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social ritual

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Zack Addy isn't dating Spencer Reid. He doesn't care what Angela says. They aren't dating. Dating would make this whole thing... real.

So yes, Zack had called Spencer after their encounter at Georgetown. They'd gone for coffee a couple of times when Spencer was in DC and had conversations that started off innocuous but took hours to finish. Zack's never had that before. Not with anyone. His mother, siblings, thesis supervisor, Hodgins, Angela, Cam. They'd all tried, but never succeeded.

But they aren't dating.

Dating implies romantic intent. It implies a relationship. It implies some sort of social ritual. And Zack sucks at social rituals. If he and Spencer were dating, Zack would have to start considering what they are, quantifying it, taking it apart piece by piece, until he understands what on earth is going on. And once he starts doing that, he'll ruin it. It's only inevitable.

Zack can't say there isn't something there. A spark. Spencer is attractive; high cheekbones, wide eyes, a pleasing ratio of facial features. Zack has never denied that. And he is an anthropologist. He knows that human sexuality is considered fluid. He's never considered it for himself, but he's not above accepting it.

Angela thinks they are dating. She's remained very set on the fact, despite not knowing anything about Spencer. As far as she's concerned, coffee, a private tour round the latest exhibit at the air and space museum, and getting so carried away with your conversation that you forget about dinner and then go have it together, counts as a date.

Zack had considered it a pleasant day spent with a friend, but then he remembers that he'd spent as much time attempting to map and memorise Spencer's features, the way he spoke, the way his hands flexed and gestured as he talked, as he had spent listening. And then it isn't as platonic as he thought.

But still. There is nothing to suggest that there is romantic intent on Spencer's part. So they aren't dating.


Spencer seems intent on broadening Zack's culinary horizons, so they're at a little Indian restaurant that night. Zack's in the middle of a case. Spencer's just closed one. So they're both tired. Zack had planned on a late night trying to put together the last pieces of the puzzle, but Spencer had lured him away.

The place is small; there's only about six tables in the place. The staff recognise Spencer on sight. He explains he frequently pops in for takeout on his way back to his apartment. So they are seated quickly and Spencer orders for both of them, consulting with Zack about quite how adventurous he's feeling today.

Today is a good day. He'd ditched the mac and cheese for lunch, having one of Angela's bizarre salad concoctions instead. He tells Spencer to order whatever.

"So," Spencer says, when the waiter has finished getting them drinks. "What's the case you're working on?"

Cases Zack can do. There are facts and figures, absolute truths he can recite. It is a topic of conversation he understands. "A young Caucasian man found buried in a shallow grave in Barcroft Park. We've confirmed time of death as two months and one week ago. Facial reconstruction led us to Daniel Parker, who was reported missing over a year ago. Identity was confirmed by an old softball injury. Cause of Death is still uncertain but stress fractures on his wrists would indicate being bound for a long period of time. Dr. Brennan and Booth have suspicions of gang involvement. We're still trying to tie it down."

"Sounds interesting," Spencer says. "Why do they suspect gang involvement?"

"There are injuries that are indicative of nails being driven through his hands."

"A punishment that speaks of ritualised gang violence. But it could be something else as well – I wouldn't jump to conclusions."

Spencer carries on, talking about gang violence and torture methods around DC and across the rest of the United States. Zack chips in with his limited experience. He deals with what happens to the bodies, how it happened – not why. At some point the food arrives, a half dozen tasting dishes with portions of rice and naan. Spencer points out what he thinks Zack will enjoy, and gives warnings about spice and flavourings.

The food is good. The conversation moves on from torture methods to Zack's second dissertation. Spencer has a doctorate in engineering, but his thesis was on non-obvious relationship factors in geographic profiling, and bears little resemblance to Zack's structural engineering topic. But he still has interesting thoughts to contribute, and Zack enjoys just being in his company.

Spencer lights up when he talks. Comes to life, with hands gesturing and eyes flashing with sparks of an idea. Zack likes watching him. The flickering low light of the restaurant illuminates Spencer's face, highlighting cheekbones and a defined jawline and Zack thinks he almost – almost – understands the ridiculous romance novels Cam enjoys.

Too soon, the meal is over. Their plates are cleared away, and Spencer is settling the bill with the middle-aged woman who tells him to be back soon. Spencer agrees. Zack thinks he'd like to come back here. He's enjoyed the food. Enjoyed the company.

"So, I've got Manuel Ethangua's book on structural engineering and social policy back at my place," Spencer says. It was one of the books they'd discussed. Zack had wanted to read it, but he's yet to find a library who can get him a copy and it's out of print. "I could lend it to you."

"That would be good," Zack replies.

"Come on then. My place is this way."


Zack follows Spencer back to his apartment. It's only a short walk, then up some stairs and down a hallway. The apartment is small, but well kept. Books take up almost every available surface, save the corner of the coffee table reserved for a chess set and a coaster.

"I've got some of David Rossi's books, as well," Spencer says, as he searches the shelves for where he'd put the Ethangua book. "They're a good introduction to past cases and profiling, if you were interested in learning more."

Zack can't say he'd prefer to learn from Spencer. That would put them over the line, he thinks. "I'm interested, yes."

Spencer returns with a large, heavy engineering book in additional to a smaller hardback. "There's a lot of older stuff in there. Cases made when the forensic science didn't quite cut it then, or when there was none. Cutting edge as far as behavioural science goes, but we are past some of it." This is all going over Zack's head, as he's sure the book will. "Ask me if you don't understand any of it."

"I will," Zack says. He doesn't take the books off Spencer. That would signal an intent to leave and that's not what Zack wants. Instead, there is an awkward moment where they just stand, Spencer with the books in hand.

"Sorry," Spencer says. "You came here for engineering, not behavioural psychology."

"No, it's fine," Zack replies immediately. "I don't mind. I like listening to you talk."

"Really?" Spencer realises Zack isn't going to take the books and moves to put them down. "That's not what most people say."

"I'm not like other people." Zack says it because it is true, because he's been told it his entire life. But Spencer must hear something else in it, because Zack finds himself on the end of a long, lingering look.

"No, you aren't," Spencer admits. "But neither am I, so I guess that makes us good for each other."

Spencer settles himself on the couch, while Zack takes the statement in. It isn't a declaration with any kind of intent, but it does make Zack think. They are good together. He's not just made that up in his head. It's a fact.

Spencer is talking, as Zack sits down. About engineering and geographic profiling and all the things the Jeffersonian could and should be doing to solve murders. Zack doesn't take much in.

"Are we dating?" he blurts.

Spencer stops, wide-eyed. "I don't know," he admits, after a considered moment. "Do you want us to be?"

That's the worst question. The one Zack doesn't know the answer to. Because whatever he says it will change things. Zack doesn't like change. He can't remember why he even asked the question. Except he doesn't know how long he can do this without knowing.

"I didn't mean it to be a trick question," Spencer says softly. He looks worried. "It wasn't meant to catch you out."

"I'm not sure," Zack says. "I like spending time with you."

Spencer looks contemplative. "I like spending time with you too," he says, in a low voice. "I've been informed that our excursions are dates. Which usually implies romantic and or sexual intent, but this doesn't have to be the case. It could be platonic." Zack ducks his eyes to avoid Spencer's gaze. He doesn't have Spencer's talent for reading people. He can't tell what Spencer's feelings about this are. "Zack," Spencer begins, voice overly cautious. "Are you attracted to me?"

Zack knows the only thing left to say is the truth. "Yes."

He can't look at Spencer. A silence hangs in the air, one full of impending rejection. "I'm attracted to you too." Zack looks up. Spencer's words are vulnerable. They speak of a man who knows no more about this entire process than he does. There's something oddly reassuring about that. "If we go on dates, and there is mutual attraction between us, and if we want to continue doing it..." Spencer trails off.

"We're dating," Zack finishes. It seems clear now. The concept is still terrifying. He's never dated someone before. Not like this. Not with someone he cares about.

"That's good." Spencer stands up. He seems full of tension. It's in his bones. "I hate to say it, but you should probably be going, or you'll miss the bus."

Zack glances at the time. Spencer is probably right. So he gets up off the couch, gathers the books Spencer is lending him into his bag. Spencer follows him to the door, leaning against the wall.

"I liked tonight," Zack says. "I'd like to do it again."

"We will," Spencer says, full of certainty and promise. "Though maybe without the last part. I'll call you. My case load is worse than yours."

"That's fine."

"I think we've got a couple of days here tying up paperwork, barring an emergency, but after that we'll be out again." Spencer opens up the apartment door. "Goodnight, Zack. I hope you get home safe."

Then Spencer leans in and kisses him, short and sweet, but pleasant nonetheless. He's smiling as he draws back.

"Goodnight, Spencer," Zack replies. He walks out into the hallway and the apartment door swings shut behind him.


He meets Hodgins and Angela in the garage early the next morning for Hodgins to drive them all into work. Angela hands him a travel flask of coffee before getting in the back-seat beside him.

Zack sips the flask, grateful for the caffeine that begins to flood his system.

"Late night yesterday?" Angela asks.

"I was with Spencer," Zack replies. The coffee is perhaps a little sweeter than he likes it, and he thinks that Angela has put something else in it too – cinnamon or something else that's given it an extra kick. "What did you put in this?"

"Nutmeg," Angela says. "And don't go changing the topic. You and Spencer are spending a lot of time together lately."

"Don't push him, Ange. He'll tell us when he's ready."

"We're dating."

Zack enjoys the way that Angela and Hodgins are shocked into silence. He understands that they are concerned about him, that they want the same happiness that their relationship has given them for him, but they haven't been helpful.

"I knew it." Angela looks victorious, with a giant smile on her face. "Oh Sweetie, I'm so happy for you."

"Good on you, man," Hodgins adds from the driver's seat.

Zack smiles. He's still not sure what this will mean. Where it will lead them. But he's happy, and Hodgins and Angela are happy for them, and Spencer seemed happy. All of those are good things. Zack isn't going to get caught up in what dating should be like. Spencer said it the night before - neither of them are normal. As long as whatever they have works for them, that is enough.

Zack only hopes it will be.