked that some of the relationships were a little...

More Recommendations

FateFellShort: I have read this story and have followed the writers on tumblr from the beginning. Its a wonderful story. Beautifully written with a really nice pace, that makes it enjoyable to read more than once. For me, fairy tail has very good characters but what the writers have done is give them more depth...

This story wasn't for you ?
Look at our most viral stories!
Iosaghar

FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"

The Cyneweard

Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."

This story wasn't for you ?
Look at our most viral story!
Spectra

Ro-Ange Olson: "Loved it and couldn't put it down. I really hope there is a sequel. Well written and the plot really moves forward."