Actions

Work Header

Darkling

Chapter Text

He’d never forgotten the scent of moss.

Peering over Emily’s shoulder, he watched as she picked disinterestedly at the thick green carpet of sheet moss on the forest floor, ignoring the niggling discomfort that the rich earthy scent raised. “Do you know,” he said finally, and watched the barest flicker of her eyelashes on the profile of her face indicate that she was rolling her eyes. He continued anyway, because if he didn’t she’d start paying proper attention; he was mere inches away from worry and she was far too good at reading him: “that moss is one of the few plant species that can survive desiccation. They can actually come back from a state of extreme dryness, often one of the first species to return after long periods of drought.”

“Interesting,” Emily said, sounding anything but. He swallowed and coughed as the dryness in his throat grew exponentially, choking him. Inhaling sharply to stop from spluttering, right as Emily stood with a slab of moss cupped in her hands, the stink of it bit into his nose and throat, and he knew she saw him recoil. “Spence?”

Moss was one of the few species that could recover from extreme desiccation, a state that would kill almost any other plant. But the structural damage it caused was permanent. It was never quite the same after.

“You two done faffing about in the woods like fairies?” he heard Rossi call, the man edgy. Emily and Rossi both needed to leave. They were working a case, asked his help with identifying the moss found on the body. He was helping.

He was panicking.

“Scent is linked strongly with the retention of memories, especially those linked to the arousal system—threats,” he murmured, and stared at the moss. It wasn’t even the same type, not even close.

There was a tug at his mental shields and he pushed away the revulsion it always brought, even two years after, and let her in.

“Calm down,” she soothed, and wrapped around him like a blanket, enveloping him in her. She was a strange mix of prickly and smooth: pleasant to curl into unless his edges caught against her and dragged like nails down silk. He wondered if she knew how much of her was flavoured by her cat, her mind’s voice almost a purr. “I told Hotch you weren’t ready to consult. There’s no shame in this.”

“There’s only shame in this,” he snapped back, feeling the snap-crack of her temper flaring, quickly damped down in an attempt to hide it from him. A failed attempt. Ever since that day, hiding things from each other had proven… problematic.

“Reid,” Rossi said, and Reid jerked his head around to stare at the mage, knowing his eyes were wide and worried, mouth downturned, but having no idea how to fix it. “I’ll drop you home. Prentiss, take that—”

Feeling the hardened wood of his cane grip slip in fingers suddenly slick with sweat, Reid shook his head. “I’ll find my own way home, you need to go,” he croaked, and Emily flinched at the ache in his voice. With a quick twist of the air around him, he flared his wings and took off, blurring himself from their view.

Even through the sudden cold-metal scent of a storm pressing in on him, he could still smell the moss.

 


 

He went to the library and spent a quiet afternoon losing everything that haunted him in the turn of the pages and musty scent of leather and dust. It was an entirely pleasant time after the haunting misery of memories faded, although his wings earned him a couple of wry glances from overprotective librarians and one corvid familiar, who watched him as carefully as though he recognised him. It had only been two years. It was entirely possible that he did recognise him. Reid turned his back on the bird, folded his wings tightly so the scarring didn’t show, and buried his nose in his pile of books. After the past year of spreading his time between training and lecturing, this was his second run-through of this particular library. Life was… resolutely empty without the BAU to divert him. It was proving difficult to adapt.

The flight home was bitterly cold, and his breath rasped as he landed on the frost-slick fire escape and hesitated, cane tapping on the metal grate and steaming slightly from the heat of his body after the overexertion of flying. He could go through his own window, into his echoing apartment and the nightmares that had yet to fade. Or…

He turned his gaze to Emily’s. It was dark behind the thick curtain. She must be asleep. Slipping through his own window, he put the temptation behind him. Tomorrow was soon enough to pester her about the case, to put aside his nagging curiosity. Although, he doubted she’d humour his questions, not after his… moment… in the woods today.

The apartment was the quiet kind of loud around him. The walls were settling into the cold night, a pipe somewhere above clanking. Reid leaned his cane against the wall and paced, ignoring the limp, trying to regain the easy sloping stride he’d possessed before the bullet had torn through his knee and left the bone and muscle a fragile mess of tentative spellwork. It worked for a short time, a bare instant, before the pain came back and he gritted his teeth through it. But, he kept pacing. If he worked it enough, stretching the scarring and the muscle and allowing it to reheal minutely every time… maybe, just maybe, he could… become more like what he had been.

So, he kept pacing until the burn reached his lungs and he was sweating again, the joint screaming.

She didn’t knock. She rarely did these days. They both had keys, and his spellwork knew her and savoured her entry into its domain. The walls around him whistled their pleasure silently, and he turned to her as she halted in the darkness of his living room.

“Why are you walking around in the dark?” she asked, and he knew the half-wry smile she’d be wearing despite the gloom. He narrowed his eyes, sensing what she was about to do moments before she did it. The lights flared on. “Goddamn it, Spencer. You’re going to fuck it up again.”

“Doubtful,” he replied, looking down and examining the way his leg had settled into a wonky kind of list as soon as he’d turned his attention to her. Damn. “I’m fully aware of my limitations, Emily.”

“Yes,” she said dryly, and he stopped squinting and tried to look at her without blinking too rapidly in the light. He failed. It wouldn’t stop him trying though—despite the pain, the resounding failure of today as a whole, and his own guilt… despite that all, she still managed to bring a smile to his mouth, the expression fighting the exhaustion he knew was dragging his mouth downwards and painting dark shadows under his eyes. “Come on. Come to bed. It’s cold tonight and Sergio’s stolen my hot water bottle. I need a heater.”

By ‘heater’, she meant ‘boyfriend’. Emily was perpetually cold, with hands and feet that chilled at the slightest hint of winter, and she fought this by piling her bed high with blankets despite Reid’s insistence that beyond five, all she was really doing was causing a suffocation hazard. Reid combated this by being available as her ‘heater’. It was really a win-win. If she noticed the increase in his limp when he nodded and followed her out of his apartment, she didn’t comment on it.

He was thankful for that.

 


 

He woke in the middle of the night with her in his arms, her mouth against his neck and leaving a damp patch of skin from the warmth of her breathing. Fast asleep. Even now, even after two years free of Foyet and one of those years spent without her… even now, he never took this for granted. Never.

“I love you,” he murmured into her dark hair, and pressed his mouth to her. When he inhaled, he could taste everything that made her her, and then some. Her hair products. The oils from her scalp. The barest trace of gunpowder from her hands that at some point she’d run through her hair and failed to wash away before coming home. He tasted it all and loved it equally. His hip burned with the reminder of her and he closed his eyes and savoured everything this moment was, locking it away in his mind with his eidetic recall for times when he struggled to remember what coming back had been for.

The bed dipped slightly and green-glowing eyes peered over Emily’s shoulder at him. Mnah, complained Sergio, his white teeth glinting in the weak light from Emily’s digital alarm clock. Reid shifted the arm that Emily wasn’t asleep on and crooked his finger for the cat to bump his nose against. Mnah, he said again, with emphasis, and Reid missed his voice fiercely.

Sergio turned two times and disappeared. Reid could hear the soft srk srk srk of claws kneading the bed before feeling the press of warm fur against his hand and Emily’s back. They weren’t the only cold ones in the house. Reid smiled, lowered his arm back around his sleeping girlfriend, and trailed a finger down the cat’s spine.

Purring lulled him back to sleep.

 


 

“How is your job going?” The therapist smiled brightly, the expression reaching her eyes and lighting up her face. Reid smiled back, only half as cheerily. She was decent. Of course she was, the Bureau had recommended her, and they had the best. She actually cared about him.

That didn’t make opening up to her any easier.

“Fine, of course,” he lied. Then he added to the lie with details—not enough to make her suspicious, but not so few she would think he was deflecting. I am content with my life, the lies said. I am content with my work.

“Very good, Spencer,” she said. Light caught her name badge, the one he always wondered why she wore since it hardly added to her ‘I am here for you and you alone’ persona that she cultivated, and turned the Katie into Kat. Sergio would like her, Reid suspected. She had the kind of hands that looked at home petting a cat. “You’re doing wonderfully. Much better than I expected. With trauma, such as yours, recovery can be slow. That’s absolutely fine—slow doesn’t always mean bad, you know this. But it’s always gratifying to see clients regaining their lives so swiftly.”

Reid nodded, and made a few choice comments agreeing with her. Statistics have shown… trauma can result in… you must realize that I’m saying all this so those nice little reports you send to Strauss that I know end up in both Hotch and Rossi’s inboxes say that I’m recovering.

Okay, so he didn’t say the last bit.

“Your relationship with Emily is going well?” Genuine curiosity now, beyond just her work. Emily had accompanied him on several sessions, by Katie’s recommendation. The two women actually seemed to like each other. Reid suspected that they did anyway. Emily smiled and chattered like she liked Katie, and he didn’t know Katie well enough to pick up on her tells. But they seemed friendly enough. Friendly enough that when Katie asked about Emily, Reid never lied.

“Really well,” he said, and smiled properly for the first time that session. Dangerous. If she knew the difference, she could profile him. But, more likely, she’d just put it down to him being ‘lovesick’. “She’s…”

“Supportive?” Katie prompted, when he trailed off trying to find a single word that encompassed his rune mage and everything she gave him. “Compassionate? Encouraging? Doting?” A quick, light laugh, and she winked. “Dazzling?”

Now, he laughed too, and the sound was almost foreign to him. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was relying on fooling her, he’d be recommending she bring this kind of flippancy to the beginning of their sessions. She’d have a lot more luck assessing him accurately with his guard down. “Is there an ‘all of the above’ option?” he murmured, watching her smile waver very slightly as she met his eyes. He looked away quickly, swallowing back his unease along with the slow roll of power that he’d let slip without noticing.

For a moment, he’d forgotten what he was. What lurked behind his eyes. Foyet, still. Hankel, shades of. His own legacy, both from his bloodline and the scars his actions had left on him. With that single, uneasy flicker of her facial expressions as he’d let his control slip for just a second, she’d reminded him.

“Spencer,” she said, and he looked at the clock. One minute to go. “It’s okay to not be okay. You do know that, right?”

Back to lying.

“Of course.”

 


 

“How are you really?”

Reid sighed and bounced his good knee, Henry kicking his chubby legs and giggling. He was getting heavy, and wriggly. Reid knew he’d only allow himself to be held for a short time until he protested and fought to be free to play with the assortment of toys strewn across JJ’s living room floor. “JJ, I already had therapy today. Do I need to relive it with everyone I see?”

JJ popped her head through the door, brow furrowed. “Spence, if you think I believe for an instant you didn’t lie your pretty little mouth off in there, you’re more messed up than I thought,” she scolded. “How are—Henry don’t bite that—you, really?”

Reid tugged his cane out of Henry’s curious mouth and distracted the toddler from squalling with a quick tug of his nose followed by a whirl of wind that he pulled from outside. He brought with it the scent of a melting snow and the fading winter, two fragrances that the little winter/water-affined—Reid couldn’t tell which quite yet, but he suspected Will might win this one—elf baby locked onto with a fierce kind of attention, patting at the tame whorl of air on Reid’s thickly scarred palm. Reid stared at the burn that obscured where his FBI credentials had used to sit and fought the temptation to close his hand to hide it. “Coping,” he said finally.

One side of JJ’s mouth bent crookedly and Reid couldn’t tell if it was fighting to move up or down. “Maybe you should take up a hobby,” she suggested, and, bizarrely, Reid thought of the moss. “You know, like what normal people have. Knitting, or something.”

Henry tried to lick the wind and shrieked as it chilled his mouth. Reid eased him down, watching him thoughtfully, JJ’s words playing in his mind.

Maybe.

 


 

Finding himself thankful, once again, for Emily’s presence in his life, his car had started that morning with only minimal coaxing instead of the steady hour it usually took. It wasn’t that Reid was neglectful… it was basically that Reid was neglectful. He’d never been handy with mechanics. Fortunately, Emily was. Somehow. She’d never actually explained how she’d gained her proficiency, just sighed, scolded him, and then given him a list of things she needed.

Reid had watched her work on it, eyeing the careless smears of oil she’d left across her hips when she’d brushed her hands across her pants, and considered that maybe he should neglect his Austin more often. There was something entirely appealing about the capability of Emily covered in grease and swearing in a rich variety of languages when tools slipped out of her hands. He’d showed her just how appealing eventually, coming up behind her and pulling her against his body as he’d brushed his lips against her neck. Fortunately for him, she’d immediately gotten the not-so-subtle hint of his appreciation pressed against the back of her thigh. Unfortunately for the car, that had spelt the end of its pampering for the evening.

He had been thorough in his appreciation, as she deserved.

It wasn’t such a problem. He rarely drove, preferring to fly. Except, of course, for days like today when he was on a mission. Tracking down what he wanted was surprisingly difficult. He’d managed it eventually, of course, and was only just placing the finishing touches on his new ‘hobby’ when the door opened and Emily walked in. He glanced at her before turning back to his task. Hair tied back tightly, coat on, gun on hip. Straight from work.

“Sergio says you’ve gone mad,” she said cheerily, blowing on her fingers as she peeled gloves from her hands, and then she went very, very quiet. His ears burned. He waited for whatever was coming. Worry… or anger. It could be either. “Spence.”

When he turned, she was leaning over the marshy terrarium containing Polytrichum commune. “Common haircap moss,” he supplied, before using his cane to jab at the rocks clustered to one side. “Silene acaulis. Technically not a moss. And over here, Ceratodon purpureus…”

Emily stared at him. “You’ve filled your house with moss.” Incredulous. Worry, yes. She hadn’t quite decided if she was mad or not. Reid considered poking into her emotions, then decided that may cause more problems than it would solve. Technically, the physical moss was an afterthought. Twelve different species of moss and moss-like plants so far, and the scent of each was subtly different and each set off a chain-reaction of shakes in his hands and cool sweat down the back of his neck. Exposure therapy. He could break himself of his aversion by surrounding himself with the olfactory memory that he was having the response to.

He couldn’t tell Emily that.

“Yes, obviously,” he said instead. “You know, moss has many uses, including…” He trailed off again, because her emotions had solidified into worry and a slight suggestion of wry amusement. Boyfriend is being eccentric again, he could practically hear her thinking. His hip itched and he felt his hand twitch towards it, the cane catching on the carpet and rasping.

“Come over for dinner, weirdo?” she asked, turning back to the door to hide her smile. Tempting. He shouldn’t though. It might invalidate his data to immediately seek distractions from the moss exposure.

Self-control wasn’t his strength these days.

“Okay,” he said, and tried not to move too quickly towards the door in case she noticed how eager he was to be away.

He wasn’t

Chapter Text

They only came when he was alone.

On the nights that Emily worked, he knew they’d always come. It didn’t matter how long he put off the moment when he finally fell into bed, they were always waiting.

And they were always the same.

 


 

“Hello, Nothing,” Foyet purrs into his ear, raking his nails down the delicate span of Nothing’s wing. “Scream now.”

He always obeys.

 


 

Waking was always the same, too. A shudder that ran its way through his body and left his fingers biting cruelly into the sheets and his back arched upwards, wings half flared in the air above him. He rolled onto his back awkwardly, staring at the roof through the pre-dawn haze, feeling the tension shake him from his bearings and leave him reeling.

His arm itched.

The same ritual. He stood, feeling the cool air bite into his sweat-marked skin and wrapping his wings tighter against his back to avoid exposing more skin to the cold, limping to the bathroom cabinet. The harsh fluorescent light that flicked on at the brush of his hand over the switch wasn’t exactly needed, but it did help chase some of the shadows out of his eyes.

There was a strict order to his medicine supply. Acetaminophen, aspirin, antibiotic ointment, aloe vera, hydrogen peroxide, hydrocortisone; all lined neatly on the bottom shelf with their labels facing outwards, right alongside the bandages and toothpaste. The everyday shelf. It was clean when he traced his finger along it.

Second shelf was just as clean, almost as every day. Topical corticosteroids. Hydrocolloid dressings. An odd collection of cosmetics that Emily had laughed at when she first saw them, and then gone terribly quiet when she thought more about why he had them. A bottle of valerian pills that rattled emptily as he picked it up and shook it thoughtfully.

He didn’t look at the top shelf, the bottles turned with their labels to face the back of the cabinet, the dust thick on the ledge. He didn’t have to look to know their names, their ingredients, the bitter coating they left on the back of his throat and the acidic shame they left on his mind. Sertraline. Venlafaxine. Temazepam. He’d filled the prescriptions. The seals on the bottles had never been broken. There were more up there than there should have been—he’d kept filling the prescriptions, despite never taking the pills. Emily’s mouth thinned when she saw it, but she never brought it up.

Shaking the valerian again, he pinched two out and dry swallowed them, fingers dragging on the rough lip of the plastic bottle, replacing it with painful care and shutting the cabinet carefully. If he could get to sleep again, he wouldn’t dream. They only came when he was alone.

When he returned to his bed, Sergio was there, and the cat purred sadly at the sight of him. He smiled, lay down with one arm wrapped carefully around the warm cat, and slept.

 


 

Emily: I’ll be home soon. Jet touching down in twenty.

To Emily: It’s late. Do you need me to come pick you up? Don’t drive if you’re exhausted. S. R.

Emily: ; )

The knock at the door was entirely expected because Emily had never lost any enjoyment in teasing him. Reid rolled his eyes, eased his way out from under both the bowl of soup he’d microwaved—burnt—and was now picking glumly at and the cat who’d attached himself firmly to his side.

“You’re a liar,” he said pertly, tugging the door open and smiling as her sharp gaze met him from under heavily hooded lids. She looked… drained. Beyond drained. She had the look in her eyes that meant the case they’d been dealing with included children, and he recognised that look and made a mental note to drop in on JJ before they went back on rotation to make sure she was okay.

“I only do it to make you pout,” she replied, just as pertly, and cupped his cheek in her hand to pull him down into a wistful kiss. She’d missed him.

He’d missed her. Feeling, mutual.

He could feel her lips curving in a tired smile against him. “I don’t pout,” he mumbled into her mouth, before breaking away. “Your place or mine?”

A wry snort was his answer. “You know,” she said, sidling past him and walking past the couch—eyes drawn instantly to both the cat and the abandoned bowl of soup. “I thought the point of us not living together was that we spent some time apart.”

Oh.

“Well…” He stopped, feeling his ears burning as he shut the door and reactivated the security runes, waiting until the spider-webbing of working green had died away before tapping his finger against it again. Just to be sure. Plus, the longer he spent fiddling with it, the more time he had before turning to face her and his assumptions. “I just thought…”

“Spence.” She sounded close again. “I was kidding. If you’re already settled in, I’ll stay here. With you and my disloyal little shit of a cat and your… moss. I hate the moss, have I mentioned?” She probably didn’t hate the moss. She probably hated the waves of anxiety she got from him when he forgot the moss was there and walked into the room to be shaken all over again by the scent of it. They’d noted warily that it occasionally became difficult to tell which of them was experiencing a negative response to stimuli, and which of them was simply responding to the other person’s discomfort. A little side-effect of their impromptu bonding that Rossi hated and was forever on them to fix. One day. They’d fix it one day. When they weren’t… busy.

“Oh hey, that thing is working again.” Emily was in his kitchen now, her go-bag leaning against the table, and she was looking down at the blue-white glow of the ancient laptop he’d procured himself at Garcia’s insistence that he have a way for her to keep in contact. “I was sure the last time you fried it was the absolute end.”

“I had some help,” Reid said quietly, following her into the kitchen when he realized he was still standing by the front door. His gait sounded heavy and uneven compared to hers as she, without missing a beat, knocked the empty soup can into the bin and began rattling around the fridge. “You don’t need to cook. You’re tired. We can order in.”

Dark eyes appeared over the fridge door and glared. “How long have I been gone.” She didn’t state it as a question. It had taken months, but he’d eventually gotten that occasionally Emily asked questions that she didn’t want answered. Wisely, after a moment’s analysis, he decided this was one of those. “Exactly. Don’t stand there looking shamefaced. I bet you’ve been eating nothing but microwaved soup since I left. And you always mess it up.”

That wasn’t true. The morning before, he’d had pancakes. The neighbour had given them to him, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, he’d eaten something other than soup while she was gone. Another thing he’d learned: don’t try to reason her out of scolding. He kept quiet again, ignoring the sudden pang of hunger in his belly, and another darker pang lower than that that reminded him it had been a while since he’d sated a different kind of hunger.

“I’m hungry,” she finished, disappearing back into the fridge and reappearing with eggs he didn’t remember buying, “and I’m not eating canned soup. So, shh, and let me make something. You can make up for it later. Have you checked your emails?”

It took a beat for him to respond, still firmly in the ‘let her run out of steam’ mode, and he shook himself as she turned and raised an eyebrow at his silence. “No.” He hadn’t in a week. His computer was doing… a thing again. A thing he wasn’t sure about. “I meant to ask Garcia…”

“Omelette, Fish-breath?” she called as she bent over the laptop, eggs in one hand and the other tapping impatiently at the keyboard. Sergio yowled assent from the living room, bounding in and almost sending paperwork flying as he leapt up onto the table. “Spence, the router isn’t connecting. Did you reset it?”

“Uh.” He turned and blinked at the dully flickering box on the counter, half-buried under a pile of journals that had slid sideways. “No.”

A hand slipped across his back, sliding into his back pocket and pressing against him. He turned, startled, and found himself with an armful of Emily smiling at him. “Good thing you’re cute,” she said, tucking her nose against the curve of his throat and collarbone and wrapping her other arm around and under his wing to tug him into a tight hug. He reciprocated, leaning his lips against her sweaty hair. “Because you’d be lost if you had to survive without me. I’ll reset it while I cook. Check your emails—god knows, you’ve probably got a good couple of hundred from students asking the same three questions. Plus, Garcia has sent you at least five about next weekend. I know, she keeps texting me.”

“Next weekend?” She doesn’t answer him, pulling out of his grip and fiddling with the box before ducking back to her abandoned eggs on the counter. “What’s happening next weekend?”

“Well, if you’d check your emails, you’d know, wouldn’t you?”

As he hunched back over the laptop, scowling with mock grouchiness, he could have sworn he heard Sergio sniggering.

 


 

It took him a good five minutes of picking his way through his inbox before he found Garcia’s email. Five minutes, and Sergio inching past his elbow to jab his nose pointedly in the direction of the folder labelled ‘Really Important Business for the Reidmeister’. Reid stared at that for a moment, before deciding that it was a 50/50 of whether it was Emily or Garcia who’d gifted him that little addition, and clicking in anyway.

“Jesus,” Emily murmured, sliding a plate with an omelette onto the table next to the laptop and smiling as his nose twitched hungrily at the scent of it. “There’s an alphabet soup in your inbox. How long has that been happening? The NSA, Spence?”

Reid scanned the emails, keywords and phrases regulating each into their own little section of his mind. Recruitment, research queries, news reporter. “About eight months,” he answered, scrolling down until he found Garcia’s email. It dinged as he opened it, flashing garishly, and all three of them twitched back in shock at the sudden spangliness of it. “Ever since I resigned permanently from the FBI. As it turns out, a first circle level caster—even an inhuman one—with my abilities is a valuable acquisition.” Despite my history, hung unsaid in the air between them. Spencer Reid, familiar-bound demon of Emily Prentiss, was squeaky clean. His record was spotless. So far as the courts were concerned, he was an entirely separate entity from the demon who’d been responsible for the deaths of so many.

Reid wasn’t convinced.

…. ATTENTION ALL MY BEAUTIES, PAY ATTENTION TO ME —YES THAT MEANS YOU TOO, DEREK, I KNOW YOU’RE CHUCKLING AND DOING THAT LITTLE LOOK DOWN AND GRIN THING YOU DO NOW STOP AND LISTEN TO ME…

“The whole thing is in all caps,” Reid groaned, scanning the email. “It’s so insistent. I feel like I’m being shouted at.”

Emily laughed softly. “Shh. There’s every chance she can hear you. Are you going to come?”

Reid bit at his lip, before looking back at the screen. … DINNER AT THE VENERABLE ROSSI’S AND WE WILL HAVE FUN AND FUN WILL BE HAD AND THERE WILL BE FUN FOR ALL. SPENCE, YOU BETTER COME. PLEASE. OR I WILL COME TO YOUR HOUSE AND MAKE FUN HAPPEN THERE INSTEAD…

“I guess I better,” he responded finally, thinking of how pleased Katie would be about his re-entry into the real world and tapping the send read receipt button. “I’d hate to miss out on… fun.”

Emily ruffled his hair, swallowing the last bite of her own omelette and dropping the plate into the sink with the rest of the dishes to clear later. “Atta ’boy. I’m going to have a bath. Come to bed when you finish up.”

It could be fun.

Maybe.

 


 

He tidied the kitchen and considered going to bed, but the memory of his nightmares lingered. Instead, he padded into the bathroom and silently observed Emily as she relaxed in the bubbly water, steam from the hot bath turning her skin pink and flushing what he could see of her chest and throat. The hunger stirred again, and he shifted restlessly.

“You do enjoy boiling yourself,” he remarked, stepping in and smiling down at her. Dark eyes snapped open and regarded him, wary.

“No point in a bath that goes cold two minutes in,” she said cheerfully, sitting upright with a cascade of soapy water. It trickled down her chest, around her breasts, and he wasn’t shy about letting his eyes rake slowly over her body, the curve of her shoulder, the dark round shape of her nipples. He let a little of his attraction to her slip out from his mental shields, curling around the room, and her eyes darkened even as she rolled them at him. “Perve. Aren’t you sleeping?”

“Hmm, nope.” It was a careful task to perch on the rim of the bath, wings folded tightly to avoid dipping the tips into the water. He rolled his sleeves up so he could trail his fingers through the water, leaving ripples in the foamy surface that exposed flashes of her to him: the skin of her thigh, her hand resting on her knee, the line of her bare hip marked with the dark swirl of the rune they shared. It was only the barest of glimpses before the foam closed and hid her again, but there was a decidedly pointed stirring of interest between his own thighs that betrayed the quiet serenity of the scene. He examined her other runes. The one around her arm with his name through it. The ones on her shoulders. A delicate intertwining of them on her belly, partially covered by bubbles.

“I feel like I’m in an aquarium being goggled at by school kids,” she grumbled, sinking low into the water and closing her eyes until the bubbles wrapped around her chin. Her knees poked up as she sunk, and he amused himself for a moment by scooping handfuls of the foam and piling it on top of them. “If you’re going to stay in here like a creep-o, at least be useful.”

“I could wash your back,” Reid offered, and he layered his voice with the darkly hungry power he possessed, strengthened by his desire for the woman in front of him. It was a wanting voice, a bedroom voice, and he felt a tremor run through her as her eyes snapped open to stare at him. When he breathed in deeply, the air was laced thickly with the scent of the bubble solution—some artificial candy scent she favoured and he made sure to supply in case she chose to bathe here and craved comfort—but under it there was a musky tang that he recognised as her responding to him. “Or your hair.” Lifting his hand out of the water, it was the work of a second to call the moisture in the air to bear down upon them, a humid crash of rain around her head that thundered down relentlessly.

She shrieked and flailed and he ceased the rain, smirking. The humidity had set her hair to frizz, her mouth an undecided mix of anger, surprise, and a wide-mouthed delight like she couldn’t hold back the laughter. “You idiot! Being all… you… and then you do that! Christ, fuck, shit!”

He looked away to hide his laugh and that was a mistake, because there was a tug on his wing that almost unbalanced him. He looked at her, how she grinned with her hand on his hip. Then, she tugged again and he overbalanced, cane clattering away as he fell backwards into the water with a yelp.

He dragged himself up on his knees between her legs in the wildly sloshing bathwater and they stared at each other, both torn between laughter and horror. Water trickled noisily down the side of the bath, pooling on the tiles in soapy puddles, drenching the terribly bright bath mat she’d bought him to ‘liven up the place’. His clothes were saturated, streaming water down his body and sticking wetly to his skin, not an inch of him spared. His bad knee twinged, groaned, sending sharp bolts of pain up his thigh to remind him of its existence.

“I’m a little sorry,” she whispered eventually, covering her mouth with her eyes delighted, curling upwards at the corners. “If it helps.”

“It really doesn’t.” He tugged sodden locks of hair out of his eyes, flattening them back and wiping his face with his hand, trying to look woeful. Standing with water cascading around him, Emily covering her own face to avoid the splashback as he stepped out of the bath and peeled his shirt off, hanging it carefully on the towel rack.

The water in the bath slopped around as she kneeled, her arms folded over the rim of the bath and her chin on her elbow, watching him seriously. “That’s a cute look on you,” she said, a flicker of tongue darting out to skim her lower lip and her eyes locked on the way his pants clung wetly to his ass. It was his turn to roll his eyes at her, undoing the buckle and dropping them with a wet shlop. “Oooh. That’s an even cuter look. Come on, get rid of the rest.”

So, he did, hanging his briefs next to his trousers and shirt, before kneeling naked to bring himself face to face with her and in one smooth movement, dragging her mouth to his. At the first pinch of teeth on his lip as they misjudged the angle, the hunger he’d toyed with earlier before his impromptu bath reared violently in his spine and spiralled into his groin, setting his skin aflame. He gasped, arched slightly, and choked back what was almost a moan but turned into a growl from the unexpectedness of it. Emily jerked under his hands as his nails raked against her shoulders, clenching unconsciously, his shields faltering. Suddenly, she was in his brain, his thoughts, and she groaned into his mouth at the burning heat of his desire.

“Spence, woah,” she gasped, straightening, still in the bath and wrapping her arms around him. “When was the last time you fed?”

A week? Or so. The last time she was home. Or the time before. He couldn’t think, couldn’t calculate. He’d been ignoring it, pushing back the warning signs his body normally served him with the soothing effects of the valerian and the focus of his work at the college.

“I don’t know,” he said, taking a shuddering breath that barely helped, considering that his mouth was still against her and all it gave him was the taste of her. “Give me a moment, just a moment to… think.” They’d switched to thoughts, his own breathing too ragged to respond, and he closed his eyes and lowered his head to press his mouth against the curve of her shoulder while he regained his sense. It wasn’t that he was reliant on sex to live, not completely. But, he was beholden to it for his health, and that he hated more than any of the ‘gifts’ his father’s species had given him. It made what him and Emily shared cheap. A necessity instead of a pleasure.

And if—when—they slept together tonight, because she knew he needed her now and wouldn’t let him neglect that, it wouldn’t be anything but him taking from her what she offered, nothing more.

“You’re being stupid again,” she whispered into his mind, her voice a cat’s meow, soft and insistent and pitched so it was impossible to ignore for long. She was moving, half out of the bath, dripping and slippery against him, and he loved her so much it hurt to take anything from her. “I want this, Spence. I’ve been wet since you walked into the room.”

Oh.

“You were in the bath,” he pointed out, his brain clearing enough to let him think, although painfully aroused and his pulse throbbing in time with the slamming of his heart. “That’s not as flattering as you’re suggesting—”

She shut him up by stepping out of the bath, the now clear surface rippling and smoothing as she left it, her skin still scented with candy and steaming slightly with the heat of the water. Two firm arms wrapped around him, pushing him down onto the damp mat, one skimming down his side and hip and thigh to settle on his bad knee to help him lay it flat without causing any pain. An insistent mouth moved against his throat, his collarbone, his jawline. Twisting under her to lay his wings comfortably, his hips bumped upwards, once and then a second time, each time bringing him into contact with her with a paroxysm of heat and friction. The third time was deliberate, calculated, and she wasn’t lying. He pressed the aching length of himself between her thighs, savouring the way she opened them to invite him in, and found that she was just as wet and wanting as promised.

His head lay an awkward angle against the glass of the shower stall, his good leg propped up on the bath with his toes keeping a tenuous grip on the edge, and she straddled him with only the barest hint of space between her sinking down on top of him, her face open and clear for him to read. Everything was written there plainly. Love, desire, a desperate, dizzying need for him to know what she was offering him wasn’t just satiation, but so much more.

She finally lowered herself and took him fully with a gasp he mirrored. Skin squeaked against the foggy surface of the glass over his head, her hand pressed there to brace herself as she rocked above him. It left handprints that he peered upwards at even as his body surged with a jolt of totality that chased away the fogginess he hadn’t noted he’d been suffering until it was gone. He really needed to keep on top of things, he realized. This was unacceptable. If he allowed himself to weaken, he weakened her through their familial bond, and that could be the difference between her responding adequately to a threat through her work, or her being a microsecond too slow.

“Spence,” she breathed, rolling her hips slowly and reverentially. “Look at me. Don’t do that. Stop feeling guilty. Just focus on me.”

He did. He narrowed his focus to her, curling that dark power around them both again until the barest touch of his fingers dancing across her belly had her twitching around him, clenching, eyes glazing over. There was a stray thread of her mind remaining in his own and he used it to draw her back in; it was his turn to wrap himself around her mind and overwhelm it with the aspect of himself he needed in this moment: the raw, physical part that gloried in the shape of her body and the way he worked within her. He pulled her mind into his with her permission and made it a part of himself, letting her feel what he felt, letting her know how good she was to him, letting her sense the uncurling tension in the base of his spine that meant she was pushing him closer and closer to the edge he craved.

“Oh,” her mental voice whispered, lost in the sensation of the moment, and she was barely moving at all now. They lay there, him on his back as deep in her as they could manage, hips pressed together tight enough to bruise, and neither of them moved because they were so consumed by each other’s minds they couldn’t spare the energy. “You’re so close.”

He was over. He gripped her tightly, both with his mind and his hands, and pulsed greedily into her, feeling her stiffen and arch in his hands as she threatened to follow. Still in his mind, she watched through his eyes and felt through his body as she gave him everything and more, feeling herself follow moments later as her own body shook and buckled down on him, her mouth forming soft little noises of pleasure that had him giddy with enchantment.

“Gorgeous,” he said, and he absolutely meant it. “So gorgeous. I can’t think for loving you.”

And she was still with him—in this moment it was possible to believe she always would be—so she knew that everything he said was true.

 


 

“Dr. Reid, have you made any progress on the rune?”

Reid twitched upright, blinking as his eyes came into focus after having been staring at the paperwork in front of him for the last… actually, he wasn’t sure how long it had been. A soft click on hooves on the floor in front of him announced the arrival of his research partner, Dr. Juster, the satyr standing an easy half a head taller than Reid when they stood next to each other. He bent over to examine Reid’s work for the day.

“Not as much as I’d hoped,” Reid admitted, dropping his pen and rubbing his fingers together, suddenly aware of an ache in his back and his stomach growling angrily. A glance at his watch confirmed the hour: twenty-three minutes to seven at night, and by the silence of his phone he assumed Emily was going to be home tonight. “The rune seems to be resistant to any attempts at permanency—and once it’s invoked on the skin, it loses its pattern magic and becomes merely a mild calming rune.”

The rune that had saved his life was drawn in a multitudinous amount of forms spread around him, none with Emily’s elegant flair but all workable enough. Dozens of variations, and none what they wanted. He’d even tried adapting the language from the Koine Greek that Emily’s magic affined itself to to his own Anglisc. Even using Emily’s magic through their link, his control over the pattern magic she’d mastered was clumsy, inept. No matter how fluidly he built the runes, they wouldn’t respond to him as adeptly as they would her.

Juster ran his fingers through his bangs thoughtfully, chewing at his bottom lip. “It may be that we’re chasing our tails,” he said finally, twitching his own tail as though for emphasis. Reid swallowed hard the frustrated reply that threatened to slip from his lips. “The rune might only serve one purpose—a worthy purpose, indeed—but only the one purpose. The board is discussing ceasing funding our research. Ethical issues aside, they don’t see the importance behind this when the rune we have already removes the thrall-bonding with no damage to the enthralled.”

Reid took one breath. Then another. When he was sure his anger wouldn’t show in his eyes, he looked up. For a single moment, because Juster was a clever man, just thoughtless, he considered letting it slide. They wouldn’t cut this research. They couldn’t cut his research. Reid had already written three papers on it, one well on its way to being published; they were getting results. The public’s uncertainty around demons after Foyet meant that the college had to tread very carefully to avoid looking like they were trying to sweep the issue away.

If Reid succeeded, if they managed to find a way to make the rune that Emily had saved him with not only permanent but also stronger, they could block the bindings before they happened. They could stop what had happened to Reid from happening to anyone ever again. And, that was why he stood and quietly unfolded his wings, grabbing his bag with one hand. He didn’t bend the air around him to hide the vicious scarring across the damaged wing, and he didn’t waver his gaze from Juster’s as the satyr’s eyes froze on the mutilation.

“I’m proof that it will work,” Reid said firmly, feeling the rune on his hip burn with the reminder of its existence. “It’s permanent on me. We’ve tested it, Agent Prentiss, and me. It won’t allow binding beyond my familial bond. If we can replicate it… we can replicate it.”

He left without another word, ignoring Juster’s soft apology floating after him. Everything that happened to him, out of all the horrors and the grief… it had to work. They had to draw at least one good thing from it.

Just one.

 


 

Dinner was fantastic. When they arrived with a bottle of wine and a cake that Reid was almost certain Emily didn’t bake, since she’d proven multiple times that her competency did not extend to baking, —quite the opposite in fact, and his teeth ached just thinking about it—Rossi and Garcia were sequestered in Rossi’s kitchen together, arguing happily about how much salt was needed for the perfect seasoning, and the whole place smelled delicious. His mouth watered, earning him a laugh from JJ and a wry comment about his weight from Morgan. In the years since he’d walked at their side as an agent, this hadn’t changed. Not one bit.

He slipped into his seat beside them and not a single one of them—not Hotch who’d lost his wife because of Reid, or JJ who’d dragged him back from death, or even Garcia who he’d almost killed—flinched away or treated him differently.

Still a family, even now.

Hotch sat quietly next to him. Reid smiled at his ex-boss, earning a tired smile in return. There were lines around his eyes and mouth that reminded Reid cruelly of his friend’s humanity, the weight that his years bore on him. When Reid glanced around the table, he could see the promise of the same lines around Morgan’s eyes. Emily and Rossi would be granted vitality by their magic that both Hotch and Morgan lacked, but it still paled in comparison to the time that Reid would linger beyond them. JJ was unchanged by the years and would be for many more. Her kind would continue long after even Reid succumbed.

It was a sobering thought, and a reminder of how fleeting this all was.

“How are you?” Hotch asked over a plate of something that Reid couldn’t name, but which had JJ begging for a recipe and even Morgan looking impressed. “You must be sick of being asked that.”

Reid looked down at his place and carefully readjusted the pasta to a right angle of the smiling blob of sauce Garcia had clearly painted on. “Not really,” he responded to his plate, sensing Hotch leaning closer to hear him. “It means people still care. It’s… nice. But I’m fine, Ho—Aaron. Thank you.”

Hotch nodded, his fork tapping on the plate as he seemed to ruminate over his next words. The man very rarely spoke without thinking, so Reid was content to wait for him to find his feet. “I hear you have a new hobby,” Hotch said finally, nothing in his posture or expression giving away where he’d heard that particular news. Nor did it give away how he felt about it. “Is an aversion to moss so debilitating you feel the need to undergo exposure therapy to treat it?”

“Any aversion due to trauma is debilitating.” Reid swallowed the food that had lost all taste, and made sure to meet Hotch’s gaze so it didn’t seem like he was avoiding the subject. “I don’t want to run from this. The sooner I can consider myself fully recovered, the sooner—”

“You can return to the BAU?” Hotch said this with a snap to his voice, like a mousetrap closing, and Reid realized he’d been lead easily into giving that little half-thought away. “Spencer, I’d take you back in a heartbeat. We’re less without you. But don’t you think rushing things to try and force your recovery will negate all the work you’ve put into it already? Returning to the BAU, the things you’ll see… you can’t pretend that won’t affect you. You need to consider that maybe returning to your old life isn’t—”

The withheld ire from earlier returned. Another gift Foyet had left him: anger. “It’s my only option!” he snapped, voice sharp, and the table fell silent. Shocked eyes turned on them, and Reid watched Hotch’s eyebrows rise minutely, basically a shout of surprise from the man. Flushing, he looked down. Great. Now he looked unbalanced. There was a push at his mind and he moodily let her in, despite knowing she’d sense everything he was struggling to choke down. Misery, anger, shame. Let her feel it all. She deserved to know it all, to know who she’d chained herself to. Let her be disgusted by him.

But she wasn’t.

“It’s okay,” she said softly, and the illusion of her hand settled on his cheek in a soft caress, the memory of her affection taking the edge away from his sudden temper. “No one is judging you. We can leave early.”

He almost shrank away from that touch. Almost. Except, he’d learned that that was one of the few things that would really piss her off, and he wasn’t keen on reliving the bitter you’re pushing me away argument yet again. “No,” he said to her, the same time his mouth said, “I’m sorry, that was rude. I didn’t mean to snap.” “I want to stay. I was promised fun.” He sent this last line along with the muscle memory of his smile and saw her smile in return, shoulders relaxing.

Hotch nodded and murmured something, backing away from the subject quickly and changing it to Jack and school and the mundanities of life. No mention of the BAU. Reid tried not to let that sting.

“Oi, Flappy,” Rossi bellowed, leaning over his plate and earning a glare from JJ. “How’s your research going? Managed to pick that scribble of Prentiss’s apart yet and make something of it?”

This. This he could talk about without his new temper rearing up and making a fool of him. “We’ve disassembled it theoretically and found the patterns the magic is creating in order to untangle the binding ritualism…” He trailed off as JJ’s eyes began to glaze despite her apparently invested expression. “No. Not really. It’s just not… malleable. Emily designed it so individualized to me that, while we can create temporary ones to unbind others, none we’ve made to mimic it have been fluid enough to shield magic like mine has.”

JJ’s eyes sharpened. “Oh? Is that the problem? The flexibility of the rune? They have ways around that, don’t they? I took Henry in for a vaccination the other day and it took them three goes to find an inoculation rune that wasn’t counteracted by his magic since it keeps shifting. Couldn’t you do something like that?”

Reid opened his mouth to reply, but Emily beat him to it. “The opposite actually,” she said, bolting upright. There was a wash of giddy excitement from her, a fierce sudden hunting-focus that he usually felt remnants of when they were closing in on a case. “Inoculations are difficult because those runes aren’t flexible enough to adapt to the child—ours is struggling because it’s too adaptable. Settled magic confuses it. Spence, it needs change.” Her voice invaded his mind, barely waiting for him to let her in again. “We changed, in the voidwhen you saved us. We haven’t been the same since, our magic. It’s all woven together, neither light or dark. That’s why the rune settled and stayed after I finished casting. That’s what’s protecting you.”

Rossi dropped his fork on his plate with a clatter that drew his eyes, looking just as painfully excited as Emily herself. “Children,” he announced, eyes glinting. “Adapt it to a child, Reid. Lessen the strength, up the malleability. Boom—you’ve just won a damn Peace Prize and wiped out the demonic slave trade. All in a day’s work, huh?”

Emily was practically bouncing in his mind; her emotions giddy and silly in a way that her calm expression didn’t betray. “He’s right, he’s goddamn right, Spence! We’ve got thiswe can go in tomorrow and I’ll work with you to adapt it. This is it, this is what you’ve been working towards!”

Her pride and excitement made it impossible for him to resist the celebratory atmosphere that had somehow snuck into the room. They hadn’t solved it yet—it was still just a theory—but they were a lot closer than they’d been merely three hours ago.

If they did this?

Everything would be worth it then. Everything.

 


 

Emily always fell asleep first, which pleased him greatly because it meant he could hold her without her grumbling about being sappy and remind himself how lucky he could be. She was in his arms this night, so he knew the dreams wouldn’t come, and his last waking thought was that things could be okay again.

 


 

“Spencer? Baby?”

He opens his eyes and his mom is there, barely an arm span away. She smiles at him and he’s frozen, lost, terrified to move in case he shatters this illusion. He reaches out, eventually. Fingers brush her sweater, press against her, finding her warm and solid and real. “Mom?”

This isn’t right. This isn’t what happens.

“There it is,” she soothes, the same voice he remembers, and she cups his chin and tilts his head back to peer into his eyes. “There’s the darkling smile I love.”

She’s taller than him. She didn’t live long enough for that to change.

He opens his mouth to say something, anything, and smells smoke. The wool under his fingers warms. He chokes on the words.

“Wake up,” whispers Foyet from behind him, a whisper of breath by his ear, as though crouching to bring himself to Spencer’s child height. “Wake up and you won’t have to see her burn again.”

He can’t. That’s not right. He’s always been able to wake before.

She burns.

She burns and he can’t wake up.

 


 

But the dreams came anyway.

That was the night they changed.

Chapter Text

When he finally surfaced, face frozen into what he knew was an echo of his dream self’s horror, Emily’s nails were digging into his shoulders hard enough to draw blood. He blinked, shaking from his eyes the flames and from his mind the memory of smoke, and focused on her. She was terrified. Her dark eyes were impossibly wide on a pale face, breath coming in rasping bursts and mouth drawn back into a tight shape of horror. “Spence,” she whispered, her voice catching, and he couldn’t reply because his own voice was gone. His throat ached, dry and gritty, his tongue swollen and useless in his mouth like…

Like he’d been screaming.

“I’m okay,” he tried to send mentally, but her shields were up. He tapped politely on them, sidling into her mind when she opened to him, and repeated himself: “Just a nightmare. I’m okay.” Those dark eyes bore into his. Then they skittered to the window. The brightly lit window, a harsh light filtering in through the curtains.

An afternoon light.

“Spence, it’s two p.m.,” she said finally, letting go of his shoulders and drawing away. “You’ve… you’ve been out for almost twelve hours. And… I kept trying to reach you, to wake you, but all I could get was…”

“Burning,” Reid murmured, his voice a barely discernible croak, and the images of his nightmare returned in a rush. They brought with them an excruciating pulse of pain behind his ears that scattered his thoughts to the wind. Both he and Emily cried out with shared distress, Emily withdrawing and slamming her shields back up against him.

“Spencer!” she called out from somewhere distant, but he was curling into himself to try and pull away from that pain. Light and noise faded with his senses.

The migraine was vicious. It was only the first.

 


 

He’d thought for a long time that his unique talent for memory retention and recall had proven to be a curse. He’d thought that because of that talent, the memories he’d rather lose he’d instead forever be bound to. He’d been wrong. There were so many things he’d forgotten.

But his nightmares hadn’t.

One night, he closed his eyes alone in his bed and, when he opened them, he was a child and Hankel was driving a needle into his arm. When he woke from that one—eight hours later feeling like he hadn’t slept at all—and staggered to the bathroom cabinet, his pupils were pinpoints of darkness in the gritty light and the crook of his arm was swollen and red.

Three nights later, he was watching Gideon be murdered. He begged and begged with a child’s voice, and yet Gideon still died again and again and again.

His mom. The fire that killed her. Over and over. He developed a cough that lingered into his waking hours and tasted like ash.

There was a week when every time he tried to rest, his mind conjured up another care home, another foster family, another cruelty inflicted on the last child of a species no one trusted. Three elementary schools refusing his admittance because of ‘ethical concerns’. The boy in ninth grade—Spencer was ten—who’d found out about Diana Reid’s death and waited until Reid wasn’t looking to brush the tip of his cigarette across the delicate webbing of his wing. After that, Reid had learned to glamour the wings and the horns and everything that made him different away. Better not to have them at all.

When Reid was twelve, the neighbour from the foster home who’d told them if he saw ‘that demon’ on his street, he’d set his lurchers on him. The day he had, when Reid had been trailing his foster siblings home. Reid had taken to the sky, but not until after one of them had grabbed his calf and instilled a mistrust of dogs he still carried.

The nightmares were endless, the migraines that followed them were malicious, and they were all inescapable.

 


 

He knows instantly that something has changed as soon as he opens his eyes, despite the now familiar feel of the nightmare he’s woken up in today. They’re in the upper rooms of a church, bright and airy, and he can scent water and crops and the hot scent of a hard sun on baked earth. It’s not a memory he recognises at first.

A shadow falls on him, and he closes his eyes and waits for Foyet to taunt him.

“Spencer?” says a female voice, confused, and he snaps around to find Emily staring at him. Adult Emily, twice his size and excruciatingly real. He remembers his mom. He presses his fingers to her hip, her stomach, grips the hand she reaches cautiously down to him. The flesh under his fingers is warm, solid. Clinging to that hand, he breathes through his mouth and tries not to think of burning. “What the fu…?” She trails off and eyes him again, and he knows she’s noting his age and censoring herself, absurdly.

“You can’t be here,” he tells her, and tries to drag her to the door. He doesn’t recognise this place, but there’s a coppery-wet tang beginning to fill the air, rich and cloying, and he does recognise that. He can taste it too, like laying a penny on his tongue, and his throat tightens. “This is my nightmarenot yours. How are you here?”

“You’re a child,” she says, ignoring his question, slipping from his grasp and turning him to face her, hands on his shoulders. “Why? What kind of a nightmare is this?”

Opening his mouth, he tries to find the words to describe the past few weeks’ succession of monsters from his memories, and looks behind her. She’s there again. Not her, not the real her that stands in front of him looking worried and slightly scared when she should be safe at home in their bed, but a nightmare her. Bloodied and limp, loose-limbed and dying in the chair she’s tied to. The words flee him and he stares wordless into her emptying eyes.

The Emily in front of him, the real one he’s dragged into this memory with him, turns and stares. “Benjamin Cyrus,” she murmurs, straightening and positioning herself between him and the sight of her body. The sight of the bodies, plural. They litter the ground around her like discarded rags, like they’ve been thrown down by something as uncaring and unemotional as the weather.

There’s a flicker in the air and he’s there. The him of two years ago: Foyet’s Nothing, blank-eyed and murderously dangerous. Gold twines his arms and Reid’s own itch at the reminder. Emily draws in a sharp breath and presses back, her hands trembling. The demon in front of them—a demon because there’s nothing about him that’s human—lays a hand against the cold skin of the woman in the chair, Emily’s past self. He looks down at her and there’s no love in his eyes, just a trail of sticky red painted across her forehand by his fingers.

“Spencer,” that Emily moans, those hollow eyes flickering and sluggishly trying to focus on the monstrous him.

A dark chuckle from the demon, and Reid draws back with a hiss at the almost proud cruelty in that laugh. Almost gleeful.

A demon glories in the kill.

“Maybe a long time ago,” he purrs, turning and looking past the real Emily, down to where Reid is quivering. “But he doesn’t wear that name these days. Nor ever again, will he, Spencer? You’ll never recover from this.”

Reid looks away and closes his eyes.

 


 

When he opened them again, it was still dark, and that was one thing he could be thankful for. Thankful despite his exhaustion. The nightmares struck as soon as his mind sank into REM sleep. He hadn’t managed to achieve full rest in three weeks now. The effect of this on his body and mind was proving… detrimental to his health.

A whisper of pressure against his bare abdomen, and he twitched and looked down to find Emily kneeling next to the bed with her paintbrush in one hand and eyes locked on his face. “That memory was bullshit,” she said coldly, her face ashen. The brush slipped over his skin, almost intersecting the top of their shared rune visible over the band of his track pants, leaving behind both a smooth green ink-line and the soft burn of her magic working on him. He watched, intrigued. “I might have been injured—”

He corrected her. “Dying.”

“—injured—but I remember it. Most of it. You weren’t like that. You weren’t that… excited. You weren’t that broken.”

“It’s a nightmare, Em,” he replied quietly, and a dull ache began to hum in the back of his skull. He let it drop back on the pillow, too exhausted to even keep his head up to watch her patterning the rune onto his body. Too exhausted even to ask what she was attempting. “They’re not logical. What happened? How did you get dragged in?” He felt her shrug, the bed shifting slightly with the movement. A surge of nausea struck from the oncoming migraine right as she lifted her brush from his skin, and the pain and sickness vanished with it.

He blinked and sat up again, staring at the green rune as it gleamed sourly in the light from her palm as she held up the light-emitting rune on her hand to examine it. Bravery fidelity integrity that rune announced in the glaring blue of law enforcement, patterned around the FBI crest. “I can’t block the nightmares, not yet,” she said finally, looking up at him. The blue light cast deep, sallow shadows on her face. “But I can help with the shittiness that follows. How’s your head?”

“Better, thank you.” He peered down at it. Runes for health, for headaches, for nausea. A few that he couldn’t immediately place. All temporary and, judging by the increasing vividness of the rune, burning quickly through the magic she’d used. A downside of being a demon. It took a lot more magic to upkeep any kind of spellcasting on him. He estimated he had… three hours. Perhaps. And then the pain would return. But, not as bad as it would have been without it.

She leaned over, her breath hot and damp, and pressed her lips to the taut skin of his hip, lingering there with a kind of longingness that sank a cold stone of worry deep into his gut. There was a weirdly morose air to the touch, like she was memorising this moment for a time when it was gone. He recognised it intimately because for a very long time, it had been how he’d been around her. He was sure she wasn’t leaving, but it still frightened him.

“What’s wrong?” he murmured, and brought the tips of his fingers to trace the curve of her ear gently. “You’re upset.” She pulled away.

She never pulled away.

When she stood, he noted numbly that she was almost naked, hair still damp. She’d showered in the time between her waking and him following her. To forestall an almost-panic he knew was coming at her withdrawal, he darted his gaze to each of her visible runes, reciting their uses silently. Pregnancy, luck, alert to demons, protection from cursework, our rune, our rune, our… he paused, eyeing the deep-blue spiral latticework on her belly and ribs that curled around thin lines of scarring. She’d never told him what they were for. He’d never asked, sensing she’d rather not talk about them.

“It’s fine, Spence,” she said, and smiled weakly. He pressed up against her shield. What he felt wasn’t everything she was feeling, it was muted, but he could sense fear, overwhelming fear. “Just… have you gone to a doctor? I told you to. You could be… sick.”

Sick. That was it. She thought he was sick.

He looked back down at the rune. The runes he hadn’t recognised. She was marking him against wasting sicknesses, against illnesses of the body. Tiny runes wound together. Καρκίνος over and over again in different variations the most notable.

“It’s not cancer, Em,” he said stiffly. “It’s only been three weeks. Statistically, it’s exceedingly unlikely, I’m young and healthy and demons aren’t prone to metastatic tumours…” Not entirely true, all magic users statistically celebrated a higher rate of certain cancers, including exceedingly high amounts of gliomas among non-human magic users… but he wasn’t telling her that.

She hugged him, a rough, crushing hug that was probably just as much to shut him up by squeezing the air from his lungs as it was to comfort him. “Exceedingly unlikely doesn’t mean impossible,” she snapped, and from her mind he copped a flash of memory, her father there, her father gone. A matter of months. “Go to the doc. Humour me.”

“Okay,” he wheezed, and awkwardly hugged her back until she finally let him go.

 


 

The exhaustion built and built until life became a slideshow of moments that could be reality but felt like dreams. He’d blink and find himself standing in front of his sink, white foam dripping from his chin. Blink again. Having dinner with Emily and Rossi, with Rossi frowning at him. Once more, the subway rattled around him, commuters glancing oddly at him. Again, and he was lying in bed waiting for the inevitable, Sergio a heavy snoozing weight on his chest and Emily awake at his side.

There were holes in his recall that were impossible to fill. Days lost to nothing. He knew Emily worried. He worried too, in between being so tired his cognitive functions shut down and left him lying listlessly on the couch, snapping to and from wakefulness while the shadows cast through the windows jumped around him. His life was stop-motion.

He went to the doctors. It wasn’t cancer, obviously, and he could take solace from how much of the worry drained from Emily’s eyes when they confirmed that. As soon as one of them said ‘psychosomatic,’ he left and didn’t go back. He wasn’t crazy. There was nothing wrong with his mind. Nothing.

That’s not what his mind said, though.

“You’re crazy now, like me,” Foyet whispers, and Reid isn’t entirely sure if this is a dream or not. Foyet is sitting at his kitchen table, surrounded by potato peels that Emily’s left on top of a pile of newspapers while she runs out for milk—he’d let his sour and she didn’t buy it in case they were on call—and everything seems real. Is it real? “Maybe you always have been.”

Reid focuses past him and decides to believe he’s not there.

But he doesn’t go.

“Don’t ignore me, Nothing.”

“Spence, don’t ignore me!”

He jolted. Potato peels on the kitchen table. Emily stood over him, frustrated. The kitchen chair was empty. “Hmm?” he said, staring at that chair. Had it always been at that angle?

“Jeez,” she grumbled, moving away. “Just when I thought you couldn’t be any more erratic.”

“Maybe you’re imagining her, too,” says a voice behind his ear, and Reid cried out with shock, jerking around to face that voice. Emily stared at him, in the kitchen now a metre away from where she had been, and she’d dropped the milk when he’d shouted.

“Right,” she said, and stepped over the milk, striding towards him. “Right. Get up. We’re going to the doctors, to Rossi, to anywhere. Now. Right the fuck now.”

No. He couldn’t. She’d know he was imagining it if they did the test again. She’d know he was…

Not crazy.

“No,” he said firmly, standing and feeling the ground dip and weave under his feet. Way too tired to drive. Stats danced in his head. There was no migraine. Useful, since flying took magic and magic was impossible to cast during a migraine without feeling as though he was drilling into his own skull… not useful, because no migraine implied he hadn’t been dreaming, and the empty chair mocked him. “I have to go to work. I have to… there’s a study. We’re finishing up on. It’s fine.”

“On a Saturday?” she said, incredulous, but he’d already walked away, bending the air around him to blur him from view. She’d always seen past his illusions, at least since they’d been dating, but it made him feel better anyway.

Maybe at work he could sleep.

 


 

“This isn’t rune magic,” Juster said from behind him, the click of his hooves muffled by the thick carpeting of the college library. Reid blinked the blurred words under his nose into focus, then looked up. He was cross-legged on the floor of the library, surrounded by books, and he was probably not going to be able to talk his way out of this one. “Or weather. This… Dr. Reid, what is this?”

“Ah.” Reid closed the book he was reading with a decisive snap and bit at his lip worriedly. If Juster thought he was ill, he’d recommend leave; if Reid took leave, their research would be… “I’m helping the BAU with a case.”

He couldn’t blame Foyet for the liar he’d become. That was all on him.

Soft, deep-brown eyes studied him, inhuman in their shape and size, but still… compassionate, almost. It occurred to Reid that he’d been spending an awful lot of time blaming his demon-half for what he’d developed into, to the extent that ‘inhuman’ had become tantamount to ‘monster’ in his mind. Which was never a thought he’d entertained before.

“You smell ill,” Juster said finally, easing himself down awkwardly, legs not suited to kneeling on dusty carpeting surrounded by desks and computers and half built frameworks of undergrads’ spells. “You have for a month now. I am not a personable being, but nor am I completely lacking in empathy. When you are here, you are distracted. When you believe my attention is elsewhere, you are exhausted. When you are not watched, you are sad. I know these signs. These are the signs of a man who believes his time is coming to an end, in one way or another. Why do you not ask for assistance?”

Reid swallowed. Didn’t answer. Considered, hard. Swallowed again. And made his choice. He held up the book. “I’m having crippling nightmares,” he admitted out loud, finally, and the words weren’t as hard to say as he’d worried they would be. He hadn’t been able to tell the team yet, tell JJ, tell anyone. Not while his mother’s illness lingered over him like a bad dream. “Migraines. Nausea. Disorientation. I’m… looking for some reasoning behind the attacks.”

Juster tilted his head to better scan the book. “Parva Naturalia,” he read slowly. “You are thinking this illness has a magicka base? Magical interference from an outside source may cause such effects. You are young. Healthy. The only injury I see on you is on your soul from the trials your captivity left. That text would be far more helpful in its original Greek—I will procure a copy and study it for you. Have you been to see a medical magus for this?”

“No. Doctors, yes. There’s no physiological foundation for it that they can find.”

Nai'. Well, see the magi here. They are uniquely placed to offer insight to magical interference. Will you be home at dawn tomorrow? My magic is strongest as the sun rises.”

Reid stared at him. “Uh. Yes? Why?”

Books slid to the ground as Juster stood, flinching as his knees cracked loudly at the movement. “We will examine your home. If it is demonic or necromantic in origin, it will likely be sourced near where you find rest. Almost any cursework strong enough to have such lingering effects must be placed near its intended target. Good day, Dr. Reid. I will see you in the morning.”

And he was gone.

Reid looked back down at the books he’d been left with, before slowly reaching for his cane and levering himself up. The librarian nearby saw his movement and bustled over to assist, always fond of him. It wasn’t the help he’d expected but… he was thankful anyway.

 


 

Emily wasn’t there that morning as the two worked through his apartment, searching for some clue to his illness.

“I’m afraid this may be a very invasive process,” Juster had warned him, and he hadn’t lied. Every drawer, every corner, every cupboard; each was opened and examined with painful care for the smallest of curse-signs. Emily would be pleased—the moss had been the first to go, as Juster scolded him for not considering the curse may have been tied to the growth in its roots. They dismantled his security work line by line, having to stop for each one to ensure it hadn’t been tampered with.

Juster used an unpleasant smelling mix of herbs that Reid was almost completely unfamiliar with, ground into a fine powder, coating everything they searched. Where it touched magic, the grey-white powder would shift colour. For Emily’s magic, it turned a startling silver, darker lines threaded through the grey. Where his own hands had touched, it was a black so deep it almost seemed to reflect light back. The seat that Rossi favoured when they played chess was lined with the touch of his hands, a much more sedate black that reminded Reid of the growing shadows of a summer evening. Scattered throughout, a strange patterning of fine gold lines in the powder that were only visible if Reid squinted at them.

“Cat,” Juster said disinterestedly, moving away almost immediately. “Non-magical, or as non-magical as a cat can be. We can almost certainly discount any areas the cat favours. Whether or not they are aware of what they are doing, cats will avoid cursed areas instinctually. They had good reasoning, the witches of old, in choosing felines as their familiars.”

But, in the end, despite their thoroughness, the apartment was clean.

Reid was running his hands over the final room, his office, when there was a soft rap at the door behind him. Turning, Emily stood there wrapped in the purple dressing gown he’d bought her over what looked like her usual work clothes. The clock on his desk announced that it was six-thirty. She was up early.

“Thought you had a herd of deer clattering about in here,” she said, walking towards him and staring at the shambles that was left of his workspace. Books strewn everywhere, furniture pulled away from the walls, and a fine layer of multi-coloured powder coating everything. “Turns out it was just one satyr, and you. Interesting. What on earth are you doing?”

“Searching for magical interference,” Reid said, and considered going into detail. Then he considered that it was six thirty a.m., and she didn’t look like she’d had her morning coffee yet. Simple was probably safer. “Causing my nightmares. If it’s a curse…”

“It’s near you.” She nodded, then sighed. “Goddamnit. And I just finished tidying, too.”

That was a confusing statement. Even if it wasn’t horribly early, and even if he wasn’t running on the bare minimum of sleep, that would still be a confusing statement. “Pardon?” he said politely, looking about his office. “You… tidied in here?” He tried to keep the almost-startled close-to-irritated tone out of his voice. They didn’t meddle in each other’s private spaces. His kitchen, yes. Or his bedroom. That was fine. Not… not his office.

“No, idiot,” she scolded him, and leaned down to find his mouth. She kissed hungrily, her breath minted. No coffee flavoured her lips. He’d been right to tread carefully. “My apartment. You spend just as much time in there as you do in here. You have to do both. I would prefer if you did our room though. I’d rather not have a satyr looking through my underwear drawer.”

Oh.

“Emily,” he said carefully, almost shocked. “That’s… this is invasive. We would see every last inch of your home. Is this…”

A hand covered his mouth, silencing him. “If you’re about to ask if this is worth it,” she said sweetly—too sweetly—he realized, and uh oh. He was in trouble. “I’m going to point out that what you’re really asking is ‘Hey Emily, is my health worth a bit of extra vacuuming’ and then I’m going to point out how really fucking insulting that question is. Now—shut up—I’m going to go home. I’m going to have a coffee. I’m going to remove all my security spells. And then I’m going to go to work. And if you two don’t search every last inch of that apartment, I’m going to kick your ass from here to Hotch’s and you can explain to him why. Have I been clear enough?”

The hand vanished. He took a deep breath and decided on the answer most likely to result in a continuation of his relationship. “Transparently.” He tried for a weak smile she didn’t return.

“Good. Idiot.” Despite her anger, before she left she held him close and he cherished that.

 


 

Emily’s apartment came up empty. No cursework. Just endless signs of them, a truly remarkable amount of dust bunnies that Reid privately thought were brave for daring to dirty her fastidiously clean living space, and Sergio having a ball playing in the piles of powder.

Well, it came up almost empty. Unfortunately, it was Reid who’d found it. It was stupid of him, thoughtless, and wouldn’t have happened if his brain was functioning adequately. But it wasn’t, and he forgot, and Sergio was too busy leaving powdery paw prints across all of Emily’s black clothes to warn him.

She’d asked him to be the one to search her drawers, so he was. That was why, when he tugged open the bedside cupboard on her side and stuck his hand inside, he wasn’t even thinking of being cautious. Later that day, he’d try to hide the nauseating burn the iron knife had left on his skin, searing him even through the thin layer of silk wrapped around it, but she’d see it anyway. And she’d go terribly, terribly quiet.

“An iron kila,” Juster said, both of them skirting the open drawer afterwards. When they were finished, it remained the only place in the apartment clear of the powder. Neither wanted anything to do with it. “Your girlfriend has a knife designed to be a demon executioner, Dr. Reid. You don’t find that… disconcerting?”

Reid shrugged. “No,” he replied quietly, turning back to his work and thinking, oddly, of the blue runes on her stomach and the narrow scarring they covered. “She has her reasons.”

He trusted her implicitly.

 


 

Emily became a familiar sight in his nightmares. It was selfishly soothing. He found that he could face almost anything the nightmares threw at him if she was by his side. Selfish, because a lot of what they threw at him were things he’d never have shared with her by choice. And they were things that hurt her more than he had ever been hurt. Small things. Small things like when he was six and still living with his mother, before the fire and everything that followed: Diana ‘forgetting’ to pay the electricity bill again. Small things like Reid and Emily watching that six-year-old Spencer trying to pretend to be an adult on the phone to get it reconnected.

Things that were neither big nor little. Things that shouldn’t have been nightmarish at all. An endless succession of the humans whose beds he had at some point occupied. There were enough for him to feel shame. Emily didn’t seem to care, although she was just as confused as he was to why this was something that would be brought up. It felt almost… petty.

Big things too, like the first woman Foyet had forced him to kill. Grace Harcourt. Emily watched that. Reid did too, but she cried and he was numb.

The shadows under her eyes matched his now. If he’d been capable of feeling anything but tired, he’d have felt bad about that.

 


 

Whatever case Emily was working on at the moment, it was troubling her. That, Reid decided, was why what should have been only a small disagreement spiralled into a blistering argument without any space between the two extremes.

A small disagreement: she came home with a bruise on her forehead from hitting the ground and an egg on the back of her skull from the crowbar that had glanced off, resulting in the aforementioned fall. That wasn’t the disagreement. The disagreement was that she’d hidden this from him until now. He hadn’t even felt a twinge of discomfort through their mental link, which meant her first priority had been shielding him instead of reacting to the unsub.

A blistering argument: when he confronted her about this. Somehow the argument had twisted to how she’d managed to let her guard down, which led to her admitting it was because she hadn’t been paying attention. Which infuriated him because how could she be so flippant with her life when she was so infinitely precious?

Leading to her turning that back on him. Leading to him realizing what she wasn’t saying. Deflecting. Turning it into an argument about his own care for his health to divert from the fact that she’d gotten hurt because she was distracted. Because she was unfocused. Because she was tired.

Because of him.

There was only one thing he could do to repent for that, and it destroyed him to do so, but he did it anyway.

“We should dissolve our familial bond,” he said, and the silence that followed was broken by everything between them that would shatter if they did. “Until… until I get better at least.” If he got better. If. If she’d take him back. If he was in any state to take her back. If they even could dissolve this bond. If if if if. “It’s dangerous for you to be so affected by it in the field. If we’re not careful, Hotch will pull you from active duty.”

They were in his kitchen; her at the table and pretending she wasn’t sitting because she was still woozy and sore, and him pacing the space in front of the fridge and pretending he wasn’t doing it because the pain in his bad knee was keeping him awake and aware. She got up, resting both hands on the top of the chair. They were white-knuckled and shaking, and that was the only outward sign of her distress. Her mind, however, was a turmoil. He pulled away from it, knowing it would be a monumental invasion of her privacy to spy on this moment.

And she said, very slowly and carefully, her voice clipped, “Don’t ever make that offer again unless you mean it. Because I won’t tie you to me if you don’t want this anymore… but nor will I come back if you push me that far away. Do you understand? If you dissolve this bond, you dissolve us.”

He knew she was only saying it because she was scared and upset and he knew that when she walked away without him saying a word, she was doing it because she refused to let him know he’d made her cry. He knew this just as much as he knew that she was crying, because her shields weren’t enough to hide that from him. Every inch of her misery reached him, and he was responsible for all of it.

Because of that, he couldn’t help her. He found his coat, his cane, his phone, and he slipped out and left her there.

To JJ: Are you free? S. R.

 


 

JJ went to Emily, and Reid took Henry to the park. The three-year-old was a whirlwind of energy, running circles around his godfather on the playground until even Reid had to admit he was outclassed.

Slipping through the bars and crouching down to hide from his seeking charge, he felt, rather than saw, the gazes on him. He’d like to pretend that they were watching him and smiling, thinking how sweet it was that he was there playing with his child. But he knew if he turned, it wouldn’t be amusement in the eyes of the parents. Every one of them would be nervous, suspicious, cautious of this demon playing metres from their own children.

Any other day, he’d ignore it. Today, he swallowed, barely managing a tight smile when Henry bounced out from the tunnel he was crawling through, whooping, “Unk ‘Pense, boo!” and quietly told his godson to, “Keep playing, Uncle Spence has to sit.” It wasn’t completely a lie. His wings made it awkward to duck around the child-sized equipment, and his knee was loudly declaring him an idiot for running on it. When he moved towards a vacant bench close enough that Henry could still chatter at him, his limp was back with a fury.

Henry waved at him. Reid grinned and waved back, leaning back on the bench with a wince, managing almost a shade of his former delight. Now he wasn’t focused completely on Henry, his worries about Emily were back in full-force and almost impossible to avoid ruminating on.

He blinked. Henry was playing with another two children now, two blonde heads and a darker one bent together as they plotted in trilling child-voices.

Blink. Henry peering over at him as they reclaimed the equipment, checking that he was still there. Of course, he was. He always would be.

And once more.

When he opened his eyes, he can’t see Henry. The equipment is empty.

The park is empty.

“Oops,” someone says. “Should have been watching him.”

A scream sounded out, igniting a burst of agony in his skull that had him slamming the heel of his palm against the bridge of his nose, as though to stop his head from splitting. The scream throbbed.

Familiar.

Henry!

He jolted upright, glancing around wildly. The playground was full again, parents standing and whispering, and Henry was sniffling at the end of the slide. He’d fallen and shrieked, that was the scream. Just a little fall.

Someone was crouched next to him. A stranger. The stranger picked him up. Before Reid had even registered Henry’s arms wrapping trustingly around the man’s neck, he was moving. The wind whipped up, bark-chips eddying around their feet, and the air had suddenly turned heavy and humid, scented with a storm.

“Henry.” He hadn’t meant for his voice to snap like that, pitched sharply, nor had he meant for the growl to sneak into his tone. Two heads turned to face him, Henry’s eyes wide with surprise behind the sticky trails of tears his fall had left, and the stranger’s open and friendly.  Reid didn’t trust friendly. He smiled, feeling it almost twist into a snarl, and held his arms out. “Henry, come here.” He was horribly, horribly close to anger and he didn’t know why, didn’t know why this stranger frightened him so. But he wanted his godson. Now.

The stranger’s expression froze. Power slipped between them for a moment, and some distant part of Reid pointed out how dangerously near to crossing a line he was dancing. But he was scared, scared and angry, and overall, a demon. Closer to demon than man these days, and that thought shook him.

Demons didn’t like people touching what was theirs.

“Unk ‘Pense please,” Henry whispered, and wriggled out of the stranger’s arms, running to Reid. As soon as the small hands patted at Reid’s leg, the fear and anger vanished without a trace. He felt small and stupid, like he’d overreacted. He tried to smile, kindly this time, to show he wasn’t… what he’d almost proven he was.

“Sorry,” Reid murmured to the silent stranger, scooping Henry up and tugging him close, taking solace in the boy’s unwavering affection. “Thank you again for picking him up. Say thank you, Henry.”

Henry eyed the man that Reid couldn’t look at, couldn’t see the mistrust in the stranger’s eyes. “No,” mumbled Henry, turning and burying his head in Reid’s chest. Water trickled down Reid’s chest from the small fists threaded tightly through his shirt. A small part of Reid noted how shattered JJ would be to have it confirmed he was a water elf. Will on the other hand…

“No harm done,” said the stranger finally, and a hand wavered into Reid’s view. He looked up, meeting the man’s eyes finally and oh. No wonder. The stranger was tightly glamoured, his power woven close enough that none of the humans or therians in the park would have recognised him, but Reid knew another demon’s eyes when he saw them. “Just wanted to make sure your little lad was okay.”

“I am grateful.” Reid took the hand and shook it, the skin cool to the touch and impossible to discern just what kind of demon he faced. “Ah… I’m Spencer. This is Henry.”

The man smiled, and didn’t release his hand. Not immediately. “Ian. Sorry, must dash. I’m afraid I’ve lost sight of my Declan. When I find him, we should introduce him to your Henry… I think they’ll get along wonderfully.”

Reid agreed, but once the demon vanished, he didn’t come back. Not that Reid blamed him. He probably wouldn’t have either. Not everyone was as trusting with their children as JJ was.

 


 

Emily was still awake when Reid dropped Henry home and came home himself. He’d thought she’d be asleep in her own home, but when he opened his apartment, she was curled up on the couch with two blankets pulled around her and Sergio snoring on her lap.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered so he didn’t wake the cat, the same time she sent, “I didn’t mean it, oh god, Spence, I really, really didn’t.”

They looked at each other silently, the only noise Sergio’s low snores. Then, she smiled. It was a sad smile, but a smile nonetheless. “We’re idiots,” she said, and opened her mind to him. He slipped in, closing his eyes as her regret and love and everything else flooded him. “But we can get through this. Together. Promise to at least try?”

“Okay,” he replied, squeezing onto the couch with difficulty behind her. She huffed, making room for him, and they eventually settled into a cramped but comforting tangle of arms and wings and legs.

“You know, there’s a bed,” she said finally, amusement coating her voice.

“Mm,” he hummed, layering the noise with the sleep that clawed at him. It gave the very vivid impression of him being moments from slumber, and she fell instantly silent, hopeful that he was about to rest. Eventually, her own breathing evened out. He pulled a cold wind to brush against the parts of his skin that weren’t warming her, keeping himself awake. While he was awake, she could rest. Just a bit longer.

He could do this.

Chapter Text

She’d never hated the rune that tied her to him, not since that first uneasy realization of what it meant. He’d never hated it either, that she knew of. Rather, he loved the damn thing. He never said it so plainly to her, but they weren’t amazing at hiding stuff from each other anymore, and she knew that he coveted the connection it gave them. Just for that—just for him—she adjusted to it. Even when it meant that she got a front row seat to his nightmares.

When he’d first come home, there were flashbacks. They’d dealt with them. Eventually, they’d faded.

Then, there were the panic attacks. They were rare and growing rarer, and he hid them along with the shame he felt about them. For someone who’d worked with people having the worst days of their lives, he was awfully judgemental about his own recovery in a way he’d never be with literally any other person. She couldn’t find the humour to appreciate that.

Finally, last, but certainly not fucking least, there were the nightmares. And, until now, they’d been the least of their worries. They only came when she wasn’t there, so she made sure she was as often as she could. He quickly found an herbal supplement that dealt with them, so he was never in them long enough for her to suffer them through him. And they were just nightmares. They never left their mark on him for long, not once the sun rose and he shook the sleep from his eyes.

They were.

She’d never realized how slowly they’d been moving forward, until suddenly they weren't moving forward anymore, but backwards. And she couldn’t help him, because he was dragging her with him.

 


 

When she opens her eyes, she’s on a swing and there’s a boy in front of her with his wings wrapped tightly around his back and hands pressed against his ears, eyes scrunched shut. She shouldn’t know him. But it’s been months of this. She does.

“Spring is growing old and tired,” someone whispers from around them, the trees groaning with the fear of that voice, and Emily drops from the swing and wraps her arms around him. He doesn’t react. She doesn’t look for the source of the voice. They’ve learned not to. “Old and tired, old and tired, and soon she’ll be dead.”

It comes, whatever it is that’s frightening him today. Fingers around her arm yank her away from him, and she screams and chokes on the stink of lilacs cloying in her nose, her throat, gagging.

He screams too, and she

 


 

woke up. JJ’s face bobbed into view over her head, grey and worried in the gloom, and Emily buckled over the side of the bed and gagged into the wastepaper bin the elf kicked quickly under her. Fear still gripped her, her mind echoing with his screams, and she knew he was still trapped in his own head.

“Jesus, Em, again?” JJ asked softly, and Emily couldn’t do anything but close her eyes and shake.

It was months since the first.

She didn’t know how to help him.

 


 

They lingered around her on the jet on the way home, and she knew that she looked like death warmed up. She’d been sleeping more than she had, but any pleasure she took from that was leeched away by the knowledge of why she was sleeping more. That he was deliberately forcing himself to stay awake just so she could still function. The seat next to her creaked as Rossi sat down, his face uncharacteristically concerned.

“Alright,” he said firmly, folding his arms. Around his feet, his shadow familiar curled in the shape of a hound, her ears pricked and listening intently. “Spill. It’s been two months and I’m done waiting for you to pull your head out of your ass and tell me what’s wrong on your own. Tell me now, or I’m requesting you be pulled from the field.”

She wasn’t his student anymore, but he sure did like to mother her still. “I’m fine,” she croaked, and he snorted loudly. Morgan’s head lifted from the seat across the aisle, eyeing them openly, and on the other side of the vacant seat in front of her, she could see Hotch tilting his ear around just far enough to listen. None of them were subtle. “It’s not me.”

Silence.

“Reid,” Rossi said finally. “Goddamnit, Prentiss, I told you to get a handle on that rune back when you first got the thing. I knew this would happen. You’re too entwined—anything that affects him affects you, and vice versa.”

“It’s not… it was fine.” She was adamant. It had been fine. Until that night, two months ago, it had been fine. They had their issues with it at first, but they’d dealt with them. It was useful more often than not—it meant she had full access to his powers, something that Rossi hadn’t been complaining about when it meant she could spin a whorl of cool air around them while working a case in Nevada one summer, and Reid hers, which was integral to his work with her rune.  Without that access, he was crippled without her physically being there to help him work the rune. They needed the connection. Until now anyway. Now they just needed some sleep.

She took a breath, slow and steady. Hotch stood, edging out from his seat and sidling around to sit opposite them, his face stern. “Tell me,” he said, and it was an order.

She had no choice but to obey that. “He’s having nightmares.”

 


 

She slipped away to the bathroom to splash cold water on her face before leaving the Bureau, taking the chance to check her phone. It had been on silent most of the flight back, but two messages blinked up at her.

From Spence: 5:47

From Spence: I love you. S. R.

The second was somewhat reassuring. It was nice to see a return of his signature initializing his texts, some small reminder that the man she loved was still in there under the exhaustion and permanent clawing fear of his own mind.

Almost six hours trapped in a nightmare.

She pressed her wet hands against her face and breathed in shakily, trying to think past the horror of that. Why. Why now. Why at all?

When she crept back to her desk to grab her gear and go home, sure the others had left, Rossi was sitting there. She paused, staring at his back as he bent over something on the desktop, scribbling busily away. There was no avoiding this. She walked up to him and didn’t bother making a noise, because there was really no sneaking up on Eris. The shadow twined around her legs, whistling softly as though to greet her, and Rossi spoke without looking up. “Em, come here. What do you think?”

Em. A pet name. He really was worried.

She leaned over his shoulder and studied the paper in front of him. Hastily scrawled runes in blue ink covered the sheets, a variety of styles, most of which she was familiar with. Some she wasn’t as familiar with.

She traced her finger over the nearest one, calling to it with her eager magic. Her nails caught on the jagged lines of the word he’d threaded through it. λωάδαι. She frowned at it, trying to place it through the buzzing of her overtired mind.

“Nightmare,” he supplied, and tapped another word just above with the tip of his pen. Προστασία. That one she knew. ‘Protection.’ “Kid won’t take drugs; I know he won’t. Maybe we can rune-shield him.”

“He’s tried drugs,” Emily replied, her throat going dry at the memory. “He… two weeks in. We tried temazepam. It knocked him out and, if I’m there, I can usually wake him up. Or Sergio. Not when he’s doped. He was out for ten hours roughly and… suffering the whole time.” Her halting voice made her sound weak, frightened, and maybe she was both.

Rossi’s mouth thinned, turned down very slightly. Expressions of dismay he was trying to hide for her sake. “I’m not a rune mage, Prentiss,” he said finally, dropping the pen and standing. They were awkwardly close and he didn’t move away. “You are. And you’re one of the best. Probably one of the few who can come up with something to keep them away if traditional treatments aren’t working. If you need to dissolve your familial bond long enough to get yourself together to do so—”

“No!” She didn’t mean to snap so loudly, but the idea of… no. She wouldn’t. “Not happening, Dave. Not after everything we went through to get him back.” She’d never walk away again after that.

“Okay.” Before she could react, arms closed around her and he pulled her close. It was shocking. She couldn’t remember the last time he’d hugged her. She wasn’t exactly the huggy type. He smelled like cologne and coffee and the slightest hint of his sweat, and it was ridiculously reassuring. For a moment, just a moment, she took the comfort he offered her.

“I’ll help you,” he murmured finally. “You know that. We’ll get him through this. Just watch us.”

 


 

For the first time in what felt like forever, when she stepped through her front door, exhausted, Sergio was there. Her surprise, and although she’d never admit it, delight at being greeted by her oldest friend was lessened slightly by the apparent fact that her cat had gone mad since she’d been gone. He yowled angrily, bristling on the floor in front of the door with his claws gripping the carpet. He didn’t seem scared or worried, just angry, and she crouched to try and pick him up. It was times like this she sorely missed his voice. If there were alternate methods of communication with him, he hadn’t cooperated with discovering any of them. She knew that Spencer had tried dozens. It seemed that her cat was determined that his sacrifice be a clean break for them, not letting hope that he’d recover his magic linger.

“What?” she finally snapped, as Sergio swiped at her hand and bounded around, jumping onto the couch and leaving a ragged tear up the side when his claws slipped. Fantastic. Now he was into property damage. She was so done with cats.

“Rrrow,” he grumbled, puffing his tail up again, before hitting the ground with a heavy thud and streaking through her legs and out the open door. She sighed, dropped her bag with a thunk, and followed him to Spencer’s door.

“I was going to shower before I saw him,” she complained, digging for her key. “Because you know, the love kind of fades the fifteenth time I rock up smelling like crime scene and Morgan.” The door opened, his security runes sparking red, then shifting green, as they recognised her. The apartment stood silent, musty and sickly sweet-smelling with the earthy tones of the stupid fucking moss he’d moved back into it after Dr. Juster had finished checking them for cursework. “Spence?” Calling for him got no answer, so she looked to her cat. Perched on the table, he looked smug. Ass probably just wanted to be let into Spencer’s apartment. If there was one thing worse than a magical cat, it was a used-to-be-magical cat who resented every door that was closed to him. No doubt in ten minutes he’d be whining to go back to their apartment…

She glanced at the moss as she passed, heading for his room. “Wonder if he’ll notice if I ‘accidentally’ weed kill you,” she muttered resentfully to the disgustingly healthy looking plant, the only really thriving thing in the apartment. Spencer was so out of it all the time now that she doubted he would. Or maybe he would. After all, he still complained that she’d put his favourite mug in the wrong side of the cupboard, and that was the same day she’d watched him sleepily tip juice into his coffee instead of milk.

His room was empty too. Empty and troublingly stuffy. She wrinkled her nose against the overpowering smell of sweat and fear, turning on the light to find his usually neat bedding in absolute disarray, kicked to the end of the bed in a wrinkled mass of crumpled linen. The window stood open, doing little to air the room, and only barely managing to conceal the faintest scent of vomit and bleach under it all. It smelled like a sickroom.

It wasn’t her place, they didn’t meddle in each other’s homes, but it was only the work of a moment to tug the sheets free and ball them into the hamper, replacing them with clean ones from the closet. Sergio jumped up immediately on the now made bed, turning twice in a circle, and settling down. It was an inviting sight, the now clean bed that smelled a lot more like him rather than his nightmares, and her cat with his eyes half closed on the pillow.

So, she flopped next to Sergio, eyes on the open window, and waited for him to come home.

 


 

This is… different. She’s not a child here. She’s almost always a child in these nightmares, so the feeling of being grown and comfortable in her own skin… it’s empowering, and that’s different, too. But the world around her is stranger. Brighter in places, darker in others, the colours odd to her eyes.

And she can’t see Spencer anywhere.

She turns and she’s somewhere else, somewhere where the light is bright and cheerful, the surroundings gorgeously decorated. A room. A room in a house with wide open windows leading out to a terrace, and the smell of lilacs in the air.

She’s on the ground in front of herself, and she’s dying.

Staring, she takes a shocked step back and her foot slips in something sticky and hot. She falls with a gasp, hitting the ground on her ass. The floor under her is wet.

Her throat is gone.

Her throat is gone, her eyes gone too. She knows if she tears her gaze away from that horrific sight, she’ll find the tendons of her legs slashed through. She’s seen the creature who hunts like this, who makes this mess of the people around him. A demon.

A nightmare.

“What does a nightmare do?” Foyet whispers, and she wonders when he became her fear instead of Spencer’s memory. “It takes away your voice. It takes away your sight. It takes away your ability to run.”

“I’m not dead,” she states firmly, standing back up and wiping her own blood across her pants. For Spencer, who must be here somewhere being taunted by this sight—because she doesn’t fear this, this isn’t her fear—she reassures him, “I’m right here. This is a nightmare.”

“No,” moans a voice she knows, a voice she’s missed so much it hurts. “It’s a memory.” She turns and looks down and Sergio is there, trembling with his pink mouth open wide, the whites of his eyes showing.

It’s not her dream. It’s not Spencer’s either.

“It’s Doyle,” the cat howls, and the memory shatters.

 


 

“Woah!” Spencer jolted away from her as she bolted upright in his bed, staring at him. His hair stood in wild clumps away from his scalp, whipped about by flying, his wings still half spread to let the sweat on them cool before folding them. “Hey, hey. It’s okay. It’s me. Were you having a nightmare? That’s never happened when I’ve been awake before.” The concern in his voice was sharp, and she could almost cling to that to look past the haggardness the past two months of sleeplessness had left on his skin. He’d lost weight again. It was a… stunningly good look on him, leaving the shape of his face clearly defined. And while part of her knew that was an illusion his abilities left, this attraction to the inhumanness of his bone structure, that didn’t make it any easier to ignore.

He was starting to look more demon than man, and that was a horrifying reminder of how he’d looked when he’d been Foyet’s puppet.

“Sergio,” she said, the memory returning, rolling onto her side to reach down for the cat. He was curled into a tiny ball, paws wrapped around his nose, whiskers and claws twitching as he dreamed. Still trapped. She’d left him there. Doyle. Her mind screamed the word at her, and she couldn’t believe she’d taken this long to realize.

“What’s going on? Em?” Spencer’s voice was beginning to crack, his tenuous hold on his emotions faltering with every day that went past that he still couldn’t sleep. She looked at him, the deep lines around his mouth that hadn’t been there before, the swollen purple half-moons under his eyes that looked almost like bruises. The way he stood folded into himself, halfway between asleep and awake at any one point.

“I have to go,” she stammered, because now she was looking at him she knew the look. She’d seen it before. She’d seen men look like he did right now before. “I’ll be back. Just… stay here with Serge. Please.” The only reason he let her go was because he was too tired to puzzle through the emotions she was shielding from him, and she took advantage of that.

She had to be sure.

 


 

She called Clyde. He sounded tired, stressed. Neither of those things put her at ease that her old handler wasn’t hiding things from her.

“It’s not Doyle, Emily,” he lied, and she knew he was lying. Clyde was a great liar, one of the best she knew, but Tsia had long ago taught her all his tells. Even the verbal ones. “Not every bad dream is a monster under the bed.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” she snapped, pacing the pavement in front of her apartment building. “You know, that line only works when the monsters don’t exist. Doyle exists. And you’re trying to protect me.”

A low sigh made the line crackle. “Alright, fine, we’ve got eyes on him, okay? There’s a chance—a chance, mind you, not a certainty—that he’s back Stateside. Are you sure these nightmares are demon-brought? Other nasties cause nightmares you know. You could have an angry ghost floating about—”

“I’m insulted,” she murmured, stepping aside to let a mother drag her squabbling children through the security gate. “You know my runes would stop a ghost, a spirit, fuck, Clyde, even a goddamn fae couldn’t get past them and you know it. There’s only a handful of things that I can’t shield against. He’s one of them.” The runes on her stomach called her a liar. She could shield against him, and after he’d almost killed her, she had.

So, he was hunting her through Spencer.

“Ephialtes don’t take kindly to losing what they think is theirs, Em,” Clyde said finally, and she knew he’d finally decided to let her in. “As soon as he shook our tail, we figured he had wind of you. We didn’t tell you because you have a tendency to be rash—”

“Bullshit, I—”

“—and we really didn’t want you hurtling into danger in an attempt to stop him on your own. If it is him, you need to go somewhere shielded. Normal defences don’t work, the counteraction that would stop your familiar from entering a home he’s not invited into doesn’t matter since Doyle doesn’t need to be in the home to attack.”

“And if he thinks we’re heading somewhere shielded against him, he’ll attack.” She wouldn’t be able to stop him. Not if he already had a hold on Spencer. He’d drop him before they even got a foot out the door, and then through him he’d drag her in… “So, we can’t let him know I know he’s coming. I just have to wait.”

“This is why we didn’t tell you. He almost killed you once. Did you think we—I—would risk that again? We will stop him, Emily. Be patient.”

He hung up. He fucking hung up on her.

How could she be patient when it wasn’t her he was targeting?

 


 

She waited until Spencer was asleep and painted the rune on his arm, the one Rossi had given her. Despite her misgivings about it—there was something off about the shape, and her magic itched at it—she was still determined to try something. Something other than the rune on her stomach that had cost her so much to cast. Spencer was so dead to the world, he didn’t even twitch. She hated how deeply he slept now. He slept like the dead, limp and heavy, and it was only the illusion of rest.

Sergio was a dark shape on the windowsill, stiff backed and angry. He, unlike her, had instantly recognised Doyle’s touch. She’d gotten home and found Spencer panicking and Sergio a furious, spitting demon of a cat, almost out of his own mind with anger and worry. Now, he was guarding them, despite being helpless to do anything to shield them against Doyle. He’d protected her once. Now it was her turn to protect him—if Doyle came for her, a demon scorned, Sergio would be caught in the crossfire, too. Doyle would burn everything she loved to repay her for what she’d done to him.

To him, and to Declan.

Blowing on the ink to dry it quickly, she traced her fingers over the barely visible lines on his arms where the gold bindings had sliced his skin. They, unlike many of his scars, had healed cleanly. But her paintbrush caught on the edges, wavering her lines, and it was only a temporary rune. If it worked, and she doubted it would because a demon’s magic was very rarely held back by mere runes, it would only protect him for a few hours. Even her own runes only slightly blocked Spencer’s magic, and only because he’d never tried to overcome them.

They weren’t cuddlers. Even after everything, that hadn’t changed. Once asleep, they liked their space. But, she couldn’t rest tonight because there was a chance he was coming for her, so she wrapped an arm around Spencer’s shoulders and dragged him close, letting his head loll against her shoulder, his breath hot through her thin sleeve.

And she waited to see what the night brought.

 


 

There’s a girl on top of a hill and she’s trying to reach her, she’s trying so fucking hard, but the hill keeps getting steeper and her legs are aching, faltering. She envies Spencer his wings. The girl is a shadowy shape against the sun at the top of the hill. All Emily can see is her hair, dark and loose, curtaining around her head as she dances. She’s dancing. Emily pauses and tries to remember the last time she danced like that. She fancies there’s a cat at the child’s feet, but the sun blinds her, and still the hill grows.

“If you don’t reach her in time, I will,” says the now expected Foyet, except when she snaps her head around to glare at the disembodied voice, it’s Doyle standing there. He smiles. “You know what I can do to a girl who thinks the world is beautiful.”

She runs then. She runs for the girl, and she knows she’s not going to make it, because she’s failed this girl before over and over and over and over.

This one is her nightmare.

 


 

She woke from that dream.

It wasn’t one of his. If it had been, she wouldn’t have been able to shake it. Spencer slept soundly and with none of the sick heaviness she’d grown accustomed to—in fact, he looked… okay. Like he was okay. When she reached for his mind, she found it blissfully silent, finally resting, and she made her mind up to fucking kiss David Rossi the next time she saw him. But that nightmare… it was her own. In fact, it was the only one she’d had in months that was natural, just a by-product of her overstressed brain. Nothing like the ones that plagued Spencer, or had attacked Sergio. It meant her rune was still working.

For now.

 


 

He killed Tsia. While she was cheering her supposed victory over the one night of rest they’d snatched from him, he was murdering her friend. Murdering her friend to send a message to her. She didn’t have to pretend to be sick to get away. Luckily, it was Morgan with her and not Rossi, who would be fully aware that she could clean the vomit from her pants and shoes with magic in an instant. He let her go, and she didn’t go home. She went looking for Spencer because if Tsia was dead, if this was Doyle taking out those she loved, he’d be next. She couldn’t, couldn’t, even think about that, so she went to him.

“Spence?” she called into the space in her mind he usually occupied, and found it empty. It wasn’t so unusual. If he was working and focused, he could shut her out without realizing.

“Is Dr. Reid here?” she asked the first person she saw when she found the rooms he normally lectured in empty. The student shrugged, eyes disinterested, and pointed her in the direction of the faculty offices. The college was busy at this time of the day, students milling everywhere and chatting, laughing, completely at ease.

She pushed open the door of his office after her soft rapping got no answer. The office was silent, the curtains pulled, and he was a crumpled form over his desk. One arm thrown across the surface, the other pillowing his head; he wasn’t moving.

He wasn’t moving.

“Spence!” she shrieked in her mind and out loud, and bolted to him. Her alarm rippled through her, her defence runes thrumming to life, and he didn’t even react.

Deaddeaddead, her mind chanted as she reached him, and hesitated, because Tsia had a bullet between her eyes and she couldn’t bear it if she tilted his head back to see and found the same on him. She couldn’t, she couldn’t survive that, and she reached down, her fingers brushing his skin—

 


 

It’s an instant shift from his office to his dream. It’s a deliberate shift. Someone dragged her in here.

She’s in a church, a vaguely familiar church, and the air reeks of damp and… moss.

When she glances down, Spencer is curled up in the corner on a bed of dark, gritty moss, a child again, and his eyes are wide. There’s a bruise on his face and his clothes are singed. He’s all legs and awkward wings, both too big for his slender body, and her heart aches for him.

“He doesn’t really remember the dreams when he wakes,” Doyle says, and steps up next to her. She stiffens, horror sparking up her spine, and this is a nightmare but he isn’t. He’s as real as she is, and she could die here. “We’re free to talk… Lauren. Oh wait. My Lauren is dead, is she not? A… car accident.”

“You’ve been targeting him,” she says, and puts herself between Doyle and the terrified child that’s he’s made of Spencer’s mind. “For months now. Why? Why are you here? Why him?”

Doyle smiles, coldly, and her heart still twists at that smile. Behind the coldness, behind the danger, there’s a pain she recognises, a grief. “Imagine my joy,” he says, closing his eyes. The stink of moss fades, replaced by lilacs and cut grass, “when I discovered that you live. Imagine my joy. I wasn’t even mad, not at first, because how could I be? You know what it’s like, to have the one you believe lost returned to you. And then I came looking. Just looking. I wasn’t going to… interfere. And I found you with him.”

A small hand wraps around hers, Spencer’s. His hand is shaking, fingers slippery with sweat, and she smells smoke. When she looks down at him, his eyes are dark, dark, dark, and he doesn’t look like a child at all now, but a demon. “Leave her alone,” he hisses, and it’s terrifying, somehow, to hear his adult anger simmering in a child’s voice.

“Or you’ll what?” Doyle vanishes, his voice becoming surrounding, consuming, part of the world they’re in. “You’ll burn me like you burned your mother? I’m a part of you now, Spencer. I’ve set up shop in your brain, in your memories. I know what you did. I know you’ll burn her too, my Lauren. She’s the only thing that matters to me, Spencer. I can’t allow that.”

“Wake up,” Spencer instructs her, tilting his head back to meet her gaze. “You can. He’s trapped me, not you.”

“I’m not leaving,” she snaps, gripping his hand tighter. It’s useless. If Doyle decides to separate them, he can do so in an instant. In their nightmares, he’s king. “Let both of us go, and I’ll come to you. We can talk.”

“Liar.” It’s a croon. It’s his bedroom voice. He’s got nothing on Spencer, and that feels obscene to think while Spencer is a child at her side. “But I’ll let him go despite you attempting to trick me. Only because we are brothers, aren’t we Spencer? Two sides of the same coin… the same souls, the same darkness. You, Lauren, certainly have a type.”

“Stop calling me Lauren. Lauren Reynolds is dead.”

A dark chuckle and smoke billows out from the cracks in the walls, from under the thick double doors, drifting around the feet of broken pews and making Spencer cough and her eyes water painfully. “Ah yes. Well. Perhaps she is. But… can the same be said of her familiar?”

The fire is sudden and searing and they both scream as it flares around them. Emily drops to wrap her arms around Spencer and

 


 

“Sergio!”

Her hand smacked around the ground, unsure of when she’d fallen, and when she stood shakily with her shoulder throbbing, Spencer was straightening from his slumped position on his desk, blinking groggily. “Wha…?” he muttered, shaking hair from his eyes and pressing the back of his hand to his face. “Ow.” He squinted, swallowing, and she recognised the tell-tale signs of a migraine painted across his face.

Doyle was right. He didn’t remember.

But she did.

Sergio.

“Call the team,” she cried, spinning and bolting for the door. She heard him call out, his chair clattering, but he wouldn’t be able to use his magic enough to fly while the migraine crippled his facilities, and she knew she’d be faster without having to worry about him. “He’s after Sergio!”

“Who is?” Spencer shouted after her, but the door thudded shut between them and she was running.

Chapter Text

Sergio died alone.

Reid was halfway home and breaking every speed limit when it hit: a wave of emotion so raw he couldn’t breathe through it. Anger that was closer to rage, shock that was closer to disbelief. Grief. Pure, unmitigated grief.

And he knew they were too late.

 


 

He found them in the bedroom.

Emily stood by the bed. Her eyes were closed. Her hands were clean. She hadn’t touched him, touched his fur, his chest. Hadn’t found it still. They were agents, first and foremost. They were agents, and this was a crime scene.

The air was heavy with a familiar taste. It layered thickly in Reid’s throat when he stepped into the room and forced himself to look at the thin, impossibly fragile form splayed on the bed. He coughed slightly around the scent and the way it made saliva collect in the back of his throat, as though preceding him being ill.

“Don’t touch him,” he said, unnecessarily, because if she hadn’t already she wasn’t going to. “Come on.” That bit was necessary. She shouldn’t have been in there. She shouldn’t have… seen.

But she ignored him. He tugged at her hand—cold and dry and stiff under his fingertips, as though she was the one murdered, and maybe part of her had been—but she didn’t move.

“I’m not leaving him,” she said finally, so he left her by her oldest friend’s side and went to wait for the police.

 


 

A hand touched his shoulder. He thought for a moment it was Emily, but she was huddled under his arm, shivering despite the blanket he’d wrapped around her, and they were listening to the sound of the investigation from his living room. The hand brushed his neck, soothing, the owner crouching to look at Emily. He smelled winter. Ice. Baby powder. JJ.

“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice choking with all of the grief in the room that they were silenced by, and she took Emily’s hand. “Emily. I’m so, so sorry.”

Emily swallowed. They heard her do it. Reid knew that later she’d be angry. She’d be angry, she’d scream, she’d go for her gun and her magic and hit the streets herself to find out what had happened. But right here, right now, she was broken. “He was gone before I even realized he was in danger,” she said finally, and that was when the tears came.

 


 

He left her in JJ’s arms. By that point, Morgan was there and, unlike the rest of their team, he was hovering protectively over her. That, Reid knew, spoke more about who the ‘he’ Emily had referred to was. Whoever he was, they’d known about him. They’d known he was coming.

JJ was comforting Emily and Morgan was too, in his own way, but he stood instead of sitting and his hand stayed near his weapon.

They believed he was coming back.

Her apartment was a flurry of men and women in forensics gear carrying the equipment that had once been so familiar to him, he almost found himself reaching for a latex-free glove to join them. Instead, he hovered awkwardly on the outskirts with his cane in hand and headache a mute reminder of his weakness. It was interesting, a part of Reid noted numbly, how easily he could see the divide between magic users and non-magic users right now. The non-magic users were brisk, efficient. Some looked almost amused by their duty. Some, he knew, would go home to their families tonight and over the dinner table joke about how today they took sketches and measurements of a cat. Just a cat. The magic users were quiet. Focused. One had a rat familiar helping her weave a charm to bring every clear fingerprint in the vicinity to a bright glow. She kept raising her hand to brush it along the rat’s flank, mouth twisted downward. All feared the loss they faced tonight.

Someone knocked a lamp, the one with the weird tasselled hem on the shade. Emily hated that lamp.

Sergio loved it.

“Be careful,” Reid barked from his position just outside the door. Heads snapped around to stare at him. The man near the lamp jumped, reaching out a hand to steady it. “You’re not wearing gloves. Why aren’t you wearing gloves? Who is your supervisor? You’re compromising the integrity of the evidence.” Reid was rambling, angry, rattled. The officer stared at him.

“Who are you?” another man said, stepping forward. “You can’t be here.”

“And you need to take this seriously and do your damn job.” Reid bunched his hands into his pockets, feeling the nails dig half-moon shapes into his palms. They needed to care. They needed to know what had happened here. What had been lost. “First degree murder of a non-person familiar is punishable by life imprisonment. First degree murder of a federal familiar, past or present, can result in a mandatory sentencing of life without parole, or the death penalty—the use of magic means this is a capital crime regardless. The evidence you’re gathering may very well serve to end someone’s life. Sergio is…”

Was.

He stopped. The last word trailed into a half-bitten off noise that tore as it exited his mouth. He’d call it a sob, but that would mean admitting he was…

He was.

“Dr. Reid is a federal familiar,” Hotch said, walking out from the bedroom. “This is a federal crime. If he’s found fault with your procedure, I ask that you leave until the issue can be rectified. Thank you. Dr. Reid, may I speak with you outside?”

Reid followed him in silence. The scolded officer vanished down the hall, shoulders set angrily. Reid couldn’t spare him any sympathy. They needed this done right. Sergio deserved no less.

“You need to step back,” Hotch murmured, stopping abruptly. Reid almost crashed into him, heels skidding on the runner and landing him barely half an arm’s length away from his former boss. “You’re in shock. You’ve lost a friend. Emily needs you with her, and you’re emotionally compromised. Whether you’re acting on her behalf or not, you cannot enter that crime scene.”

Hotch had never let him down before. Not when Hankel had bound him and Hotch had tracked them down without pausing. Not when Emily had been hurt and so alone and Reid hadn’t been able to go home to her. Not when Reid himself had finally come home, a shade of who he had been and haunted by the lives he’d taken. Hotch had taken him to each of the graves of the people who’d died. Each of the families. Together, they’d paid their respects.

He knew Hotch wouldn’t let him down now, despite the distance between them.

“I don’t know how to help her,” he finally admitted, and felt his shoulders bow forward almost involuntarily. A hand settled on his shoulder, squeezed tightly. When he looked up, Hotch’s face was soft and almost… wistful. “What do I do?”

“Be there for her,” Hotch said finally. He paused. His next words were laced with something that Reid didn’t know the context of, but he knew the implication well enough. “Stay by her side.” That’s not what Hotch was really saying. Reid knew him well enough to know that.

Protect her.

 


 

That night, they didn’t sleep.

Reid thought, as he curled his body protectively around hers and tried not to focus on all the silence in the room, that it was ironic. Tonight was very likely the only night either of them could have looked forward to an uninterrupted rest, without nightmares. After all, what could a nightmare bring that was worse than this day?

Emily’s shoulders shook against him, and no purring lulled them.

 


 

They were locked out of the investigation. Of course they were; it wasn’t a serial case, and they were all emotionally compromised. Emily’s home was a crime scene, and Reid found himself making excuses to ensure she didn’t need to leave his apartment and be faced with the yellow tape splashed accusingly across her doorway. The team visited as often as they could. They were still on duty, one down now Emily was on bereavement leave.

Hotch brought Jack and quiet condolences. JJ brought Henry and a vivid determination that they keep moving through this. Morgan brought alcohol and got Emily completely plastered. Oddly, Morgan seemed to help the most. The day after, once she’d recovered enough to roll out of bed without groaning, there was a spark back that had been missing since she’d lost her friend. It had only been four days, but it felt like an eternity had passed. Emily couldn’t remember the last words she’d said to him.

Reid remembered just fine, and he grieved how inadequate they were.

Rossi brought eggplant parmesan for three and talked about everything. When dinner was over, they played chess until Emily nodded off in her chair, and his fingers tensed around the carved head of his rook. The silence of the room overwhelmed. Rossi’s eyes lingered on Emily’s face, still lined with misery even in sleep, his gaze slowly sliding to Reid. Reid waited. Whatever he was going to say, he’d say it when he was ready.

“You saw the body,” Rossi said finally, letting his hand fall from the board to his lap. Reid did the same, sensing the game was stalled. “You saw what had been done.”

“Yes.” He watched Emily. Her breathing was deep, even. She seemed asleep, but, he’d been wrong before.

“Your thoughts?”

That was disconcerting, for a moment. Reid was under no illusions about his intelligence. But the damage done to Sergio exhibited a level of savagery that Reid knew had only one source.

Demonic.

And there was one man known as the expert on demons, and he was sitting across from Reid with a glass of whiskey in one hand and the other fiddling with a loose thread on the armchair.

“Demon,” Reid said finally, watching him carefully. “Almost certainly. But…”

“Only one demon has permission to enter Emily’s apartment.” Rossi drained his glass, eyes dark. “There are four subsets of demons that have that particular MO. Only four. One of those is extinct. One is only found in a small coastal range in Brazil. And, of the other two, both only kill when provoked. Shabriris are benign. There hasn’t been a recorded murder by one in two hundred years.” His face was a mask. Reid could see something hidden there. Some watchfulness. He was profiling Reid’s reactions, seeing how he responded.

“And the other?” Reid questioned quietly.

Rossi’s mouth thinned. “Ephialtes,” he said, finally, and his voice was heavy. “Incidentally, also one of the few demons who aren’t completely bound to the hearth law. They don’t need to be in the home to be dangerous.”

Ephialtes. A Greek term. Reid was unfamiliar with the demon subset, but he was familiar with the word.

Nightmare.

“Reid.” The word was a soft bark. Rossi wasn’t here as his friend. He was… investigating. Looking up to find the profiler’s steady gaze locked on him was extremely disconcerting, like being judged and found wanting. “Ephialtes are closely related to incubi and succubi. Extremely closely related. Some use the term interchangeably. I need to know if Sergio was caught in the crossfire of some kind of exceedingly unpleasant family reunion. You grew up in the foster care system—how much contact did you have with your father’s family?”

“None.” It wasn’t a lie. He had no memories of his father. No feeling at all, except a dull sense of antipathy. “My mother raised me alone. After she died, one of the conditions of the State Care system was that I was raised with thought only to my human half. I wasn’t allowed any contact with demons or demonic magic until college.” Reid recited this calmly, not allowing any of the swift kick of horror and discomfort at the implication that someone could be doing this on account of him show on his features. Was that how Emily had known something was hunting them? Had the team been looking into this? Was this the case that none of them were talking about? There was an uncomfortable kind of emotion written across Rossi’s features. He fidgeted, looking as unsettled as Reid had ever seen him, eyes flickering to Emily and back to Reid. Emily shifted, murmuring something, before settling back into the couch. Reid longed to find a blanket and throw it over her, to curl up beside her, even just to touch in some small way. His skin itched.

He wanted Rossi gone, this conversation over, and he wanted to hold his girlfriend and push the world away. His turn to protect her from the darkness.

“Jag-offs,” Rossi finally muttered, his tone venomous, and moved his knight moodily. The piece clacked loudly against the board as he placed it with emphasis. “You can’t raise a kid to be half of who he is. Reid, ephilaltes are vengeful demons. They’re a vengeful, possessive class. If there’s one targeting you, there’s a reason behind it. And if you’re not the reason…”

Reid’s hand twitched and knocked pieces flying, a cold rush of no flooding down his spine. He looked at Emily. She slept.

Hotch’s words haunted him. Stay by her side.

If they weren’t after him, they were after her.

 


 

There were forty-two species recognised by the United Persons as having legal personhood.

Humans, despite the almost fifteen hundred years of co-existing relatively peacefully with other species, were still the only ones of those forty-two who buried their dead. Other traditions had bled and merged into each other as time passed, but that had stayed resolute.

Elves sung themselves back to the world. Reid knew, as he stood by Emily’s side and watched the mourners congregate in loose groups of affiliations, that one day even JJ would take this final step. If she was killed in the field, lost far too young, they’d take her remains to the world her body knew and return her to the magic that had shaped her life. To winter and ice and snow. Similarly, Will was born of the rivers and bayous and one day he would return to them.

Garou cremated their dead. Dragons did too. Vampiric bodies disintegrated upon the death of their souls.

Reid knew his fate. Demons had their own beyond. Their physical forms might be buried or burned, depending on the faith of those who interned it, but they didn’t count that as their rites. When Reid died, his soul would walk the exact same path as every demon before him. There was no agreement on exactly where that path went, and no demon summoned back from it had ever been forthcoming. General discourse all seemed to agree it was down.

Animalia had their own rituals, depending on their species. They didn’t generally share the details. Cats alone left their bodies to the mage they’d loved. Cats, alone of all the Animalia who took familial roles, gave their mages that honour.

And, so, Emily chose how to honour her friend. His remains were cremated and the ashes built into a plant weave around the roots of a juvenile crab-apple sapling. The weave would hold the growth for the tree until such time as Emily chose a place for him to rest. Until that time, the tree stood proudly on the kitchen counter, leaves turned happily towards the sun filtering through the window.

They didn’t have a funeral. They held two memorials instead. One for those who wished to grieve Sergio as a colleague or as a member of their race lost. One for those who wished to grieve Sergio as family.

Emily was the perfect host. She greeted everyone by name, no matter how long ago their acquaintance had been made, and Reid found himself subjected to the interested scrutiny of a dizzying array of academics. Mages from Emily’s graduate school, professors from her college, magi who trained her in the rune arts. Familiars tied to mages who didn’t know Emily, but knew Sergio. A witch who introduced himself as Matthew lingered over the friendly hug he gave Emily. Reid saw the genuine grief in his eyes and the way Emily clung to him, and realized with a gentle kind of sadness that Matthew had shared more of the life Emily had spent with Sergio than Reid himself had. The two talked animatedly of memories of Sergio as a kitten, Sergio and Emily as they’d tried—often failing—to master their craft. Memories that Reid had no place in. It wasn’t jealousy, not really, but it was distressing to realize the bulk of Reid’s memories he had to share of their friend were after he was muted. Muted by Reid’s own magic.

It was a sensation a lot more like guilt.

A woman arrived with a flurry of activity. Human, important, and judging by her stunning resemblance to Emily herself, her mother.

“Emily,” she said, coming up behind her daughter and hesitating. Her hand twitched towards Emily’s, almost as though to take it in her own, before pulling back to smooth down the fabric of her black dress. Dark eyes traced Emily as she turned, taking in the shadows under her eyes that were the only betrayal of her bereaved state, her hair and clothing impeccably presented.

“Ambassador Prentiss,” Emily replied stiffly, twisting her body almost to shut Reid out of the conversation. Matthew bowed his head, murmuring a greeting, and Reid nodded politely. Either Emily would introduce him, or she wouldn’t. He understood if she was reluctant. Silence lingered. Reid gripped his cane tightly, leaning forward onto it more. It stung a newly formed blister on the meaty part of his thumb, a concerning indication that he was relying on the cane for support a lot more than he had previously.

“Mom, I—” Emily began suddenly, turning to gesture to Reid, the same time Ambassador Prentiss threw aside all decorum in a manner that was painfully reminiscent of her daughter and exclaimed, “Emily, I’m so sorry for your loss, it’s unbelievable.” Silence again, but this time shocked instead of awkward. Emily took a deep breath. Her mother inched forward, her arm moving up again.

“I know… yes,” Emily said, thrown, and then her mouth twisted. “I just never considered him being… gone.” And, just like that, the barriers between them vanished. They embraced, Emily’s hands tightening around her mom’s back, and there was that feeling again. The same wavering jealous/not jealous guilt that had hit him with Matthew. This time, he took solace in it. This time, his enviousness of something Emily had that he lacked meant that he could delight in the fact that she did have it.

“This is Dr. Reid, I presume?” Ambassador Prentiss said suddenly, pulling away from Emily and pinning Reid with a stern look. He straightened, sliding the cane so it stood an inch above the ground and flush against his leg, smiling at her in greeting. Good impressions, good impressions, he chanted in his head. Emily brushed against his shields, sidling in, and he felt a soft rush of amusement from her that was muted by her grief.

“Just be polite. She knows of you. She approves.” Grief again, this time charged. It came in waves, triggered by the most minute things. Cat fur on the couch. A bag of meat treats he’d brought and never had the chance to open. A commercial on TV that he used to growl at when it came on. “Sergio liked you and she’s always trusted his opinion more than mine.”

“My pleasure to meet you,” Reid answered, nodding again. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

“None of it good, I expect,” Elizabeth replied, eyes discerning. “I only wish our meeting was under more agreeable circumstances. Her gaze lowered to the cane, his knee. He swallowed, hoping his posture wasn’t listing to the side. “But I must delay our proper meeting. There are others who I wish to greet. Emily, walk with me?”

Emily’s fingers brushed his own as she walked away at her mother’s side. Reid looked around at the strangers surrounding him and tried not to feel like he had no right to be here. There was a noticeable berth around him now that Emily was gone. Academics, he knew, would be only too familiar of his history.

He settled back by the door, ready to greet those who entered to save Emily the trouble, and waited longingly for when it would just be them and their family.

 


 

Eight days after Sergio’s death, they cleared Emily’s apartment. Reid received the call while Emily was out, informing them that they were able to return to the home at their own discretion now. He slipped over before she came home. The apartment was quiet, lonely. It missed the patter of paws and the shriek of Emily discovering Sergio had done something purely to make her splutter. Only strangers had been here this past week. Her magic was gone, the security spells stripped to allow the crime scene investigators access, and the entire apartment felt… unfamiliar. Strange. His neck itched uncomfortably, his own magic reacting to the odd blankness of the walls around him.

He went to the bedroom. The stains were dark, sunk deep into the mattress, the bedding taken as evidence. He could see an uneven dullness to the wood of the bedframe that suggested there was more blood splayed along it. More on the wall behind the bed. When he crouched, the carpet was similarly marked. As though he’d been held down and struggled viciously, even as the fatal blows fell. Reid felt sick. In here, unlike in the other room, his magic fizzed apprehensively. It picked up on the traces the violence in here had left. Pain, fear, death. It all left its mark.

She couldn’t come home to this.

He stood, brushed his trousers clean of dust, and made some calls. The mattress would be collected the next day. It was the work of ten minutes to locate a roll of black garbage bags and duct tape and cover the mattress in an even layer, hiding the gory evidence. He bought a new one to be delivered the day after. Considered replacing the bedframe too, before deciding that was probably overstepping. Instead, he made a mental note to take Garcia shopping for new linen and delved into the cupboard under the sink for a bucket and a bottle of undiluted bleach.

Then, he started scrubbing.

Three hours later, the apartment stunk of bleach and he stunk of sweat, his eyes stinging and hands numb. And still the dark spots showed on the cream carpet when he tilted his head.

“You’re not going to get them out,” a soft voice said behind him. He jolted, almost oversetting the bucket. “They’ve set, man.” Morgan. Reid straightened, his back and knees screaming at his sudden shift in posture after bending over for the past hour. His friend moved into the room, nose wrinkling, eyes sad.

“I have to,” Reid said, looking down ruefully at the marks. “I can’t… I can’t let her see this. And the paint on the walls still shows as well, if the light hits it at the right angle.”

“Alright.” Morgan sounded satisfied. Reid watched him pull his phone out, tapping away, face smug. “So, Garcia’s gonna waylay Em. Take her out to dinner or something, or shopping to buy some stuff for Rossi’s memorial dinner tomorrow. You and me, Flappy Boy, we’re gonna get busy.”

“Doing what?” He almost managed to keep the suspicion out of his voice. Morgan looking that smug was never a good thing.

“Bet we can pick up a roll of carpet close enough to this she won’t even notice. And while I lay it, you paint. Piece of cake. We’ll be done by midnight.”

Oddly, while focusing on getting the room painted and recarpeted and back together exactly how Em had had it, it was all too easy to forget that they were still hunted.

Chapter Text

Dinner at Rossi’s was vastly different from the last they’d enjoyed. It was subdued by everything everyone was withholding. The team wouldn’t talk about the investigation into Sergio’s murder, Emily wasn’t talking about his murder at all, and Reid felt oddly torn between the two.

They talked about Sergio’s life. Emily explained to a wide-eyed Jack about the importance of a familiar—about the rune on her wrist that she’d replaced, both the one with Sergio’s name and the Latin ‘No one learns except through friendship’ woven through. It was purely decorative now and had been since her link with the cat had shattered two years prior, but she still bore it with pride. Jack trailed his fingers over the rune thoughtfully, before announcing that he wanted to be a familiar, causing what would have been a choked splutter in anyone less dignified from Hotch.

Henry was too little to understand. He just sat on Reid’s lap while Reid tried to teach him how to move water from one glass to the other, with Will occasionally doing so from the other end of the table, just to make his son squeal with glee at succeeding.

Rossi plied them with alcohol. Reid raised an eyebrow at him before giving in. He sensed, much as he assumed the others had too, that this was Rossi’s way of telling them to relax, to just… allow themselves to breathe. Just for a night.

So, they did.

The stories got cheekier, the laughter more frequent, and Emily’s face became increasingly flushed and prettier as the night went on. Reid was finding it difficult to look away, even as the world slipped into soft-focus with his growing inebriation. She smiled, genuinely smiled. At the table, voices chattering around them over the clink of cutlery and glasses, she wove her fingers through his and turned to press their sides together, leaning her head against his neck. It was an uncharacteristic, publicly-affectionate gesture, doubly so when she turned her head to brush her lips against his jaw, and he blushed as someone whistled. Her breath was whiskey-sour, and Rossi topped their glasses up. Reid calculated.

“We’re going to have to take a taxi home,” he said ruefully to Emily, experimentally tracing his finger along his plate to see if he could do it in a straight line. He couldn’t. He blamed the plate. She hummed against his neck, breath warm, and he hoped no one could profile the jolt of heat that surged through him at that.

“Just stay the night,” Rossi boomed, his voice growing louder with every successive glass he’d finished. He’d been trying to coax someone to play his game console with him for the past half hour, and had finally managed—with Garcia’s help—to talk Morgan into giving it a go. “I’ve got two couches, another in my office, four spare beds. I’m sure we can fold you all in somewhere.”

“Dibs on your bed,” Morgan called from where he was poking the colourful array of buttons on a gaudy looking plastic guitar, his expression confused. Eris twined around him, whispering instructions that he seemed to be struggling to grasp, their voices gaining sharp pitches of irritation with each other.

“Ooh, dibs on wherever Morgan is sleeping,” Garcia added, weaving her arm through his.

“Not in my damn bed! You keep that up, you’ll be getting a mattress in the back garden where I can hose you off!”

Emily shifted against Reid, her eyes heavy lidded. She’d fallen quiet, and he suspected the exhaustion of the past week was catching up to her. Catching up to all of them. He’d slept more this past week than he had in months, but it was still offset by the strain and tension of his waking hours. And he suspected she’d barely slept at all.

“Do you want to stay?” he asked her, feeling her sluggishly tug her shields aside so he could reach her. They were a lot more careful about keeping them closed then they’d used to be. A lesson learned the hard way. “We can go home if you’d rather.”

“I don’t care,” she replied, and twisted her way around his mind, sending a wash of mixed feelings his way. Drunksadhappybutsadtiredlove. His mind twinged, trying to make sense of it all. Mostly, it was all overshadowed by an overwhelming desperate need to be close to him, one that made his throat tighten and heart ache for her. It was an automatic reaction to that need to turn and wrap his arms around her, alone now in the solitude of the dining room as their family made their way into the living room, and to just cling. He let her lean against him, taking whatever comfort she needed from the gesture, their hearts thudding dully in near unison.

He didn’t know how to express this moment. Not with words.

“I love you,” he murmured into her hair. “Irrevocably so. You do know that, yes?”

A laugh that was almost a sigh pressed into the skin of his neck. She brushed her lips against his throat, again, once, then held them there. He felt them twist, felt her face scrunch, her eyelashes skip against his jaw. He felt the shudder that worked its way slowly through her. The emotions changed, subtly. Flavoured now with… regret. Fear.

He held on tighter.

“I know,” she said finally, then switched to their minds. “I love you, too. Don’t forget that.”

The words frightened him. They almost sounded like goodbye.

 


 

Rossi succeeded in his quest to gather them all under one roof for the night. Hotch had protested the most, until Rossi pointed out that Jack was already out like a light in his bed and to wake him would be, “Terrible parenting, Aaron. Just terrible. Dragging the poor kiddo out of a warm bed at this time of the night.” So, Hotch had retired to the bed alongside his son. JJ, Will and Henry took the spare room with the queen bed and a strangely whimsical painting of a lighthouse on the wall. Morgan and Garcia took the room with the two singles, that Rossi refused to answer as to why he had. Laying in their own bed, a double in a room that was tastefully decorated with a kind of richness that discomforted Reid, who preferred books to heavy curtains, Reid could hear Rossi snoring from the living room down the hall where he’d taken the couch. Ever the gentleman. Reid would have argued, but one look at Emily had silenced his disagreement. She was done in, and he needed to be by her side.

He’d thought Emily was asleep. She was very good at fooling him.

A cold hand snuck over his side, under his shirt, tugging him back against her. He hummed, in the soft-focus in-between of being almost asleep, letting his body relax back against the warmth of her chest and stomach. The hand slipped lower, settling on his hip, fingers tracing along the lines of his hipbone and pressing into the taut skin just under the loose hem of the slacks Rossi had lent him to sleep in. The touch sent a slow warm heat pooling under it, and he might have made a soft noise of pleasure and shifted into that touch; he wasn’t sure. It was nice. The touch, the quiet, the peacefulness of not being in his apartment surrounded by memories and sadness.

“Spence,” she whispered, nipping at the back of his neck. He answered her. He thought he did. Mostly he just thought about it and also thought about her hand and how lovely it was that it was touching him. “Wake up, hey.” She shook him gently.

He didn’t want to. But he was, the world sharpening around him. “No,” he muttered finally, hunching his shoulders forward and feeling the bed dip and sway with the movement. Maybe not just tired. Maybe perhaps just a little bit drunk as well. Maybe.

Teeth at his neck against, his spine, his shoulder. She tugged his shirt aside and mouthed the bare shoulder revealed to her, right against the curve of his neck, pulling back and breathing warm, alcohol-flavoured air against it. He shivered, the shiver tracing down his spine to the small of his back and settling lower in his belly and groin.

“I should do this when you’re drunk and sleepy more often,” she whispered, bringing her other hand to his side, along his ribs, and tracing her nails down them. He whined, shifting in her grasp, his wings almost uncomfortably cramped between them and a steady, lethargic arousal becoming more and more insistent that he stop trying to sleep. “You make the most wonderful noises.”

Did he? He wasn’t sure. He frowned. “I do not.” That was proven wrong barely a second later when the hand that was on his hip slipped down in one smooth movement to press hard against the now decidedly-interested length of him under his briefs. “Oh.” He arched into that touch with a moan, eyes snapping open, now wide awake and hungry. “Em, stop. We’re in Rossi’s guest bed. At his house. Surrounded by everyone. And there’s no way JJ and Morgan won’t hear us.” He rolled towards her, wings catching on the sheets and causing an awkward fumble of limbs as he tried to straighten. She wasn’t helping, refusing to remove her hand from his pants, and instead rocking her palm against him in a slow rhythm that made it hard to focus on why not to give into that. It had been a mistake to turn to her. Her eyes were dark, endless, capturing him instantly with their need. He could see a flush to her otherwise pale cheeks, her mouth swollen from biting at it, and wobbling very slightly. She was upset. Upset and seeking comfort from him.

“Well then,” she snapped quietly, wrapping a leg around his thighs and dragging him against her. He winced as the bed made a soft groan of complaint at the sudden movement. “We’ll just have to be… very… quiet.” She punctuated her words with a rocking twist of her hand against him that was wicked and very effective. He swallowed back a sharp hiss and buried it in her shoulder, tasting her sweat and her skin and the faintest trace of alcohol and perfume. “And you’re not putting up much of a fight.”

He wasn’t. But he had to. “We can’t,” he said stubbornly, and reached down to tug at her wrist. She rolled her eyes, and with a quick surge of power, flooded his mind with her own. Oh god, he had time to think, before her desire and longing washed over him and almost overwhelmed him. “Em.” That was a groan. A ragged groan, from deep in his chest, and he really hoped everyone was asleep because it wasn’t quiet and it wasn’t voluntary. She pressed a hand to his mouth and her lips to that hand, closing her eyes, their noses brushing together.

She wanted him. She wanted him so terribly much that her body was aching with it, throbbing with the beat of her heart and the wet, pooling warmth between her thighs. “We can’t,” he repeated weakly, and knew he was going to lose this one, because she was desperate and he’d never been able to deny her. She removed her hand against his mouth, replacing it with her own lips, and he kissed her fervently. “We’re drunk,” he continued, aware of the alcohol inhibiting his judgement and his self-control. Aware didn’t mean able to counteract the effects, however. She responded silently, just holding him tighter both physically and mentally. Physically, he was aware of her body pressed against every part of him it could reach, shifting slightly against the hard-to-miss weight of his arousal, their chests flush against each other. Mentally, he knew she was thinking of him on her, in her, the shift of their bodies together, the closeness of their minds interwoven.

“We’re sad and grieving,” he pointed out, right as she slowly drew her hands down his hips and took his pants with them, before wriggling out of her own and sliding into place so he was hard between her legs and curved upwards into the hot heat of her own desire. “You’re reacting to loss by trying to ensure that I’m still here. That I’m close. We don’t need sex toohh.” The ohh was sharp and out loud as she lifted her hips and sank onto him in one swift movement, barely even flinching as she took him completely and then rested against him. He gasped at the abrupt heat around him, the slickness, the pressure, and muffled a sigh into her mouth. “Emily. Emily. Please, just…”

Her mouth curved. “Still want to stop?” she sent, with no trace of her usual sardonic humour. He shook his head, closing his eyes against a sudden burning sensation behind them. He didn’t even know if it was his pain or hers that had welled around the pleasure of their joining, just that they were sad. “Shit. Spence? What’s wrong?”

“It’s not me. It’s you.” He felt her shock and disconcertion at this, fingers tracing gently over his cheek and leaving a warm trail of damp. And then again, the same misery/fear/loneliness. The same desperate clinginess she’d shown back at the dinner table. She shifted and he felt her muscles clench around him, drawing a longing breath from them both. “I’m not going anywhere, Em. I’m with you. I’ll always be with you.” They weren’t moving. It was the bathroom all over again, just resting within each other, eyes open and dark with countless desires and emotions, except this time it was laced with defeat. “It’s normal to fear continued loss after the death of a loved one, but I’m not going to die. I’m going to stay right by your side for as long as you need me.”

She nodded and rocked her hips, once, then twice—faster—than once more again. “Say that again,” she replied, closing her eyes and biting at her lip. “Please.”

“That I’m staying?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not going to leave you.” He swayed into her with a slow stroke. “I’m here. I’m staying.” It wasn’t arousal that flamed within her with every statement, but an almost fatalistic assertion of belief, as though she was taking everything he said and committing it to memory, refusing to allow it to be untrue. He worked within her, slow at first, then speeding as her breath quickened. “I love you. I love you, and that’s not going to change, I’m not going to leave…” Now he was the one rambling, desperate. They couldn’t move too energetically, not if they wanted to be able to face their co-workers in the morning, so he pressed hard against her with only his hips moving, feeling her wrap her legs around him, and instead shifted to her mind. He sent the memory of what she felt like when he filled her, how complete they were together, the building tension of his climax fizzling in his groin and threatening to undo him.

She twisted in his grasp, mouth working silently. “Spencer,” she gasped, and her voice was a cat again, startled and arching its back for a touch. He curled down against her mind, stroking, soothing, and she melted under him. “Stay with me. Stay with me, please, please, now. Stay now.”

Oh. He felt her shiver, felt the ripples of her orgasm roll through her body and then her mind, dragging him with her. His heart stammered, skipped a beat, and he felt her drag him into her, wholly and completely, his mind and his soul and his body. “Fuck,” he groaned, wings flared partially away from his body as his back arched, twitching his hips and feeling them bump against her as he pulsed greedily into the body she offered him. “I am. I am.”

She was beautiful, here in his arms, and he never wanted to let go.

They didn’t speak again. He didn’t pull out of her. They tugged each other uncomfortably close, tangled in each other’s arms, and eventually fell asleep.

 


 

They’ve rolled away from each other during the night, her over the other side of the bed, a warm presence he’s acutely aware of. She’s asleep and happy, and he sighs in contentment without opening his eyes. He loves her so desperately in this moment, he feels like he could burn with it.

A touch to his face, tracing his eyes. He twitches his nose, feeling a smile tease his mouth. He hadn’t heard her roll towards him. Continuing to feign sleep, he wonders if he should open his eyes and grin up at her. The sappy, silly grin she adores.

Something presses against his back. It rumbles, purring. Sergio. He shifts his wing slightly to let the cat settle more, hearing the purrs deepen.

Another touch, this time to his throat. It’s cold. Em’s always cold in the mornings. She should sleep in gloves. He winces, expecting cold feet to weave between his legs any second now, her grumbling angrily about the process of warming her appendages up.

The touch presses down. He sucks in a breath that he chokes on as the weight grows, then grows sharp. It cuts and his eyes snap open, body jerking with a strangled gasp. The purring vanishes as he rolls onto his back defensively and finds himself pinned to the bed by a dark, crushing mass. Opens his mouth to shout.

His breath is gone. His voice. The world is silent. Emily sleeps, and he’s choking.

Blinking desperately, trying to twist out from under that weight, his magic ignores him, his body lethargic. His hands batter against a form that shifts and swallows his blows. It sharpens, growing eyes, teeth, a shape. A pale void of a face in the utter blackness that swallows him. A pale void with empty eyes and a hollow mouth.

He screams. He tries to scream. The sound bubbles wetly and tastes of copper.

His eyes sting, burning, blurring. The pale void becomes tinted pink, tinted red, and he realizes he’s crying. Crying, except the tears are hot and thick and spots dance around him.

“She stinks of you,” snarls the shape above him, mouth flapping grossly to form the words. “You disgust me. Your stink disgusts me. You taint her.”

It’s hate. The form is made of hate, and it’s killing him.

Emily! he tries to scream, but his throat is tight and growing tighter.

“You’ll die like a rat, pinned and shaken, and she’ll wake to find you gone,” spits the voice. “Not even a goodbye. And after you promised!” The ‘promised’ is shrieked and emphasised with hands that lengthen and sharpen into spindly, jittering talons that press against his eye.

No.

Not his eyes.

They dig and dig and he screams and there’s no waking from this.

A throbbing, pulsing roar, and the weight vanishes with a yowl. Reid collapses onto the bed. He can’t see. He can’t breathe. His mouth bubbles. He’s still choking. He rolls off the bed, hitting the ground with a bolt of pure agony in his bad knee as he takes the full weight on it. Coughing, spluttering, is he vomiting? He doesn’t feel like he’s vomiting, but he keeps spitting and his mouth won’t clear.

The weight comes back. He tenses, ready to fight, to do anything but kneel here like a dog and die.

“Wake up,” screams a female voice, tugging at his shoulder. “Spencer, wake up. Come on. He can still get you here.”

Eris.

He reaches blindly for her, finding feathers and fur and shadow and

 


 

opened his eyes to find himself on the ground next to the bed with a ring of people around him.

They were blurry, and he took a shuddering breath that stung like it was his first and gagged. Retching, vomiting on himself. Red. It was all red. He’d vomited red, and someone began to cry.

He wiped a hand across his eyes, desperate to see, and that came away red, too. Someone else swore. Someone touched him and he jerked away, trying to find his voice, his sight, fumbling. Emily.

He coughed. “Emily!”

Hands again, pressed against his throat. He winced away with a whine but they persisted, coming back with a steady pressure. Another blurry form crouched next to him and he felt a cool material settle across his hips and legs. The sheet. Oddly, he wasn’t as horrified by the realization that he was naked in front of his team as he was by the fact that he couldn’t hear them properly. His ears felt muffled, full of cotton-wool, and suddenly he remembered Sergio and moaned.

The pain hit and he buckled over and pressed his face to the sheet. Everything wavered. He refused to slip into the welcoming arms of unconsciousness. Not now he knew what was waiting. The pain brought clarity. The world snapped into life again.

“—what the fuck could possibly have gotten past Rossi’s runes? They’re impenetrable. JJ said so herself—”

“—responsive and conscious. Shallow lacerations to the chest and face and a deeper one to his throat. Yes. I’ll have one of my team waiting to guide—”

“—where’s Emily? He’s freaking out… Oh god, Will, his eyes. I can’t get him to look at me to see his eyes. There’s so much blood…”

“She’s with Dave and Penelope. They’re making sure whatever got him isn’t still here. Spencer? Spencer, I need you to look up towards my voice. Come on, bud. You’re scaring Jennifer.” JJ. Reid looked up, eyes scrunched tightly shut. He didn’t want to see the red, or worse, see nothing at all. Cool water flowed over his eyes and he hissed at the stinging pain, feeling the hand pressed over his brow tighten to stop him from shifting away. “That’s it,” Will soothed. “It’s okay. Your eyes are fine. You’re okay.”

“Jesus,” someone else said. Morgan. That wasn’t comforting. “What could have done that?”

A louder voice cut over him. “Where is he? Spencer? Spence, love, look at me. Oh fuck.” Emily. He knew the touch of her hand instantly. As soon as she touched him, he jumped into her mind, feeling his body slump slightly at his abandonment of it. She blinked, reeled, startled, and he looked at himself through her eyes.

Blood. Absolutely covered in blood. Running in rivulets down his chest from a slow, steady gash that stretched halfway across his throat. His face was a smeared mess from where he’d pawed at it, mixed with the water Will had tried to clean him with. Lips and teeth stained red. Clean, pale segments of skin peeked out from the red, but they were quickly covered by the still bleeding cuts around his eyes. His skin was paling as he watched, as though he was seeing the blood drain from his body.

And his eyes. He cried out, turning away in horror at the deep gouge into the corner of his eye. It would heal. It was the skin, not the eye itself. But it was horrible to realize how close he’d come to blindness.

“Back in there,” Emily scolded, and pushed him gently out. He shuddered in his own body, feeling Will pull away as she kneeled next to him and dragged him into a shuddering hug. “Ambulance is on its way,” she said softly, but he couldn’t talk because he was spiralling into a panic, his breath strained through a band around his chest that was tightening, tightening, crushing. “Just breathe. The anxiety is an aftereffect of the attack. It’s not you. It’s the demon.” She kept murmuring and he focused on that and only that.

It was that, or drown.

 


 

When the panic receded, he was in the emergency department with Emily hovering by the curtain and a doctor leaning close to his eye, mouth tight. When he blinked and looked down at the bed he was sitting on, the sheets were threaded with a neatly stitched calming rune and he was dressed. He didn’t remember doing that.

“Are you with us now, Dr. Reid?” the doctor asked, straightening and studying his face. “You were quite distraught when they brought you in.”

“Reid,” came Hotch’s voice, and Reid turned his head to find his former boss standing by the end of the bed, face grim. “Can you talk?”

Reid swallowed and tried to remember how to talk. His tongue felt thick, unwieldy, and the silence lingered horribly. His eye stung. When he blinked, the right side did so sluggishly, unwillingly. He could smell the medical glue they’d used on it, laced with antiseptic.

Emily sounded aggravated. “He said my name before,” she snapped, stepping forward. The curtain shifted slightly, and Reid saw Rossi peer around at her, frowning. “JJ said he did. He can talk.”

“If it was a ephilalte attack, muteness is a known side-effect,” the doctor said, seemingly unaware of the way Emily’s face paled horribly at this statement. “It can be temporary, or permanent. We won’t know more until—”

“I can talk.” His voice cracked and grated painfully on the way out, but it was audible. Mostly because he was angry. Angry that the man hadn’t realized how much he was scaring Emily, angry that he hadn’t realized how scared she was and snapped out of whatever state he was in.

“Good.” The doctor nodded, unfazed. Reid had the sudden disconcerting thought that he’d been played. “Okay, Dr. Reid. You’re going to need stitches to replace the temporary dressing on your throat, and I want to get a look into your ears while you’re conscious. Any ringing? Echoing?”

He answered the doctor, his eyes on Emily the whole time. She looked… shaken. Shaken like she’d been terrified tonight, and maybe she had. He couldn’t imagine what that attack would have looked like to her. When they left here, when he got her home, he’d calm her down. They’d sit down and talk. He’d let her paint whatever runes she wanted onto him while he put on something silly and plotless on the TV and they relaxed. Or maybe he’d read to her, poetry. He’d memorized some poetry back in college, Greek stuff, too. She’d like that, even if his pronunciation was lacking. It would be fine. He could bring her back from this. And then, tomorrow, they’d find whatever was hunting them and they’d stop this. Together.

“We should stay at Rossi’s,” Emily said suddenly, and all eyes turned to her. Even the doctor, pausing his work, before turning back to the swift flick of his needle in and out of Reid’s skin. “If he doesn’t mind. Eris… I can’t fight that thing. Eris can, if it comes back.”

“I agree,” Rossi said, moving more fully into the room, his face grim. “That thing strikes fast and hard. You can’t not sleep—we need you within reach when it happens again.”

When.

Reid deflated, his half-theorized whimsy of just him and Emily working through this vanishing. He nodded very slightly, earning a growl from the doctor.

“Good,” Emily said, settling back with her expression shadowed. “Thank you.”  

He really needed to talk to her alone.

 


 

They went back to Rossi’s, Reid still groggy from the shock and the pain and the weak painkillers. Emily managed to avoid being alone with him at any point, even after Hotch had left to go pick up Jack from JJ’s. It was… frustrating.

“You may as well stay in the same room, seeing as you’ve already defiled my damn bed,” Rossi was saying cheerfully as he picked through his cupboard, clearly delighted to have captive guests. Eris was a shifting form on the roof, looking down at them all from her vantage point. “We can go get your stuff after dinner.”

“I’ll go,” Emily said suddenly, standing upright. They all looked at her. Reid felt his stomach twist, seeing her gaze skitter away from him. She was mad at him, he could tell. His appetite vanished and he sunk lower in the chair, wincing as his eye sent a stab of pain into his skull. “It’s fine. I’ll grab some stuff and head back here. You needed milk anyway, yeah? I’ll pick it up on the way back here. Do you need anything, Spence?” She was rambling, agitated. Nervous, still. Reid shook his head slowly.

Rossi didn’t look happy. “I’d prefer we went together,” he said carefully, stepping back from the pantry. “It may have only attacked through dreams so far but it is escalating.”

Emily’s mouth turned downward. “Dave,” she murmured, turning her back on Reid, and he knew she was going to use him as an excuse. “Look at him. He’s wrecked. I’ll be quicker alone, and the doctor said he supposed to be resting.”

Reid could have stuck up for himself. He didn’t, because he sensed she needed this solitude. He gave her space.

He’d never forgive himself for that.

“I’ll be back soon,” she said, leaning down and brushing her lips against his forehead. He tilted his head back, plaintive, and she smiled sadly and kissed him properly. A lingering, melancholy kiss. “I’ll grab your favourite bed socks.”

She left. The next time he saw her, she was dead.

Chapter Text

Time took on a very particular quality on that long, final night. A long night because he spent it on the cusp of waiting. From the moment he’d opened his eyes in the bed that still smelled of them and found himself alone, he was waiting. Waiting for a hint of something from her mind that would tell her where she was, what she was doing. Waiting for a knock on his door and Rossi to poke his head in, sleepy, curious, maybe worried. Waiting for a phone call. Hoping his phone would ring.

Hoping it wouldn’t.

A final night because, and he didn’t know it then but he suspected—when had life ever let him have something he cherished? —it was her final night. It was the night that Emily Prentiss died, and he spent the morning of it lying in bed, frozen by his own indecision.

It was also the last time he allowed himself that weakness.

 


 

The knock didn’t come, nor the feeling, nor the phone call.

The dawn slipped through the edges of the blinds where they failed to sit flush against the window frame, and he watched and counted. Counting the minutes until the hour, before slipping out of bed, dressing himself carefully, and padding barefoot to the living room. Rossi sat in his armchair, dressed just as carefully, with Eris a floppy-eared hound and a pen twisting in his fingers. Under the side of his hand, a sheaf of hastily scrawled notes perched awkwardly on the arm, held only by the pressure of his hand against them.

Reid swallowed. Fear inched into his mind, set up a home there. It made his throat tight, his words croak. The pain from his throat and his eye felt distant, unimportant. In his pocket, he rolled the sealed bottle of painkillers around his fingers, letting it rattle promisingly. “I’m not going to be kept here like a dog in a kennel,” he said finally, and he pushed the fear away and let anger take its place. Foyet had taught him anger: furious, crippling anger.

Now he could use it to his advantage.

“Hotch doesn’t want you—” Rossi began, without turning his head, and Reid felt the air around them shift. It became thick and heavy and flavoured with the metal-cold bite of lightning. Even in the dim light from the lamp beside his friend, he could see the fine hairs on his arm raising in reaction to the subtle change in the atmosphere. Rossi looked at him and Reid made sure it was the man Foyet had made of him that looked back.

“I won’t be left behind,” he repeated, voice silky, and pushed away the barest hint of discomfort at the notable dilution of the other man’s pupils. Good. It was a reminder of what he was. It was a reminder that if Emily had just walked herself gleefully into danger, that he was their best bet of dragging her back out of it.

“I’ll ring Hotch,” Rossi said finally, standing, and his voice cracked ever so slightly. “His is the final call, Reid. You know that.”

Reid didn’t answer. The statement was blatantly fallacious. If he wished to find her, none of them were strong enough to stop him.

None of them.

 


 

They drove in silence. Rossi fiddled with the radio. The day was lightening, the dawn shifting to reveal blue skies marked angrily by a roiling black horizon, the world waking up and taking a deep breath as winter became a memory and spring rolled furiously in. Voices whined out of the radio, discussing the weather. Of all things, the weather. Reid grit his teeth and pressed his face against the window, counting his heartbeats and calculating and recalculating the routes they could take to get out of this infuriating snarl of traffic. The voices chattered inanely, with no idea that Emily was missing, gone, in danger. Idiots.

“A strong storm is expected to hit the Eastern seaboard within the next seventy-two hours. Could be a bad one.” Shut up, shut up, shut up. “Now, what we have is an area of low pressure that's getting stronger and moving off the Eastern seaboard. There’s a fear of damage, and concerns that this event will create travel chaos and power outages throughout the district.” They didn’t know anything. They were already damaged. “Better wrap up warm, Pete! It’s going to a be a strange start to spring, that’s for sure!” Reid snapped a look at the radio when a grainy pop-song squalled through and it was hastily switched off, Rossi glancing from the now silent interface to Reid’s own dark expression.

“Where would she go?” Rossi asked, and Reid stared at the shifting shadows of Eris rippling around his feet, indistinct and incorporeal, and said nothing. He didn’t know.

Rossi tried again. “Who would she go to?”

“Me,” Reid snapped, and the word stung and fed the anger. He tasted copper and ozone, his head thumping with the pulse of his blood. The traffic crawled around them and his skin crawled with it, anxious, needing to move, to do something, anything, anything but sit here and wait for people to move. “She’d come to me.”

“But she didn’t this time,” Rossi said calmly, ridiculously so, and Reid wanted to shout at him in that moment. React, his mind screamed at the other man. Panic! He settled for rapping his fingers against the console in a rapid beat, almost a song, mostly random, anything that came to mind. “So, who else does she trust if she doesn’t feel she can go to you?”

Sergio.

Hotch.

You.

Reid said none of this. “This is useless,” he snarled instead, pushing the words through clamped teeth, feeling his fist curl and clench, the nails biting. Uncurling. Clenching again. To stop it, he draped his palm against his thigh, drumming. Once. Twice. In multiples of three. Doubles. Two, four, eight, sixteen…

“Calm down,” hissed Eris, slipping around and under Rossi’s seat and reforming on the backseat, leaning a long tendril of herself over Reid’s shoulder. “You’re too close to the edge. If you lose it, we’ll lose you both.”

“We’re not going to lose her,” Reid snapped, settling his hands still. The seconds ticked by. His skin itched. His throat ached. The pills in his pocket rattled, reminded him, we’re here, we’ll help. If he held his head taut against the headrest, the pain in his throat sharpened, grew claws. Cleared his mind. He did so and welcomed the discomfort. Took a deep breath.

“Workmates, schoolmates, family, acquaintances” he said, and dug through his mind for the recall of Emily’s address book, her email, the countless hours and words shared between them. Then he began to rattle names off, and Eris repeated each one as she scrawled on Rossi’s notepad, the pen held between two shadowy fingers that failed to form a hand.

So long as it hurt, he could focus.

 


 

They had nothing. They had murdered families, a ruined tattoo on a dead man’s wrist, surveillance footage of Emily leaving her badge and gun on Hotch’s desk, two letters (LR), and they had Reid.

“We didn’t realize the families were connected until you were attacked,” JJ admitted guilty as Reid pored over pages of files they’d accumulated, and tried to ignore how oddly right it felt to be standing around the round table with them again, the bustle of the Bureau just outside the door and a visitor’s ID clipped to his belt. It was almost like it was four years ago and this was still his home, still his place.

Almost.

The visitor’s ID was new. As Emily’s familiar, he had every right to be included in investigations, had the exact same clearance as she had. In theory. In practise, he was four years out of the field and they were all aware that as soon as Strauss had even an inkling that he had even a toe in this case, they’d all be out on their asses. They were too close, he wasn’t cleared for duty, and the eyes that locked on him every time he stepped out of the conference room reminded him that no one here had forgotten who he was.

Rossi hadn’t looked away from him once. Hotch was cautiously cool around him. Morgan was overbearing in his combined fear and relief at having him back. Garcia was delighted. JJ was as unreadable as always. Not unreadable, Reid corrected himself, sparing a glance at the tense looking elf. JJ was simply very good at projecting exactly what she wanted people to think she was feeling, and he wasn’t immune to that. Her real emotions were a mystery when she wished them to be.

“Why would she go off on her own?” Morgan was saying, pacing, his eyes glinting oddly in the light. Reid wasn’t the only one on the edge. “Why not tell us what’s going on?”

Reid poked at the part of his mind where she was, an immovable wall between them. She was shutting him out, shutting him out hard. He could force it. They’d never tried it before—some part of him knew that if he did so, they’d lose something they’d never regain in the process—but it would hurt them both, and if she was in a tentative position, it could be the death of her. So, he waited.

“Whoever this guy is, he’s after Emily,” Hotch said, kneading his fingers tiredly into his eyes. Weary. They all were. Except Reid. He hadn’t slept properly in days but he was wired, buzzing. It was the final rush before a crash, and they needed to solve this before the crash came. “He killed Sergio. He tried to kill Reid. We matched the damage done to Reid to the murdered families—we should have done it when Sergio was killed, but it was simply too… difficult… to tell what had been done to him.”

“He’s killing families,” Reid said, and the anger wavered for a moment as his stomach twisted painfully. “We’re her family. She’s run to protect us.”

“No,” JJ murmured, reaching her hand out to brush against Emily’s badge in the centre of the table. She tapped a long finger against it, the sound hollow. Reid stared at her hand, at her narrow wrist and the blue veins stark against the pale skin. Spring, the rational part of him whispered. She’s always weakest in spring. Winter is gone.

Spring is growing old, hummed another part. Old and tired and soon she’ll be dead.

“She’s not running,” JJ continued, fixing each of them with her gaze. “She’s fighting. She’s going to him.”

 


 

Water trickled down his jaw, collecting around the rim of the bandage at his throat. When he straightened, pulling his wet hands away from his face, a hollow man stared back at him. Sharp features and eyes darkened by the purple-green bruising painted across the bridge of his nose and eye socket. Around the three stitches holding the deep puncture wound by his eye closed, the skin was white, pulled painfully tight against the swollen flesh. He swallowed heavily and the hollow man’s throat bobbed with the movement. Closed his eyes, shutting the sight out, and retreated for a moment away from the stark lightning of the men’s bathroom, the drip of the tap, the rattle of the mail cart passing in the hall outside.

Emily, he called, and his mental voice wasn’t angry at all. It was miserable and plaintive and overall, it was alone. We’re coming for you, love. We’re coming for you and we’re going to help you. Where are you? Don’t shut me out. Give me one thing. One last thing, and I’ll never ask you anything again.

Come home.

There was no answer, but a whisper of thought and half-censored emotion.

“Lauren Reynolds is dead,” Reid murmured. Beside him, someone glanced at him strangely, shaking water from their hands. The thought wasn’t surprised, it wasn’t grieved, and it wasn’t his.

Lauren Reynolds.

Emily’s behaviour. Her evasion. The secrets. It all fell into place, like a horrifying, macabre jigsaw he couldn’t escape from: Lauren Reynolds was Emily Prentiss.

And Lauren Reynolds was dead.

He turned and bolted for the door, almost catching a wing on it in his haste.

 


 

The tattoo led them to Valhalla. It led them to Ian Doyle.

Ian Doyle. Leader of a breakaway IRA faction, escaped from a Russian prison where there was a bitter extradition battle being fought between Greece and Russia itself. He’d been marked for execution. Arms dealer, international terrorist, demon. Ephialtes demon.

It was him.

Hotch deconstructed the profile and Reid listened numbly. Every one of them did.

“Knowing Ian Doyle's identity doesn't give us very much. He's known to a select few, and those who know him well either work beside him or they're on his list. Two of his victims worked for CWS and were responsible for his transport to North Korea. When he escaped from North Korea, he killed a man and used his vehicle to cross the border into Russia.” He paused, and now his eyes settled on Reid. “There were seven operatives on the mission all together. Two are dead. One is—was—Emily. All the federal and international agents responsible for tracking him down are now on his list of targets, and that includes her. His behaviour, however, suggests that Emily is in some way unique. The other agents weren’t targeted like this. He systematically began hunting people she loves, picking them off one by one.”

Morgan hissed, a muscle in his jaw working. “Until she was alone.”

“No,” murmured Reid, studying the half-completed profile he’d compiled of the demon, Ian Doyle, using what was known of ephilaltes. Which wasn’t much. “Until she chose to be alone. We don’t only profile Doyle. We have to profile E-Emily too.” He really hoped no one had noticed the way his voice skipped over her name, but he knew it was a false hope. “She’s a trained spy. She’s a first circle runic mage, trained in espionage. She knows all our tricks. She knows us. She doesn’t want to be found, and she’s not going to be.”

“Spence…” JJ reached a hand out to touch his shoulder, but he jittered away. The words he still had to say burned his mouth and tasted bitter, like coughing up aspirin.

“When Doyle attacked me, he said, ‘You disgust me. Your stink disgusts me. You taint her.’ He was furious. Possessive. Controlling.” Things Reid knew well. If he gave back into that anger, he could feel them curling in his belly and his spine. Mine, spat the demon side of him. How dare he. He’d use them well when he saw Doyle again. He’d show him just whose side Emily chose to walk beside.

“Wait, you think… you think they had a thing?” Morgan sounded appalled. Reid felt nothing. He’d done worse, so much worse, how could he judge? “He’s a criminal.”

“And she was doing her job. Doyle hated me, but when he talked about her…” Reid shuddered. “It was like he loved her. Loves her. He still loves her.”

“It’s been a long time since he was arrested, and if Emily had a part in it, maybe it’s revenge for that… he’d feel betrayed.” JJ was quiet, her mouth pinched, pushing through the dark of Emily’s past they were peeling apart.

“No.” It was the first time Rossi had spoken in an hour, and he had their immediate attention. “It’s not revenge. If he loved her once, he loves her now. Demons are… single-minded in their affections, not easily swayed. He’s coming to take her home.”

Reid laughed and the noise was shrill. Hotch’s head snapped around to stare at him, the man almost shaken. “She is home,” Reid said, standing and grinning, feeling the expression slide grossly across his face, his affect shattering and revealing everything he was trying to hide. “She is home, and if he touches her, I’ll destroy him.”

The storm was coming and it burned in him.

He welcomed it.

 


 

Hotch and Morgan took him to her apartment. He didn’t see the point—he’d been over every inch of their homes, and there was nothing there he didn’t know about. But he also knew that Hotch was watching him carefully, almost mistrustingly, and that he was on a very short leash until they found her. Every one of them knew he’d be gone in an instant if they located her and he thought he could get there first (which he could, and he would). Reid picked slowly through their bedroom alone, looking everywhere but the empty bedframe. The mattress he’d ordered had yet to arrive. It would be there in time for her to return, he hoped. Once this was done with. The others talked in muted voices, but the apartment echoed still with the emptiness that had overcome it since Sergio’s death. Reid paused, listening unashamedly.

Hotch: “You're angry because she crossed the line with Doyle.”

Morgan growled in his response, and Reid could hear something more than the dog shift he favoured in his tone. “No, I'm not. Prentiss knew exactly what was going on, but she didn't bother to tell any of us. He almost killed Reid, and she still didn’t tell us. That doesn’t piss you off?”

“She couldn't without putting us at risk.” Hotch, the mediator as always. Reid shook his head, slowly sliding her work clothes along the rack in the closet. Her scent billowed out at him, threatening to close his throat. Her scent, the soap she favoured, the laundry supplies. It was a close thing, but he managed to avoid the temptation to press his mouth against the soft cotton of a woollen sweater and just pretend.

“We don’t know that.” They were still arguing. Reid knew the argument wouldn't find its end here. Morgan was offended, revolted. He was a moralistic man, and this was the opposite of everything he stood for. “All we know is that she slept with a terrorist for a profile. And instead of coming clean with us about her dirty laundry, she just ran with it.” The windows rattled and silence fell for a moment as they both tried to ascertain if it was natural or not. It was. Reid wasn’t upset.

Morgan hadn’t ever compromised himself for survival, but Emily had.

So had Reid.

The voice lowered, but Morgan’s was a deep baritone, ill-suited to the quiet of the apartment. “I worked with that woman for five years. I put my life in her hands. I called her my friend. But right now, I can't even say that I ever really knew her.”

“I disagree,” Hotch replied, not bothering to keep his voice down, and Reid knew he was caught. “I think she’s doing exactly what a friend would do. Reid?”

“Bedroom,” Reid replied, and wondered when his voice had become so monotone. The door creaked as Hotch entered, Morgan slinking in behind. Like a dog, Reid thought uncharitably, flinching in shame as the thought sank in. Immediately sorry. He tried to express that with his eyes, but Morgan’s were cold and angry still.

“Is there anywhere in the apartment Emily doesn’t like you going? A drawer she keeps locked, a safe?” Hotch looked around as he talked, and his eyes settled on the book on Emily’s side of the bed. Tattered and old and bound in leather. A book of poetry. It used to be Reid’s. Inside there were three pictures. One of her as a young adult, before Doyle and Interpol and everything that she’d battled alone. One of him on the steps of MIT, smiling at Ethan as his friend had grinned and waved the camera at him. One of them together at Henry’s birthday party, his hand on her hip and looking at her like she was everything.

“No,” Reid said bluntly. “She has paperwork in her office, fourth drawer. I haven’t read any of them, that would be an invasion of her privacy, but she’s never prohibited me access. We have secrets. More than most, I’d imagine.” With those words, he saw something shutter across Morgan’s face. With those words, Reid had just reminded him that Emily might have given her body to a terrorist, but Reid had had his soul taken by a monster. “But not in our homes. Dr. Juster and I tore both apartments apart when we were searching for curse-work. Every inch—if there was anything hidden, we would have found it.”

“She could have removed it before you searched,” Hotch suggested, and only the gentle apology in his eyes stopped the anger that surged in Reid from surfacing. He tamped it down, with difficulty, and shook his head.

“She wouldn’t.”

“Come on, man.” Morgan inched into the room, his posture stiff. He was feeling cornered, threatened. Reid understood that. It didn’t help his immediate reaction to the defensive posturing, his own back stiffening slightly at the implied threat. “Not one place you missed? A wonky floorboard, a spelled panel in the wall, anything?”

“This isn’t some spy thriller,” Reid snapped, then looked at the drawer. The drawer with the knife. Hotch and Morgan looked too. Morgan moved towards it. “Don’t!” Morgan’s hand settled on the knob, arm twitching minutely back at the sharp reprimand in Reid’s voice. They turned to him, Morgan suspicious, Hotch patient. “There’s a knife in there. Iron.”

Both their expressions turned to surprise. “She keeps an iron knife next to the bed where you sleep?” Morgan asked, stepping back warily from the cupboard. Human he might be, but his shifter magic would react just as cruelly to the iron as Reid’s own would. It had to be Hotch. “That’s cold, even for her.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Reid stepped forward, into the other man’s personal space, and the tension was palpable. Morgan’s mouth twisted. They danced on the edge of too far, and neither backed down.

“I’m just saying…” Morgan began finally, moving back out of Reid’s proximity and splaying his hands in a pacifying gesture.

“Reid.” Hotch cut in, and they both jerked their attention around to him as he carefully emptied the drawer onto the bed, one item at a time. The knife, wrapped loosely in the spelled silk. A jumble of odds and ends: bobby pins, a broken wall hook, a year planner dated 2002.

Her passport.

A jewellery box, dusty and battered.

“Well she’s not planning on vanishing,” Morgan said finally, eyes on the passport. “What’s in the box?”

Hotch snapped it opened, revealing the contents.

The windows rattled.

“It’s a gimmel ring,” Reid stated blankly. “From the Latin, gemellus, ‘twin’. They come in pairs and interlock together, often with runes for prosperity and health woven into the metalwork. They’re given… as engagement rings.”

Morgan’s eyes widened. Hotch studied the ring carefully, his face inscrutable. “I didn’t realize you were planning…” Morgan said slowly, and Reid shook his head, bile burning his mouth and throat, stomach knotting.

“I didn’t give it to her,” he murmured, and the storm outside pressed in on them. Unstoppable. Insurmountable. “Doyle did.”

 


 

Events moved quickly after that. They watched Emily walk into a trap, and Reid prayed to a god that had long abandoned him that she would survive this.

Their profile grew. They closed in.

And then, the shield between he and Emily faltered, just for a moment. A moment of weakness. A moment when she needed him and everything in her screamed for him. He jolted upright out of his chair, the others turning to him, and his hip seared.

So did she.

“Get your hands off of me!” he heard her cry, and then he felt the brand.

It burned and they both screamed. She heard him.

“Don’t watch this,” she sobbed, and shoved him out. He fought her. He lost.

Before the barrier slammed back up between them, he felt the ghost of her mouth on his. When he licked his lower lip, an automatic reaction, he tasted salt.

“He’s hurting her,” he howled, the team around him, and the storm howled too. He’s killing her.

 


 

Declan Jones. The final link. Doyle’s son. Reid examined the photo of the boy moments after his death, sprawled in the arms of his guardian, and words flew around him.

“Declan and his mother went missing seven years ago.”

“Their bodies were never found.”

“Uh God, someone took pictures of them being shot.”

“Is there an address? That looks like a warehouse. Reid?”

Reid didn’t react. He was studying the photo, the nails, the bloodied quicks of the hand that held the gun steady on the child. The dead child.

He knew that hand.

“Reid? What is it?”

Reid looked away from the impossible photo of Emily murdering a child, and he said, “Nothing. Address?”

Garcia pressed a button and the address flickered up onto the plasma. The others were already moving, gathering their gear, Hotch reaching for his phone, and then JJ dived for the screen, the button to kill the display. She’d profiled him.

Too late. He’d memorized it in a moment.

“Sorry,” he breathed, then tugged the air around him, and hid himself from their sight.

He was faster than they were.

 


 

He got there first, but Doyle had been expecting him. He’d prepared.

He found the warehouse, and checked his magic, checked his gun, gripped his cane. Wind whipped at his coat and his wings as he folded them tight against his spine and glamoured them away quickly, creating a smaller target for hostiles to aim at. When he probed at their bond, it hummed with their proximity. Emily was nearby.

Then, he went to step inside. And slammed into an immovable wall that scorched against him, sending him reeling back with a yowl.

“Rude,” droned a familiar voice, and a man appeared in the doorway, smiling at him. The man from the park. The man from Henry. Reid stared at him, and felt the air crack and fall still. Eerie quiet settled around them. The trees nearby still whipped in the gusts of wind, the chain-link fence still rattled on their posts, but around them, there was utter tranquillity. “Entering someone’s home like that. Uninvited.”

“This isn’t your home,” Reid said, and calculated his chances of sending a bolt of lightning slamming into the demon’s heart. Slim. Doyle had his own magic, and he’d be expecting it.

“Isn’t it?” Doyle stepped back, the shadows of the doorway swallowing him, his voice floating out. “Well, I beg to differ. It gives me shelter, it protects me. I expect to return to it. Those are the three rules that make a home, yes? And… my family is here. My Lauren. And you, incubus, are not invited. Shoo now.”

His laugh echoed out from the impenetrable depths and Reid felt fury well inside him, overwhelming, choking. “Emily!” he screamed, and there was no answer. Emily! howled the wind with him, the storm, and he sent it whirling through the open doorway to find her. It obeyed, eager, and brought back the scent of blood, her screams, her pain, his weakness. Gravel scattered behind him, and he whirled, lightning in his hands. Overhead, the storm boomed once, thunder, and the sound lingered. A lion skittered out of the way, nodded once, then folded upward and inward. Kept folding, Reid’s eyes watering at the impossibility of it as the world reshaped itself around the tawny feline until a man stood there instead.

“Where is she?” Morgan asked, striding towards the door with his hand on his gun. “The others are right behind me. It was faster on four legs.”

“I can’t go in,” Reid said with broken calm. “It’s a home. He made it his fucking home.”

Morgan stared, then swore. “Wait here. The team will be here in less than ten minutes—wait for them.”

“Morgan, wait.” When he hesitated, Reid charged on: “Declan. Emily hid him. She did all this to protect him, to stop Doyle from finding him. She staged his death.” She was going to die to protect him.

Morgan nodded once, slowly, understanding in his eyes. Then he entered the building.

Alone.

 


 

Minutes later, it happened. A surge in his mind, a knowing, and his hip hummed and fizzed and sparked to life. In a moment, he was overwhelmed with her, and she flooded him.

“Spence!” she gasped, the word leaving her mind and her lips in a punctured exhale as something slammed into her belly, twisted, carving easily through flesh. “Oh.” He lurched upward, staggered, buckled. Their bond whined under the pain of her injury, her numbly disconnected shock. “Spence…” she said again, fading.

“Don’t go,” he begged, and reached for her. She clung to his mind and he shaped himself into a net, wrapped around her, hung on grimly. Cradled her even as she dissolved; the final moments of a sparkler desperately trying to continue burning. “Stay with me. You said you’d stay. You promised.”

“We should…”  Her voice trailed off, wavering. “Spence, love, break the bond. I can’t. I can’t think. Don’t share this.”

“No. Stop. Stop dying. Emily, please, please, give me this.”

“Emily?”

“You asked me to live when I wanted to die, and I did! I did that for you! Emily!?”

He felt her mouth, her heart. They pressed against him, and her heart beat once, twice, and he knew she loved him.

Irrevocably so.

“Sorry,” she whispered, and on the next beat of their hearts, she severed their bond. Whatever thin veneer of control he’d cultivated over his life, he threw it away then.

He summoned the storm, dragging it into and around him, and it came joyfully. Winds that tore and lightning that burned his palms as it slammed into the target over and over again, metal screaming, wood burning, debris raining down on them. Storms delighted in destruction, and Reid was tearing the world apart.

If there was no building, there was no home.

 


 

He found Morgan. Found Emily. She lay on the ground under his hands, and she was still. He stepped towards them. His mouth and eyes and nose burned. There was smoke in the air. A door creaked behind him, and he turned to find the suggestion of eyes in the shadows. Doyle.

“Reid! Don’t!” someone called, but Doyle’s voice was louder.

“Too late, Doctor. I took her from you.”

Reid snarled and flung himself into the air, chasing that voice and those eyes and leaving his loss behind.

 


 

Doyle ran but Reid was faster.

Doyle was cruel, but Reid had had cruelty etched into his body and his soul, and he knew how to hurt like he’d been hurt. Doyle went for the door. Reid ripped the air out from under his feet and dragged him back. Used that wind to slam him to the ground, to pin him down, to slowly press down against him until his bones groaned and his body broke.

He landed and stood over Doyle, looking down on him. Lightning danced on his fingers, tracing up his arm, leaving patterns of white and blue on Doyle’s skin as the other demon sneered up at him. He could stop him. Stop his heart. Just like Emily’s.

“Going to kill me, Doctor?”

Yes.

“Foyet would be proud. What a pet he made of you. So obedient.” The lightning balled, burning his palm as it built and built in power. He eased off on it. Too much and he’d die quickly. “Well, do it then. Prove me right. I always suspected… us demons, we’re all the same. All predators. We all want to kill.”

He smelled smoke. Tasted copper.

Wanted.

“Shouldn’t have hesitated,” Doyle continued, without missing a beat, and Reid blinked right as Doyle sent a bolt of fear up that smashed into Reid and sent him reeling backwards. It washed over him, beading and pooling away, reflected by the anger and the hate Reid was still cultivating.

Fear had no hold on him.

Doyle was already up, moving for the exit. Reid let the lightning die. He reached, not physically, but with his mind. An unfamiliar magic. Not one he used often, but one that was so innately a part of him, it responded as easily as if he used it daily.

“Ian,” he said, silky smooth and dangerous, and the other demon stopped. “Come back.” And, he did. He turned, jerkily, his eyes wide and black and so empty, and he slowly walked towards his death. Reid narrowed that magic, made it sneaky, and coiled it around the other demon, weaving it through his core, impossible to resist.

Come to me, that magic whispered. I can give you everything.

Gun now. Reid gripped the barrel with hands that were steady, and held it at eye height. He didn’t even have to speak. Doyle walked calmly into the sight until the barrel rested between his eyes.

And the moment held.

Reid’s finger traced the trigger. Somewhere, he heard the growling roar of a growing fire. The lightning he’d used to blast his way in. Not a home once it was burning, once it was less. They had to get out, or they’d be caught in the flames.

He curled his finger around the trigger. Tensed. Doyle blinked, shook himself, and the dark power Reid had used wavered under his own uncertainty. Slipped away.

Doyle’s eyes widened. They stared at each other.

And, he vanished, leaving Reid alone with his finger on the trigger and his heart in his mouth. Reid counted to two, lowered his gun, and then vomited until he couldn’t breathe. Staggered up. Wiped his mouth.

Took to the air, back to Morgan. Back to the woman he loved.

 


 

His wings swept once as he adjusted the frustrated air around them. It fought him furiously, excited by the heat and the flames beyond all sensibility. His own emotions surged with it, skittering his thoughts and his calm, and he couldn’t see Morgan, couldn’t scent him, couldn’t sense him—

He spun, eyes scanning the grimy floor through the murky air. He opened his mouth. Coughed. Gagged around the smoke, his mind whirling and lightning still dancing from fingertip to splayed fingertip, setting the smoke flickering oddly around him.

Down. He needed to go down.

He dived, lost control of the air. Dropped. Managed to land on his feet, one foot, skidding on the slick floor. Palm to the ground, cane lost at some point, wings spread for balance, still choking. His palm was wet. Red. He was in red.

When he looked up from the red floor, Emily looked back at him. On her side, dark eyes hollow, and the blood was hers.

He froze. Panicked.

Morgan crouched over her, alternating between shouting at him and pleading with her. Pleading, I’m not letting you go. Why pleading? Emily hated begging. She was going to be so mad at him when she caught her breath.

Smoke again. Morgan broke off, coughing. Reid lifted a hand, numb, shut-down—why? Get it together, Reid—and the smoke whirled away from them, as though someone had flipped a bowl over them and blown a mouthful of cigar smoke down upon the top to well over and swallow them whole.

“Reid, snap out of it! Help us—help her!”

Reid stared at him.

“You're gonna be alright. Stay with me, baby. Come on, stay with me.”

Reid stared at her. Coughed. Caught his breath.

Something groaned overhead.

“Is she dying?” he asked, and an empty kind of calm settled onto him. They were all dying, really, all three of them. The fire closed in on them, just like it had when he was little, but Emily had always insisted on being stupidly competent at everything she did. Even die. Even in the way she was dying, she was outdoing them.

“No!” screamed Morgan, and it was then that the wall shrieked and began to curl away from itself. Flames flickered, sniffed at the air. Reid felt the way the atmosphere changed, felt the currents in the room rush to the exposed wall, felt the fire grab that offered oxygen, that offered strength, and begin to roar.

Now they were dying faster.

“Reid. Look at me. Stop this. Stop shutting down.” Morgan’s voice was controlled. His hands were red, steady. Holding Emily’s life in. Reid studied them in the dancing light (No, Emily! Come on, stay with me). They were familiar, strong, immovable. Morgan had never, not in the time Reid had known him, let him down. And he wouldn’t in this moment. Emily would live because Morgan told her to. Reid took another breath, and the air was clear in that moment. “You need to get it together. We’re going to die—all of us—unless you get us out of here.”

Reid nodded, and turned on the spot. A quick calculation gave them seven minutes to find an exit point. Less if there was flammable material he couldn’t see.

Doors blocked.

Windows high and through the smoke.

“Through the window—fly her up and out. Come on—hurry up! Get her out of here.”

He couldn’t. The physical effort of lifting his own mass was implausible enough without his magic. The humanoid body wasn’t built for flight—with her added weight, his breastbone would…

“Give her to me,” he instructed, crouching. She was cold when he touched her, and her eyes didn’t flicker. Already dead, hummed a part of his mind, the empty part where the bond they’d shared had lived. “Arm around my neck. Legs over my arm—like that.” Her head lolled grossly against his throat as he staggered upright, unbalanced by her weight. Heat pressed in on them, reaching through the barrier of air he’d used to press the smoke back. Outside of that barrier, the smoke was an impenetrable wall.

“Cover your mouth,” Morgan murmured, glancing over his shoulder at the red glow lighting the smoky wall. It was the promise of nightmares outside of this dome. The promise of burning.

Just like his mom. Both of them, dead and burned.

You’ll burn her too, the ghost of Foyet reminded him, and he tightened his grip on her. She was an unfamiliar, dead weight. Unlike the two men, her skin was clear of sweat. They weren’t. Reid shook his head, clearing his eyes of both the manky hair that stuck to his forehead and the sweat that pooled along his brow. Morgan scrubbed his hand over his face and left behind an ashy line that glistened, using the same hand to then tug ineffectually at Reid’s shirt, trying to pull it up over his jaw. It wouldn’t. Emily was pressed against it, and even if she wasn’t, he couldn’t fly if it was taut against his wings. He shook his head, nodding to her, and watched silently as Morgan instead dragged her bloodied shirt to cover the blue lips that had slipped ever so slightly open.

The stake in her abdomen caught his side as he shifted her, shifted his posture, trying to work out how to take off without throwing them both down. Blood pooled between them, began to trickle down his stomach and thigh. His wings opened, tested the weight, the air, his balance.

“I’ll come back for you,” he promised Morgan, and smiled. Tried to smile. Hid the smile, because it felt too much like saying goodbye, and all Morgan did was nod. Air billowed around them. His dome shifted as he pulled the air that formed it into his wingspan, the smoke dropping in on them like a blanket. One last lungful of fresh air was all he had time for before the choking mass swallowed them, and he whipped the air under him to throw them upwards, fighting blind panic.

He lurched. His wings raked the air desperately, caught. Held. For a couple of frantic, agonising moments, he drove his wings in sweeping arcs against the heat and the smoke and the weight in his arms that continued to try and throw him to the ground. Muscles in his back screamed, cramped. He could feel the air trying to compensate for the weight, instead just pushing back against his wingspan and threatening to crumple them back onto themselves like badly manufactured umbrellas. Maybe he was screaming too; all he knew was that his air was gone and his body was trying to tear itself down the middle.

His grip slipped. He grabbed at her, pitching forward, and that was it. They both dropped. He couldn’t stop it. Freefall. All he could do was wrap his arms around her, curl his wings around them both, and try to roll them in some sort of—

There was no describing the sound they made when they hit the floor. When he hit the floor.

He landed on his side, taking both their weight on his shoulder and hip and wing, and it was agony. White-hot agony that wiped his thoughts and his feelings and centred his entire being on it. The only part of him that didn’t hurt was his knee, his bad knee, and he couldn’t feel it. He might have let go of her. She wasn’t in his arms when his mind resurfaced.

Morgan was over him. Oddly pale under his dark skin, grimy, scared, and mute. Not mute. His mouth moved (get up, Spence, please. Come on. Don’t leave me alone here). Reid tried to focus, tried to listen, but mostly he just tried to breathe.

When he opened his eyes again, Morgan was on his knees and Emily was in his lap, head against his heart. “Spencer,” he said, very clearly, and Reid nodded. “You with me?” Another nod. “Okay. Look at me. This is it. You gotta do this. Only you can. You remember the storm? The one you hit us with back when you were bound? Bring it back.” It was an order. Hotch’s words in Morgan’s voice, and Reid was nothing if not obedient.

He’d tried to bring a storm down on his mom, when his mom had burned. He’d made it worse. The rain and the winds, they were one. He couldn’t separate them. He could cook them just as easily as save them.

She trusts you, someone whispered, some memory of a voice, almost prickly in its familiarity. Do it.

The heat crawled closer as he forced himself to his knees and shuffled to them, one leg dragging awkwardly. Morgan’s eyes widened. One hand on Emily’s heart, the other tugging Morgan towards him, close enough that he could wrap his wings around them. It hurt. His right wing was sluggish, but it obeyed. Not broken. He closed his wings around them, sheltering, fumbled for her hand, whispered one last prayer (If you can hear me, please just squeeze my hand), and then he called the storm.

It came.

It came and it tore the world apart.

 


 

Storms didn’t like being controlled. They didn’t like being told what to do.

They liked being summoned. That was the easy part. Almost fun, because there was a joy to a storm, a wild pleasure, and it fed him as the front spun and spun over them and sent torrents of rain lashing down on them with enough force to bruise.

Once loose, he had no control over it.

He could only hope.

He sheltered them as the storm gleefully rent the warehouse in two and was vaguely aware of the barest hint of pressure against his palm.

(Just keep squeezing)

 


 

Silence. No… not silence. He could still hear the soft snap of subdued flames, a steady drip drip and the trickling reminder of the power of the rainwater. Something cracked, creeping towards them with a snapping, growling kind of inevitability. The roof above them groaned and rent, metal grating against metal, and it threatened to fall. Morgan’s breath rasped against Reid’s chest, broken by coughing, and Emily herself was the only real silent thing. Reid clung tighter to them, and opened his eyes.

He’d expected ash. Ash and water. Instead, ice surrounded them. It dragged the water he’d summoned along the ground and pressed it against sagging beams, against crumbling walls, pushing the wreckage back away from them. It hissed and spat as it touched the remaining glowing coals, smoke and steam hazing the air. Above them, the groaning roof surged, rippled, black coating it. Not the black of ash and smoke, but the changeable, whispering black of Eris as she wrapped herself around the supports and pulled them together, holding them tightly.

“Help is coming,” she whispered, stretched so thin against the gaping hole that Reid could see the suggestion of moonlight through her shifting form. “Hold on.”

Holding on was all Reid could do. Morgan pulled himself out of his grip as Reid’s wings drooped, folding on the floor like a broken blind cut loose from its runners. He staggered upright, over Reid and Emily, and stared at the ice, the water.

Emily was silent. Her grip was loose.

Reid didn’t look down because he couldn’t bear it. He just listened for her heartbeat, the remembered hum of her pulse, the murmur of her breath. He listened and listened and eventually they pulled her away from him, and still he heard nothing.

 


 

He sat alone.

Not alone, not really. There was a doctor with him, talking to him in a low, soothing voice as he carefully stitched at the numerous tears that littered the fibrous tissue of Reid’s wings. Reid couldn’t spare the energy to care. They were minor. They’d heal quickly. Products of his ill-fated attempt to bear her weight and the debris the wind had driven into his wings and back. He sat alone because there was no one there that mattered, not while she barely clung to life two floors below in the operating room.

When he looked up, JJ was there. The doctor stood, murmured something, and left. JJ sat on the bed next to him, and took a shuddering breath. Reid studied her face, the lines around her mouth, the glitter to her eyes, and he knew.

“Don’t,” he said, or maybe he only thought it, because she didn’t listen. “Please. Stop.”

She ignored him.

She just kept on keeping on, and every word stopped his heart.

An eidetic memory and it failed him right then. Not only failed him. It catastrophically destroyed him. Breaking point. He found his, and flung himself boldly past it. It found his every memory of her, her smile, her heartbeat, and it overwrote them with one simple line. Seven words. Seven words that were the end of him.

“She never made it off the table.”

Chapter Text

The grave near hers was old, faded, and covered in a spray of wild lilac. The smell was inescapable.

He was one of six who bore her coffin, but it weighed solely on his shoulders.

He felt nothing.

 


 

Reid felt nothing, so it fell to him to support those who weren’t as broken as he was. Emily would have wanted that. She would have wanted him to be there for her friends, her family, for those she couldn’t anymore. He did a lot of thinking about what she would have wanted now.

She was three days in the ground, and he wasn’t yet sure how to miss her.

 


 

They’d let him say goodbye.

He’d followed the doctor down endless corridors, the only real sound the click of his cane and the tap of their shoes. The world had blurred into cream corridors and faceless nurses and elevators that didn’t presume to inflict cheerful music onto those on the precipice of losing everything.

He’d followed the doctor into the morgue. He’d examined the body carefully, just to be sure. Just like he would have four years ago, before this, before her.

Body is a Caucasian female, early forties, he’d imagined saying, turning confidently to Morgan or maybe Rossi. Athletic. Physically healthy. She kept in shape.

If it had been JJ there: she was a rune mage. I’d estimate second or first circle, judging by the skill level shown by her pattern complexes. She’s lovedsee the rune on her arm? There’s a name in it. She loved someone enough to tie them to her.

Hotch? The victim was beaten severely. The fatal blow was caused by a penetrating injury to the abdomen. The aggressor showed signs of having tortured her before killing her. Obsessive. Aggressive. Sadistic. Overkill. Extreme overkill usually implies a personal relationship.

The rune on her hip was gone. His was too, which was unfair, because he’d never needed to be labelled ‘only a half’ more than in that moment. She’d banished their runes along with him.

In that moment, he’d been alone, so instead of saying any of this or anything else, he kissed her one final time and walked away.

“Spence?” JJ asked now, touching his hand. People moved around them, dressed in black. Mourning. Again. Reid hummed, and wondered if Rossi minded that his house was being used to say goodbye to her. “Are you okay?”

He looked at her. Blinked. Her eyes were red, her skin stark against the black of her dress. Henry clung to her knees, eyes wide and locked on Reid’s face. Reid smiled at him.

“Her lips were cold,” he said bizarrely—it seemed important she know—and then he walked away. It was a failure, that moment. Emily would have wanted him to be there for her friends.

Never mind. He’d try again.

 


 

“Is there enough food?” Reid asked Rossi when he found him standing on his back porch, chewing on the end of an unlit cigar and looking shattered. Rossi stared.

“What,” he said flatly, and narrowed his eyes. Reid smiled. Carefully. He couldn’t help them if he worried them.

“Food,” Reid replied. “I know this was all last minute, having the repast here. Is there anything else you need? It’ll only take me a minute to pick something up if you’re running low.”

Eris billowed upward until she was at head height and reached a tentative tendril of herself to brush his cheek. “No fever,” she said, and tilted her shapeless head. “Are you drunk?”

“No?” He wasn’t drunk. He was helping.

A hand on his arm, and Rossi waved the shadow-ghast away. “Spencer,” he said slowly. “Come sit down. Come on.” Didn’t he understand that Reid was being useful?

Try again, idiot, he could imagine Emily saying, so he smiled again, wrapped the air around him to hide him from view, and slipped away. He didn’t look back because Rossi looked old and tired, standing alone, and if he could remember how to be sad, that would have been the final thing that broke him.

 


 

He fetched drinks. He smiled a lot. He made sure people were seated, were chatting, were at ease in the unfamiliar house that was ornamented with Rossi’s tasteful decor and JJ’s delicate decorations to celebrate the lives that had been lived. People smiled back and said how sorry they were, how terrible it was, and when he walked away they whispered he’s taking it well. He looks just fine. How long were they together?

They were right. He was fine.

Morgan was sitting in the living room with his face closed off and expression frightening. People gave him a wide berth. Reid didn’t. “It’s not your fault,” he said simply, and perched on the armchair, avoiding eye-contact.

Morgan grunted.

“You’re depressed about Prentiss. I get it, Morgan. We all are.”

Morgan jolted then. A reaction. Good. If he didn’t react, Reid couldn’t help him. “I’m not depressed,” he snapped, glancing up. “I’m fucking angry, Reid, this sonofabitch is still… what?”

“It’s okay to be angry,” Reid tried, because he wasn’t sure where Morgan was taking this conversation now. He snuck a look at him, and found that his friend was staring at him and the anger was gone. Only concern remained. Another failure.

“Spencer,” Morgan said, and touched his knee. Reid flinched. His knee still ached from slamming into the ground the week before, a bone-deep kind of throbbing that would fade only with time. “You just called her Prentiss. Talk to me man. Don’t do this.”

“I’m not doing anything. I’m just—”

“Disassociating.” Morgan stood now. It was disconcerting to have the man looming over him, so Reid stood too and considered retreating. “You’re disassociating. Don’t do that again. Not again. She wouldn’t have wanted that.”

“I’m fine,” Reid said, and vanished again. Maybe helping wasn’t the right approach.

 


 

Alone was almost a relief now. He leaned his back against the knobbly old oak in Rossi’s front garden, hidden by the growing shadows, and watched as people slowly began to leave. People he knew, people he didn’t. All gathered to remember someone who couldn’t be forgotten.

He closed his eyes then because they stung. If he thought too much about it, the nothing became something hard and sunk deep in his chest. He knew if he poked at it, it would prove to be fatal.

“Emily used to hide,” said a voice, and Reid froze. Tried to slink back, fold the air around him, become unimportant, but the voice laughed sadly and the grass whispered as the owner of that voice settled next to him. Dew coated the lawn around them, glinting in the solar lights scattered throughout the garden, but the newcomer didn’t seem to care that her expensive shoes were now muddy or that her dress showed patches of damp as she made herself comfortable. “Don’t do that, Dr. Reid. I may not be a fan of magic, but I am familiar with it. And that particular little trick only works if I let it.”

Reid was silent.

Elizabeth Prentiss picked at a blade of grass, thoughtful. She smelt of rich perfume, the faintest hint of scotch, of grief. Her nose was red, her lips chapped under their rough coat of lipstick. She mourned. “Emily was a difficult child,” she said finally. Reid didn’t understand why she was telling him this. “She was headstrong, determined. Absolutely sure she was going to get her own way in the end, and if you tried to stop her… well. She had the most aggravating face. It was angry and cocky and pouting all at once, and she perfected it. Used to drive her father mad, before he died. He could never say no. And I could say nothing but.”

“I don’t…” Reid began, but she flapped a hand at him, a quietening motion.

“She used to pick the most dreadful fights with me. Deliberately. I think she lived to make me cross. And then as soon as she could, she was out the door, off to college, and I thought ‘oh good—now she’ll learn that life isn’t about having fun or getting what you want.’ And you know what?”

“What?” His voice croaked. The heavy lump shifted, moved to his heart and his throat and he almost coughed around it. Elizabeth shifted, crossing her legs, almost ungainly. Emily could be ungainly, sometimes, if she didn’t think anyone who would judge her was looking. Emily would have looked like Elizabeth, had she been given the chance.

He gasped at that.

“I was wrong. She didn’t learn a thing at college that I thought she would. She’d learned it all already. How to be independent. How to get what she wanted. How to live. She came home, so pleased that she’d outwitted me, so alive. And I had to scold, to fuss, because it was what she expected. I regret that. I played the overbearing mother because I could tell I was her driving force. And I never told her how much I envied her. How proud I was of her. How I bragged of my clever, clever daughter to anyone who would listen.”

Reid looked down. Closed his eyes. Bit his lip. He needed her to stop.

But he couldn’t ask her to.

“And now she’s gone. I never told her, and now I never will. So, I’m telling you.”

“Why?” He choked it out. The lump was tearing something inside him open. He almost unbuttoned his suit jacket, undid his tie, pulled his shirt down to see if he was bleeding. He must have been. Nothing that wasn’t fatal could hurt this much.

“Because she loved you. She chose you, and she loved you more than she’s ever loved anything, except perhaps Sergio. And I worry sometimes, that under it all, she’s more like me than either of us would ever have admitted. I worry that maybe she never told you that.”

He tried to breathe and it shuddered. Tried to speak and choked on it. A hand touched his arm, his shoulder, rubbed his back gently. “She wouldn’t have wanted—” he started, and Elizabeth shook her head.

“Bother what she wanted, she’s dead,” she said, harshly, and now he felt something. “She’s not here. You are. And I bet you can’t think for hurting right now. You have to grieve, or else this won’t ever let you go. You’ll just waste away with regrets.” Like me, her eyes said, and there was nothing he could say to help that. “Oh, hello. Who are you?” It took a beat for him to realize she wasn’t talking to him still, that they weren’t alone anymore.

“Unk ‘Spence?” Henry whispered, his voice young and sad and scared. “Did you fall?” It was the hardest thing in the world, but he looked his godson in the eye and smiled. Tried to smile. The smile slipped.

Henry wouldn’t remember her.

He began to cry and couldn’t stop. Not even when little arms slipped around his neck as his godson crawled into his lap; not even when he pulled Henry close against him and clung to him like his heart was breaking, pressing his face into the sweet-soft scent of the blonde curls; not even when tears failed him and all he could do was gulp for air around the pain that still fought to tear him apart.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Henry sobbed too, hugging him back. “Please don’t cry.”

But he couldn’t stop, because nothing had ever hurt like missing her.

 


 

Her apartment was noisy. His team were family, and family, he was finding, was synonymous with frustrating, aggravating, stubborn, resistant to pleading, and decidedly determined to never let him be alone.

Especially not with this.

“You don’t need to be here,” Hotch said firmly, dropping another armful of empty cardboard boxes onto the tiled floor of her kitchen. It was a lie. Reid did need to be here. This was some kind of closure.

“We’re here if you need us,” Garcia whispered, and kissed him with lips that left a sticky trace of chap-stick on his chin. “Oh, baby, you’re all scratchy. You have to look after yourself!” But she smiled through her tears and traced her fingers over his stubbly jawline anyway.

Rossi packed Sergio’s room. JJ her clothes. Reid wouldn’t know what to do with either of them. Hotch took the kitchen. Reid ended up in her office, surrounded by her paperwork and books and life and parts of his own as well. They’d encroached on each other, in the years they’d been together, their lives slowly forming one life until he wasn’t entirely sure how to be alone anymore. He’d been alone and then Foyet had taken that from him. In the rebuilding of himself, he’d forgotten how lonely it could be.

There was a picture of the team tucked into the join of her desk. All of them, before Foyet, as Morgan grinned over a cake Garcia had presented him for his birthday. Reid studied Emily, studied himself. He was flushed, looking down, and their shoulders were pressed together. They weren’t together in that picture, not yet. Not far off though. He knew that a week later, he’d visit her home with take-away and DVDs and spend hours on her fire escape. He knew that picture was a week away from their beginning.

He was looking at their beginning while standing at the end of them.

 


 

Life kept insisting on moving forward, even without her.

He got home from clearing her apartment, dusty and heartsore and still with only half of it done—it had taken longer than they’d expected, to pack away their lives—and his laptop stood accusingly on the table, the light on his answering machine blinked as steadily as it had since she’d died, and there was a growing pile of unanswered mail jumbled on the cupboard near the door. He sighed, and did exactly as everyone kept expecting him to. Moved forward.

… Hi Dr. Reid, it’s Katie. Just calling to see if you wanted to reschedule your appointment. This is the fourth in a row you’ve missed and I’m concerned. Call me back at your earliest convenience. Thank you. Say hi to Emily for me!...

.... My name is Beau Carrick. Could you please contact my office at...

… our sincerest sympathies for your loss, and we want to let you know to take all the time you need. The semester finishes up soon so we’ll schedule you tentatively in for next semester pending…

… Margo Harold from Mattress Emporium just letting you know that your delivery will arrive on Monday and just to double check the address…

His emails were just as insistent. Oddly, he still had emails from students blinking in his inbox, despite them all having been alerted to the events behind his leave-taking. He clicked on them curiously.

Re: consolations – dear dr. reid. We all heard about your loss and wanted to express …

Re: sorry – Dr. Reid, Sorry to hear about your girlfriend. Your lectures are some of th…

Re: Opportunity – Dr. Reid. My name is Beau Carrick. I wish to discuss a job offer wh…

Re: aww look it you – saw this and thought of you ;) attachment.jpg love, Oracle of al…

The laptop clicked as he shut it and slumped into the lid, burying his face in his arms. He had to keep moving forward because he knew the cost of going backwards, but moving towards what?

Doyle. Doyle was still out there. They still had to stop him. He still had to stop him.

She deserved that much.

 


 

His apartment was silent. Shadows played on the walls. He paced through it and considered all he’d lost. Memories were scattered through the rooms like broken glass. Just when he thought he’d gotten clear of the last shards, he’d step into the office and her novelty pen would be lying on his desk. Another slice. In the kitchen, a packet of blueberry muffins, half-empty in the freezer. He hated blueberries. She’d loved them. Another shard.

The moss. Something she’d hated. He lasted three days after her funeral before he threw out the moss. It felt… cleansing. The whole time, as he lugged the terrariums downstairs to the dumpsters outside, the smell of them was thick in his nostrils, cloying. He felt no fear. No horror. What more could be done to him now?

It felt cleansing, so he kept going. Books she’d brought him. He boxed them up tightly and revelled in the tearing sound the tape made as he closed those memories away where they couldn’t cut him anymore. Photos, not that there were many, joined the books. He cleared his cupboard, his fridge. Anything she liked he packed away in bags, ready to give to the neighbour when he saw her next. His shelves looked empty, horribly empty, so he went shopping for cans and cans of non-perishables and restocked them, all things he enjoyed. It was probably the most adult he’d ever been, and he was only doing it to stop from bleeding.

Rustling distracted him from sorting through his paperwork, finding bills and letters with notes in her cheerful handwriting proclaiming Spence, don’t forget this one again, I’m sick of you getting the gas switched off.

Sergio’s tree. The glossy leaves shifted gently in the crisp breeze through the open window, the barest hint of buds on the tips of the thin branches. It would flower soon. Emily had wanted to plant it before it flowered. She hadn’t chosen where though. Hadn’t had time. Reid put the paperwork aside and, once again, found himself considering what she would have wanted. Then, he stopped. Because Elizabeth was right. She was gone. She didn’t want anything anymore. She couldn’t.

But he could.

He picked up the tree and left.

 


 

His magic was dark and the weave on the tree was light, so he couldn’t do this alone. Which was maybe best. Maybe he was on the brink of breaking, but the others missed her just as keenly as he did.

Morgan got there first. It was almost as though the man had been hovering over his phone, waiting for a message. Reid had been ignoring his phone, the envelope symbol on the top bar with a demanding 9+ next to it. The world was easier to shut out when she wasn’t there to remind him he shouldn’t.

JJ was next. She saw what he was holding and her face softened, her bottom lip crinkling as she sucked on it, searching for words. He didn’t speak, and she didn’t either, eventually. This wasn’t a time for words.

Hotch arrived next and he wasn’t silent. He walked straight over to where Reid kneeled, spade in hand, and crouched alongside him. “She would have liked this,” he said, and laid his hand on Reid’s arm. His palm was warm and steady through Reid’s sleeve, and it was comforting. Supporting. Reid took a breath and it became easier, just a little.

Garcia came with Rossi, late, because Hotch had called them and let them know what was happening. Garcia had an armful of wildflowers, because “They were pretty and she was pretty and you know, a little wild, and I just saw them and thought of her and I thought you might like it and… oh, I miss her, Spencer, I miss her so much.”

He did too.

Rossi brought a wooden plaque. It was rough, untreated pine with the inscription in black ink in Rossi’s flamboyant handwriting. When he handed it to Reid with a careless shrug, the surface dragged scratchily against Reid’s fingertips.

“It’s a placeholder,” Rossi explained, and grunted as he lowered himself to his knees on the damp earth and studied the weave still visible in the hole Reid had carefully seated the sapling in. “I ordered a brass one. Gonna take a bit to get engraved. Figured we could use this for now.”

JJ pressed her hand against the spellwork on the tree, and Reid watched as it slowly began to unwind. The tree hummed, branches shifting, and the ground roiled slightly as roots began to twist, to move, to find their way into the soil below as it claimed its home. Rossi stood, and stepped back, leaving space for the trunk to widen exponentially as the spell that had restricted the tree’s growth turned instead into a spell to give it the energy it needed. When it was done, the tree stood to Reid’s shoulders in height, half as wide as him, and crowned with a thick top of dark green leaves and lighter buds that hinted to pink.

He gripped the wooden placard with hands that shook, and Hotch bumped their shoulders together once in the silence that followed. “This was a good choice,” he murmured, and the others nodded along. “She would have treasured this.”

Reid nodded, the lump returning to settle uncomfortably in his chest once more, and bent to prop Rossi’s gift against the truck of the tree. JJ moved slightly, her fingers twisting, and ice clear as glass coated the wood, sinking into the ground, holding it in place. Protecting it. “It will stay until you replace it with the new one,” she told them, and looked away, blinking rapidly.

Reid said nothing, just examined it and the tree and considered that, so soon after losing her oldest friend, they were together again.

 


 

Here rests two friends:

SERGIO (May 3, 1986 – Feb 27, 2011)

The best and most illustrious of cats

and

EMILY PRENTISS (Oct 12, 1970 – March 7, 2011)

The mage who loved him, and was, in turn, beloved by others

‘Nemo nisi per amicitiam cognoscitur’

 


 

It took almost a month after her death before he had to give in.

JJ was a constant presence in his life, as though she was trying to make up for some perceived hurt that she’d caused him. When she could spare the time, she cooked him meals that he guiltily accepted, despite not wanting to put her out. When she was in the field, she still took the time to occasionally message him and ask how he was. He replied to every one because there was something here he was missing, and it was easier to ignore his pain when he was focused on someone else’s. She kept up a constant litany of his health, which was odd, but perhaps somehow… comforting to herself? Until her thankful You’re looking less tired (he was sleeping better, which both relieved and sickened him. Doyle hadn’t returned to his nightmares, despite him having so much more to taunt him with now) turned to a suspicious You’ve lost a little weight turned to Maybe you should see a doctor?

It only took three and a half weeks to hit that last point, and Reid hummed and ahhed and avoided the subject. He was fine. Hotch was distant, but JJ was a constant source of love, and that was plenty. He was fine.

Ish. The rune on his hip was gone, the first time in his life he’d been without it, and, somehow, he couldn’t celebrate that. At night, he dwelt on the empty space in his mind, and every morning when he woke, he automatically reached for her and found her gone. Sometimes, he imagined a whisper of her, a laugh, the smell of her perfume, but it always fled before he woke completely. The headaches were a memory, Doyle had fled the country, the pills in his bathroom cabinet were unnecessary. Tempting. But unnecessary.

He wasn’t okay, not by a long shot, but he could see how he could be. Eventually. One day. But he was hungry and that wouldn’t fade.

It was constant. He wanted. He couldn’t.

But he had to.

 


 

The club was loud, the beat discordant, and within seconds of stepping onto the sticky-slick floor next to the bar, he regretted his choice. He was twenty-nine and felt every bit his age as people seven years younger glanced oddly at him and his cane and abnormal clothes, and moved away.

He ordered a drink and downed it quickly. Ordered another. One more after that. He rarely drank to excess, but tonight he needed it. Liquid courage, Morgan had joked once, before Emily, back when he’d tried to set Reid up with every pretty girl who looked even remotely single. His phone sat silent in his pocket, and Reid considered texting his friend. Maybe he was off this weekend. Maybe this disaster could be turned into some kind of male bonding ritual.

Someone sat next to him and leaned over, dark hair curtaining forward. Reid’s fingers slipped on the glass as shock thundered through him, sending it clattering to the bar, single-malt spilling over the bar-top, down the side, pooling wetly in his lap. Over the whiskey and the scent of sweat, he could detect her perfume, and the world spun. He surged up, knocking his cane over, patting at his pants to try to flick the liquid off of them, and looking anywhere but at her.

“You alright?” she said, turning and looking at him with blue eyes. Blue. Not brown. He laughed helplessly, a bark of a sound, and shrugged.

“This was a mistake,” he said, dropping an extra fifty on the bar to cover the mess and the fuss, and stooping to collect his cane before bolting for the door. “I’m sorry.” The exit to the bar spilled drunks into the street, and he weaved through them shakily and limp/staggered his way down the alley beside the club, cutting through to the bus stop he knew was there. Or he could call Rossi. Or Morgan. Or take a cab. Or just… stop.

He stopped. Stopped in that dirty alleyway, his head spinning and body protesting his retreat from so many possible sources of something that he needed, but all he could focus on was the moment the woman had sat next to him and his heart had leapt with a giddy kind of wonder because, just for that second, he’d believed it was Emily.

He thought it was her and it never would be.

“Hey.”

Fuck.

He turned, reluctantly, and the woman from the bar studied him. He flexed his wings cautiously. Another option: flight. Drunken flight wasn’t recommended but… what was the worst that could happen? His brain supplied the answer to that in seconds and he tightened them quickly. Maybe not. “I’m fine,” he said, and enunciated each word carefully. “Sorry. Not my kind of place. Thank you for your concern.”

“You don’t look fine,” the woman said, and folded her arms. “I know you.” His heart galloped once and then faltered. Mouth dry, he couldn’t answer. “Dr. Reid. You teach graduate students at UDC.” Tha-thunk. A bus whizzed by the other end of the alley, rattling the windows on either side of them. Someone whooped down the other end, the club end, trailing off into helpless laughter. “I’d ask why you’re here at this kinda place but…” She trailed off, and stepped closer. Closer again. Close enough that he could scent the alcohol on her breath. Close enough to note the glitter on her eyelashes, the curve of her collarbone. Despite her blue eyes, her smile was a shade of cocky he’d only ever seen on one other woman. “I also know what you are. And who you’ve lost.”

“I’m drunk,” Reid murmured, but didn’t step away. “And leaving. I’m—”

“An incubus.”

He stared at her and the world around them swayed. Another step forward and her hand brushed his arm, fingers on his skin, nails.

Heat. Hunger. He felt his eyes shutter, once, leaning almost unconsciously into that touch.

Wait.

“You know about…” He took a breath as she tilted her head back to meet his gaze. Too close. “You’re a student.” This close to him, especially when he wanted her closer still, she was gone. The blue of her irises was almost obscured by her blown pupils as she reacted to what he was, the unconscious attraction of his kind to hers. She might have approached him first, but he needed to be the one to stop this. She couldn’t. Wouldn’t.

Arms around his waist, his back, drawing him forward. Heat from his hips to his chest as she pressed against him, rising on her toes to reach his—

Lips on his, tasting, a flicker of pressure against his mouth. As soon as their lips touched, he could taste her emotions, his powers granting him that: arousal, some small guilt, pleasure at being alive and young and healthy. Hands around her, the dark need in his belly sending a rush of disorientating warmth flooding his body. He groaned, slightly, felt her tongue skim against his teeth.

“No,” he whispered into that mouth, and turned his head away, groggy and sad and shaken.

“It’s okay,” she replied, and cupped his cheek in her hand. A painfully affectionate gesture. His heart twisted. “You need something. My car is nearby.”

He should have said no. He didn’t.

 


 

There were many things Reid was ashamed of. Things he regretted. This night was one of them. He slunk home the next morning, sated and sunk in his disgrace. Turned the shower hot enough to scald and threw his clothes in the hamper, scrubbing every trace of her from his body. He could barely bite back the revulsion at himself, at his moment of supreme weakness. He’d taken something natural, the intellectual attraction of a student for their teacher, and he’d perverted it. It was a betrayal of everything he professed to be. If it was discovered, his career would survive. Disgustingly. He was male, older, successful in his field. Hers would not. He’d have to resign. There was no other option. What he’d done… it was unforgivable.  Worse.

It was wonderful.

For three, fantastic, lingering hours, he hadn’t felt sad. He hadn’t felt like he was missing some integral part of himself. He hadn’t felt hungry. There had just been him and her and nothing else. No emotion except what she felt, no connection except a primal want, just sex. Easy. Empty. He hated himself for that.

Someone knocked on his door as he was dressing, damp hair still leaving dark splatters on his purple shirt as he buttoned it hastily and scrambled for the spellwork, wings partially flared so they could dry. He almost tripped twice over boxes of Emily’s belongings still sealed and shoved against the walls of his living room before reaching the door and yanking it open. “Yes, yes, hello?”

“Dr. Reid,” the man on the other side said, and Reid didn’t need to be a profiler to instantly mistrust him. The badge that flickered up two seconds later, the slight gleam of the credentials on the man’s palm obscured by the leather, answered that. “Special Agent Beau Carrick. We’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to reach you for quite some time.”

Reid gripped the door with one hand, and rested the other on the wall next to him, almost casual. Almost calm. Almost like his hand wasn’t one tapping pattern away from activating the explosively defensive spellwork Emily had installed. “Why is the CIA trying to contact me?” he asked, quietly. Not letting any of the stark fear he was fighting show on his face.

The man smiled, a shark smile, and flipped his badge shut. Receding hairline, Reid thought cruelly, and didn’t smile back. “We have an offer for you,” the man said, and glanced around the hall. “May I come in?”

“No.”

“Oh?” Carrick’s eyebrow lifted, an expression so much like Hotch that Reid almost relented. Almost.

“I’m sorry,” Reid said, politely, and stepped back to close the door on him. “I have no interest in employment with the CIA—”

“You haven’t even asked what we’re offering—”

Reid shook his head, adamant. There was no way in hell he was going near this offer with a ten-foot pole. If the CIA was knocking on his door, they wanted him. If they wanted him, it was because he had something they needed. And the only thing he had that no one else did… well, geniuses with eidetic memories were still far easier to find than incubi with the kind of power he wielded. “There’s nothing the CIA can propose that I have the slightest bit of interest in. Thank you for your time. Good day.” He closed the door, but not quick enough to shut out Carrick’s last soft words.

“Not even Emily Prentiss?”

Chapter Text

He’d touched her body. He’d kissed her lips. Tasted the cold on them. He’d scented the death in the air. Counted the wounds. Seen the chart with the clinical, emotionless terms—the sum of the damage that had comprised the final moments of Emily’s life.

She couldn’t be alive (she could, there are runes that fake death, and she would know them).

But a man sat in front of him (on her armchair, the armchair where: they’d watched all five hours of Les Misérables in its original French, cuddled together in one uncomfortable ball of limbs; dropped a whole bowl of soup down the back once when they were fighting over the salt and Sergio had tripped him; sulked for two hours until he’d kneeled in front of her to say sorry and it had ended with him murmuring his apologies between her thighs and the taste of her thick on his tongue) and offered him hope.

Hope which was impossible (but was it? Really? As impossible as him finding someone who’d become so irreversibly a part of him? The impossible had already happened, this was very merely improbable), but that he grabbed with both hands and hung on grimly.

Of course she was alive. Of course.

But he needed proof.

 


 

He hadn’t believed it at first. How could he? It was too much. Too much. Too much like being given something he never thought he’d ever see again. Her smile, her laugh, her heartbeat against his. All things he’d clung on so tightly too for fear of forgetting.

He could have them back.

Instead of believing, he’d closed the door on Carrick, picked up a box of belongings from her bedroom, and carried them to his own. Emptied them on his bed in a semicircle around himself. Inhaled the barest scent of her that floated from within: perfume and oils and something sweet and thrilling. He traced his fingers over each item.

A ring she only ever wore when visiting her mother (she’ll see her mother again).

A half-used tube of lipstick, a dull matte red (you’ll kiss her again).

Her keys (she’ll drive again, smile again, read a book or catch the train again. Live again).

And a book. A familiar book. William Wordsworth Collected Works embossed on the front in gold. It fell open easily to her favourite passage, the words hidden by the photos she’d tucked within. He shifted them to view the text, despite knowing the words she loved to murmur, to say out loud, to hear flow.

Though nothing can bring back the hour / Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower / We will grieve not, rather find / Strength in what remains behind.

What remains behind.

Surrounded by her belongings, her scent, her presence, sitting alone on his bed reading these words… it felt impossible that she was dead. He felt a fool for ever believing it.

“Emily Prentiss is alive,” he tried, the words ringing false. “Emily is alive. She’s alive.”

She was alive. He believed then.

He carried the book with him after that, a reminder and a promise. He was bringing her home.

 


 

They’d buried her in a State funded funeral, so Reid wondered how deep the lies went. He’d told Carrick he needed time to consider his options (because he knew the CIA weren’t offering him his dead girlfriend on a silver platter; they needed him and she was their trump card).

Trust was never something that had faltered. Not under Hankel’s control. Not under Foyet’s. Not even after he was salvaged from the wreckage they’d made of him, when everyone had known his name and known what he’d done and whispered behind their hands wherever he went. Throughout it all, he’d never doubted that he could trust the team he called a family.

But Hotch had organized the funeral.

Morgan had ridden with her in the ambulance.

JJ had delivered the news that she was gone.

Garcia had access to any piece of digital record that existed.

Rossi. Rossi had never missed a trick, and Reid seriously doubted the man had started with this one.

One—or possibly more—of them had betrayed him.

The first thing every one of them had learned before becoming profilers was that species would only get them so far with their profiles. That to allow themselves to become blinded by a focus on species was dangerous and was a big part of why profiling was so mistrusted, due to the sheer amount of inaccurate profiles that had been issued with a racial or species bias. But there were things that were absolutes. Each species had its absolutes.

Demons were possessive. Loyal to a fault. Reactionary.

And they didn’t take well to being lied to.

 


 

To J. Jareau: Are you home? I… please. S. R.

 


 

His message to her was manipulative. His words were even more so.

He waited until Henry was asleep, sitting at her kitchen table with his head bowed and shoulders stooped (body language: passive, depressed, withdrawn), and he didn’t look up because if he kept his head down, she couldn’t see the simmering mistrust he knew showed in his eyes. He waited until Henry was asleep and Will gave them privacy, to when she sat next to him close enough that their knees brushed together and with her hands wrapped around a coffee mug (a similar one sat in front of him but he was letting it go cold; depression precludes a reduction in appetite, lessened affect, a lowering of enjoyment in activities once enjoyed), and then he hurt her in the way only someone who loved her could.

“After Foyet, when I moved out from Emily’s, I spent the first week wondering what I was going to do next,” he said quietly, and she tried to hold his hand. He let her, but he didn’t return the soft pressure she applied to his palm. “The second week I spent looking for a dealer.” A sharp inhale of breath followed that. She began to tremble. He kept being cruel. Even quieter now (don’t look up, don’t meet her eyesyou’re not lying, but you are manipulating, and she’s more of a profiler than she believes), “I never bought anything, but I kept his number. I still have it.”

He waited. There were two possibilities here: she knew or she didn’t. If she didn’t, there would be anger. Anger and shock that he’d risk everything for a high. Grief wouldn’t temper that. But guilt… JJ didn’t wear guilt nicely. If she was repentant, she’d be kind.

“Oh, Spence,” she whispered, and dragging him into a stiff-limbed hug. “Please. Please know I’m here for you, okay? Anytime you get these… cravings. Or you feel alone. Remember that you’re not.”

Guilty.

 


 

To D. Morgan: Are you free? I wouldn’t mind hanging out. S. R.

 


 

Morgan brought Garcia. Good. Even this new him, this coldly furious Reid that Emily’s death (or Emily’s survival) was creating out of him, didn’t quite think he had it in him to be cruel to her. He’d hurt her once before, with a bullet and a steady hand, and he’d cried after until he thought he was going to die from the remorse of it.

In the end, Reid didn’t need to be manipulative or cruel to either of them. Neither was good at masking their feelings. Both of them grieved. They grieved so rawly that he felt the pain of it anew, like losing her all over again, as though by their misery he was reminded that there was no proof her death was a lie yet.

By the time they left the bar, they were the messy kind of drunk you got when you needed to forget the world, both had cried more than Reid had in the last month since he’d seen her, and he knew they had no idea. It was a relief, but also troubling, because Reid suspected that, almost unstoppably, he was hurtling towards hurting them all over again.

 


 

To A. Hotchner: Are you available? I need to talk to someone.

To A. Hotchner: Never mind. Everything is fine. Thank you. S. R.

A. Hotchner calling

“Reid? Would you like to get a drink? I’ll pick you up.”

Manipulation, Reid was finding, was grotesquely easy.

 


 

If some part of Reid had forgotten that Emily had worked under Hotch for just as long—almost longer, now—as Reid had, he was reminded tonight. And just like when they’d lost Elle, just like after Boston, Hotch hid his grief behind a wary stoicism and the bottom of his glass. Reid knew Hotch drank to relax. He knew he drank to forget. He knew that, like all of them, sometimes Hotch’s relationship with alcohol teetered on the knife’s edge of unhealthy. The Bureau had extensive programs on recognising and dealing with the symptoms of alcoholism for a reason, after all.

He used that today.

Hotch wasn’t here as a friend. Not as his boss. Somewhere in between. The circumstances of Reid’s removal from the BAU were so abrupt and disconcerting that none of them had ever quite come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t a part of their team anymore. He’d stepped out of their workplace but, somehow, never quite stepped out of their lives. And Hotch still looked at him like a mentor to his protégée.

He bought the first round. Hotch, the second. Reid, the third, despite the concerned flicker of Hotch’s eyes over the empty bottles on their table. They’d drunk, mostly, in silence up until this point. Hotch’s curiosity hadn’t yet overcome his desire to respect Reid’s privacy.  The fourth was Reid’s too, and Hotch began to make quiet comments about heading home. About walking Reid home.

The downside of having a protective nature: you couldn’t just switch it off.

Reid struck. His fingers were tucked in his pocket, wrapped around the book. A deep breath that rattled—he wasn’t completely faking with this—and, “I don’t know how to go on without her.”

He kept his gaze on Hotch’s face, peering up through lowered lashes. Downcast. Despondent. Mournful. A muscle worked in Hotch’s jaw as he swallowed, choked, took a steady gulp of his drink to chase it. Reid slumped forward slightly, closing his eyes, letting his elbow skid out on the gritty-slick surface of the table. A hand caught his arm, tugged him up. Supported him. Hotch thought he was drunk. He was, a little. Not as much as Hotch believed.

“Come on,” Hotch murmured into his ear, tugging him through the milling crowds around them towards the door. “Let’s go.” And what he had to do next settled as a sick weight in Reid’s gut, a churning disgust with himself and his life that made the world around him waver like he really was drunk and losing control of himself. Maybe he was. The Reid that still had an Emily would never have considered this.

Never.

But he needed to know. He trusted Hotch. Trusted him so much, from the steady hand on his shoulder to the solid, unshakable presence of him at his side. To lose that steadiness, that trust, would be destructive, debilitating. Irreparable. There was very little Reid wouldn’t trade for his suspicions to be groundless.

Hotch was a profiler, a good one, and his expression gave away nothing. It wouldn’t if Reid talked about missing her, if he brought up the drugs, if he flat out said to his face, “Emily Prentiss is alive.” So, Reid waited. They steered out the bar. They turned down the street, Hotch slipping his hands into his coat pockets and huffing a breath against the chill of the spring night. The air was crisp. Still. Waiting. Two more steps and Reid stopped, murmured, “Aaron.” Paused while his friend turned to look at him expectantly, the alcohol only slightly hazing his sharp gaze.

One more step brought them together and Hotch’s eyes widened. He backed up, another two steps taken, and his back hit the grimy wall of the bar. A poster peeked out over his head, the tattered corner catching his dark hair. Reid followed, breathing rough with adrenaline and shame and a sharp thrill of recklessness. Fingers bunching the material of Hotch’s shirt, pressing forward; the other man’s heart gave a galloping thump of shock under his palm. Then they were together, from hip to chest, a long, warm line of heat and shock and firm strength.

There was no time. Any moment now Hotch would push him away, gently or roughly, and he wouldn’t get another chance.

He kissed him once, Hotch’s mouth slipping open with surprise, soft and forgiving in a way the man wouldn’t be once this was over. Kissed him once and as soon as their lips met, circled his magic forward in a slow, teasing coil that looped so loosely around Hotch’s mind that he didn’t even notice its intrusion. Because Hotch wasn’t Rossi with his innate knowledge of magic and he wasn’t Emily with the rune on her arm that warned her of demons and the two on her back that protected her against them. He was vulnerable, so vulnerable, and his mind was open. Even the mental shields the FBI installed didn’t protect him here, because Reid worked with emotions rather than thoughts, the unconscious rather than the conscious, and the shields didn’t even register that there was a danger.

He didn’t seduce or compel. He couldn’t live with himself if he did either. His presence was enough for the first. In that single, lingering moment of touch, he saw Hotch’s eyes glaze, the pupils dilate, his body relaxing ever so slightly back into the man pressed against him. Reid was doing this to him. His magic was doing this, the dark power that his father had gifted him, the power he reviled.

He felt sick.

Then, he felt Hotch’s emotions shift. Tasted them: shock, the plastic kind of forced arousal that Reid knew meant fake, sadness, empathy. For a man who didn’t show his emotions, Hotch’s mind was animated by a multitudinous amount of them. He pulled away, pulled back slightly, and met the other man’s dark gaze, saw the clarity returning.

“Reid,” Hotch said firmly, and tried to put a hand between them to push him away.

Time to pretend. It wasn’t hard to recall the shuddering, crushing grief of the past month, the loneliness. Reid closed his eyes, pushed back against that hand, and didn’t have to fake the tremor that worked through his body, the almost-groan that tore from his throat. “I’m,” he choked, and the word was almost indiscernible around his rattling breath, “so alone. Please.” It was with a sick kind of misery he realized his cheeks were wet.

This was repulsive.

He pushed through the repugnance and kissed the other man again, clumsily. Hotch was stiff against him now, awkward. Reid’s mouth slipped down, pressing against Hotch’s jaw, and he thought he might have made a noise of pain but he wasn’t really sure anymore. And he felt it. The shift in the emotions. There it was: guilt. A vivid, raw flash of absolutely gut-wrenching guilt. And anger. And temptation. Not to reciprocate. But to… confess.

Reid’s world tilted wildly, the ground dropping out from under him. It wasn’t the alcohol that made him stagger then. Shoved. Hotch had shoved him. That blow was expected, Reid had been prepared to be struck. Almost welcomed it, because he’d known how revolting what he was doing was. Hotch knew. He knew. He knew he knewheknewheknew.

Hotch didn’t try to steady him when he stumbled back. He just pressed against the wall, staring at Reid with wide, stunned eyes and his chest heaving. Reid let himself slip, let the ground slam into his knees, cane rattling on the pavement.

I trusted you.

A band around his chest wouldn’t let him breathe. He stared at the pavement, traced the path that decades of feet would have walked, tried to compartmentalize. The band tightened. His head thumped.

Footsteps. Slow, uneven footsteps. “Spencer.” His voice, soft. Worried. Pacifying. The air turned brittle around them. Metal. Copper in his mouth, his teeth creaking as they grated together. He looked at his hands. Steady. He didn’t look up. He tried to breathe. He had to. A hand reached to him. Reid waited for it to touch him. Do it.

Traitor.

Do. It.

The air groaned. Hotch paused. He’d sensed it. The human, the so, so helpless mundane, had finally sensed the danger.

“Spencer…” Now Hotch was cautious. He retreated, and he was using his agent voice. “I’m sorry. I can’t… can’t give you that. Won’t. It’s not my place. You know this.”

I trusted you.

Reid ripped the brittle air towards himself, felt Hotch cry out with astonishment as the night turned sharp-cold and biting, and flung himself in one smooth motion into the air. He fled.

He didn’t look back.

 


 

To B. Carrick: Can we meet to discuss your offer? S. R.

To B. Carrick: I would like to accept. S. R.

 


 

Carrick was a thin man with the kind of features Reid knew would be hard to recall later. They were bland. Everyday. If asked to describe him later, Reid would have stated that the only remarkable thing about him on the surface was that he was utterly unremarkable. Brown hair, neatly combed. Brown eyes. Average facial symmetry. A clean-pressed suit that would have looked imposing on Hotch merely looked necessary on Carrick. Like it was the one thing keeping him in mind, even when you were directly speaking to him. Like if he wasn’t wearing it, your attention would wander.

Reid’s attention wasn’t wandering.

They were in Carrick’s office. Carrick said it was his office, anyway. Reid didn’t believe him. There was a flavour of personality to a small row of glittery butterfly-shaped stickers stuck almost unobtrusively to the side of the filing cabinet at Carrick’s back that didn’t quite match the man. More glaringly, the three diplomas on the wall weren’t evenly hung. The ones that the nails had been hung originally for had been moved and replaced with ones with Carrick’s name.

This was an orchestrated play, and Reid was fully aware that he was being guided through it. It didn’t bother him unduly. After all, as it turned out, he’d been just as easily misled by his own team. His own family. At least he was aware of these machinations.

“Ian Doyle,” Carrick began, and Reid tilted his head and frowned, very slightly. Carrick paused. Reid was in the seat in front of him, stiff-backed and attentive, his cane across his knees. “Of course, you’re aware of him.”

“Very,” Reid replied, coolly.

“Then you’re aware that he has fled the States after the alleged murder of FBI Special Agent Emily Prentiss. What you’re probably not aware of is that he’s left a trail of bodies behind him. For a period of about two weeks after Agent Prentiss’s ‘death’, he was quiet. Then he popped up in Norway and killed three men; the next day, Sweden. Another five. All eight of those men are of interest to us for other crimes of varying degrees of severity. What is also interesting is that he went quiet again—we’re assuming travelling—and when we next managed to get a handle on him, he appeared to be moving towards Russia. An oddly dangerous choice for him, considering their stance on demons and his history there.”

The cane knocked against Reid’s knees as he shifted, uncertain. “Why are you telling me this?”

Carrick slid a folder across to him. “You are uniquely placed to be of use to us. We have an… in. An opening into an intercontinental slave trade on the cusp of becoming a terrorist cell that we feel we are in a strong position to infiltrate. Doyle has close links with this trade. Six of the men he targeted are in some way affiliated with it. Our goal is the dissolution of this trade before they can undertake their planned attacks, from the top down, of course, but we need more information.”

The file was page after page of black when Reid flipped it open. Redacted. The occasional picture, grainy or taken at night through a long-range lens. There were months of information in there. Only months. Reid didn’t know a single undercover operation of this depth that hadn’t taken at least several years of intel before action. To do otherwise would be suicide for the agents involved.

“I’m not an undercover operative,” Reid said finally, stunned and unsure of where this conversation was going. Of all the things he’d expected, this was not one of them. “I’m a profiler. Was a profiler.” They couldn’t want him to be the operative?

Impossible.

“No, no, of course not,” Carrick pulled the file back. Reid let it go. It was useless anyway. Teasers and soundbites given to try and peak his interest. His interest was already peaked. He was here for Emily, and biding his time. Carrick continued: “We have another agent already read into the investigation and primed to be sent in undercover. However, his job would be made considerably easier with certain… abilities… made available to him.”

Abilities.

Reid felt sick again.

“Doyle isn’t a part of this trade,” he said when he remembered how to speak clearly. “I don’t understand why you’ve decided to approach me. I’m high profile. People know my face. Your leverage is tenuous at best. You’ve offered me information on Emily but given me nothing but a vague assurance that this will, what? Possibly lead me into crossing paths with Doyle? This whole thing is reckless, disorganized…”

“Dr. Reid, this is the opposite of disorganized.” Carrick’s mouth twisted into an expression of distaste. It was the only emotion he’d shown at all. “Just because all you see is the minutest tip of our workings, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot more going on under the surface that you are not privy to. You’re a certified genius with a recorded IQ of 187, perfect recall of the written word, casting abilities to a first circle level, the ability to disguise your location, and you are one of the very last of a species notable for one ability that makes you of high interest to us.” Reid didn’t ask for clarification. He didn’t need to. “Now tell me, Doctor, why would we not be interested in a man who has complete coercive abilities?”

Anger built again. He tamped it down easily. Control, he was finding, was a lot easier when one had a focus. Katie would be proud of him. “You’ve offered me nothing—”

“Emily Prentiss is alive. We have absolute proof. Doyle is irrevocably entwined with the trade that we need you to penetrate, Doctor. If you take this position, you will cross paths with him. We can ensure that. Your girlfriend is alive—and actively hunting Ian Doyle. If you take this offer? We can also ensure you’ll find her. The FBI cannot. She shook their leash as soon as she was physically able in order to get her revenge on the very demon you have such hatred for. In fact, she’s what drew our attention to you… before we were merely interested. Once we became aware of her activities, we looked anew at the possibilities you can offer us: a quick, clean resolution to this, which is in everyone’s best interests… especially yours.”

“Mine?”

Carrick steepled his fingers and studied Reid over them. “If you take this position, you won’t be alone. Our operative is a mage of considerable abilities, and you’ll be familiarly bound to him, as per regulation. You’ll also be in contact with a handler who is placed to extract you both within five hours if something goes awry, as well as the operatives we already have within the organization, some of whom will be aware of you. See, hardly disorganized, you’ll be surrounded by allies supporting you while you do the work we require of you. Agent Prentiss, however… she is utterly and completely alone, and with no idea of just what she’s up against. Entirely capable, I am sure, but even the most capable of us make… mistakes.”

Reid wasn’t sure if that was a threat or a warning. He suspected it was both. “I want proof.” The photo that Carrick handed him wasn’t grainy or from a distance. It was clear. Dated three days before. Dated the day that Reid had broken JJ’s heart, in fact. It was a muddy road, a broken fence, a wooden sign written in Russian, and it was Emily. A heavy coat pulled tight around her body, but her face was tilted towards the camera, mouth set in a tired, suspicious line. She looked thin. Like she’d been suffering. She looked sad.

She looked alive.

Carrick smiled when Reid looked at him, and Reid didn’t blame him. They had him. They knew it. There was never the chance of him saying no.

 


 

“You are… pardon?” Juster’s nostrils flared, an odd look on his almost-equine face. There was anger in his round eyes, anger that sat strangely on his features. Satyrs weren’t known for untoward shows of emotion.

“I’ve handed in my resignation,” Reid responded, gathering up the few things from their shared office that he felt he might need. Everything else could say. Juster would find more use for it. It was also a reminder that he should organize the remainder of his belongings, just in case. “Effective immediately. I’m sorry. I’ll leave all my research, my notes. I won’t be available for consultation.”

Juster stared. “Dr. Reid, this is impertinent. You are integral to this work. Agent Prentiss’s death is a tragedy but she is just a human. This is bigger than the life of one mundane!”

Crack.

They both twitched as the lamp on Juster’s desk shattered, reacting to the sudden whip-cord spark of power that slipped from Reid’s hand as he dropped his faculty ID onto the neat surface. When he turned, Reid was fully aware his mouth was curled into what was almost a snarl. “Don’t refer to her as mundane,” he said coldly, and Juster’s chest expanded with indignation at the threat in his tone. “I slept with a student, Elias. One of my students. I can’t take that back.”

Juster clicked his teeth together twice, expression clearing. “I fail to see the problem,” he replied finally. “One student. What does one student matter?”

Satyrs weren’t exactly paragons of sexual morality. Reid walked away, for the final time. From his research. The rune. The rune that could have saved so many lives. Juster had a clever mind, and their doctorate students were some of the best Reid had worked with. This would cripple their efforts though. So much of the data was in Reid’s head, not on paper. He hadn’t thought to commit it to hard copy. He’d thought…

He’d thought there’d be more time.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered again, knowing Juster’s keen ears could hear him. The door swung shut behind him, stopped from clicking closed by a swift hand catching it, hooves rattling on the hardwood flooring.

“Dr. Reid,” Juster called after him, and Reid didn’t pause. “This behaviour is concerning. Your mind is a valuable resource. If you are considering stepping out, please—”

Reid tugged the air around him and vanished.

 


 

To D. Rossi: Up for a chess game? S. R.

 


 

Rossi played with an aggression that Reid, for once, matched. There was silence between them except for the click of the board and Eris softly humming as she paged her way through one of Reid’s textbooks.

“You’re angry,” Rossi said finally, settling back into the chair. Reid grunted and didn’t reply, shifting his knight into position to take Rossi’s queen. It left both his rooks open, but Rossi couldn’t take both of them. “And reckless. Reactionary. Gonna talk to me or do I have to talk at you until you give it away with your body language? Cos’ I can ramble all night, kiddo.”

“He can,” Eris added, closing the book and forming into a cat. Reid looked away. “He really, really can.”

“Your turn.” Reid avoided eye-contact, but Rossi had turned up on his doorstep with a swiftness that was almost alarming, and he wouldn’t be swayed. It was a mistake, doing this now. Not when he was still rattled from the night before, still reeling from Hotch’s betrayal. Still keyed up from his meeting today with Carrick. To find that Rossi had lied to him too?

He couldn’t.

“No.” The chair groaned as Rossi slumped in it, folding his hands over his stomach and studying Reid from under lowered eyebrows. “I’m not making a move until you stop giving me the impression that you’re one misplaced comment away from total collapse.” Reid didn’t respond. Rossi kept on. “You know who you remind me of?” he said. His foot tapped against the table leg, rattling the chess pieces. “Right now, I mean.”

Silent.

“Emily.” That got a reaction. Rossi smiled as Reid’s head jerked up to stare at him. “Yeah. Emily—when you were off being all brainwashed and crazy. She was angry, wound up so tight I thought she was going to crack, and lashing out at anyone who came close.”

It hurt to think of Emily hurting. Hurt less than to think of her dead, though. At least if she was hurting, she was feeling. “Was she okay?” His voice cracked when he spoke and he was almost ashamed of that. His hand found the book, tugged it out his pocket. Thumbed through it unconsciously. Rossi watched his hands.

A wry snort was his answer. “No. Of course she fucking wasn’t, she was a goddamn mess. But she survived. And you got two more years because she kept on after she thought you were gone.”

The band around his chest was back, but this time it was miserable instead of angry. The anger was still there. But he didn’t think it was aimed at Rossi, not anymore. Not after looking at him, properly looking at him. He’d lost weight. Reid could scent both alcohol and cigar smoke on him, two things he was normally fastidious about leaving no traces of on his clothes or breath. And he was here. Rossi was Emily’s teacher. He loved her dearly. Rossi wasn’t here for Reid’s sake. He was here because he believed he owed it to Emily’s memory. This was him honouring someone he grieved.

“So, you’re saying,” Reid said, softly, so softly. “That I should stop being… angry… because I got enough time with Emily? Four months before I was taken when she knew me as me. Five hundred and ninety-seven days followed that when we were apart and I was a monster. And you’re saying I should be grateful for the two years that we were allowed after that? When I’m…” He stood, shaking, gestured down to himself with the hand that held the book. “This.

Rossi didn’t even flinch. “What is…” He copied Reid’s gesture with a casual wave of his hand. “This? You? All of you? You want me to validate this pity-fest you’ve got going on right now, join the ‘I Hate Spencer Reid’ team of one? You seem awful determined to give out free memberships. You sure rattled Hotch.”

“… He told you?”

“No. You just did. He came over stinking of booze and as close to freaking out as I’ve ever seen him. Said he was with you.” Rossi looked guilty, for just a moment. “Alright, I spell-scanned him and that told me because he had a nice dose of your particular brand of spellwork all over him. Really, Reid? What the fuck were you thinking? What’s your endgame here? Because I know Aaron bloody Hotchner isn’t your type—”

“Incorrect.” The word slipped out before Reid could stop them, a natural response, and he sheepishly shifted his wings when one of Rossi’s eyebrows shot up. “I mean. He’s not, I was… drunk. Lonely. He’s not but… I don’t have gender preferences. Irrelevant.”

A low yawn behind them. “This is dull,” Eris said, forming grey eyes of shifting shadows just so she could roll them at them. “You people talk too much. It is relevant—he’s trying to discern a basis for your erratic behaviour. If Aaron isn’t your type, you attempted a seduction for reasons other than it succeeding. You intended to upset and worry him. If he is your type, you’re exhibiting a maladaptive response to trauma in the form of sexual promiscuity. Which means you need help before the behaviour becomes destructive.”

“You quit your job without warning,” Rossi said, and finally stood. Held up a hand and ticked off his fingers as he spoke. “You attempted to seduce a man you knew very well wouldn’t reciprocate. I don’t know what you did to JJ, but she’s a goddamn basket case of stress at the moment. Woman is going to put the coffee machine out of business, she’s mainlining it. Then you invite me over and spend the whole day looking shifty. What are you planning?”

The breath Reid took in that instant was sharp and flavoured with a thousand things left unsaid. “Nothing. Are you going to move?” The chessboard rattled against as he rapped it with one finger, fighting the urge to pace, to mantle his wings defensively, to do anything but sit quietly back down and pretend he was fine. If the team (JJ and Hotch) worked out that he knew about Emily, they’d stop him from doing what he needed to do. He needed to control himself. Limit his behaviour. Or… increase it.

He was sorely aware that it was very likely that over the next month, at some point, Spencer Reid was going to go missing. If he told them he was moving, Garcia would track him. If they set it up to look like he was living elsewhere, one day one of them would come looking for him.

The idea was almost ironic. Almost.

Rossi looked disappointed. “No,” he said, heavily, and picked up his coat. “I’m not. I’m going home to wait for you to pull your head out of your ass and realize that what you’re going through, you’re not doing it alone. Emily was just like you. But she coped—because she let us help her.”

Reid said nothing, just stared at the chessboard and listened to Rossi’s footsteps reluctantly move towards the door. Could he do that? Do that to Morgan and Garcia? Do it to Henry? What was the alternative? That he disappear and they never have closure? He could quite easily die while undercover. They’d never know what happened to him.

The door clicked shut behind Rossi, almost resolutely. Reid hesitated. Trailed his fingers over the chessboard, the well-worn wood figures that had seen countless iterations of the same game played over and over in this very room. Predictable. Every game was predictable, at a point. Just like people. People’s behaviour was universal in that it was utterly predictable.

And he knew how to be predictable.

He tipped Rossi’s king over, and considered that there really wasn’t much he wouldn’t do for her. This was nothing really. He’d died for her before in the past.

What was doing it again?

Chapter Text

On paper, it seemed almost insultingly simple. Slave traders binding captured demons and using their power to launch what were, quite often, suicide missions against their home countries. The intel gathered suggested that there were five main locales responsible for the operations: one in Russian, three within the Middle East, and one unknown that they believed was the centre of the cell. Over three-hundred demons at last count were under thrall-bonds within the cell, fifty-three of them American-born. Plans indicated that the cell intended upon sending the Americans home.

Fifty-three demons were enough magical force to decimate a small state. Worse: any progress made on demon rights over the last twenty years, gone in an instant if this succeeded.

The plan was to send Reid and his partner in as low-level transport workers into Moscow, the Russian locale. From there, they would follow the instructions given to them by the cell leaders and transport what they were told to, where they were told to take it. They would learn trade routes. Hubs. Commerce points. Reid was to use his coercion powers in order to gather intel on the location of the central organization. His partner was responsible for inserting tracking agents and devices into the locations they were permitted entry into. First priority: information.

Second priority: extraction. “You do not endanger the operation,” Carrick had said first, firmly. Then, quieter, “But we’ve been slowly removing captured demons from the system. Fabricating deaths. Escapes. Runaways. You’ll be given a set number per month to extract if your situation allows, and operatives will be available to assist with that. No more than the set number, or you’ll draw attention to yourselves. While we won’t recommend which targets to extract…” His gaze had flickered to a photo of two smiling children on the bookshelf. Parent, Reid had thought then, despite being very aware those children weren’t his. Part of the illusion, “… use compassion.”

Yes. On paper, it seemed simple. Not that this was committed to paper. Reid was sorely aware that there was something layered to his recruitment. Something hidden. He was given a visitor’s ID. He was not given an orientation, nor a desk, nor an employment contract. Any briefings took place in Carrick’s office, between only the two of them. He could hazard a guess as to why his involvement was so clandestine. A demon with his abilities, his past, recruited for this kind of work? It would raise questions he was sure wouldn’t have easy answers.

“How fluent are you in Russian?” Carrick asked him once, looking up from a geothermic map spread out on the desk between them. Reid had been wrong when he’d accused them of being disorganized. For eight months’ work—as he’d finally managed to ascertain from the dates and weather patterns on the reports he was allowed access to—there was a remarkable depth to their intelligence. Whoever they had on the inside was very, very good at their job. At least they were qualified, which Reid was sorely aware he was the opposite of.

“но совсем чуть-чуть,” he replied softly, and the sensation of being in over his head grew exponentially. For Emily. For Emily. “Russia is going to be dangerous.” One of only three remaining countries with an ‘execute on sight’ clause for demon kind.

“Won’t be a problem. You’ll be out of eyesight, by your mage’s side, as a bound familiar. We need to know where they’re transporting their… goods.” Their goods. Products.

People.

“Him being bound to a demon is enough to get him arrested in Russia or the Baltic States. If we transport there, my presence will be a hindrance.” It was going to be a hindrance anyway. He wasn’t ready for this. Not at all.

For Emily.

“You’re capable of glamouring. We have white coats able to help with disguising your species when needed, in a more complete manner. Beyond that, you’ll need to use discretion with whom you expose yourself to. The one benefit of those countries’ distaste for demons is that very few of the population you’ll be mingling with will have any… defences… against what you can do.”

Use discretion, Reid knew translated into, coerce them.

“Dr. Reid.” Carrick leaned forward, arms flat on the desk, and for the first time a flicker of what looked almost like human emotion darted across his face. He was human. Most of the CIA was, or the few Reid had met. “I understand your reluctance. You’re being sent under deep cover into a dangerous situation, very nearly blind, with a man you don’t know, under the guidance of another man you don’t trust. Listen to me. You are not a throwaway. You are not replaceable. Your work with the runes—yes, we know about that too—will aid you immeasurably. This cell is taking your kind, children of your kind, and turning them into weaponized slaves. Turning them against their countries. Their families. I don’t need to remind you of how that feels, do I?”

No. No he didn’t.

“Six months.” Carrick’s eyes were intent. Reid met his gaze evenly. “I’m asking for six months of your time. I can’t guarantee your safety, no one can. But I can guarantee that I will be doing my utmost to bring you and Agent Enguerrand home. And Agent Prentiss with you. At the end of that six months, your contract is up. No matter how far you are or how deep you’re in, we’re pulling you. You’ll be brought home.”

Enguerrand.

“Agent Enguerrand is my partner?” It was with some interest that Reid, for the first time, directed the conversation towards the man who would take Emily’s place in his mind. Interest and no small amount of… guilt. “Enguerrand. That’s an old mage nobility name. French.” French surname. French mages were renowned for their specializations. In covert operations, they were particularly renowned.

Birdwatchers.

His partner was a raven.

 


 

Raven. Common name for several large birds in the genus Corvus. Alternate use means: ‘to ravage or pillage using violence.’ Used in World War One as a derogatory term for the spies used to gather intelligence for the Allied Forces, linguistic shift and the growing power of the Magisteriums in Versailles, Orleans, and Quebec meant that the term was now more commonly used to describe the clandestine mages that the provinces produced from the five great nobility lines. The oldest of which were the Enguerrands. Reid understood now while the CIA were even willing to entertain the notion of sending him—untrained, unqualified, unfit, and most certainly objectionable—into an operation like this. He was vastly underqualified. His partner, however, was the very definition of overqualified.

Birdwatcher: a term referring to spies usually within the United Kingdom. All ravens were birdwatchers, but only the best birdwatchers were ravens. And the best came only with a bloodline. A French bloodline.

What was a French mage doing working for the CIA?

That night, Reid borrowed every book he could find on the magicien du français and huddled in his car with the window wound tightly up and back against the door, devouring them. He didn’t take them home in case one of the team ‘dropped’ by on their ever-increasing attempts to try to circumvent his cutting off contact with them and enquired about his interest. By the time he was done, the sky was a washy purple-blue barely visible through the thickly condensed windows, and his nose was numb and damp to the touch. He sniffed, snapped the book shut, and considered his options. What few he had.

He missed Emily. She’d have looked at this like a challenge. French mage, huh, he imagined her commenting, rolling her eyes. Psh. I bet I could run rings around him. If Emily was here, he’d be going into this with her at his side.

If Emily was here, he wouldn’t be going into this at all.

Can I trust him? Reid wondered, thumping his head back against the window and feeling the cold trickle down his neck.

You shouldn’t trust anyone, was the answer, and that also sounded suspiciously like Emily. They’ll only let you down.

It wasn’t exactly helpful. He was still frozen with indecision.

And more alone than ever.

 


 

“Spencer, open the damn door or I’ll blast the damn thing down.”

Intriguing. Reid rolled over on the couch, tucked his wings closer, and wondered who would win in a battle between his security runes and Rossi. His money was on Rossi. His runes had the raw power, but Rossi had been outwitting demon workings since before Reid was born. He wasn’t arrogant enough to assume his would be any different. Probably less so, since the magic in his walls was still entwined with the remnants of Emily’s and would be sorely reluctant to injure their friend.

“Counting down from ten.”

Reid huffed and sank lower into the couch. What part of no did the man not understand? This was necessary. Unpleasant, but necessary. If they continued trying to involve him in their lives, what he and Carrick were planning would hurt them all the more. Withdrawing was the more favourable solution. Less… trauma. Henry, his traitorous mind reminded him, and he shoved the thought away roughly. Henry would be fine. He was so young. If the worst happened and Reid didn’t return… well, he’d be a pleasant memory. Not even that. Most people have no recall of anything that happened before their fifth year. He’d be a story JJ would tell about a man she used to know. That was fine.

A story was so much cleaner than the reality.

“Four—three—fuck this.”

Silence. Tilting his head up, Reid narrowed his eyes at the door. It stood quietly, intact, and closed. Huh. He’d never have thought Rossi would quit so easily. Three and a half weeks since their chess game, and Reid had spoken to none of them except to quietly ask JJ to leave when he’d found her sitting cross-legged on the stairs of his apartment building. No Henry with her. She’d expected to be rebuffed, and had protected her son from that rejection.

Head back on his arm, using it as a pillow, he closed his eyes again. It was early, barely seven o’clock, but he was exhausted from wading through countless pages of coordinates and coded communications that Carrick had expected him to take a week to piece together. He'd done it in eighteen hours, and he was due back the next morning for his physical. The medical magi would be ascertaining whether or not he was physically and mentally fit for the demands of being familiarly bound. He’d be meeting his partner.

It was, he knew, the beginning of something. Whatever they were rushing towards, it was soon. Arrangements had to be made. Taking a leaf out of Carrick’s book, there was a spell-shielded box under Reid’s bed filled with items that would tell the tale Reid wished them to tell. He had been a profiler. He knew how to weave an illusion that would fool even Hotch. Especially Hotch. It would hurt him, hurt them all, and Reid was somewhat sorry for that. Somewhat.

An ear-splitting crack from the kitchen and Reid shot upright, wings out, bad knee almost toppling him off the couch. Gun. Where’s my gun? The spellwork flared with a spitting roar and the stink of ozone before simmering down and humming uncertainty. Prepared for the sudden influx of red runes sparking around his apartment, Reid had slitted his eyes to avoid having the image of the lights ingrained on his retinas.

Rossi had not.

“Shit fuck fuck ass,” he was cursing, knocking over a mug and an unsteady tower of bowls as he slid down through the window and off the kitchen counter, hands over his eyes. Reid flinched as at least two of them shattered on impact with the ground. “God-shitting-damnit, Reid, is that necessary?

“If they hadn’t recognised you, you’d be dead,” Reid replied, stepping off the couch and pressing his hands against his thighs to hide how they trembled. “You’re trespassing. What do you want?”

“Well a) I’m super glad you’re not dead because we were beginning to wonder,” Rossi snapped, voice painfully irate. Dropping his hand from his face, he squinted around, blinking rapidly. “B) it’s been two months and I’m concerned by the fact that you still have Emily’s stuff piled around your apartment like a really creepy hoarder. C) you know there’s this thing called a telephone that those of us not trapped in the fucking eighteenth century use to call people so they don’t assume that you’ve tripped and broken your stupid neck in your stupid shower like an asshole.”

Reid was beginning to suspect that Rossi was a little upset. “I don’t want to talk to anyone,” he murmured, and limped painfully to the door. “Please, leave.”

“Noted,” Rossi said, smug, and dropped into Emily’s armchair with a thumf. “And ignored. Come on. Sit down. Let’s chat.” Reid stayed standing. “I am concerned—”

Reid cut in, “You’re trespassing.” He limped the last few steps to the door, gritting his teeth at the discomfort and yanked it open. Stiffening his back so Rossi couldn’t tell how heavily he was leaning on the handle for support, he gestured out. “Leave.” The door was ripped out of his hand and slammed shut hard enough to rattle the windows. Silence followed. Rossi’s face was blankly furious, like all of the anger he’d been easily hiding had finally come to the fore. When Reid looked down, Eris was pooling around his feet in a viscous black puddle, curling up over his feet and legs.

The panic was instant and the anger vanished. He stared at her. Words gone. His arms itched.

“Okay, that’s it!” Rossi roared, surging to his feet and throwing his arms in the arm. “I am done being gentle. ‘Oh, just give him space,’ says JJ. ‘He’ll come to us when he’s ready,’ says Aaron. Idiots! You don’t need space, you need a kick in the teeth!”

Reid whined but it was quiet. Muted. A squeak of a noise through a tightening throat. Eris shifted. He couldn’t move.

He couldn’t move.

Rossi wasn’t looking. “—and I just know you’re planning something so supremely stupid it makes my brain ache just to think about it and I’ll be damned if I let you do it because I’m not failing her like that, do you get that? I don’t think you do! I don’t think you realize how much we fucking care about you, do—”

He tugged at his feet but Eris constricted, wrapping thin tendrils of herself up his thighs. Coiling. Black. Compressing. His chest heaved. He looked at Rossi. Opened his mouth. Spots danced in front of his eyes. Panic attack, his mind reminded him, like he’d forgotten. It had been months. Months since the last. Breathe.

I can’t breathe.

“—they’re at my house, waiting, I told them you’d be there, and damnit, if I have to move you back into my guest bedroom I absolutely—Reid?”

“Don’t,” Reid choked, and the world pressed down on him. “Please. Don’t. Stop.”

Rossi vanished. He looked down into that pool of black and saw red. Just like Hankel. Just the same.

“Eris, get off, back, fuck…” The pressure disappeared and Reid sank to his knees, shivering becoming trembling becoming tremors that shook his body. “Hey. Hey, kid. It’s me. It’s Dave. I’m not going to bind you. You’re not bound. You’re still free. Deep breaths.”

Sense was quick to return, and with it shame. Reid looked up, focusing on a point just to the right of Rossi’s eyes, and barely hiding the humiliation that burned under his skin. “Sorry.”

Rossi shrugged, settling back onto his heels in the squatting position he’d taken. One of his hands was around Reid’s wrist, two fingers pressed to his pulse point. As he shifted, the tip of his index finger brushed over where Reid knew a slim, smooth scar remained from one of the bindings. Barely visible to the eye. “My fault. I… forgot. God knows how, but I did.”

Reid felt his mouth twitch in an almost-smile. “Unusual. I get the impression that it’s all people think about when they see me.” This was the worst possible time to be reminded of his weaknesses. Less than a week until he was to be bound again, even voluntarily, and a hint of that panic at the time would see him out on his ass faster than he could say, ‘I’m fine.’ “Did you want to keep shouting at me?” he offered weakly, and winced as Rossi snorted noisily.

“Sadly, I think you ruined the mood,” he said. He stood, offering his hand to Reid and helping him up, keeping one hand out as Reid limped back to the armchair and perched on the side. A hesitant touch against his hand became a warm pressure as Eris oozed out from where she’d fled under the shadows of the couch cushions and curled a tentative part of herself around his palm. “Guess scaring the ever-loving shit outta you counts as a kick in the teeth. Don’t tell Hotch, or he’ll write me up for sure. You gonna come with me to see them? They… miss you.”

He missed them, too. More than he’d admit. Reid took a deep breath and pushed away the thought of Morgan’s pranks and JJ’s smile; Hotch’s firm belief that he was innately good (you’re not), Garcia’s hugs. Henry. Jack. Pushing the thoughts away, he replaced them with thoughts of the box under his bed instead.

Something crinkled in Rossi’s pocket as he shoved his hand in there and pulled it out. A folded piece of paper. White. Crisp. Reid watched his hand as he hesitated, then held it out. “JJ told me to give it to you,” Rossi said, voice soft. “I wasn’t going to. It felt… manipulative. God, but that woman would make a terrifying profiler, she really would.”

Reid took it. Unfolded it. Scanned it. Swallowed.

Scanned it again.

Dear Uncle Spence, it said, the p backwards and the S twice as big as the rest. Blue crayon. I miSS you. and Love you. Can we go to the park?

“I think he added a dinosaur,” Rossi said helpfully, poking a carefully scribbled swirl of smudged green. “To really seal the deal.”

“It’s a swing set,” Reid corrected him. Voice soft. “It’s him on the swings.”

He’d signed it. By Henry L.

It was stupid. It would hurt them more.

But he missed them.

And his biggest regret was that if this went wrong, if he didn’t manage to find her… to Emily he’d never gotten to say goodbye.

This way he could. “Okay,” he said, and reached for his cane. “I’ll come.”

 


 

The relief on their faces when he walked in behind Rossi almost broke him. Almost. So close to giving in, to telling them everything, to admitting what he was doing. So close. But then he looked at Hotch and saw the lies in the lines in his face, and the temptation vanished. Instead, he threw himself bodily into making this a good night, a memorable night, and he planned.

Dinner. Rossi and Garcia cooked again, their voices floating out from the kitchen as they bantered. There was an empty seat next to Reid. Hotch slid into it. “Reid,” he began, gaze steady. “If you need to talk about what happened, I want you to know you can.”

“It’s fine, Aaron.” Reid smiled, and it was almost a real smile. Close enough to one that the worry lessened. “I was drunk. Honestly, I don’t know what came over me.” Liar, he thought again as Hotch nodded, but it wasn’t with any spite. It had occurred to Reid, at some point, that Hotch was going to blame himself for what happened next, and there was nothing he could do to stop that.

(Nothing he could do to stop it, but ease it maybe. Reid collected magic kits, science kits, he had dozens. And a keyboard. Jack had shown an interest in all three hobbies on the few times the boy had visited with his dad. Reid taped them all into a box labelled ‘Hotch’ and didn’t leave a note for him because anything he said would ring false)

Over dessert, he teased Henry with a spoonful of ice cream, making the boy attempt to repeat tongue twisters after him and only letting him have a mouthful of the sweet if he managed to get through five words without giggling. After three goes, it was decided unanimously that the number be reduced to three words or the ice cream was going to melt. JJ beamed the whole time with the kind of happiness that came at the end of a nightmare.

(Photos. Photos of Reid growing up and with the BAU. Some of Emily’s books. Anything he thought JJ would like. Anything he thought could be used to spin a tale of a man she’d once known, instead of the monster he’d become. To Henry went books and books of glossy maps, tattered maps, maps he’d collected and treasured and loved. Some still had ‘S. Reid’ written on them in the handwriting of a child. He regretted he couldn’t give his godson more. He labelled the box ‘JJ’ and didn’t write a note, because he knew it would break her heart)

They put the boys to bed and Reid permitted Morgan to talk him into playing a video game with him, one that Reid lost abysmally at every time. Even to Hotch.

(More books to Morgan. Mostly Emily’s. Vonnegut, Tolkien, Adams. A few of his own. It wasn’t enough. And a note. “Look after them. I’m sorry. Please trust me that this is the right thing to do.” Morgan wouldn’t blame himself, but he would be angry. Reid hoped he accepted Emily’s books at least)

Garcia hugged him countless times over the night and he hugged her back every time.

(He left her the laptop because he knew she’d find it anyway and rip it apart trying to find some reason why. He also left her the box containing all the letters he’d ever written: to his mom, to Emily. They were private. Painfully private. But she was the only one, he knew, who would understand why he wrote them. His note to her was simple; “Thank you for smiling when I couldn’t. You’re the strongest of us all. I love you”)

Rossi smiled at everyone and laughed a lot and only Reid noted how his eyes tracked him everywhere he went. Profiling, still.

(He left Rossi everything else. The man had it all already, but he also had sense, and he’d decide what to do with it. He didn’t write a note because nothing he wrote was enough to say everything he needed)

It was a good night. It was another last night. The next day, Reid met Carrick in his office as usual and the man told him it was time for Spencer Reid to die.

 


 

The day oozed by painfully slowly. He’d woken with a vague memory of dreaming about Emily in a cold and windy place, face turned away from the stinging wind, and he hadn’t been able to shake the numb sense of helplessness that had settled onto his shoulders as soon as Carrick had said the words, “We’ve made contact. You’re to leave on Monday.”

Three days. Monday morning, he would be rebound. Last minute, but, as Carrick had said, decidedly preferable than someone noting that he was a familiar again. By Monday night, they’d be on a flight to Helsinki in Finland where they’d travel by train into Russia and direct to Moscow.

It became very real in that moment.

After that, everything took on an air of unreality that was impossible to ignore. Emily haunted him constantly. You’ll see her soon, he thought randomly, at the oddest stimuli, and the thought was thrilling and terrifying all at once. He clung to the book, carried it everywhere. Almost unconsciously, his hand sought it out in his pocket, his bag, wherever he kept it. Six months. That’s not so long. Maybe less. She’s alive, you know.

She haunted him like she hadn’t since her funeral.  He turned a corner to the cafeteria at noon and saw her in the jaunty brunette ponytail of the woman in front of him. So striking was the resemblance that when she turned to allow him access to the cooler, he smiled warmly at her, automatic. It was a relaxed, careless smile, and her eyes crinkled upwards in response. She flushed, a whisper of red across lightly freckled cheeks and a cheerful snub nose. A nice face. A friendly face.

Not the right face.

His smile vanished in an instant, the loss fresh and burning, and she looked thrown and glanced back at him as she walked away. He stood there like a fool, blocking the door to the cooler, hand gripping his cane painfully tight.

At the firing range, she was a memory of a hand on his hip, correcting his stance. She was the scent of gunpowder, the familiar kick-back of the weapon in his hands, a cocky laugh when she outshot him. She’d have been shocked. He emptied eight clips, and none of them missed. Grief was a powerful motivator.

Hope was an even stronger one.

And, finally, most painfully, she was a continuous presence in the back of his mind when three o’clock rolled around and he calmly got up and made his way to medical services where he would prepare to be rebound to someone who wasn’t her. Who, within the next seventy-two hours, would take her place in his mind. It felt like a betrayal, because it absolutely was. Necessary. But still a betrayal. He walked into the brightly lit medical bay, and a man looked up at him.

It was him.

 


 

“You are Dr. Reid?” A steady dark gaze was levelled at him, dark enough that his pupils were impossible to discern within the irises. “I’m to be bound to a cripple?”

An illustrious start to their partnership indeed.

“Agent Enguerrand?” Reid asked, after nodding briskly. He straightened his back, and tapped his cane against his shoe as he brought it flush against his leg. Still visible. He refused to show shame for it. “I don’t believe my physical capabilities are diminished. And well countered by my magicka and mental facilities…” He flushed at what was almost a boast, but this would be a short-lived mission if the other agent walked away from him right now. The book weighed in his coat pocket. This couldn’t end now.

Enguerrand’s lip curled. His was a coldly handsome face. A tumble of black curls barely swept out of his eyes offset the harshness of his jawline and sharp mouth. The eyes that studied him from under heavy brows were haughty, taciturn. “We’ll see,” was all he said, turning away. He snapped at the mage to hurry, the man scowling at him and not responding. His voice was strange. The accent was audibly Quebecois, but inflected curiously. At the end of hard vowels, there was the smallest of stumbles, a pause, almost as though the words tangled as they fell from his lips. It was barely noticeable.

But it was there. Interesting.

“Could you slip up here, please?” said a female magus with a shy smile, sidling over to him. She glanced warily at Enguerrand, clearly glad to have gotten Reid instead of the notably irate agent. “I don’t appear to have your file…”

“He hasn’t got one,” Enguerrand said, glancing over disinterestedly. “He’s to be bound to me. Clear him for duty and move on.”

“Oh.” The magus looked again at her clipboard, and then up to Reid. Poor you, her expression said clearly. “A familiar, Romain? I thought you had one. Your bird…”

Enguerrand made a noise of distaste and turned away, shrugging off his heavy coat. Reid watched him as he folded it roughly and tossed it over the back of a chair, the sleeves made of a thick, stiff material patterned strangely with overlapping lines and dashes. “Apparently, he’s an…” He paused and smiled, a flicker of a smile, and mocking. “Upgrade.”

Reid wilted inwardly. It wasn’t like he’d expected to make friends… but this man was going to be a part of his magic. His mind. Familial bonds were supposed to be…

This wasn’t going to be like Emily at all.

You’re getting her back, he reminded himself firmly, and walked to take a seat. What’s six months with a proud man to get her back? No time at all, really.

“Okay, Agent, please alert us if, at any point, you feel your defensive spells being triggered so we can respond adequately…” began Enguerrand’s magus.

“Do your job properly and I won’t need to,” replied the mage. Condescending. That smile again.

Just six months, Reid repeated. It’s not so long…

It was an eternity.

 


 

There was one last detail.

“Understand that generally the mage-familiar relationship comes with certain benefits, including some level of telepathy. That will not be an option once your mental shield is in place. It is immovable. Impenetrable. You will be alone within your mind. I need your verbal and written admissions that you both understand this, Dr. Reid, Agent Enguerrand.”

The pen felt slippery, cool, fragile in his grip. He twisted the cap, hearing it click twice, eyes locked on the thinly dotted line. Above that, it was a simple half-second to read the terms that he was signing onto.

I fully understand that this procedure is permanent.

I fully understand that the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States Government, and the attending medical magi take no responsibility for any negative effects sustained during and/or by the implantation of this procedure.

I fully understand that this is a medical procedure and, as such, carries risks to my bodily self, including but not limited to: permanent incapacitation, stroke, aneurysm, reduction to cognitive abilities, damage to magical facilities, loss of self…

Tabarnak,” Enguerrand murmured, his eyebrow twitching minutely upwards as he scanned his own contract. “Is this for real? You expect us to take this much risk for a possibility of capture?”

“We always plan for possibilities, Agent,” Carrick’s replied, his voice a low growl. “You are, of course, entitled to refuse the service. But no officer steps foot outside of our borders without some form of shieldwork. And the locales you may be sent to require the utmost of our magicka. Capture is a very real reality and will be highly unpleasant for the both of you. This will minimise that risk.”

“There’s a clause,” Reid cut in, eyes locking on the line that jumped out of him. “What ‘offensive properties’ does a simple mental shield contain?”

Carrick looked affronted, his mouth twisting minutely into what would have been a sneer on a less composed man. “‘Simple’ is not the word I would be inclined to use,” he said stiffly. The paperwork in his hands rustled as he tapped the sides on the table, straightening them into a neatly worked edge and laying them flat in front of him. “The offensive work differs according to needs. Both workings will ensure that you will not be… able to be used against us. You, of all people, would understand that necessity, Dr. Reid.”

A chill worked its way down Reid’s spine, setting the fine hairs on his neck on edge. Enguerrand’s gaze raked him, not subtle, openly suspicious. It settled on his wings, narrowing when Reid tightened them, hoping the scarring wasn’t visible. If Enguerrand didn’t know who he was yet, Reid knew he would soon. His history. His… indiscretions. His nature.

He wondered how that would affect their working relationship.

Enguerrand’s expression was still just as carefully cold, just as closed, but, somehow, he turned it into disgust with the barest flicker of the muscles around his mouth and eyes. “Oh, I see,” he said, and smiled. It was a knife smile, bladed and dangerous. Reid’s magic hissed in reaction, his fingers twitching against his cane. “I understand. Suicide pills in the 21st century… how passé. A contemporary organization builds their self-destruct switch directly into their agents’ skulls, of course. Much more elegant, ouais?”

“The measures are not fatal,” Carrick snapped, and in that moment Reid acquired a distinct impression that perhaps his new partner was the kind of man who found all the darker parts in people and dragged them to the forefront. Within one short meeting, Carrick had gone from smooth to ruffled, his knuckles white on the pen in his grip. Then he saw it. A flash of movement, gone in an instant, as Carrick glanced at Reid and away. “Not in most situations. As you know, there is no defence from thrall bonding. If something were to happen to Agent Enguerrand, you would be left without even the tentative protection of the familial bond, Dr. Reid. In the event that someone attempts to bind you against your will, the offensive measures will be immediate and, unfortunately, fatal.”

Silence.

“And in my case?” Enguerrand asked finally. There was no emotion in his tone. Reid stared at his cane, at the minute trembling of his hand, the uneven flush of colour to his skin. He released the cane, letting it lean against his knee. Turned his palm. Examined the burn, the whirl of bitter scarring, the faintest memory of what that skin had once symbolized. Fidelity. Bravery. Integrity. “Do I join my darkling friend in his sudden removal from this plane, or will you have mercy and merely reduce me to a drooling imbécile?”

Carrick stood, his chair thumping back against the wall with the sudden move. The papers under his hand scattered slightly under his hand. “Your magic will be crippled,” he said bluntly. “This is the risk you take. Decide now on your paths.”

“No,” Enguerrand said immediately, right as Reid murmured, “Okay.”

He felt Enguerrand stare at him, stunned. For the first time since meeting the man, he was rattled. “You will die,” Enguerrand exclaimed, back stiff and shoulders straight. “Are you an idiot? It will kill you.”

Reid signed the paper, the pen gliding easily over the surface. “There are worse things,” he said mildly, laying the pen at a careful parallel to the paperwork, and standing. “Thank you for your time. I will report on Monday.”

“Make any arrangements you must in the meantime,” Carrick called after him as he strode to the exit, determinedly refusing to look behind him. “You will, for all intents and purposes, be deceased, Dr. Reid.”

Reid waved his hand non-committedly over his shoulder at the two men without turning around, flicked his wings out, and let the door shut solidly behind him. Enguerrand or no Enguerrand, he wasn’t turning back.

He was finding her and bringing her home, no matter the cost.

 


 

The weekend flew by. His phone was noisy. He answered each message, but didn’t commit. He prepared. Every preparation hurt. Small cuts for each small action. Building and building as Friday flew into Saturday, and Saturday raced unstoppably into Sunday. He couldn’t stop to take a breath.

He went for a flight Saturday night over the lights and the bustle of DC. It was meant to be quick. The flight turned into a slow spiral over JJ’s home, Hotch’s, Morgan’s, Rossi’s. Most had lit windows casting a warm glow onto their darkened yards. Within, they lived their lives unknowing that Reid was about to throw them into disarray. Morgan’s was silent. He was probably out, living, finding a girl, a warm bed, a moment of comfort. Reid envied him.

He flew over the library. UDC. His favourite coffee-shop. The park where Emily had shoved him into a snowdrift last winter, before the nightmares and the beginning of the end. Katie’s office. He mentally apologised to her. She would also be receiving a grim phone call when the week began again. She’d take it as a failure. He regretted missing so many appointments. The flight became a walk. Downtown, with crowds around him, not noticing him, wrapped up in their own lives. Lights and traffic and the scent of food and people and his world.

He saw it all and memorized it. Said goodbye to it. Then, he went home. Early morning. Sunday morning. Twenty-four more hours.

The apartment echoed under his slow footsteps. His belongings, packed. In this, at least, he was easing the way for those he was leaving behind. If he and Emily returned alive, they could buy new belongings. The things he truly cared for he was leaving to his team, his family. They’d keep them safe for him, even unknowingly. The same with Emily’s possessions. He’d sorted it all neatly. Over there, the labelled boxes for his team, in a careful row with the names outward. On the other side, documents and paperwork. Over there, books. His team could decide what happened to the unlabelled boxes. He was taking nothing. Almost nothing. There were four things on the bare kitchen table that he wasn’t leaving behind. Only four things.

Not long now. Sunday dawned. He made a meal from one can, took the final trash down, and took the box of food up the hall to their neighbour. “I’m going away for a while,” he said with a smile. “I thought you’d appreciate this.” She did. Clothes, he packed into his car and took down to the charity shop. His car he had hummed over, but finally he added the keys to the ‘Rossi’ box, and finished tidying. Deactivated the security runes, taking a deep breath as the apartment hummed once and then fell silent. Empty. No trace of the magic he and Emily had woven together.

An ending.

Twilight. He napped for a bit, and when he woke it was the darkest part before morning. Time to finish the illusion.

The rune he knew. He’d made sure that there were trails of him researching it: books borrowed under his own name, not his college faculties’. Google searches. If they looked through his paperwork, they would find detailed descriptions on how exactly a demon ended their existence.

Stepping over. That’s what they called it. Complete removal from the physical plane. No coming back. Just the same as his father had, after his mother had died. Just the same as his entire species had, slowly, one by one as the years had trailed by and left them in a world that looked down on them and their kind. Maybe it’s better, they had murmured, according to every source Reid had discovered. Maybe it’s something new.

He didn’t hesitate as the knife bit into his left arm. Enough blood let to mix with the paint, to cement their belief that this gateway was for him and him alone. It would take no one but him. When the blood and paint was mixed, he worked quickly. The spell had to be cast while the paint was wet, was fresh. There was no slowing down now. By the time he was finished, the sun was an orange promise on the horizon out the window he’d opened to air the fumes.

The rune was large. It marred his carpet in sloppy white paint, tinged with red. No deposit back, unfortunately, not that he’d be here to care. He set it up carefully. He burned the candles down. He waited until the rune gleamed with the slick touch of his dark magic, and then he murmured the invocation and the room burned with the touch of wherever the newly created gateway would take him. It stank. Of heat and boiling fat, a hint of salt. The barest suggestion of something sweet on the back of his tongue. But he stood outside the circle. When the bright white of the gateway faded, he remained. He wasn’t tempted for a moment to step within. What could that world offer him that this would couldn’t?

It couldn’t offer him Emily.

The gateway closed. It was done. Soot marked the walls, the roof, the floor, in a strange spiralling pattern from where it had flared outward. The scent of the world that had only just brushed this one was penetrating. Reid hoped it wouldn’t mar his belongings, at least not the ones he’d left for his team.

It was done. To anyone who walked in now, the rune told them one thing and one thing alone. A story that was collaborated by the books and papers he’d collected, the box he’d left openly on his bed like an admission. Opiates. Narcotics. The prescription medication he’d retrieved from his cabinet and finally unsealed, discarding half and adding the rest to the box. The box that spun the illusion of a man breaking. A man broken. An addict.

It told the story of a man who couldn’t be hurt anymore.

He took one last breath in the life of Spencer Reid, one tinged with sulphur and paint and regret. Then, he gathered the only parts of him he was taking, those four little items, and he left.

The door clicked shut behind him, ending the story.

Spencer Reid was dead.

Chapter Text

When Aaron’s cell rang, none of them thought twice about it. The man spent half his life with the thing glued to his ear and the other half chasing after the collection of reckless ducklings he called a team, so it really wasn’t that unusual. Besides, they’d lost so much that year.

What more did they have that could possibly be taken from them?

“Boss,” Eris said suddenly, rearing upright. JJ glanced at her, biting at the end of her pen, and Rossi was too busy trying to explain to Morgan just why his taste in scotch was wrong and he should feel wrong about it, so he didn’t quite catch on to the concern in her tone as quickly as she would have liked. “Dave!” It was almost comedic. The team fell silent, all eyes swung to his familiar, and then to the silhouette of Aaron in the doorway. They took in his expression. Rossi had seen that expression before. Oh god, had he seen that expression before.

It was the expression Aaron had worn when burying Haley. The one Dave himself had carried like a mask when he’d lost Emily. The one that was always one bad memory away from slipping back into Reid’s eyes and the shape of his mouth.

It was a ‘the worst has happened’ face, made of a combination of guilt and sick, sick horror, and Rossi felt his heart break just a little. Again. It was a familiar feeling.

No.

No more. They couldn’t do it. This family, this weird little collection of broken people, there was only so much they could take. No more.

JJ swallowed and the sound was loud. Rossi swore.

“That was DCPD,” Hotch said, and the quiet somehow, impossibly, grew. “It’s Reid.”

Damn.

 


 

At first, he wasn’t angry. He wasn’t furious. How could he be? None of them could have stopped this, this was no one’s fault (bullshit it wasn’t, because you saw this coming) and, Christ, did he really blame the kid? When it came down to it, did he fucking blame him? Life had just kept piling crap onto Spencer Reid’s stupidly skinny shoulders and then had the audacity to wonder why he’d crumbled.

Then, he went to the kid’s apartment. One more visit. And, this time, there was no Sergio twining around his ankles and sniggering when he fell; there was no Emily running around looking for her lost keys again and shouting at Reid as though he was the one who’d hidden them; there was no Reid patiently padding after her, having fetched the keys from the couch cushion or the pot plant on the windowsill or, one memorable time, from within a mixing bowl in the cupboard. There was no laughing or shouting or life. There were two bored looking police officers, ticking off their ‘just another suicide’ box on their report, a collection of stunned looking neighbours, and the distinct scent of something threatening in the air. Remember heartbreak? that scent asked him mockingly, you will now. Here it is again, in case you’d forgotten.

Aaron was with him. Aaron was silent. Rossi was under no illusions of his purpose here. They’d asked Aaron to be the one to confirm the spellwork was Reid’s, that it was him and only him who’d passed through that final gateway—stepping over, the demons called it, and Rossi fucking hated that stupid term because it made it sound so reversible—but Aaron was one harsh word away from meltdown and this was the third person they’d buried this year. Rossi would be the one to call this, to say that final brutal yes.

Not that they’d be burying Reid. Kid had done them that favour at least. Back in the Army, Rossi had seen his share of people who’d simply woken up one morning, deciding breathing wasn’t for them, and spit-started their own service pistols. He should be grateful Reid hadn’t done that, hadn’t left them with brain matter and skull fragments to ID instead of a graceful rune splashed onto the carpet.

“Definitely a gateway, definitely used,” the homicide magus drawled when they walked in, expression shuttered. “This guy was one of yours, right? Wouldn’t have called him for a fed.”

“Why not?” Aaron’s eyes were locked on the rune, the concentric pattern work of soot and ash that had flared out from it as Reid had casted. There was a deadly kind of anger in his voice, one Rossi had only ever used when he was about to rip shit out of some student who’d fucked up badly enough they weren’t about to be a student anymore, or possibly ever again.

And Rossi hadn’t been angry at that point, not like Aaron was, but he would be in a minute.

The homicide magus shrugged. Jackwell his badge declared him. Oh good. Rhymed with jack-off. Almost. Close enough. Rossi quickly memorised that in case they had to make a complaint. Or in case he needed to write him a ‘I’m sorry, but not really’ card after Aaron kicked him. However this went. Hell, he wasn’t going to get in the way. “Demon has enough pharmaceuticals in there I’m surprised he was even sober enough to draw a workable spell,” he said, and walked away like he hadn’t just left them reeling.

“Bullshit,” hissed Eris, spitting and churning under his feet. She flowed away, skirting the rune and the pattern work, and vanishing into the bedroom. “He’s not an…”

Her voice trailed off.

Rossi followed. Aaron followed him. They found the (impossible) box.

And, oh, there was the anger.

He welcomed it.

 


 

The day ended early for them. Strauss’ orders. Maybe the woman did have a heart.

He’d put in for leave. They needed it, all of them. Not one of them was fit for active rotation at the moment, not a single damn one of them. He’d taken Morgan and Garcia back to his home and left them offering whatever thin comfort they could to each other. JJ had vanished, and fucking hell, Rossi couldn’t breathe if he even tentatively considered the conversation she’d be having with Henry right now. Hotch was… somewhere. Work still, probably. The man didn’t know when they were beaten. Rossi hadn’t taught him how to quit because he didn’t know how. He wasn’t ready to give up, not yet. There was a mystery here, a small one. One that, on the surface, didn’t seem much.

Well, it’s obvious why he did it, said one of the voices in his head, the slightly condescending one that was Morgan when he thought one of them was being deliberately obtuse. Rossi liked to give voices to the irritating parts of his mind. Made them easier to deal with when he could blame his co-workers for their irregularities. Kid has had a shithouse year. A shithouse life. And you knew he was leaning too heavily on Prentiss, knew they were dangerously co-dependent, but did you stop them?

But why? asked the JJ voice, managing equal amounts of sad and angry. Rossi rapped his fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for the light to turn green, and waited for her to finish. He didn’t even know where he was going, let alone her. He has us. And Henry. He’d never do this to Henry. There had to be signs. Something pushed him over. Why didn’t you notice?

Emily. He wondered, for a second, if he remembered her voice correctly. Maybe he just couldn’t think for missing me. You know how that feels, to lose someone like that. Your son. Gideon. So many others, countless others. Me.

Morgan again. Man didn’t shut up. You noticed them. Why didn’t you care?

The voices in his head, unlike his co-workers, were all assholes.

Fuck this. There had to be signs. Somewhere, there were signs. And not in that abandoned apartment wiped clean of anything but what Reid wanted them to see.

Rossi turned right.

 


 

Rossi tried not to stereotype, but every single satyr he’d ever met had had three things in common: they were absurdly disconnected from every facet of reality, absolutely awful to hardwood flooring, and they were all promiscuous as hell. And he meant that in the kindest way possible.

It was irrefutably bizarre to be standing in an office that was stamped with the indelible personality of Reid, discussing the man with a satyr who was visibly two of those things, and probably the third one too (but he really didn’t want to dwell on that). Elias Juster was… odd. Capital O odd. Twenty bucks he’d gotten along famously with Reid.

“I’m afraid I don’t quite understand why you’re here asking all these questions about the Doctor,” Dr. Juster was replying coolly, his doe-brown eyes tracking Eris as she twisted into the roughest form of Rossi’s shadow possible and peered about the office floor. “Is that a shadow-ghast? How on earth did you acquire one? Is it… does it have an assigned biological sex or is it fluid? Fascinating…”

Rossi hrumphed in his best listen the fuck to me voice, but the satyr was muttering to himself and very clearly off in his own little academically minded daydream. “Eris,” he said, with emphasis on her name just so she didn’t bitch later that he was objectifying her, “is indeed a shadow-ghast, indeed a she, and—”

“So not getting involved with this,” she murmured, twisting into herself and coiling away. Traitor.

“Dr. Juster, did Reid give any reason as to why—”

Juster made his own hrumph noise. It was a decent attempt, if a bit goat-y. “Dr. Reid, if you please. We do respect titles within this facility—what did you say your name was?”

Rossi counted to three to stop himself from saying something Aaron would describe as inappropriate, Dave, and held his palm up, the even blue glow of his credentials flickering into the shape of the FBI crest on his hand. “SSA David Rossi,” he repeated, again, and the blue flashed green to confirm his identification.

“Is Dr. Reid in disgrace?” Juster tossed his head, a move which would have looked ridiculous on any other—no, no, it still looked ridiculous even on the goat-man, with the added benefit of hinting to Rossi that there was something here he wanted to know, something Juster didn’t want to tell him.

“No, he’s—”

“Do you have a warrant?”

“No, I—”

“Is Dr. Reid aware that you’re questioning me, agent?” He said ‘agent’ like Rossi would say ‘good lord, look at the pus on that.’ The same kind of distasteful-yet-fascinated upward inflection.

Rossi tilted his head. Rossi smiled. Juster swallowed. “Dr. Reid was an agent too, I feel needs mentioning,” he said sweetly. “A very good one. If we can get past that little stonewall, this conversation will move so much smoother.”

“He is a scientist and an academic. If he was misguided… ah.” Juster stopped and the half-toss of his head he gave was now nervous, his throat working busily. Rossi watched with interest as the man’s fingers tightened around the top of his chair, knuckles whitening. “Past tense, I notice. How… distressing.” To his credit, he did look genuinely distressed. Rossi felt bad. A little bad. A small part of him whispered that this guy saw him twice as much as you didwhy didn’t he notice?

Or did he?

“You don’t seem surprised.” Rossi softened his tone, just in case this guy was the weeping type, because, fuck, he wasn’t feeling stable enough himself to deal with someone else grieving right now.

“I’m not. Sometimes we are given more than we can carry. Dr. Reid carried his own burdens, and quite often those of every demon he felt had suffered similarly to himself. Some level of mental distress was inevitable, and after the unfortunate death of his mate, I can’t say that I am surprised that it culminated in his removal from this plane.”

“I never said it was suicide,” Rossi interjected. Juster didn’t look thrown, merely shrugged awkwardly, like the movement was foreign to him. Something he’d picked up from watching other people do it but never actually tried himself.

“You didn’t need to. Dr. Reid’s behaviour had grown erratic. His health, both physical and mental, was declining. The nightmares, the migraines, the events that led to Agent Prentiss’s death, they all added up, as did his failure to move beyond his past. It was destroying him. I suspected this was looming when he put in his resignation for this office. A move, I must inform you, that set every sector of research into necromantic bindings back five years. Entirely selfish. Do you know the reason he gave to withdrawing his mind from the academic world?”

Perhaps the satyr’s grief only extended as far as Reid’s grey matter, rather than Reid himself. Rossi hated him for that, just a little. More had been lost than just a resource. “No,” Rossi said shortly, biting back the spite that threatened to show.

“He engaged in a sexual tryst with a student of his. Hardly worth the theatrics, I thought, but there you go. And while I don’t pertain to understand his discomfort with this act, he was considerably troubled by it. I do understand enough to know that it is an entirely unprofessional act, one that could have far-reaching implications for the student if it is discovered, and was completely out of character for him to be so feckless with his powers. Take of that what you may.”

“You seem more forthcoming now that you… know.” Clumsy. It was clumsy, but the day was beginning to drain him, and it was becoming hauntingly obvious that this should have been obvious. He adjusted his shoulders from where they’d slumped forward and huffed a breath to bring his chest up. Fine. He was fine.

“A man who cannot tell his tales requires one to tell them for him,” Juster replied, leaning against the desk and rubbing his temple tiredly, “and my kind are, above all, storytellers. These events are distressing, Agent Rossi, and I chose those words carefully. They are not joyless. Some demon-kind celebrate the agency shown by those who choose to move beyond rather than allowing injury, accident, or illness to shunt them over.”

“He was twenty-nine-years-old,” Rossi spat, and he couldn’t keep the anger out of his voice no matter how much he tried. “Do you know the average age of a demon when they choose to die? I bet you do, but here you go—” You machine, was on the tip of his tongue, but he held it back. “—five-hundred. Five-hundred-years-old. I think Dr. Reid was a little short of that, don’t you?”

“You keep using those terms: ‘die,’ ‘suicide.’ Those are not adequate terms. You are misinformed. Dr. Reid is not dead, merely not a conscious part of your world anymore. If he desired true death, he would have been much more… visceral about it. I will not grieve for him, just as I would not grieve for a colleague who decided that their calling was to retire to some hut in the middle of a far-away jungle with no telephone. In neither case will I ever see nor communicate with them again, but I am assured of their pleasure in their choices. You will note that Dr. Reid’s family will not mourn him either. It would be a grievous insult to him to do so. You could learn from this.”

Rossi was done here. He was going home. Maybe it was time to learn when to quit.

“We are his family,” he said, quietly. “We do mourn him. We always will. The problem with your analogy is that the man in the jungle can come home back to learn that.”

Reid never would.

Or… could he?

 


 

“This is dumb,” said Eris.

“I’m not helping with this,” she said again later, and, really, did she think he was going to start listening to sense now? In all the years she’d known him, had he ever been one to shy away from something stupid or reckless or fun? Aaron would have laughed himself sick if someone had told him that Rossi had chosen now to decide to be sensible. Well, he probably wouldn’t have laughed. Rossi had the suspicion there wasn’t going to be much laughing going on anymore.

And that was why he was doing this downright dangerous, immoral, and foolhardy thing. This dumb thing. Because David Rossi was angry and he really wanted the focus of his anger to know it. Spencer Reid was not leaving this plane of existence without one last lecture. He was summoning that little shit with his ridiculous hair and his puppy-dog eyes, and he was going to describe in explicit detail everything he’d had to deal with that day.

“This is only going to hurt the both of you,” Eris reminded him, sulking in the corner of the room as an amorphous mass of shadow and sass and unwanted advice. He couldn’t help but be reminded of his Nonna. She was real good at ignoring people ignoring her as well. “You don’t just summon demons willy-nilly, Dave. Once they’re beyond, they’re gone. He’s gone. Whatever you call back, it won’t be Reid, and you know it.”

Yep. He was going to explain just what it had looked like walking into the BAU and finding the team huddled in a miserable circle around Emily’s photo on the wall, turning in unison with fucking hope on their faces. What it had looked like as they’d seen Aaron’s face and that hope had faded.

Aaron not saying a word, just walking up to his office and closing the door.

JJ covering her mouth, and then her eyes, and then her shoulders shaking just once. Dropping her hand and following Aaron to his office, tapping softly before letting herself in.

Morgan holding Garcia while she cried and cried and fucking cried until Rossi couldn’t bear it anymore and drove them both back to Morgan’s home.

And the drugs. What the fuck was the kid thinking? Some genius he was if he’d thought he could find what he was missing in a pill, or a needle, or a dozen of them both.

(But that’s not right, you’re being reactionary. All this time, you’ve never seen him high.)

He wasn’t a rune mage, not even close, but he kicked aside the rug and painted his goddamn shadow-mage heart out until there was an almost perfect rendition of the summoning rune curled onto his heartwood floors. He lit candles. He found a bottle of twenty-one-year old single malt, choked down three fingers of it before just drinking from the bottle itself, and then fetched the paintbrush he’d found in the dumpster outside Reid’s apartment. Kid had made sure the only mess he left behind was the rune and the hole in their hearts. But there was still paint on the bristles, paint Rossi knew was mixed with blood, and that was enough. He threw the brush into the centre of the rune.

Probably a little drunk. Definitely a little more than somewhat reckless. He looked to Eris.

“Summoning demons is necromantic,” she hissed, pressed up against him anyway and bolstering his magic. She’d stand by him, yeah. She always would. Steady as a rock, his Eris. Even when he was stupid. “This is wrong. Let him rest. You don’t know what this will do to his soul when you break the circle.”

Maybe he didn’t have to break the circle. As long as the circle was whole, Reid would stay (trapped. You’re trapping him). He could… fuck, he could set it up nice, or whatever. Garcia would stop crying, Aaron would stop guilting, JJ would just stop… stopping. He could fix this. Fix it proper. But he paused. Swallowed around the lump of something choking and cruel in his throat.

What would Emily say if she was alive? If she knew?

“Dave?” A tug at his fingers. Eris. He sank to his knees, closed his eyes, and screamed inwardly at the world and everything that was fucking wrong and pointless about it.

“Why don’t we ever get to say goodbye?” he said finally, and she couldn’t answer that.

He reached for the abandoned bottle, overshooting and almost sprawling forward, putting his hand down to balance himself. Smeared the circle. Never mind. He wasn’t going to use it anyway (you were never going to use it because nothing would be crueller). Whoever came up with the jolly idea that most gateway runes worked better wet was an idiot. Rossi had been to plenty of cocked up suicide attempts where the demon had made the rune too small for them to be able to paint it wet and still stand inside without smearing it. Sometimes they survived. Often they didn’t. A misprinted rune could be…

Oh.

Sobriety smashed into him with the realization.

“Get up,” he said to his familiar, and staggered upright. Reached for his keys. Wait, fuck. He was over the limit, he couldn’t drive. Who would be sober this time of the night? “We’re going out.”

Who could he call?

 


 

“Sir, this feels… ick. Like. Super creeptastic. And I really… really don’t want to see, I mean, it hasn’t even sunk in yet and I don’t even know if I miss him because I’m kind of thinking this is all a really bad, stupid, terrible, really bad dream and now we’re here and oh oh oh oh…”

“Penelope.” Rossi turned to her, taking in her vivid orange and purple dressing gown and slippers and shaking body, and rested a hand on her shoulder. “You can wait outside.”

She looked back at him, steel in her gaze despite the tears. Reid’s door stood next to them, silent. A heavy bass beat thudded dully through the door of the apartment that had been Emily’s. “It’s just…” she began, and breathed in deeply. “He’s not going to be there. We’re going to go in and he’s not going to be there, he’s never going to be, and he chose that and oh…” She closed her eyes. “I’m coming. I… I don’t know why you’re doing this, sir, but you’re not doing it alone.”

Atta’ girl.

They hesitated as the door swung open, silently. The apartment seemed cavernous, almost threatening. Shadows and looming shapes and dark patches on the bare floor that Rossi knew were the rune. Garcia began to wheeze, before shouldering past him and storming in. Smacked her hand on the light and every light in the apartment flared on. Rossi heard the fridge choke and splutter at the surge of power, a dull thrum from the bedroom that was probably a TV or radio.

“There!” Garcia declared. “Much less… is that it?” She stared down at the rune, eyes wide, and he saw her flicker. “Oh. Oh. Sir. Those boxes… they have our names on them. He… he left stuff for us. Sir? What are you doing?”

Rossi was, in fact, doing what he did best.

Profiling.

There wasn’t much to go on. The apartment was scrubbed clean. Reid had disabled his security work, swept, even fucking dusted the windowsills. The fridge and cupboards were empty. It absolutely looked like the home of someone who’d left, never expecting to return. And there was the box they’d found in the bedroom, left openly on the bed like a note, like an explanation…

“There was a box,” Rossi said slowly, and didn’t walk to the room. He knew there was nothing in there now but furniture. The cupboard, the closet, the bookshelves, all stripped clean. All packed in the neat piles of boxes around Garcia, or taken to charity shops in the back of the kid’s shitty old Austin. “Drugs. Paraphernalia. Prescription medication. Lots of it. Why would he have left that out for us? Reid hated looking weak. He wouldn’t even take painkillers unless he was incapacitated… why leave that as his legacy?”

Silence. He turned, frowning, mind whirling, to find Garcia staring at him with her eyes bulging. “He was taking drugs?” she whispered, voice muffled behind the hands over her mouth. Damn damn damn. He’d forgotten. He’d gotten so caught up in his head, he’d forgotten the human behind it all… this was Reid. This was their friend. He needed to… “He wouldn’t. No gosh-damned way was he taking drugs, he’s Spencer. I don’t believe it. I won’t.”

“Penelope…” To her credit, when he reached for her arm, she shook him off. Now she was angry. At him? Probably. It was a lot easier to rage at the people who were still alive. Yelling at the dead? It wasn’t anywhere near as satisfying.

Not that Rossi himself hadn’t tried, when Emily had had the audacity to die before him. Damn her. She was supposed to bury him. He had it all planned out: she was going to cry and be all sad and say lovely things at his funeral and he would know, somehow, and be smug about that. His final act, forcing his cocky-ass student to be nice to him for once, instead of contributing to his rapidly greying hair.

“No! Shut—shh!”

…. Did Penelope Garcia just tell him to shut up? Huh.

“I mean, I’m sorry, that was so rude, sorry, but… no. No, nope, that’s not happening. He’s not leaving us that. That’s… that’s… crap.” She whirled, slippers shuffling, and frantically looked around the silent apartment. Stunned, Rossi watched her, not stopping her when she moved towards the boxes. “Can I open these? Is this still under investigation? I’m guessing not because no tape, so I’m just going to…” The sounds of tape tearing and cardboard being torn open filled the air. Rossi padded over and peered over her shoulder. A laptop. A laptop, a few books, letters, a sealed envelope that she hovered her hand over, trembling. He’d left a note. Or several?

The rune. Rossi turned his attention to it. He could see Reid’s mannerisms in it, sections where the Greek flair of the original pattern almost shaped into the Anglican style Reid was more familiar with. It wasn’t as smooth or as complex as one Emily would have made. There wasn’t a smudge or a smear breaking any of the lines, the gaps in the paint wide enough for a person to carefully step their way through to the centre. The only sign that an amateur rune worker had cast it was the scorch marks flaring outward. Rossi wasn’t as good as Emily, but he wouldn’t have royally fucked up the flooring like that either.

He left Garcia still shaking over the note, knowing he’d have to read it himself but god that wasn’t something he’d woken up this morning wanting to do, and paced around the rune.

His behaviour, how erratic he’d been… nails bit into Rossi’s palms as his fists clenched, fighting off the surge of biting, frantic anger that rushed to replace the small hope he’d been toying with. A note, leaving his belongings to them, sticking his tongue down Aaron’s throat, his student… even the dinner party, that final dinner party. They should have seen it. Classic presentation. The person makes a decision to end their lot, and everything is so much easier. So much easier to smile, to pretend, to sit and feed their godson ice cream while weaving a perfect fucking illusion of okayness.

He kicked the burn marks, furious. Fuck Reid. Fuck Reid and fuck his death and fuck the way he’d fucked it up and ruined the goddamn floor, didn’t the man have any kind of care for his home? The whole place ruined, all of it (except for that bit there, right there. See it?), and Rossi was probably going to have to deal with that, deal with it all, because was… what?

A bare patch of floor. The smallest, barest patch of wood. Unmarked. On the outside of the rune. As though someone was standing there. Watching.

Or… casting.

Whirling, Garcia was crying again, the note in her hands, but he ignored it. Dumped his box on the floor, belongings scattering; she cried out with shock, but couldn’t she tell he was looking? Profiling

Reid. What was the first thing he’d learned about Reid? Years ago, all those years ago, when he’d walked into Reid’s room to find Emily curled up on his bed with her heart breaking.

(“He keeps the things he loves close, and the people he loves even closer. Why would a man who cannot forget keep so many mementos? Because he’s scared of forgetting or because he can’t bear to be without those things?”)

JJ’s box. Photos for her, books for Henry. Games and kits for Hotch, for Jack. More books for Morgan—did Reid have anything he loved that wasn’t a book? When he saw him again, he was going to take him out, get him wankered, loosen him up a bit. Show him what fun was, Christ.

When he saw him again? Was he expecting to?

“Garcia, help me,” he ordered, standing up in a sea of scattered belongings. “What’s missing? What would he take if he was leaving?”

Garcia stared at him. “Nuh-nothing,” she stammered, hugging the note close. “You don’t take things with you through gateways. Nothing passes through. I don’t… I don’t know.”

Okay, try again. “What does he love? Besides books?” He flapped his hands at her, coaxing, hurry. As though there was no time. Maybe there was—it had only been less than twenty-four hours. Whatever had happened, whatever choice he had made, it could be undone. If he hadn’t stepped through that gate, they could get him back.

“Um.” She looked around, slowly scanning the motley collection of belongings, the boxes still unopened. “Us. His friends. Emily. His mom. Henry.”

Henry.

“Can you find a drawing? A child’s drawing, of a swing-dinosaur-thing, from Henry. Is it here, anywhere?”

Garcia shot him a frightened look, then began searching. He joined her, picking through every last item, finding what was there, what wasn’t. “There’s no drawing,” she exclaimed finally, and light was beginning to slink in through the curtains. “Rossi, what are we looking for?”

She was right. No drawing. Every box was open, every single fucking one, and there was no drawing. In the books, the ridiculous amount of books, there was a single notable one missing. A book of poetry, a tiny, leather bound book with musty pages and a bent spine from being held open loose in a hand. The book that Rossi knew the sentimental little weirdo kept photos tucked within. One of Emily, conspicuously. The book Reid had taken to carrying with him recently, like he couldn’t bear to let it out of his sight.

And the knife. Emily’s knife. Reid wouldn’t have thrown it out or just into a box, not when he didn’t know who would be sorting through them… he wasn’t that thoughtless. He’d taken it. Taken all three items.

He wasn’t dead.

That little shit.

 


 

He found Aaron in his office. Between Reid’s apartment and the Bureau, while humming non-committal answers to Garcia’s concerned queries about why he was going to work in yesterday’s clothes and stinking of whiskey, he’d done a lot of thinking. A lot of thinking.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” Hotch said when Rossi strode in, and Rossi took a moment to note that he wasn’t the only one in yesterday’s clothes.

“You bastard,” Rossi replied, and Aaron blinked.

“Pardon?”

“You bastard,” Rossi repeated, since Aaron appeared to have gone fucking deaf in the hours since he’d seen him last. “She’s not dead.”

A coffin that was a shade too light. Aaron standing back at her funeral, like he was unsure if he was supposed to be there. They hadn’t let Rossi see the body. Family only, they’d murmured. Because Emily could spin a rune to make her look dead to Reid, blinded by grief and trust, but Rossi would have seen through it in an instant.

Aaron swallowed and leaned back in his chair. There was a long moment where he visibly considered continuing to lie.

“Dave,” Aaron began, and Rossi cut him off. No time for the man to talk stupid, they could still fix this.

“He’s gone after her,” he said, and Aaron paled. “You idiot, he knows, and he’s gone after her.”

To give him credit, Aaron’s voice didn’t falter despite his skin taking on an interesting shade of grey. “He wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t do that to JJ or to Henry.”

They hit the same conclusion at the same time; Rossi watched it happen.

“Well,” Rossi said softly, “At least we now know why he threw himself at you. That’s cheeky of him. I’m proud. Where is she, Aaron? Where is he going?”

Aaron dropped his head into his hands and his shoulders slumped. Whatever hope Rossi had been bearing that this could be over soon faded with the defeated movement. “We lost her,” he breathed, voice muffled by his fingers. “She took off after Doyle and we haven’t been able to get hold of her since.”

“Where?”

Damnit, Prentiss. Not now. Not when he was just about to right all the wrongs of this year.

Dear world, don’t half give her back to me. Don’t offer me this and then take it away.

Don’t you fucking dare.

“Russia.”

Chapter Text

The benefit of being a demon was that Reid was powerful enough that he’d never encountered a magical working strong enough to hurt him unless it was intended to. He knew Emily hadn’t been quite so lucky—mental shielding left her cranky with a lingering headache and even minor healing exhausted her physical reserves. Hotch had taken three times as long to recover from Foyet as Reid would have had he suffered the same degree of injury, simply because the medical magi had to continually tone down their magic so they wouldn’t spell-scald him.

The mental shielding that the CIA issued hurt. It didn’t just hurt. Reid had known pain, known it well. He’d lived with it as a constant companion for two years of his life. This wasn’t pain on that level. It wasn’t a slow, debilitating pain that never let you forget that it was one careless movement away.

It was splitting. White-hot and absolutely agonising.

As soon as the pain hit, he knew why they’d made him kneel in an iron-rune designed to stop him casting. He’d have killed them in a heartbeat just to stop it. He heard Enguerrand cry out, his voice harsh and unfamiliar. But the pain was quick, at least. It came, followed shortly by the horrific sensation of the magus’s fingers trailing through his mind and leaving a strange bubbling-plastic feel behind them, and then there was nothing for the longest time.

He woke up on the floor in the whitewashed medical bay, still in the iron rune with a blanket over his shoulders. Enguerrand slumped against a wall across from him, scowling even through the sickly green tinge to his skin. His arm was crooked back behind his head, hand resting an ice pack on his neck, splatters of red patterned down his white shirt.

“That,” Enguerrand said slowly, and the stuttering halt to his voice was pronounced enough that Reid suspected the man was sicker than he was letting on, “was unpleasant. Can you stand? The magi wanted to stay. I disliked their presence and assured them I would show some kind of care for you. You’re welcome for the blanket, by the way.”

Reid tensed his neck tentatively, sliding one hand slowly against the smooth floor to lever himself up. His gut lurched and he buckled, but not quick enough to stop himself from spitting up the remains of that morning’s coffee onto the delicately etched iron workings inlaid into the tiles. “No,” he croaked, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. “A minute, please.”

He could feel Enguerrand studying him from against the wall. “Good,” the man said finally, and gestured towards him with the ice-pack, “I wasn’t wholly keen on getting up just yet either.”

Reid caught the ice-pack as Enguerrand lobbed it at him. It was half-melted, semi-warm from the other man’s fingers, and trickled down his palms. Enguerrand said nothing, just closed his eyes and let his head knock back against the wall with what was almost a groan. There were traces of dried blood on his chin where he’d missed wiping it. Epistaxis. A sure-fire sign that the magic worked on him was far too strong. Perhaps Reid had gotten off easily. He lay back down, pressed the icepack to his forehead, and waited for the sickness to pass.

It was only an hour later that he noticed how empty his mind had become. The shield blocked everything. When he brushed accidentally against one of the magi on the way out of the bay, he felt nothing. Not the man’s emotions, not whether or not he was attracted to anyone in the vicinity, none of the bevy of biological processes that his kind was keenly attuned to. When Reid turned his attention inward, his mind was a clear-empty space of just… him. Him, and a strangely textured area of the shield they’d keyed to allow his bond with Enguerrand. And one small bubble of personality tucked away that hummed when Reid poked at it with his magic curiously. It wasn’t his personality. So far as he could tell, it wasn’t his or Emily’s or even Enguerrand’s. It was decidedly unfamiliar.

Odd. But… Reid was… alone. For once, not a slave to his senses. He could profile the people around him with the skills he’d chosen to learn, instead of the dark hunger rearing itself unexpectedly and reminding him they’re all just the sum of their bodies, in case you’d forgotten.

He couldn’t hide his smile.

 


 

Both of them moved as cautiously as though they were recovering from the ill-effects of copious alcohol consumption, and there was a smug glee at their discomfort on Carrick’s bearing that Reid really hoped was aimed more at Enguerrand than himself. “Right, hop along then,” Carrick was saying, clapping his hands together. At the clap of his palms meeting, Enguerrand flinched, glaring. Carrick smiled, broader, and did it again. Reid swallowed, tasting bile. “You have six hours until your flight is due to leave, and we still have arrangements to make. You’ll be briefed properly on the jet—your case officer will be travelling with you as far as Moscow, and then she’ll be tracking you via the spell-work you, Agent Enguerrand, will be laying. Dr. Reid, we’ve organized for a call to be placed just after you’ve boarded the jet reporting a disturbance at your apartment. Your gateway will be discovered then.”

The kick of guilt and horror at the reminder of the nightmare he’d crafted for his loved ones was staggering. Trying to speak, he was left mouthing dumbly as he failed to find the exact string of words that were appropriate for this situation. Enguerrand glanced at him and smirked. A small part of Reid wondered if the man even had anyone to mislead. If he’d ever had anyone to mislead. Somehow, he doubted it.

Carrick was still talking. They were walking—slowly—down a silent hallway below ground. Reid wondered who they had tucked away down here, and why it had taken five separate security checks to gain access. “You still both need to be outfitted. Notably, illusion runes to get you across borders if necessary. If you are recognised as an incubus, all this deception will account to very little, Dr. Reid…”

Enguerrand’s eyes snapped back to Reid, dark and emotionless. He wondered what was behind them. Shock? Distaste? Maybe the man knew just as much about Reid as what Reid knew about him. That was to say, nothing.

“… you’ll note that your shields have your covers inbuilt into them. In the event of torture or non-magical means of gaining access to your identities, you can activate those and it will be nigh impossible to tell that you are not who you say you are. They’ll fool almost any truth spell or sensor. Almost. I don’t think you’ll be running into any elves working the slave trade, but anyone can be brought. The spellwork is originally elvish—they’ll almost certainly recognise it immediately, even if they don’t realize what exactly it is. Enguerrand, your birds—”

“Come with me,” Enguerrand replied, voice cold. “I am a bird mage, Carrick. I refuse to work without them. You’ve crippled me enough, saddling me with the gimpy demon, are you deliberately trying to get me killed? I could save you the trouble right now if you’re so determined.”

Carrick made a soft noise, almost frustrated, staring ahead with his shoulders stiff. “Dr. Reid is more than he appears. You’d do well to work together rather than lean on your birds—”

“Noted.” Enguerrand turned his head, tilted slightly to the side, and Reid could see traces of raptor on his features. A hint to his specialization, if the heavy leather shoulders and cuffs on his arms hadn’t already given it away. This close up, Reid could see that the pattern of lines and dashes he’d seen weren’t a pattern at all, but countless abrasions caused by razor-sharp talons gripping tightly to the mage’s limbs. Ignoring the cruel half-smile playing on the man’s lips, Reid focused instead on his ear, barely visible under a whorl of dark curls, and a glint of silver hanging from his lobe. “If there is ever a situation where it would be apropos to fuck our way out of trouble, I’ll be sure to call on you, Doctor. For everything else, I will have my birds. This is not negotiable. When are we to be bound?”

“Now,” Carrick snapped, shooting Reid an apologetic look. “There’s one last… detail.”

Enguerrand opened his mouth to speak, but Reid found himself very abruptly sick of his voice. “What?” he said, bluntly, voice loud to cut the mage off. Enguerrand looked almost pleased, closing his mouth and glancing away to hide a twitch at the corner of his lips. Shoving back a sharp spark of dislike that he felt almost guilty to be cultivating so soon, Reid was harsher than he would have usually been. “What else could there possibly be?”

“A demon will not escape notice within the ranks of the traffickers if they’re heading into the Middle East, which they will almost certainly be doing so if they wish to transport to their hub point in Dubai. Not… not a familial bound one.”

Reid went cold. His cane slipped in his palm, pitching him unevenly sideways on the next step, his elbow grazing against Enguerrand’s forearm. To his credit, the mage ignored him, despite Reid’s misstep throwing him off balance. To his credit, Enguerrand hadn’t just ignored him. He’d turned pallid.

“No,” he snarled, stopping. Reid stood between them, Carrick and the furious mage, and tried to remember how to breathe. “I absolutely will not be a part of that. What you are suggesting isn’t only illegal—it’s the death penalty for me!”

They wouldn’t thrall-bind him. They couldn’t. He wouldn’t. Not even for Emily. He’d die first.

But.

They… wouldn’t.

The next breath Reid drew was cold and clear and his mind whirred back into gear. “He’s not suggesting I be thrall-bound,” he said once, and Enguerrand didn’t seem to hear him through his fury. “He’s suggesting we… make it look like I have been.” The satisfied nod Carrick gave was enough to confirm Reid’s theory. “He was testing you. He wanted to see what your reaction would be to offering such… power.” His voice sounded odd. Croaky. He realized how little he’d spoken that day. It seemed appropriate. He wasn’t really Spencer Reid anymore, and he didn’t know who they wanted him to be yet. Instead, he was no-one. A man between identities. Nothing, really. He was nothing.

Foyet had always told him that Nothing had no voice of his own.

“It is power,” Carrick added, taking a single step towards a plainly painted blue door, “to have a thrall-bound demon. And we’re sending you into a veritable smorgasbord of them. Forgive me for feeling some last-minute unease about this, what with your… history.” Enguerrand was silent. Reid wasn’t the only one holding his past close in this team. He wasn’t sure if that was comforting or concerning.

“Will I be…” The words tangled on Reid’s tongue and choked him, and he realized suddenly that he’d raised his hand to itch at the crook of his arm, dropping it away. “… banded?” Downside of an eidetic memory. The memory of the slick cold-metal touch of the gilded bands wrapping around his arms, slicing into his skin, burning him when he disobeyed… Reid could trace the exact pattern they’d formed on his skin, brush his fingers against the scars they’d left, the scars he’d left on the nights he had nothing to do but lose himself in his mind, clawing at the metal until it was red and slippery against his nails.

Enguerrand straightened, his shoulder brushing Reid’s bicep. “Oh, he breathed quietly, looking at Reid’s arms. Now he knew. Reid had been stupid to hope he could hide it. “There are worse things.” His tone was mild, murmuring, and Carrick frowned at the words. Reid understood though. Enguerrand wasn’t mocking him here, for once. More like, he’d finally solved some puzzle that had been bothering him, one that Reid had issued when he’d so calmly agreed to a shield that could destroy him.

“You will,” Carrick replied softly, and opened the door, “but they’ll be merely frauds. You’ll retain your freedom. Are you ready?”

Was he ready? Ready to relive everything that still haunted him? Was he strong enough for this?

He thought of his team. His watch read 08:37. Morgan would still be sleeping; the man was always on the cusp of being late. Garcia wrapped up in fluffy blankets in her apartments within the Bureau, maybe with one eye opened and dreading her alarm. Hotch would be awake, getting Jack ready for school. JJ and Will with Henry, the same. Rossi woke up early every morning to have a coffee on his back porch, no matter the weather. None of them knew what the day was bringing. What it didn’t have to bring just yet. He could stop this right now. Go home, scratch the paint off the wood, reply to the texts they’d sent him.

His fingers found the book in his pocket, traced the gilded lettering.

“I’m ready,” he said, and strode forward.

 


 

The room they were led into was bare, sparsely decorated. It stank of sage and copper and something bitterly cloying that reminded Reid savagely of Hankel. He knew the smell. It sickened him.

Necromancy.

“This is where I leave you,” Carrick murmured, still in the doorway with his arm flung out to hold the door open. “You’ll be bound, then almost immediately after be taken to collect your belongings, and then to your flight. Romain? Spencer?” They both looked back at him, silent. His throat worked for a moment, and Reid wondered how many men and women he’d done this to before. Given them a goal, given them a job, and never had them return. Did he expect them to come back? Or was this his goodbye? “Good luck,” he said finally, and nodded sharply. “Your country stands with you.”

Then he was gone, and they were alone.

“Agent Enguerrand,” Reid said finally, the silence between them crushing. “I just—”

“Romain.” Enguerrand’s expression was almost unreadable, but his eyes lingered on the three firmly closed doors that led somewhere, behind which were probably things both of them were better off not knowing about. It was an almost nervous wariness with which he was regarding them. “You’re about to find domicile within my head. I think the formality is a little excessive, n'est-ce pas ?

Reid shrugged, rocking back onto the ball of his heels, the hand not holding his cane still wrapped around the book in his pocket, like it was the only thing anchoring himself to his calm. “I guess. I don’t speak French.”

A heavy huff was his answer to that. “Bien sûr que non,” Engue—Romain—answered snidely, “I’m not surprised. Just what exactly can you do?” His temper flared. The air crackled slightly around them and he settled his mouth, lips open slightly, tasting the storm on the brink. There was an answering warning rumble from the walls as they sensed his magic, and Romain looked around. “Ah, so you do have spine,” Romain said, grinning. “I was beginning to wonder if I should change my specialization to ‘mouse mage’ to reflect your absolute passivity.”

One of the doors opening cut him off, and a young woman stepped out. Dressed in a clean, white lab-coat with dark red hair clipped back into a tight bun, she was young, pretty, and a necromancer. Reid could smell it instantly. Managing his expression into blank indifference was easy, but he felt his wings almost mantle defensively at the remembered scent. Necromancers were never a good thing in his line of work. Never. They’d been responsible for the darkest moments of his life.

He doubted this would change that pattern.

Romain didn’t seem to notice.

The necromancer looked down at the clipboard in her hands. Her fingernails were painted, alternating red and black with a pattern on the thumb. If Reid wasn’t so busy trying not to despise her for what she was, it would have almost humanized her. “Romain Enguerrand? Spencer Reid? Step this way, please. You’ll be separated while we organize the preliminary paperwork and measure you for the false bands, Dr. Reid, then returned together to complete the binding. It’s a quick procedure. Come along.”

The door opened into a small row of rooms. Romain was led into one without looking back. Reid, another. “Wait here, please,” the woman said, gesturing to a seat against the wall and placing her clipboard onto the desk. “I’ll return in a moment.” She left him there. Unsettled with the closeness of the room once the door was closed, Reid looked around for anything to take his mind off the smell, the coming events, the phone call to his team that was (three hours, thirty-eight minutes away) to occur soon. There was nothing there, just a computer with the Windows logo bouncing around the screen and the woman’s… clipboard.

It was the work of a heartbeat to stand, flip through the pages, and commit them to memory. He dropped the board carefully back into position and was back in his seat in less than thirty seconds, as the door opened again and she sidled back in, a tape measure in hand.

“Right, roll your sleeves up, please. Forearm, bicep, or whole arm? What measure of power are we going for?” The tape measure snapped in her hands as she flexed it, dragging her chair next to his and perching on the edge. His breath dragged. “Dr. Reid?”

Shoving away the spark of fear-worry-anxiety that had flooded him, he smiled shakily and focused instead on her lips, the shine of her chap-stick. When he spoke, his voice croaked. “Forearm. Please.” Whole arm would indicate a lot more power than he was entirely sure Romain possessed. Bicep would be more difficult to keep in view. And, for selfish reasons, Reid couldn’t handle the idea of whole arm bindings. Not again.

Fingers brushed his skin, along with the cool touch of the tape, and almost automatically he tried to reach for her. Her emotions, her physiological arousal, anything. Instead of the expected—because he’d never not encountered anything before, not once tactile contact had been established—rush of her, he found nothing but the plastic-wrap feel of his shield.

Huh. He’d forgotten.

Instead, he closed his eyes and ran over the papers he’d read on the clipboard, waiting for her to finish measuring him up for a nightmare he’d never quite escaped from the first time.

 


 

Central Intelligence Agency

Personnel Record: FOR MEDICAL PURPOSES ONLY

Controlled UNCLASSIFIED Confidential

AGENT - ENGUERRAND, Romain EMPLOYEE ID NO: 420704254-OPA

Status - ACTIVE CIA Field Agent

HUMAN, Magus accipiter dark

SSN: ------------ INSURANCE IDs: ------ DOB: May 12, 1976

RANK - LOW RANK: THIRD CIRCLE CASTING

CLEARANCE: LEVEL II renewed 07/05/2010

------------

ICE Contact: NIL

Known Allergens: NIL

Known Conflicts: I.H.S. TRI-MACIKA

Medical History:

04/17/2011 – cleared for field duty. Nil issues

04/10/2010 – cleared for field duty. Nil issues

01/03/2010 – recovery confirmed. clear for field duty.

11/12/2009 – minor abrasions/single penetrating wound to the right lower sector of abdomen sustained during vehicle collision. Healing applied 12c > 14ccc at a medium rank, 3cc/hr. Est. two weeks’ recovery before fit for active duty. Nil casting permitted.

04/18/2008 – cleared for field duty. Nil issues

04/20/2007 – cleared for field duty. Nil issues

04/03/2007 – familial damage see file

 


 

Binding required physical contact. They gripped each other’s wrists in a parody of a handshake, their other arms hanging by their sides. Eyes averted; neither was comfortable with this tactile connection. Reid stared at the collar of Romain’s shirt, breathing evenly to match the steady rise and fall of the other man’s chest, and tried not to focus on the warm pressure of fingers against his pulse. Where his fingers lay would be where the binding rune would appear, and vice versa on Romain’s own arm.

The hand against his wrist gripped tightly, not wavering, and the firm weight of his hand made it oddly easy to pick up the irregularities of texture on Romain’s fingers. Sections of ridged skin. Where the sensitive pads of Reid’s fingers brushed the other man’s, he could feel similar marking. Scars. Reid looked down, scanning the hand that rested on him, noting the white lines and pockmarks earned from a lifetime of working with the savage birds the man’s magic attuned him to. Odd. His magic should have protected him from any adverse reaction from the animals.

“Ready?” asked the magus, and quietly began chanting to activate the rune under their feet. Romain sucked in a sharp breath between his teeth, tilted his head back to look Reid in the eye as the rune hummed and was suddenly there.

It wasn’t like Emily at all. With Emily, she was everything. She was his heart and his mind, body and soul. He knew where she was and he knew how she was feeling, unless she wished it otherwise. Their magic complimented each other’s, their minds sought the other. Romain was there, but he wasn’t. The pressure on Reid’s wrist became a buzzing knowledge of the other man, a quiet awareness of another living being within his world, but no more than that. There was a suggestion of muted power emanating from both Romain himself and the small part of Reid’s mind where their familial bond was forming a wavering connection between the two.

From that connection, Reid could feel… arrogance. Wariness. The jittery edginess of a creature of the sky confined to the ground, one Reid knew well. There was also excitement tempering it all, an almost unnoticeable edge of what Reid almost thought could be jealously, and a carefully hidden emotion that Reid knew Romain had no idea he could detect. Without the greater range his own abilities gave him, it would have remained hidden. A thrumming, constant awareness of where their hands met. It was savagely melancholic, both hating and craving the touch. Reid knew that feeling, knew it so well he almost shivered from the reminder of it.

Loneliness.

The connection strengthened. “Your duty to each other, as familiar and mage,” the magus prompted them, bored with the proceedings. Reid’s wrist burned. His hip did too, a memory of a hand on his hip and Emily against him.

Familiar first. The mage’s first duty was to their familiar.

He’d never been bound formally before. What he and Emily had done had never been done before. But Rossi had overseen the formalities, the recitation of their duties to each other, even though the bond was long undertaken by that point, and Reid knew the words.

“Within our lives, for this time, I choose to walk with you as companion.” When he’d last said these words, Emily had sniggered and broken the sombre mood, earning her a scowl from Rossi. Familiar with benefits, she’d mouthed, and he’d almost laughed. “Within our magic, for this time, I choose to walk with you as guide, as a fixed point for you to return.” Her smile had faded at this point, becoming soft and longing. She’d given him the look at that moment, that look she gave him when she remembered just how much they loved. His heart ached and he swallowed, twice, feeling Romain’s grip loosen very slightly in response to his anxiety. “Within… within this circle, for this time, I bind myself to you. As companion, as guide, as friend, we walk together. This is my choice, and I choose it to be. Nemo nisi per amicitiam cognoscitur.”

I love you, Emily had sent as he said the quiet words. As lover and heart and soul, and so much more.

Romain nodded slowly, eyes on his. There was a gentleness to his mouth that suggested the man wasn’t as unperturbed by the proceedings as he was trying to appear. Reid took another breath that shuddered, his chest tight, and felt the connection latch. Almost complete. “Within our lives, for this time, I accept your companionship as a gift freely given.” Romain’s voice was steady. “Within our magic, for this time, I follow your guidance. Within this circle, for this time, I bind myself to you. As companion, as protector, as… friend… we walk together. This is your choice and your gift, and I accept all you offer. Nemo nisi per amicitiam cognoscitur.”

The connection cemented. They dropped their hands to their sides, Reid wiping his palm on his pants, neither looking at the other.

It was done.

There were no quiet words between them. Romain turned to the door, already disinterested with the proceedings, and Reid watched numbly as the magus gathered together the measurements she’d taken ready to cast the bindings to his arms. The connection was strong. He was innately aware of Romain’s presence, the unfamiliar flavour to his personality that he knew would become as familiar as his own in time; they were joined. It didn’t stop it from feeling an awful lot like alone. He turned his wrist and examined the rune, the unfamiliar shape of it. Blue and silver, with a dark point in the middle denoting their dark affined magicka. It was his own Anglican Latin-work evenly coiled with a script that Reid recognised as decidedly more Gallo-Rhaetian tracing the outside with bird-like ticks and whirls. Feathered and winged and ferociously hooked. Oddly, there was a strange coil of rune in the centre bracketed by his Anglican that was neither his nor Romain’s. When he touched the tips of his fingers to it, it hummed in response and felt almost like…

Emily.

“Okay, arms out please, Dr. Reid,” the magus said, and he froze. In his mind, he remembered gold and blood and a roiling, thick, black darkness that twined up his legs and body until he was pinned by it. The gold. On his arms, twisted along them from wrist to bicep, cruel and immovable and catching his eye every time he stepped into the sun and it caught the light.

A flicker. Romain turned, his expression strange and eyes fixed on Reid’s motionless arms. “Silver, if you please,” he said suddenly, voice clipped. The magus paused from where she was expectantly tapping her foot, waiting for Reid to respond to her.

“Gold is traditional,” she began, and Romain’s mouth twisted into a sneer that sat a lot easier on his features than the odd almost-dismay that Reid thought he’d seen just a moment ago.

“Silver, please,” he snapped, turning back to the door as though bored. “I work better with silver than gold. Gold is… soft. Reactive. I dislike it.”

The magus scowled. “Silver fights magic, it will take me twice as long and may affect his spell-casting—”

“It will not. He is a demon; silver has no bearing on him. Ensure it doesn’t tarnish while you’re at it. Hurry up.”

The pressure of the bindings was still unbearable when they applied them, but when Reid looked down after it was done, it was the white glint of silver that met his eyes instead of the slick gold sheen the pressure led him to expect.

Somehow, it was better.

 


 

Their handler was a woman, and a werewolf. Reid knew her for what she was as soon as he stepped onto the jet that was just close enough in layout to the FBI’s that he had to pause to gather his bearings. The woman stood to greet them, blonde hair tied into a loose ponytail in a jaunty kind of style that was so achingly JJ that Reid was reminded abruptly that soon, right now in fact, a phone was going to ring. A life was going to end.

They were going to grieve for him.

“Welcome,” she said, smiling crookedly. A scar ran across her cheekbone, puckered and cruel, and Reid could see exactly where canines had punched into her jaw. Werewolves fought rarely amongst their own, but when it happened there was little time for mercy. “You can call me Paget.”

“We’re to assume that’s not your name then?” Romain asked, sidling past Reid with his eyes locked on a point just past the woman. Reid followed his gaze, finding his shoulder bag, another backpack that he assumed was Romain’s, and an oddly shaped, covered container that Romain moved quickly towards.

“Obviously,” she replied, stepped aside to let him past. “I have files here for you both. You’ll have ten hours until we touch down in Helsinki to acquaint yourselves with… yourselves. Charlie, please don’t release them in here.”

Romain paused, his hand tugging back the heavy covering to reveal thin wiring. “Charlie?” he murmured, one eyebrow lifting. “Quaint. Do I not get a say in the name I am issued?” Ignoring her request, he dragged the covering back and unhooked the door, peering in. Reid watched with interest as the man drew his hand back from within the dark depths of the cage, a heavy, slate-grey feathered raptor clinging tenuously to his arm with its beak hanging open in a furious grimace. “Salut, annoying thing.” Despite his scolding tone, the finger he brushed against the bird’s wide chest was gentle. The raptor rattled its plumage at the touch, a silvered crest rising along the back of its head, settling its feathers into disarray and marring the neat pattern of large, black spots along its back and wings. It was a stunning, if intimidating, creature. It turned its head to gaze unblinkingly at Reid, eyes dark against a vividly orange, featherless face, and he felt almost hunted.

“We’re not in the job of spoiling our operatives,” Paget responding, pulling a face of distaste at the large bird and turning to Reid. She held out a file that he took mutely, eyeing her bitten fingernails. “Do you speak or does your obnoxious friend here do all the speaking for you?”

“He is a mouse,” Romain mocked quietly, teasing his bird’s talon up to run a finger over its foot, examining it critically. “A darkling mouse. Good luck with him, I’ve had none.”

Reid opened the file and skimmed it, crooking his cane over his elbow where it rattled against the silver band on his forearm. They ended below the elbow, thick enough at the wrist to cover the familial rune, but close enough to irritate when he bent his arm. “Wait,” he said suddenly, eyes settling on the name he’d been issued. “This… this is a demon name.” ‘Numair’ the file read. No family name. Traditionally inclined demons didn’t claim family ties. They had a singular name of their own, shared with no other living demon. When they died, the name returned to the pool, to be given to a new demon. It was a practise that was sorely out of favour. Diana Reid had named him for a human. “No son of mine will be isolated in such a way,” she’d explained when he’d asked why. “You have a family. Be proud.”

“You are a demon, are you not?” Paget asked, right as the seatbelt sign clicked on over their heads. “Ah, take off. Get comfortable. Acquaint yourselves. When you’re ready, we’ll brief. Charlie, I really must ask, don’t let the animals out. They smell.”

Romain tsked with his tongue and turned to the seat, settling his bird more comfortably on his arm before sprawling onto it with a complete disregard for decorum. Reid inched forward, hearing the door closing behind him, the pilot chattering with the co-pilot. As soon as the door sealed, it closed out the hum of the airfield outside. The hum of DC.

This was it.

The file shook in his hand, just once. Inside, Numair was ready to become a reality. Numair the demon, and nothing else. No Spencer Reid, son of Diana, friend of David and Jennifer and Derek and…

He couldn’t think about them. It would hurt too much. He bundled them up, along with everything else he was leaving behind, and shoved them to the back of his mind, in a battered box that held everything else he wished he could forget. Limping forward, he found his seat next to the cage, the faintest scent of meat and avian waste tickling his nose. He guessed it was a scent he’d have to adjust to. The book in his pocket was heavy. Brushing his fingers against it, he took a shuddering breath as the jet began to taxi forward. Across from him, Romain was flipping through the file with one hand while the other idly trailed across the bird’s back and wings. Paget settled back into her chair, opening an even thicker file, and smiled distractedly across to him. He wondered where her pack was. He wondered if she missed them.

There was a soft ki-yak noise from the cage, and a small head poked out to stare at him. Slender and drab in brown and white, the tiny hawk stepped out delicately onto the rim of the cage and chittered again, curious. “Ah, other annoying thing,” Romain said, glancing up and back down again. “Did you hear? They’ve named me Charlie, of all things.” The bird made a noise that was very close to a laugh, and Reid felt a muted kind of affection that wasn’t his own through their bond, muffled by their shields.

Huh. The man did care for something after all. That was promising at least.

Reid closed his eyes, the file resting on his lap, and tried not to imagine a phone ringing, or an empty apartment that stank of sulphur. He’d rest. He’d rest and then…

Then he’d face the demon named Numair.

 


 

She crowds him on the couch, feigning fright at the movie on the screen of his TV. “Hmm,” she says, and the noise rumbles through her and into his chest. It’s the work of a second to wrap his arms around her and pull her close to his body, her back warm and solid against him. “Spree killer, disorganized. Devolving. What do you think? Mother issues?”

He barely glances at the screen. There’s nothing on there that interests him as much as the shape of her lips, the profile of her face when she smiles. “Definitely,” he agrees placidly, and leans his mouth against her neck. “Suicide by cop seems a likely end. Tragic.”

“Tragic,” gasps Emily, and arches back into him as his tongue flicks against her warm skin. “What’s this?”

Hands on his arms, tracing the bands. He blinks. The moment shatters. He’d forgotten.

“They’re temporary,” he says, but she pulls away, her eyes dark and worried. Darker than he remembers them. Or are they? Has he forgotten? He stares in her eyes and tries to remember exactly what shade they were. “They’re until I find you.”

“No.” She shakes her head and stands, backing away from him. “How could you? I’m not worth that, Spence.”

How can he tell her she’s worth so much more?

“It’s an act,” he pleads, but she’s already walking away. “It’s just an act.” He needs her to turn around, needs to see her eyes, but when he goes to follow her his bad knee buckles under him.

It’s just an act.

 


 

[REDACTED]

Personnel Record

Controlled CLASSIFIED Confidential

NAME - NUMAIR EMPLOYEE ID NO: [REDACTED]

Status – [REDACTED]

DEMONIC, Cacodemon furcifer dark

DOB: May 9, 1981

RANK – LOW/MEDIUM-LOW RANK

Known Family: Nil living

Classification: NUMAIR – THRALLBOUND DEMON 111.107.557 DAI CA FUR N

Known Abilities: As given by the Ars Goetia Classification of Demons: The furcifer is a cacodemon, a dark demon, a liar unless compelled to enter a runic triangle where he gives true answers to every question. Furcifer causes love between a man and a woman (known now to be untrue – the classification of furcifer and incubus were distorted in the mid-17th century), creates storms, tempests, thunder, lightning, and blasts, and teaches on secret and divine things.

He is depicted as a hart or winged hart, and also as an angel (glamour of wings will be unnecessary under this classification unless travelling clandestinely. Glamour of horns will be appropriate in such situations to ensure they more resemble apposite origins). To some authors he changes from hart into angel when compelled to enter the runic triangle (DO NOT allow yourself to be ensnared in a runic binding. Glamours and illusions will be void within them and those familiar enough to snare you will know your form is false if you cannot take the shape of a hart).

 


 

The briefing was quick. All information they knew. Paget eventually fell asleep after assuring them she’d be travelling with them as far as Moscow, leaving Reid and Romain alone with the birds and the remnants of Reid’s unsettling dream. He didn’t overly trust his dreams anymore. Even without Doyle manipulating them, his own mind had betrayed him before. It would one day likely do it again.

“These shields are unsettling,” Romain murmured suddenly, five hours in, watching the smaller of his birds as it preened under its wing. “I can’t sense properly through them. Even my birds, they sound…”

“Muted,” Reid finished, probing at his own shield. It was bewildering. He could sense Romain there, but there was a fog between them and left him with the constant sensation that he was trying to clear water from his eyes in order to see clearly. “It’s likely that will get worse if we travel away from each other. What if one of us needs to meet with Paget? We could lose each other in a foreign country, which would be… problematic.” For me, was tacked, unspoken, onto the end of that. As a mage, Romain could probably either talk or—considering the sheet of liquidated money they had available to them in an array of accounts and currencies that Paget had presented them with—bribe his way back to safety. For Reid, however, as a demon in many of the countries they were going to, drawing attention to himself with bribes would be a guaranteed one-way trip to a Gulag, or a hasty and doubtlessly painful exorcism. In others, while his existence was permitted, him having money was not.

Romain grunted, brow furrowed for a moment. Finally, he nodded, reluctantly. “D'accord, okay,” he murmured, and whistled shrilly. Paget didn’t startle awake at the noise, but Reid saw a glint of white and brown as one of her eyes slitted open to study him. “Little annoying, get here.” The brown bird hopped towards him, looking irate. When it found a perch on his hand, allowing Romain to draw it against his chest to fiddle with its leg, Reid noted a thin blue ribbon looped around its leg. A silver bell was attached, but remained mute even as he untied it.

A good start to any acquaintanceship, Reid surmised, was showing interest. And he didn’t have to fake it. Avian orientated magic wasn’t anything he was familiar with, especially not to a dark affined mage. “What is it?” he asked, leaning closer to them to examine the bird’s buff and brown streaked chest. “Its species, I mean. It’s rather small. Female? Sexual dimorphism is common in raptor breeds, especially hawks and eagles.”

She,” Romain confirmed, and twisted his arm so Reid could get a better view of her, “is a hen harrier. Terrible, common animals. Aren’t you, Ma Puce ?” The bird flicked her beak away from him, called a harsh chi-ik and turned her back on them to flare her wings and tail out, showing off her rufous markings and long wing chord.

“She’s beautiful,” Reid said quietly, and Romain looked startled. Then pleased. “Her name?”

“Revenir.” Romain flicked her beak with a dull tock and she squalled and hopped from his hand onto the table, skittering closer to Reid. “You may touch her, if she allows it. I don’t recommend the same flippancy with Gambit. He is quick to anger, big enough to scar, and would delight in a taste of a mouse, even a darkling one like you. Here—take this. Do not lose it. I would rather shoot you myself than lose this.”

Reid held his hand out and Romain dropped the bell from Revenir’s leg onto his palm. As soon as the cool metal touched his skin, the bell tinked quietly, sending a thrum of something cold and thrilling down Reid’s spine. Unfamiliar magic, friendly. It whistled against his own and nestled close, the metal of the bell gleefully warming from the heat of his body.

“Wear that somewhere against your skin,” Romain explained, and reached a hand up to tap at the smaller version on his lobe. It rang as his nail rapped it, despite Reid being sure it had never made a noise before then. “The shield may disallow us to speak together, but these will ensure we are not lost to one another. Revenir will always find me, bell or no. I’m not so sure of your ability to navigate your way home, darkling.”

There it was again.

“Darkling is a slur,” Reid said softly, rolling the bell in his fingers. “Is your problem with me my species? Do you subscribe to the belief that because I am demon-kind, I’m not to be trusted?”

Romain raised an eyebrow, his mouth thinning. Whatever small rapport they’d managed vanished like it had never been. “Numair,” he said smoothly, and turned the name into almost an insult with the way he rolled it on his tongue. “You’re mistaken. It’s not that I don’t trust you because you’re a demon… I don’t make a habit of trusting anyone. You’d do well to learn from that.”

“You’re saying I shouldn’t trust you?” Reid was stunned. They were a team. How could they not establish trust? How could he possibly expect to work without trust? Hotch would never work like this, a small voice in his mind whispered, and he shoved it away roughly.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. We are not friends, no matter what fanciful notions of companionship the runes on our wrists come with. We are not companions. You are not my guide. You are merely another in a long line of operatives the CIA has pushed my way in order to achieve their own ends—the rest burned out, and I don’t doubt you will, too.” Romain’s voice was cruel but his face was impassive. There was little feeling from his mind, his emotions blank. “We’re landing. Gather your things. We’re not a team, Numair. We’re doing a job and when the job is done, we’ll part ways. Until then, don’t get in my way.”

He got up, whistling for the larger of the birds and walking away without even checking to see if the hen harrier was following. Reid sat, stunned, and tried to remember how to work alone. He wondered what his team was doing now. Mourning him. Coming to terms with what he’d done to them. Probably hating him also, just a little. As he gathered his bag and followed Romain from the jet into the sharp chill and green acres of Finland, feeling so thoroughly far from home he ached, he was silent. Grieving with his team.

Grieving with them because it had only been ten hours of six months, and he missed Spencer Reid, too.

Chapter Text

“Put this on.” Romain’s face was expressionless as he handed Reid the heavy coat in his hands. “You may have to take it off to get through security, but wear it immediately after. It’s spelled to hide what you are.”

Tugging it open, Reid ran his finger over the thick lining. There was the suggestion of stitch-work under the wool, runes imbedded into the inner lining of the coat. It wasn’t really cold enough in the brisk afternoon for the coat but, when he shrugged it on he felt the spells kick in instantly. Romain glanced at him, nodded once, and turned away. For now, he was a human. It was… comforting in a way. Reid had never hidden that he was a demon, but hiding what he specifically was nothing new. It had taken Emily two months to discover his subspecies, after all. What was this but a little more deception?

Their exit from the states had been streamlined, Reid assumed, by Carrick and Paget. A cursory check of their clothing, their false passports skimmed over, and they were waved through. There was none of that streamlining here. Reid was sorely conscious of the iron knife bound by his spellwork in the bottom of his shoulder bag as it vanished into the x-ray machine, but both the spells he’d added and the ones Emily had originally hidden it with seemed to hold.

The border guard spoke in rapid fire Finnish to Romain, her eyes scanning them both. Romain answered just as quickly, expression bored, continually turning his head to look for the heavy cage that was his birds being moved through another security check. Of Paget, there was no sign. “American,” he said suddenly, jerking his head at Reid. “He speaks only English.”

The guard looked at Reid and smiled. “Ah, holiday?” she asked, beaming. Reid nodded stiffly. “How good that you and your mage holiday together! You will have a wonderful time, I am sure. Keep away from the Russian border though.”

Switching back to Finnish, Romain turned back to her and shot her a charming grin, softening his face enough that Reid had to do a double-take to recognise him. A glance back at the birds confirmed they were all the way through security, and if the wheedling allure in Romain’s voice and posture was anything to go by, he was keen to hurry the proceedings along.

Things seemed to move a lot quicker after that.

“Didn’t think you were capable of flirting,” Reid muttered to Romain’s back as they moved towards the exit, Romain tapping at the phone he’d been issued with to order a cab to get them to the train-line within the two hours before they were due to board.

Dark eyes met his, a hint of something like humour hidden in them. “Didn’t think you were capable of recognising flirting,” he retorted, adjusting his grip on the cage. “Once we are on the train, do not take that coat off. And do not speak nor draw attention to yourself. I will get us through the border process, si ?” Reid nodded, waiting until they’d stepped out of the bustling airport into the thin, clear air of Helsinki, before twisting the air around him to glamour his wings away and tugging the coat back on. The automatic doors behind them hummed shut, reflecting the image of two humans standing together back at them. He stared at himself, noting lines around his mouth and eyes that hadn’t been there three months ago, then turned away.

In the cab, the driver ignored them, fiddling with the dial of his radio until a beat thudded through, reverberating through the interior. Reid slumped against the window, face turned away from the other occupants of the sweet-scented cab, and tried to pick out individual words from the heavy vocals.

“Ignore my friend, he is ill,” he heard Romain murmur from the front seat, ingratiating, “travelling disagrees with him. This music is familiar—Kotiteollisuus?” The music was replaced with the soft banter of conversation, the driver awkward but slowly lulled by Romain’s casual interest. Closing his eyes, Reid felt the strain of the past few sleepless nights catching up to him.

He could rest on the train. Not long now.

 


 

“Compartments are gender segregated,” the conductor explained to their group in halting Russian, before repeating himself in English, Finnish, and then what Reid suspected was Swedish. “Travel time is fourteen hours, travelling via St. Petersburg. Of course, we have a wonderful restaurant compartment…” He kept going and Reid examined their room. Four beds, one of which Romain was already crouched next to clipping the birds’ cage to the bars along the side to stop the movement of the train from sending them skidding across the floor. Reid tossed his bag up onto the bed above Romain’s, ignoring the two strangers who chattered excitedly to each other in Russian on the beds opposite.

“I’m really not feeling well,” he said to Romain for their companions’ benefit. Romain looked at him, disinterested. “I might sleep. Wake me if you see anything interesting? I’d hate to miss the scenery.” Wake me if you see Paget, was the unspoken request there.

What an idiot, it is soon night,” one of the strangers said to the other in Russian, laughing again. “What does he want to see? Black!”

“Is that what he said?” the other replied. “Just our luck we have stupid Americans. Come on. I’m hungry.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for sights,” Romain agreed, giving no impression that he’d understood the other men as they left. Neither of them were comfortable enough to assume they were alone, even as the door grated shut between them and the corridor. I’ll keep watch.

His knee ached as he pulled himself up onto the top bunk, laying with his back to the wall and arms tucked close, feeling the bands dig slightly into his skin. Fifteen hours, and they’d be stepping off the train in Moscow as ‘transport workers’ on their way to their new job. They’d be meeting with their employers, men responsible for the trafficking of demon slaves…

They’d be trafficking those slaves.

Tucking one hand into his pocket where the book rested, he felt the corner of Henry’s drawing brush against his thumb. Had JJ told Henry yet? What had she told him?

Following that train of thought would crush him.

“Go to sleep.” Romain’s voice floated up from the bunk below. There was a gentle whistling call; he’d let his birds out onto the bunk with him. “You’re feeling so loud I can’t think.”

Sleep felt like a pipedream, but Reid obediently closed his eyes and was out almost immediately.

 


 

The windows are foggy with their breath, the night outside dark. When he stretches, his legs cramp in the tight confines of the car.

“You should sleep,” Clyde says, his profile dark against the blue-black haze of the windows. Cold air leeches in from the driver’s door, his foot pressing the door open just enough so he can blow a thin stream of smoke from his mouth into the chilly air outside. The only light is the moon through the windscreen, weak and yellow, and the glow of his cigarette flaring as he draws on it. “Long day tomorrow, darling.”

“You don’t need to be here,” he says, and his voice is Emily’s.

Oh.

Her stomach aches dully. The stitches are out, but having a table leg rammed into your gut tends to leave marks. Head throbbing from sleeping too little and back complaining about her position curled on the backseat of the car with just Clyde’s jacket to keep her warm, she’s thoroughly unhappy.

“Emily, you and I both know that you’re pigheaded enough to do this alone if I walk away,” Clyde says, his voice throaty. “And, bugger me for caring, but I don’t want to bury another member of my team. Let’s get ourselves a bastard demon, and then let’s get you home to your family, okay? Christ, I hate Russia.”

“Why is he even here?” she asks, just to avoid thinking about Spencer and his grief and his loneliness and her loneliness…

At least he’s safe. She can take solace in that. Doyle is so busy being hunted, he doesn’t have time to attack Spencer again. She’s keeping him safe.

“Damned if I know. My birdies reckon he’s headed towards Moscow. Risky. They’re on high guard against demons there. He’ll be walking a gauntlet. Hey, maybe the militsiya will deal with him for us. That would be nice.”

No it wouldn’t.

Sergio’s murder. Spencer’s fear and exhaustion. Their nightmare that Doyle had trapped them in for months.

No. If Doyle is to die, she wants to do it.

The fucker owes her that.

Shock and delight burst into her chest in a whirl of emotion, sending her flying upright. Emily she thinks suddenly, and it’s not her thought.

It’s not hers.

Spencer?

 


 

He woke with a hand over his mouth, pressed down hard enough to bruise. He jolted, his own hand snapping up to grab the wrist, shocked. The skin against his smelled like rat and copper; Romain had been feeding his birds.

“Shh,” Romain murmured, dropping his hand. “You dream loudly. Guards. We’re at the border.” The tension grew. Reid sat up slowly, eyes wide in the gloom, hearing their companions stirring as the throbbing of the train slowed and faded, coming to a screeching halt. This was it. He was entering a country that would see him dead for being born of a demon.

If they caught him now, not even twenty-four hours away from the last time he’d seen his home, he’d never see any of them again. There would be no rescue, no mercy. Just a black bag laced with iron and a burning exorcism, then nothing. His chest tightened. Outside, the train wheezed in the night air, and Reid silently wheezed with it, his body spiking as adrenaline crashed through him, hands steady against the sheet as though reminding him that he could do this. Be who he wasn’t. Hadn’t he learnt it over and over in school how easy it was to be anyone else?

“Calm,” Romain soothed, bending over as though he was talking to his birds. When he straightened, the smaller of the two birds was on his fist, rustling her feathers sleepily. “Nothing to be frightened of here, Ma Caille. Just the border guard.”

Tugging the coat closer, Reid burrowed down into the bedding and focused on looking sleepy and ruffled, barely conscious. The doors grated open, the conductor poking his head in. “Passports,” he requested in Russian. “Passports, at your pleasure.”

Romain shook his hand, Revenir flapping up to Reid’s bed and hopping across the sheets, dark eyes glinting in the reflection from the light streaming in through the door. “One moment, please,” he said, rifling through their bags. Reid watched the two other men as they, grumbling, handed their own passes over for the border guards standing behind the conductor to stamp.

One of them stepped in. A man, blonde and stern. “Do you have permits for those animals?” he asked Romain, shining a torch into Romain’s empty bunk first, and then up to dance glaringly over Reid’s face. Romain stood, smiled disarmingly, and handed over three passports and a thick paper folded twice over.

“Passport for the hen harrier, sentient,” he replied politely. “Permit for the gymnogene, service animal.”

“She is your familiar? The ‘hen harrier’?”

Tout à fait. Yes. Is there a problem? We are tired. My friend is ill. My birds are not accustomed to being awoken so rudely in the night.”

The guard darted his flashlight up to Reid again. Squinting into the glare, Reid yawned and sat slightly upright, reaching his hand out to shield Revenir’s eyes from the beam as she clicked angrily. Meeting the guard’s gaze, he smiled, letting the smile wobble and slip as though it was a struggle.

“No problem,” the guard said finally, passing the paperwork, stamped, back. “Enjoy your travels. Hyvää yötä.” And they were gone. Footsteps passing away up the hall, a distant call of ‘Passports, if you please.’ The first checkpoint, completed.

They were well and truly into the lion’s mouth.

Reid swallowed the panic that had torn him, the adrenaline and the fear, and it went down easily. He met Romain’s gaze as the man reached for his bird, his own dark eyes glued to Reid’s face. “See,” he said, in the voice he used only for his animals, but he was still looking at Reid and this was the closest they’d come to communicating since the jet. “Nothing to be afraid of, little annoying. This is the easy bit, this beginning of our travels. You’ll learn that soon.”

Revenir churred softly and Reid nodded.

“Imagine having a bird as a familiar,” one man muttered sleepily, his back to them. “I bet it shits everywhere.”

“Oh, so like having you? Hah!”

“I don’t think I can sleep anymore,” Reid said quietly. My turn to watch. Despite Romain’s insistence of their independence, there was a tentative kind of teamwork between them. Maybe the mage wasn’t as good at working alone as he was trying to project. “I hope the sights have improved.”

“Black and shit. That’s what these Americans are into.”

“Stop talking about them. That one is some French toff. They might be able to understand you.”

“Only if I spoke bird.”

Romain vanished into his bunk, Revenir with him. He didn’t say goodnight, just went quiet in a rustle of blankets and feathers. Reid stared out the window as the train chugged heavily to life, feeling Romain shift from alert to asleep through their link. The night slipped slowly to morning, and Reid kept watch.

 


 

Moscow wore two faces.

Even this early in the morning, it was busy. Thriving. Men and women bustled around them on the grey-washed street as the yellow morning sun turned everything harsh and stark. Reid took a sharp breath of air that was dry, smoky, and no one made eye-contact. When he looked up, he could see pastel coloured spires, neo-classical domes of theatres, the gaudy ornateness of Moscow at its finest. Looking back to the street, the men’s clothes were drab, the women’s drabber, and the stucco-facades of markets and shops were peeling and weather worn against squat grey-brick walls. Despite the warm summer sun, the wind burned his cheeks, fiercely cold and slashing right through his coat and layers beneath like they were nothing. He shivered, and not all of it was from the chill.

It was exciting.

It was terrifying.

“Welcome to Moscow,” said a voice behind them, and Paget sashayed up with her hair bound back and a thick furred coat hanging loosely from her shoulders, her arms free of it. “They call it myasorubka. The ‘meat grinder,’ roughly translated. I have no doubt the city is going to do its best to chew you both up. Are you ready for that?”

“Are you doubting us?” Reid was surprised to realize that it wasn’t Romain who had issued the cocky retort; his own mouth had moved quite without his permission, spitting out the words and then curving into a smile that felt like his storm. Uncontrollable and liable to spin off in another direction without warning.

Paget studied him, and then laughed. “Your mouse has teeth, Charlie. Good. You’ll need them. It’s a new day here boyos, and you’re wanted elsewhere. Do me a favour? Don’t get killed. I hate delivering bad news. I’ll hear from you in two weeks, or you’ll be in a world of trouble. Пока!”

She vanished into the crowd, somehow managing to immediately become just another back, another coat, another life in the bustle of the crowd. Even Reid couldn’t track her progress.

“Well,” Romain said, checking his watch before hefting the heavy cage onto his arm. Reid picked up his bag and Romain’s, slinging them both over his shoulder. They were light. Nothing but two changes of clothes each, some small amounts of supplies, and the paperwork that verified their new personas. “We’re to meet our employers in Presnensky District, the neighbourhood of Yermakova. Knowledge of that area?”

Reid hummed. “Industrial. Centred in a triangle of railroads. The Moskva River also runs through there—docks and shipping yards will be common.” He warmed to his theme, forgetting himself momentarily. “Actually, in 1905 the whole district was the target of revolutionary militias, ending in the deaths of over one-thousand people, mostly civilians. Governmental artillery was—”

Romain was staring at him. Within the confines of the cage, both birds stared, too. “Did you swallow a guidebook?” Romain asked slowly when Reid faltered.

Sheepishly, Reid shrugged. “No, I… read one. When we first found out we were coming here.”

Someone knocked by them, turning a blank glare onto them before rushing past. Reid stepped back, apologising in Russian, pressing his back against the stucco wall of the shopfront behind them. Romain didn’t bother moving, just centred his feet and returned the glare. “That was two months ago!” he protested, one eyebrow rocketing up.

“I… have a good memory.” Understatement. “Did they tell you anything about me?”

A horn broke through their conversation, insistent and piercing. Their taxi. Reid moved quickly towards it, following Romain as he waved his arm to attract the driver’s attention before the irate man could peel away without them. “Not enough, apparently,” he replied, slapping his palm against the side of the car to indicate the driver should open the trunk for Reid to sling their bags into, space in the back taken up mostly by the cage that would sit between them. “Now, stop speaking. Your accent is attention-grabbing.”

My accent?” Reid muttered, sliding into the taxi after Romain and tugging the door shut as Romain gave the address of the rental car company Paget had told them to use. Romain’s was hardly unobtrusive, what with the…

“Thank you, спасибо,” Romain acknowledged the driver with a bright smile and a flawless Russian accent, the Quebecois vanishing like it had never been. “You were saying?”

Reid closed his mouth with a snap, shook his head, and looked out the window to take in the alien view.

They were both underestimating each other.

 


 

“Fulton, is it? Charlie Fulton? Come this way.”

The woman who greeted them was dressed pertly, nails polished to a shine and hair combed into a thick bun on the crown of her head. Makeup carefully applied to hide the crow’s feet at the corner of her eyes, she was a woman wearing a mask.

And that mask was carefully emotionless.

The two men followed her into a spacious and brightly painted office, juxtaposed against the grimy mud-streaked and cobbed rail-yards and docks around them. It was noisy and wretched, machines clanging and people shouting roughly, the air thick with the scent of coal and smoke and the faint reek of urine from the marked walls. Someone had taken pains to ensure that their offices were as cleanly presented as possible, even in the muck of industrial Moscow.

“Straight through, hurry up,” the woman instructed them, waving them through the office and into a yawning space of the warehouse. Shelves and piles of boxes towered overhead. Reid followed placidly, eyes downcast and shoulder submissively tucked forward, eyes darting from moving box to moving box and memorizing every address and label through the shadow of his lashes, even those in languages he didn’t recognise. Cyprus; Reykjavik; Sydney; Dubai. “You’re to meet swiftly with Mr. Mikhailovich and the men you’ll be teamed with. Our schedule is tight.”

“Team?” Reid whispered. Romain shushed him with his tongue tight against his teeth, the sound gentle.

Problem.

They were led into another office, this one crowded and chaotic. By now, Reid was at least somewhat getting used to the way of Moscow to fling them from one extreme to the next, never allowing him to find his feet. A heavy man turned to watch them walk in behind the woman, his expression open and welcoming. Not Russian. He didn’t look the least bit Russian.

“Mr. Mikhailovich?” the woman interrupted him, heads turning to face them. Reid counted quickly. Four other men, all of varying statue and species. All with identical expressions of mistrust. “Your last two drivers are here. The ones from your contact?”

“Oh, hello!” the man boomed in slurred English, and Reid readjusted his assumption. Correct in that he wasn’t Russian. His accent was decidedly… Greek. “Good, good, come in. We’re just getting acquainted, aren’t we fellows?” No one replied. Two werewolves leaning against the far wall tilted their heads together, muttering, their eyes watching everyone else in the room. Pack; Reid could tell immediately. He wondered if they were the ‘allies’ Carrick had spoken of. Perhaps Paget hadn’t left her pack behind after all.

The atmosphere, despite Mikhailovich’s friendliness, was prohibitive. “You’ve brought all your paperwork I asked of you? Trip wasn’t too long? Where from, did you say? What am I saying! Of course it was long! Long and boring, no doubt, pah. I despise travelling, which is very much why you lot are all here.” He stopped to breathe, beaming, and Reid blinked as he tried to follow his train of thought, then stopped trying to follow it because behind him was a wide corkboard liberally littered with tax invoices and trading routes, and he systematically scanned each one, not letting his eyes linger for too long on any one of them. Quickly, quickly.

“Of course, thank you. Not so long. Here is our information.” Romain placed the cage in front of Reid, and shuffled through the bag on Reid’s shoulder, fetching out their paperwork and stepping forward. Gambit huffed angrily at being placed so low, hissing in the back in his throat. By one of the men’s side, a shambling hound with brindled fur and heavy-set eyes hunched its back and growled in warning, white teeth glinting. Red flickered in the depths of its eyes, warning against the black, and Reid smelled smoke.

Hael hound. His blood ran cold and the dog’s nostrils flared pink. Scenting him. He hoped the illusions covered smell as well, or else they’d just been made. Nothing fooled a hael hound when it came to demons.

Nothing.

Romain hadn’t seemed to notice their danger, still talking with Mikhailovich. Reluctantly, Reid lifted his gaze to meet the man’s standing next to the hael hound. Found himself staring directly into an Asiatic, wide-mouthed face, and pale grey-green eyes that were absolutely feline. Therian. Cat form. A woman. He was transfixed by that predatory stare, even as she opened her mouth slightly, tongue flicking forward, tasting the air between them. She frowned. Licked her lips. The hael hound’s tail stiffened, fur rising in a dark ridge down its spine. The man next to her shot it a nervous look and sidled away.

“Nergüi, чимээгүй,” she said, placing a narrow hand onto the hound’s sloping head. Reid blinked, trying to place the language and utterly failing. You’re only a genius in English, teased the ghost of Elle in his mind, and he swallowed hard. Shoved away fierce thoughts of Emily patiently teaching him Russian and Greek, ignoring the way he stumbled helplessly over the unfamiliar inflections. The woman eyed him like a cat would a mouse, raised a single, heavy eyebrow, and then mouthed a word at him with careful care. An English word. ‘Demon’ she shaped with that fierce mouth, and horror thudded into his chest and rooted deep. Romain’s voice faltered once, before continuing his smooth introductions to their new employer, but his shoulders were stiff and both birds had fallen quiet.

The woman reached a hand to her mouth as though to cover a yawn, pressed two fingers against her lower lip in the universal sign for secret and looked away.

“Hey.” Romain’s voice snapped him back to himself, shaken out of the torturous mid-ground of trying to ascertain whether or not they were about to be betrayed. “Are you ready? We’re to be shown the goods.”

“No time like the present,” another man said, accent thickly Russian.

Mikhailovich laughed, a loud booming noise. “That’s the spirit, come along!” he called, and led the way.

Reid walked behind Romain, his eyes locked on the woman’s back. There was a finality about this walk into the depths of the warehouse, through one locked door and down a flight of stairs into the gloomy underground. It almost felt like an end. Like walking sedately to their graves.

He swallowed back his misgivings and said nothing.

 


 

“Righto, here we go. Hale and hearty, this lot, and I want you to keep them all that way.” Mikhailovich’s cheerful tone betrayed the scene in front of them. The room was clean. It was neat. It was painted nicely, in a butter-yellow colour that Reid would never find pleasing again, and it was filled with broken souls.

Hardly any of them even bothered to look up. They weren’t chained. They weren’t beaten. They were bound, each and every one of them, with bands that mirrored the ones on Reid’s own arms except for the gold, and the fact that theirs were real.

They weren’t chained, but they were broken.

“We have a goods and cargo train moving down through Georgia into Turkey tomorrow morning, bright and early. We’re splitting this lot into three groups, ten to a group and two of you to each ten, and spreading you out on specialized carriages shielded nicely to prevent prying eyes. Now, it’s our rail-line and our train, so I doubt you’ll have much trouble, but sometimes the border patrols can be pests. I don’t think I need to remind you all of how expensive each and every one of these products is—so handle with care. We’ve had troubles in the past.”

Mikhailovich turned, and his smile was still warm, still inviting, as he continued with a bright, “That means, you buckos especially, if a single one of your cocks gets near any of the females, I’ll personally remove them. My clients are paying for purity. Don’t fuck it up. And I will know.”

Reid would have looked up, looked around at the men around him, tried to read if any of them would be a danger to the slaves, but he was too busy wrangling with the snarling storm that wanted to burst from his hands and his chest, to rip the roof from this butter-fucking-yellow cage and then rip the smile from Mikhailovich’s face at the same time.

Products.

Products.

“Once you get to Turkey, you’ll be given further instructions. We find it’s better to issue our route in stages nowadays—prevents any of you fellows from dashing off and perhaps seeing if you can earn a pretty dollar by dobbing in our activities to the officials. As an aside, you cannot. They will offer you the world and all they will give you is a nice cell alongside the rest of us, where we’ll be sure to make you welcome. You’ll also find, because once again, problems in the past, your previous fellows have been quite naughty, that every one of you just happily skipped through a nice curse-web I had my secretary set up. Talented woman, that one.”

The storm vanished like it had never been as Reid jolted and turned his magic outward, skimming over his skin. Mikhailovich wasn’t lying. There was curse-work draped over his front, his face, his hands, so light and fine he hadn’t even noticed it. And solidly glued on. He rubbed his fingers together and felt a line of cursing tingle before cementing itself. Around him, the other men muttered and cussed, hands scrubbing over their hands and fronts as though they could wipe it off. The woman didn’t even flinch.

“Don’t bother, it’s stuck nicely on. And it means that if any of you betray me or this organization, you’ll quite slowly boil from the inside out. Or something like that. Maybe it just tells me you’ve done so. Who knows! Don’t risk it, hey?”

He turned his stare back to the slaves, trying to look unperturbed. So far, he’d mostly been ignored. Just ‘Charlie’s’ quiet friend, an extra pair of hands tempted by the stunning amount of money they’d been offered for five months’ easy work driving a truck and sightseeing. One looked up at him. A child. Blonde curls and a grubby face, blue eyes wide and teary. The bindings on his arms were new, still shiny. They didn’t cut or slice into his skin like Hankel’s had Reid’s, they were quite expertly done, but Reid thought sadly that if they were going to be on the road with a kid on the cusp of growing, they would be by the end of it.

Then it hit him. He looked down at the boy again. One of about eight that Reid could see below the age of ten. Just a boy. A child slave. And familiar. He’d seen him before.

“Doyle is closely involved with this operation,” Carrick had said. He hadn’t said why.

Doyle wasn’t involved with the operation. He was hunting it.

It was Declan.

 


 

They were given the day to prepare. This, for Reid and Romain, mostly consisted of Reid keeping out of sight and Romain ingratiating himself with the men they were to be paired with. Mikhailovich had warned them that, once past Turkey, they would be moving into trucks and their pairings alternated with every stop. To discourage ‘complacency’, he’d said. Concerning. But a concern they had some time to figure out.

Hunkered down alone on the row of thin mattresses thrown down in a back room for them to sleep on before leaving before dawn, he found a battered paperback travel guide shoved into a drawer near the wall and read it cover to cover. There was nothing else in the room to read, nothing to explore, and he was alone except for Revenir and Gambit, both still caged. Romain had quietly informed him to leave them in there for now, his eyes on the woman. He needed a moment alone with his partner to warn him about her, but so far that moment had been elusive. It was a worry that maybe any moment would be elusive, and that was the goal of putting them into such a mixed group. They might look odd, such a range of people travelling together, but it would make penetrating that group a lot harder than if the cell recruited from the one zone.

Revenir shrieked suddenly, a warning chit-it-it-it-et-it. Reid leapt up, cane in hand and other hand splayed out in front, lightning dancing between his fingers. He wished, sorely, for his gun in that moment. Su-ooooo-ee whistled from the cage, Gambit throwing his wings out and beating them loudly against the bars of the cage, beak gaping.

“You are well protected, demon,” purred an unfamiliar voice, and the woman stepped out from the shadows at the back of the room. Reid blinked, glanced to the closed door, and then back to the woman. How… “But they did not see me until I wished it. You shouldn’t be so complacent. With what you are, in this country… complacency will kill you.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Reid lied blatantly, lowering his hand and smiling disarmingly. He copied Romain’s cool tone, sliding the man’s arrogance on like a mask, and the woman’s eyes narrowed. “What do you want?”

“That tone doesn’t suit you,” she replied. “It’s cruel. Your friend might be cruel. I don’t think you are. Which begs the question why a demon risks his life to traffic other demons… do you hate your kind so much? Your young? Or perhaps someone you love is here…”

Reid didn’t respond. She stepped forward, light and on her toes like a cat, and he stayed unmoving. There was fear in the air. Not his. He’d shelved his fear back in the room with the slaves he was betraying, because they couldn’t save them all, and he wasn’t sure he knew how to be afraid again while the anger of that betrayal still thudded through his veins. It wasn’t his fear, so he knew she feared him. He could taste it on the back of his tongue, spicy and sharp.

“You’re scared of me,” he said outright, and tilted his head to peer down at her. She was short, stocky, and had to crane her head back to look him in the eye when she was this close to him. It wasn’t an attempt at a seduction, that he knew, so he wasn’t hugely sure what she was attempting. “Are you being brave or foolish by coming so close to something you fear?”

“Testing a theory,” she retorted, and reached for his hand. He jerked it back, stepping away, and she shook her head. “None of that. I hold your life in my hand. One wrong move from you, and I’ll have Nergüi announce to everyone here what you are. Give me your palm.”

There was no choice. “Going to read my future?” he teased, his heart thumping in his chest, but instead she grabbed his wrist and tugged his coat up his arm, revealing the silvered band around his wrist. The bell was tied around it, blue against the white, and it dinged slightly at the rough movement. Her eyes shuttered closed, almost disappointed, and she let him go like he’d struck her.

“Just another slave,” she spat, and strode away towards the door. “I was right. Your friend is cruel.”

And she was gone, leaving him alone and more confused than when she’d arrived.

 


 

The darkest part of the night, Romain slipped out to find the bathroom. Reid followed, their footsteps echoing. “The woman knows what I am,” Reid said, covering his words with the running of the tap, the pipes banging unhappily at their use.

Romain paused, his hands under the stream of water and eyes grim. “Is she going to be a problem?”

“She hasn’t told anyone yet.”

Romain shut the tap off and stepped close, his mouth near Reid’s ear and voice pitched low. Wary, still, of being overheard. “We don’t wait for ‘yet’. If she’s a problem, we deal with her. Make her not a problem. Now, do you do it or do I?”

Reid fell silent. He knew how Romain would deal with it.

Accidents happen.

“A long term coercion is… difficult,” he said finally, feeling sick. “It takes physical contact. Prolonged physical contact.”

Romain nodded once, and then walked away. “Deal with it, Numair. Or I will.”

Reid waited until he was gone and threw up every meal he’d eaten that day, gagging until he tasted bile, and it still wasn’t enough. He knew now: this wasn’t just going to be six months.

Spencer Reid could never survive what was being asked of him.

 


 

Declan was in their group of slaves. The woman was down the far side of the train. They wouldn’t have any contact with her until Turkey. The relief was giddying. Romain looked terse, and Reid didn’t mention it again.

They left Moscow before the sun had risen, and the air was so breathtakingly cold that Reid was sure his throat would freeze just from breathing. The slaves passively sat in the heavily glamoured carriage, the whole interior littered with runes that either Reid or Romain had been keyed to activate with a single touch, ones that would turn the rows of thin beds into boxes and crates in the event of a search. The slaves’ carriage was connected to the sleeping carriage that Reid and Romain would take turns resting in while the other guarded their charges, one that Reid was sickly thankful to notice had an actual toilet, although no shower facilities. Not that he’d hoped too hard.

Not to mention, it felt almost shameful to be hoping for a hot shower when there were three children bound and taken from their families in the very next windowless carriage. And all the freshening charms in the world couldn’t hide the smell of ten people held in a very small space for an extended period of time, even with the toilet that was openly positioned in there for them to use. No privacy. No comfort. Just barren walls and barren beds and misery.

Sixty-seven hours until Istanbul.

It began.

 


 

The slaves didn’t speak. On Reid’s first watch, he was emotionally distraught for the first three hours, unable to look away from the gold and the blank-eyed stares around him. After those first few hours, the horror began to fade. There was very, very little that the mind couldn’t become accustomed to, no matter how awful. It sought to protect itself from prolonged stress.

The boredom came then.  

He asked them their names and they stared at him like he had offered to strike them instead. He gave them his, a carefully cheerful sounding, “I’m Numair,” and they’d turned away.

They’d been issued uniforms. Reid wore his coat over his, but unbuttoned so if the large Russian man who occasionally slipped into their carriage and looked everything over didn’t punish him for hiding the railway logo on the breast of it. The uniforms were stiff, black, and imposing. Dehumanizing. He’d seen himself in the mirror as he’d changed in the gritty bathroom back in the Moscow warehouse, and shivered. It made his skin paler, his eyes darker, and his face crueller. Exactly what was intended.

He’d have feared him, too.

They’d given them batons. Reid hadn’t worn his, and neither had Romain, and that was how they’d learned that they were watched. Learned that they were accountable for their actions. There was a bruise on Romain’s cheekbone that matched the stinging one across Reid’s clavicle.  After that, they both wore the weapons, but not comfortably. There was a rune pressed into the butt of the baton that Reid knew. Romain hadn’t.

“If you activate it, it will burn them,” Reid had explained gently, and Romain had looked sick and adjusted his belt so the baton was out of easy reach.

Reid pressed one hand into his pocket, on the book of poetry, and leaned back in his chair pressed against the wall, the baton digging uncomfortably into his spine (but out of sight to the children). He kept his eyes on Declan and the dull way the boy was picking apart the sheet on the bed he sat on.

So, he read to them. Not from a book, because they didn’t have any. But he didn’t need books to tell stories.

He dredged up a memory of a novel Emily had been reading, months before, another lifetime ago, and he recited it without stopping to see if anyone was listening. “In the clouds above the village, the legendary black-clad horseman who is Night noticed the silence and reined in his steed, which is also black as coal. Taking his vast and circular lantern, the moon, Night brushed aside a constellation of stars and came closer, curious, to discover why no bell klonged, no creature paused, and no newborn baby, woken by midnight’s arrival, opened its pink mouth and wailed…”

 


 

Romain returned from his watch and Reid hadn’t slept. Both looked haggard. They were ten hours in. He dragged himself out of the bed, accepted a mouthful of tepid water from Romain’s flask, and took his partner’s place in the carriage that stank of sweat and waste and despair.

And the hours ticked on. He read, desperately, because they were ten hours in and he was slipping away: “… children stepped carefully around the rubble, their footfalls making no noise, the taller walking ahead of the smaller and deciding their path. They were younger than Night had ever been, two scraps of life with scanty limbs clad in woven jackets and boots.”

Two of the children crept closer, like mice. Like the mouse Romain kept naming him for, shy and mute and wary. Except they weren’t. They were brave like Reid had never been, because they slunk closer to his boots and his baton and his black, black clothes just to hear a story.

Their eyes were similar. Their faces alike.

Twins.

Declan stayed away, and the adults hated him with their eyes. He kept going.

“Their eyes in their young faces were dark, like raven eyes, and their black hair was straggly, as unkempt as raven nests; they were clearly brothers, as kittens from the same litter are brothers and remain brothers for as long as they can…”

 


 

Another trade. Reid staggered to his bed, closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them because Romain was shaking him and it was his turn again. He stood and swayed with the train, sickness thundering through his head, but he was fine, physically. It was his mind that was cracking.

Eighteen hours. Night outside. Someone was crying. The train chugged on, unstoppable and repetitive, and Reid found his voice lilting with the throb of the wheels.

He was hungry.

Declan was the one crying. “Are you okay?” Reid asked, stopping the story, and Declan looked bewildered, lost. He clawed at the bands, still unused to them, and Reid’s heart gasped at the sight.

“I miss my mom,” he whispered suddenly. “She wasn’t my mom. But she was close enough. I want her.”

“I miss someone, too,” Reid admitted, because it felt right to do so, and a demon hissed, “Don’t speak to him, boy,” and then cowered away like she expected to be beaten. Reid smiled sadly at her and didn’t move.

Declan hid his face and didn’t talk again.

Reid tried to remember the shape of Emily’s mouth and couldn’t.

 


 

“Not long now,” Romain lied, and Reid lingered in the carriage that had become almost a sanctuary for a few moments longer because he craved some sort of company that wasn’t chained. Romain curled on his bed, back to the wall and knees to his chest, his birds huddled on either side of him and his face colourless. He didn’t look Reid in the eyes. “Not long now,” he lied again, and Reid opened the door and stepped across to the other carriage. The rattling steps under his feet between the two compartments were painted green. Apt, Reid thought brutally.

The Green Mile. One last walk to his execution.

Except this was slower than any execution, because with every five-hour stint in there, only a tiny part of him died.

He missed Hotch.

 


 

“Uncle Marin said, ‘Horses aren’t fools. They like a quiet life. But if bravery is asked of them, they can be brave as gods. All it takes is someone courageous to show them what courage looks like. If you want a horse to put its faith in you, you must convince it you are fearless…’” Reid was interrupted by the other door sliding open, the Russian man bursting in. The train shuddered, and slowed.

“Checkpoint,” he barked. “Get the runes up. Make a sound, any of you, and I’ll execute every child.”

He left. Reid activated the runes and plunged them into darkness. When the side door was unbolted and grated slowly open, so long as none of them moved or made a sound, it would be an empty carriage they would look into. He hunkered down too, back to the wall and heart in his mouth. If they made a sound, if any of them tried to escape, he would be expected to…

He closed his eyes.

A small hand touched his. Someone scrambled into his lap, small and hot and gangly. All arms and legs and tiny, grasping hands that left sticky marks on his jaw when they smacked into it accidentally. Reid clung to him grimly, leaning his chin against sweaty curls, and when the doors ground open and blinded them with harsh sunlight, none of them made a sound. Men climbed aboard. Heavy boots. One stopped barely an arm’s length from Reid, the butt of his gun swinging dangerously close to the back of Declan’s head. Reid stared straight ahead. He didn’t blink. He didn’t breathe. The moment lingered. His bladder pinched, gut twisting. Fear made him dizzy.

He didn’t move.

The doors closed. The lights stayed off because Reid didn’t know how to move again. No one else made a sound.

Finally, finally, Reid found his voice.

Shaking from the slow drain of adrenaline from his body, he leaned his mouth against the soft head pressed into his chest, and began to talk again. “He tucked the corkscrew away and said, ‘Come on. It’s all right. We’ll stop soon.’”

 


 

Romain found him there hours later. Declan had fallen asleep, arms still wrapped monkey-like around his neck, and Reid was breaking. After all his confidence, his bluster, it had taken thirty-two hours to break him. The door opened with a whine and boots clonked loudly on the wooden floor. A shadow loomed overhead. Reid tried to look up and found he couldn’t, shaking too hard, waiting for a blow. He couldn’t. He couldn’t, this was it, this was the thing that pushed him over the edge.

“Numair,” said Romain’s voice from miles away. “Come on.”

It was an order. Reid knew how to follow orders. He stood, adjusting Declan in his arms and carried him carefully over to a bed. The other demons stared at him like they weren’t sure what they were seeing, even as he lowered the boy and unwound him from his neck. Tugged the blanket overtop him and turned his back on him. Followed Romain’s boots to the exit. Across The Green Mile. Into Sanctuary. He shook more. Stared at his shoes. His hands. White hands traced with blue, the veins stark against his skin.

Romain stood close, too close. A hand on his shoulder, shaking him slightly. “Numair?”

Reid couldn’t answer. He was failing.

“Spencer?” At that, Reid looked up, just to check the door was closed. He couldn’t use that name. That wasn’t him. Don’t bring Spencer into this, Spencer the man, Spencer the innocent. Except, not really, because Spencer was a murderer, so was Numair really any different?

“Hey, come on. Come sit down. You’re going to fall.”

He was going to fall. He was already falling. He had fallen, four years ago, when Hankel took him into a shack and bound him.

“I’ve been reading to them,” he said suddenly, because it was desperately, desperately important that Romain understand this. “Reading a book that Emily lent me.”

“Emily?” Romain asked cautiously, and Reid looked at him now because, how dare he not know her?

“My Emily,” Reid whispered, and now he was shaking so hard he couldn’t breathe for tremoring. “There was a line. A line in the book. I don’t know why I chose it to read to them because how cruel can I be?”

Romain said nothing.

Reid kept going, shattering, breaking. “I’ve been reading them this: ‘No bird in a cage ever speaks. What is there to say? The sky is everywhere, churning above its head, blue and endless, calling out to it. But the caged bird can't answer anything except 'I cannot.’’”

Romain said nothing.

With a sickly sense of shame, Reid realized he was crying.

It had taken thirty-two hours to break him.

 


 

He woke up and his watch told him it had been thirteen hours since Romain had coaxed him into his bunk and held him down until he’d stopped trying to get up to pace.

What?

He got up slowly. He washed at the sink. There was stubble on his cheeks and jaw, ragged and scruffy. His eyes were purple bruises. His mouth was a bright whore’s red against his pale skin and the high points of colour on his cheekbones. The black of his clothes, creased and worn from being lived and slept in for so long, only served to make him more ghastly.

Six months of this, and he’d be unrecognisable.

Washing his mouth out, he spat into the sink and missed coffee. Tying his boots on he thought, bizarrely, of Rossi’s beloved shoes.

Stepping across the Green Mile, he thought of nothing but the end of this.

Romain looked around when he walked in. He nodded briskly, said nothing, and sidled past to reach the door.

“Thank you,” Reid whispered, and Romain didn’t seem to hear. The door banged shut behind him, sealing them in. The seat, the hated seat, when Reid perched in it, was warm.

“You were up to the bit with the horses,” a woman prompted after a long while had passed in silence. She seemed shocked by her brashness, shrinking away.

“So I was,” Reid replied hoarsely, and took a breath while he gathered his thoughts. Declan crept up and took his hand, leaning against the chair with his eyes half-closed. Listening. His thumb was in his mouth, despite him being eight and far too old. Maladaptive response to trauma, an almost forgotten part of Reid’s mind suggested.

“I like you best,” Declan said suddenly, his thumb slipping from his mouth with a pop.

“I like the other man,” the woman said, and looked away. “I like it when he sings.”

Reid blinked and factored that carefully into his view of his partner. Then he took another breath. This one was easier, barely.

He wasn’t alone after all.

“You're not supposed to have iron bars around you—no one is supposed to have that. You're supposed to fall down hills and get lonely, and find your own food and get wet when it rains. That’s what happens when you're alive.”

Chapter Text

He found Romain standing on the edge of the water, looking out over the Bosphorus Strait and onward to the setting sun. Above them, Revenir and Gambit wheeled, calling to each other in high, piercing voices. After almost a week confined to small compartments on rattling trains, they were wild and giddy with freedom. Reid envied them.

“It’s beautiful here,” Romain said, closing his eyes. Reid inhaled the salt-laced scent of the water, the taste of the docks, the heat and the barely cool breeze that soothed it. Boats hummed. Through their link, there was a soft kind of contentment. This, Reid thought numbly, would be a beautiful place, if they weren’t there spoiling it with their contemptibility.

“We have to prepare them for…” he choked on the word. “Market tomorrow. Ro-Charlie, I don’t know if I can do this.”

“It’s not like what you’re thinking,” Romain said, and turned from the sight of white lights flickering on across the waterway, chasing away the oncoming night. In the distance, Reid could hear the mosques calling to their evening prayers, echoing around the serene streets. “We’re not going to throw them into pens like livestock. It’s all very… civilised. Come here.”

Reid went. Romain paused, murmured something in French that Reid didn’t quite catch, and then said very quietly, “Close your eyes.”

He did so. Fingers traced his wrist, slipping into the heavy coat sleeve that was sorely out of place in Istanbul suffering through the beginning of a Turkish summer, pressing under the silvered band to rest on his pulse point, the rune they shared.

The tug of magic was impossible not to follow.

There was the faintest suggestion of someone speaking to him from very far away, the shield blocking the voice, and when Reid opened his eyes he was in the air, looking down on himself through Revenir’s eyes.

“It is beautiful here,” he heard Romain say out loud, distantly, and Revenir whirled and cast her gaze over the soaring minarets and spires and gleaming lights of evening Istanbul. “When we do what we have to, remember that. You’ll break if you don’t.”

Revenir called again, and another hawk answered from far away, curious. Below, a rabbit bolted from the undergrowth. A child laughed. She turned her head to check on Romain (here he felt a touch of affection, a tired pleasure in knowing he was there, like a mother well-used to keeping one eye on a restless chick), and then dived. He whooped, she called, and they missed the rabbit but it was still good. She banked, the air fighting her, and there was no way she could straighten out in time to catch the rabbit without an updraft—he reached out and smoothed the breeze under her wings before pushing it up and she caught it easily, flapped once, dived again, and the rabbit was theirs with a squeal and a punching blow to the fragile base of its skull.

He opened his eyes and Romain was grinning. “There is nothing more free than a hunting hawk,” he said, releasing Reid’s arm. “Even the harrier knows this.”

Perhaps they were a little silly with the relief of being off the train, and tomorrow seemed far enough away that they could smile.

But in the end, it really wasn’t that far off.

 


 

The ‘market’ wasn’t at all like Reid had imagined.

It was so, so much worse.

The demons had been moved from the train to a nearby warehouse, filing in lines of shuffling twos into the door that was held open for them. Reid noted, numbly, that while the other two teams continuously had to shove or coax their captives onwards, the ten from their carriage looked to them and followed eagerly, eagerly enough that a couple of them kept stumbling over the one in front. Stockholm Syndrome, the quiet profiler in him pointed out. Isn’t that what Hankel did to you? Took away everything, then gave you back so little, and you loved him for it.

The warehouse had an open front. It was blatantly conspicuous from the bustling docks nearby, and the runes that shielded it were rudimentary. Here, at least, their trade was barely hidden. On the dawn of the day they were to trade, the slaves were once again sorted into groups of age and gender and made to kneel in binding circles that were all that contained them beyond the bands on their arms. Reid hovered by the children, his hands folded in front and well away from his baton, staring across the dirty street to where peddlers were hawking sweet-rolls and kebabs and richly decorated fripperies. The scent floated across to them and looking down at the eight children assigned to his care, he could see all their eyes locked on it.

“It’s so… open,” he muttered, when Romain appeared by his side, looking supremely unconcerned by the proceedings, despite no less than half of the demons now either in tears or on the brink of so. Reid could smell urine. They were terrified. “They’re not even trying to… look.”

“Dolphins,” the woman called, looking up. “Yunuslar. Will they be trouble?”

Romain stiffened as the small civilian crowd on the street scampered out of the way of three polis on motorbikes, their engines throbbing unevenly as they weaved their way through the early-morning market. One of the demons made a longing sound, followed by a swift twack of a baton meeting soft flesh. Reid flinched. He hadn’t struck a captive yet. He didn’t plan to.

“Don’t they have mages?” Romain asked, tilting his head as the polis vanished up the street. “These runes barely do anything to hide us.”

“I think,” Reid said heavily, looking down at Declan as the boy trailed a grubby finger through the dust between his bare toes, “that it’s more lucrative for the mages to be elsewhere on these mornings…”

The Russian man appeared, striding confidently in front of the assembled group, baton in hand and cocky smile on his face. “The clientele we see today have all been pre-organized and sanctioned by our organization,” he said, pausing in front of a broad-shouldered demon who met his gaze without flinching. “We trade so openly with them as a sign of faith. Faith in us that we continue to supply them with the very best product possible, and a faith in them that we are allowed to continue our business uninterrupted. Following previous patterns, we expect to see no less than twelve clients over the course of the day. General public may wander onto the premises, but it is highly doubtful that they can match our asking price. Periodically, we will be lowering our runes. This will make us visible to the general public. This is a controlled risk. Our continued allowance of trade is permitted on the grounds that we are the face of a very important lesson: demon-kind is a creation of man to do our bidding. We have sponsors within Istanbul who are very, very keen that the public learn that lesson, and learn it well. At no singular point are there to be less than four of you on the premises. At no singular point is there to be any sign of unrest or rebellion among the products. Do you understand?”

They nodded. Reid tasted bile. What would JJ say if she saw this, he wondered, looking down at Declan again. Declan coughed once, a thin sound, his eyes glued on the stall across the street again.

The day began.

 


 

They weren’t required to speak with clients. Reid was pretty sure the two werewolves didn’t speak any common languages with the rest of them anyway, and the woman seemed disinclined to speak with anyone at all, so this was very likely planned. They were simply required to be physical presences, a show of force, and a reminder that this was very much a sale.

Mid-morning, and the third client had come and gone, a high-browed woman with faux furs and a downward mouth. No sales had yet been made. Reid lingered in the shade of the warehouse, behind the line of slowly drooping demons still forced to kneel on knees that must have been screaming in agony by then, and kept half his attention on Romain. The man was a constantly moving presence. Occasionally by the werewolves, not speaking to them, but a calm form by their side. Another time, Reid saw him pacing near the woman, who ignored him and continued her easy prowl along the gated side of the premises. Yet again, he reappeared, moving steadily down the line of demons with his baton, tapping the tip gently on the shoulders of demons who seemed inclined to rise or wriggle out of position. His expression was blank. He kept moving, becoming nothing but another piece of the scenery to those who watched them, and Reid stayed back and listened.

Their first sale was the woman who’d urged Declan not to speak to Reid. The sale was quick, prearranged, and Reid didn’t need to profile the man who bought her to know exactly what her use would be. She knew, too. As soon as they dragged her up to complete the ritual that would pass possession of her to him, she fought them. She screamed. They activated the rune on the baton, a trail of cries and startled whines rippling outward as every demon suffered for her rebellion, and she fell quiet. Declan began to cry. So did the twins. The men hired for this purpose, nameless Turks, dragged her away, and Reid pressed his shoulders back against the cool wall and shook.

Romain appeared.

“Take a break,” he snapped, jerking his head to the market across the street. “If you’re going to be sick, do it out of sight. Bring me back something to eat.” He tossed a thin wallet with lira inside to Reid, who gratefully sheathed his baton and tried not to seem like he was running as he slipped into the crowds and away, the sun baking down on his exposed neck and face. How amusing, he thought sadly, that he would return to the States quite tanned from these proceedings, if he returned at all. How Rossi would laugh.

Finding an alley that had clearly been used for this purpose before, he spat up bile and gagged until his stomach cramped. The fear on the woman’s face—and he hadn’t asked her name, and he knew they’d never find her again—haunted him. There would be more before the day was out. Someone spoke loudly in Turkish behind him, and he turned to find a half-empty bottle of water shoved at him. The man spoke again, waved the bottle, and scowled. Reid took it. “Thank you,” he said politely, and the man rolled his eyes and walked away. Rinsing his mouth, nose thick with the scent of bile and piss and spices, Reid spat twice and then choked the rest down. His head spun, so he leaned against the wall and waited for it to settle, before slinking back out into the crowds and the hot street littered with children and dogs and shouting, following his nose.

It was with guilt that he bought the food. They weren’t allowed to feed the demons unless specified, for fear the food would give them strength to disobey, and it was only as he hefted the three pastries he’d bought without bothering to haggle that he realized he was beginning to refer to them as ‘the,’ as though they were the sum of their species and little else.

The vendor said something in Turkish to him, smiling. He shrugged, lost and tired and homesick, and replied, “I’m sorry. I don’t speak your language,” in English.

She laughed. “Hot for coat, no?” she asked again, waving at his heavy covering. Her eyes narrowed. “Maybe better way of hiding skin.” She touched her arms, callused fingers tracing her knobbly wrist, and she only looked young, but her eyes were so much older. “Here. For the hot.” A greased-paper wrapped treat was shoved under his nose, followed by a wink, and she turned away to her next customer. He slid it into his pocket, guilty again, and slowly made his way back to the warehouse, the reprieve over and appetite gone anyway.

“Feel better?” Romain asked mildly, and Reid didn’t answer because he was counting the demons. Declan was still there. The twins as well, their faces red and sweat-shiny as the sun rose higher, but two others were missing. Twenty-seven left.

“How can you bear this?” Reid whispered, despite knowing it was dangerous, and Romain’s mouth thinned into a tight line. He took the pastries Reid offered, picking at the flaky outside, eyes scanning the warehouse. They were to a corner. The crowds outside had dispersed in the hottest part of the day. The werewolves were leaning against a wall, caps over their eyes, seemingly asleep. The woman and her hound both squatted in the shade, eyes half-lidded and a water bottle between them. In his pocket, the sweet was heavy.

“I compartmentalize well,” Romain said finally, and Reid barked out a shocked laugh. “Why is that funny?”

Reid shrugged and accepted half the pastry Romain was shredding. It was flavoured strongly, sweetly, with honey and syrup, the inside stuffed with almonds, and it was equally delicious and nauseating. “I know the type.”

 


 

“Numair, Blue: on watch. Not a peep from them tonight, you hear?”

Romain glanced up just once from where he was painstakingly preening at Gambit’s feathers with his fingers, the harrier having gotten into a tussle with another large predatory bird earlier that day over what Romain described as ‘idiot bird affairs.’ His gaze darkened. It only took Reid a second to realize why. From her own sleeping roll, the woman was standing, dusting down her uniform and clipping her baton on.

They were on watch together.

Deal with it, or I will, Romain had said. Reid swallowed, nodded in his partner’s direction, and followed the woman out of the room they were sleeping in, and down the rickety hall to where the slaves were chained.

“Your name is Blue?” Reid asked, almost an hour into their watch, when the silence of the room broken only by breathing and the shift of numerous bodies was too painful to bear. He saw a ripple of movement across the line of sleeping bodies as eyes opened and watched him back, startled by the sudden voice.

The woman looked up, her eyes sharp, and for once the hound wasn’t by her side. “My name is Kökelun,” she said finally, rapping her baton restlessly against her knee. “He Anglicizes my name to irritate me. Are we really going to converse? Like friends?”

There was a long beat where Reid considered her, and considered her reaction to him back in Moscow. He might be many more things now, but he had been a profiler. He knew how to talk to people, or he had. “Can we not be? Does this negate any genuine connection between us?” he asked, gesturing to the sleeping demons. Outside, a dog barked. Distantly, someone shouted. “This is a job. A long one. It’d probably be easier if we got along.”

She laughed, coldly. “If you truly believe that becoming friendly with Demyan or Grigorji will make this easier, I wish you the greatest of luck.” Her accent thickened when she was upset, he noted. Filed away for future reference. “They are judgemental, for dogs. If they knew what you wore on your arms, they would tear you down. Russians are all the same. Keep your company to you and your avian maester. You’ll live longer, demon.”

Another ripple of movement, and this time all eyes were on him. He wasn’t unduly worried. Of all the people in the room right now, he seriously doubted the demons would be the ones to pose a threat to him.

Standing, something rustled in his pocket. The sweet from earlier. He tugged it out, peeling greasy paper back from the sticky mass of what was revealed to be some variety of Turkish Delight, a pink gelatine with hazelnuts sunk within it and coated in icing sugar. He broke it into three, stepping closer to her. “Iokum originally comes from the Arabic word luqma,” he informed her, holding his fingers out with the segment held lightly between the tips. “Meaning ‘mouthful.’ They’re also called at al-ulqūm in the Arab world, meaning ‘throat-comfort.’ Although, who actually invented them and when is contested…”

She took it, ensuring their fingers didn’t touch as she did so. He licked the icing sugar from his fingers, and her eyes lingered on his mouth. “You,” she began, and shook her head, popping the candy between her lips, “are very peculiar. Why are you here, with your avian mage maester and your odd knowledge of sweets?”

Reid tucked the third segment back into his pocket, half a mind to either slip it to Declan later if he had the chance, or perhaps use it to curry favour with Romain, placing the smallest section into his mouth and tasting it curiously. Rosewater and mint. “I’m just doing my job,” he said truthfully, and thought of Emily.

 


 

They had the market again in the morning, and Romain got into a very loud and very public argument with one of the werewolves in broken Russian. The other watched, mouth curled back in a sneer, and Reid wondered if he should point out later that Romain’s Russian was about as good as Reid’s French was. The only thing he could understand from it was that Romain was taking offence to the other man’s… hygiene? Finishing with a long string of French that was clearly insulting, Romain sneered and spun on his heel, intending upon walking away. Face red with anger, the werewolf waited until his back was turned, and then swung at the back of Romain’s head. His fingertips glinted. Claws.

Reid reacted without thinking. The dusty floor between Romain and Demyan cracked and sprayed into the air, leaving a long, forked black streak on the ground and distinct scent of burnt sand and ozone. Reid lowered his arm, lightning still dancing between his fingertips, power thrumming in his chest, and they all stared at him.

Except Romain. “See the treatment I get, working with dogs!” he snarled, striding away. “I am a magus. I demand respect for my titles!” And he was gone, vanishing into the crowd, leaving a tense atmosphere and a Reid who was decidedly getting the side-eye from every other one of the guards. Until now, they hadn’t known he could cast. It was probably a positive that they now knew. Reid didn’t fancy waking up one night with a knife at his throat, and they were less likely to attempt it if they knew he possessed magic. On the other hand, he wasn’t entirely sure what Romain was doing. It was an uneasy feeling, having him make a move that Reid didn’t know how to respond to. As though they were both playing the same side of chess against a dangerous opponent, and Romain had just moved their rook into the open without consulting him.

“Where is your maester going?” Kökelun asked, almost too loud, and Reid flinched. Romain was right. He needed to deal with that. Somehow. “To the genel evler, no doubt. All angry men are the same.” Reid hummed non-committedly and stood, stretching, watching the Russian reappear with a client at his side, a skinny, young man of seemingly Arab descent. “Do you?” Kökelun asked. He blinked, looking at her, lost.

“Do I what?”

“Patronise the public houses.” She sneered. “The brothels. Perhaps he will find some of our produce there. I know one of the wealthier ones has arranged for the purchase of any females we have remaining at the end of this week. Free-access for the Russian and his workers, you lot, were part of that deal. In case you’re interested.”

Reid had never been less interested in something. “No,” he snapped, looking away.

“Good.” She inched closer, her shoulder brushing his elbow. “Volunteer for watch tonight.”

The jolt of dark hunger that sparked up his spine and uncoiled in his belly was instant, and he saw her eyes widen as his face reflected some of that desire. Fuck. It had been months. He was pushing it, this hunger of his, and the days away from his team, his family, were doubling the effects. He knew he was showing it physically now. It was automatic, the response to reach with his powers to gauge her interest. The shield resisted his attempts, leaving her a mystery. Was it a genuine offer? Or was it an attempt to get him close enough to slide a knife between his ribs?

This work was making him paranoid.

One of the demons wailed. Her daughter was being led away. Reid bit down on his lip, tasted copper. The nausea was muted, resigned. By the end of the week, he doubted he’d feel ill at all. By the end of the month?

Submerge a frog in water and gradually heat it, and the frog doesn’t notice it’s being boiled until too late.

He didn’t answer her, and she walked away with a smile and swing of her hips. He knew he’d probably say yes. Too much longer without anything, and his weakness would start to depreciate Romain through their familial bond. Where is he?

She wasn’t anything like Emily and, for that, he was thankful.

 


 

There was a grungy bathroom, but Reid didn’t like the high, barred windows and the door that jammed if nudged in just the right way, nor did he like the blind corridor leading to it. It was an ambush waiting to happen, and both of the werewolves watched him constantly. Romain hadn’t returned. He slipped into the alley behind the warehouse to relieve himself, washing his hands awkwardly with a bar of soap he’d filched from a hand-basin in a side room and a bottle of water. He’d turned to re-enter the building when a sweaty hand snapped around his mouth and pushed him forward into the wall, his cheekbone striking the brickwork in a burst of pain.

“Shh,” Romain murmured, leaning close, and he reeked of cigar smoke, sweat and cheap raki. His breath was laced with the alcoholic drink, and Reid grunted as the man leaned heavier on him, pressing him harder into the wall. “Don’t make a sound. The dogs are nearby. Did anyone see you leave?”

He lowered his hand and Reid turned with difficulty to face him, noting his red eyes and the rakish cowlicks to his hair, as though someone had been dragging their fingers through it. “What the hell?” he hissed, leaning closer and sniffing. “Are you drunk?”

“Intentionally,” Romain answered, glancing to the mouth of the alley. “Your memory, it is exceptional, si ?”

“For the written word.” Reid straightened against the wall, using his knee to lever some kind of distance between himself and his inebriated partner. “For spoken, it’s less than optimal. How is you being drunk intentional? You have to tell me what’s going on—I’m working blind here!”

“Shh,” Romain said again, shaking his head to clear dark curls from his eyes, rifling through his pockets. “Read this. Quickly, quickly, dépèche toi !”

Reid unfolded the paper and read it in seconds. Turned it over. Page two. “Done. Where did you get this?” Without answering, Romain took the paper back, fumbling with clumsy fingers and a lighter in one hand. Reid watched the paper shrivel and burn, continually turning his head to the alley mouth to ensure no one was watching them, nose burning from the scent of smoke.

“Paget sends her regards,” Romain said finally, crumbling the ash between his fingers and wiping them against his dark uniform. “The message is a poly-alphabetic basic cipher. Decode it and remember it; we won’t see her again until Riyadh. Is the coordinates of where we can siphon off some of the captives.”

Reid nodded, mind working busily. “We’re going to Saudi Arabia?” he asked absently, half-distracted, fingers rapping against his cane as he shuffled letters about in his mind. “These coordinates are for Iraq. That’s a warzone.”

“Well done, very clever,” Romain said, sharply sarcastic. “You can’t walk but you sure do know your geography.” Oh good. He was a cruel drunk. Yet another thing Reid could add to the ‘reasons this was a terrible idea’ list. “Time to go, we’ve been too long,” Romain continued, stepped away and slinging his hands in his pocket before slouching towards the alley mouth. “Did you deal with the woman?”

“Working on it,” Reid responded, moving to the door and resting his hand on the wobbly handle, the metal warm from the afternoon heat.

“Good.” Romain looked back at him, expression vacant and eyes slightly glazed. “We’ll make a raven of you yet, darkling.”

Reid wasn’t so sure it was a compliment.

 


 

When he returned to their sleeping quarters before the watch was chosen, Romain was out cold. Reid crouched next to him, brushed a hand against the flushed skin of his partner’s throat to find the steady beat of his pulse under the skin. Neither of them were heavy sleepers, liable to jolt awake at the smallest of movements nearby, but Romain merely grunted and twitched slightly under Reid’s hands as he tipped the man onto his side, using his knee to prop him into the correct safety position. He probably didn’t need it. But this job was making Reid paranoid.

A whistle nearby, and he looked up to find Revenir peering down at him from the rafters with a half-eaten black rat clutched in one foot. Gambit was hunched over near her, his eyes locked greedily on the rat, and even as Reid watched the larger bird inch his way over to the hen harrier, hissing warningly. They didn’t usually fight over food.

Romain hadn’t fed them. That was… concerning. He fed the bird before he fed himself. The first thing he checked on when waking up was his birds. The last thing he did before sleeping was… check his birds. And he hadn’t.

They were both struggling, and Reid had a nasty suspicion this wasn’t the first time Romain had struggled alone with something, or found his own ways of coping with strain. This was a conditioned response. Maybe the fight leading to him sneaking away to meet with Paget was planned, but the intentional comment about the drinks…

“Fantastic,” Reid sighed, and reached for the spelled bag to keep it waterproof and cooled that contained the dead rats the birds hunted for themselves. He’d seen Romain do this plenty of times, feeding the two birds. What could possibly go wrong?

 


 

“That looks like it hurts.” Kökelun squatted next to him, reaching out a finger to trace the three gouges where Gambit had taken offense to how tentative Reid had been with offering him the rat he really wanted. “Ouch. You cleaned it?”

“Yes,” Reid muttered, bringing his hand to his mouth and pressing his mouth to the cuts. He had cleaned it. But they didn’t have first aid equipment, not even a bandage, and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. Romain probably had something in his bag, but Reid wasn’t hugely sure what kind of defences the man had on his belongings, and he wasn’t exactly offering up the information at this current point in time.

“Poor baby,” Kökelun mocked him, voice snide, and tugged his hand away from his mouth. “Don’t do that. Here.”

It was early. Or very late. The time of the morning when everything turned icy and still, waiting. A time-less kind of period. Despite being surrounded by sleeping demons, it felt very much like they were the only people alive at that moment. The only people sharing it.

She brought his hand to her mouth and kissed above the cut, her tongue flicking over his skin. He watched, interested. Another kiss, lower. Goosebumps trailed up his spine. She shuffled forward, straddling his legs. Pressed his arm back behind his head and her mouth to his neck, breath hot.

He made his choice. Layering the suggestion in his voice and his touch, he brought his uninjured hand to cup her cheek. “Not in here,” he murmured, and she nodded. Eyes wide, dangerous pools, she followed silently.

“Ever fucked a cat before?” she asked him once, when he’d undressed her with the kind of care that he usually took with unwrapping gifts. Her eyes were dark, flickering green in the low light, and she held herself with a deadly kind of confidence, even when naked on his lap with him hard and sticky and pressed between her thighs.

He blinked twice, thrown. “I’ve not made a habit of it,” he said, gripping her hips with his hands to guide her down onto him. Looping a careful whorl of his magic into his touch, trailing it behind his fingers, settling it into her bones and skin and, finally, when he pulled her mouth down to his, her mind. “Are we not doing phrasing anymore?”

She laughed into his mouth and he swallowed the sound. I will not betray him because he is kind, he thought, curling that thought into her, and she sank onto him with a low growl. Her emotions flooded him. Arousal, excitement, a hunger for pain that wasn’t cruel, just needy, and he knew she’d delight in making him bleed.

“I warn you,” she gasped, arching, and he took the chance to brush his lips against her throat. I will not betray him because he is gentle was on his lips, and he left it behind like the trace of his mouth on her skin. “We bite.” And she did. Hard enough to break skin, on the junction of his shoulder and throat, hanging on grimly as they spent the night learning each other and the nails that dragged patterns down his back, his wings unfurled for her, and his eyes that he deliberately let her drown in. She caused pain, but he welcomed it. Deserved it, really.

I will not betray him.

She wouldn’t. He ensured it.

And he didn’t think of Emily once.

 


 

Seven days in Istanbul, and they loaded the remaining demons onto three trucks. Eighteen remained. Six captives, two drivers to a truck. Reid calculated the water they were bringing and the supplies, and felt uneasy about the risky kind of game they’d be playing.

“It doesn’t matter,” the Russian said when Reid voiced his concern. “The trucks are spelled to keep the products cool. They will require little water if we miss a rest-point. And we stop during the hottest part of the day to rest if time allows.”

“Almost seventy hours driving, not counting rest and refuelling,” Romain said, coming up behind Reid as he traced a finger down the map they’d been given. Revenir sat on his arm, studying the map just as intently. Reid wondered suddenly just how Romain had been passing along information to Paget with the curse-work still on them. “I do look forward to the company.”

Shrugging, Reid looked back down at the map. There were easier routes they could be taking, but he assumed they were skirting highways for a reason. Allied forces would be thick in certain areas of Iraq and, while they’d been able to bribe their way past most Turkish police choke-points, he doubted a squad of US soldiers would take as kindly to them.

Romain jabbed his shoulder with a crooked finger, where the mottled mark Kökelun had left on him still marred the skin. They had taken to showering within the same time period in the communal showers, neither willing to be so vulnerable on their own. Not after Reid had slipped out of the shower one day to find Grigorji smiling blandly at him from the doorway, saying nothing. Romain had seen the mark, and raised an eyebrow. “Well,” he quipped, in a strangely good mood considering the looming worries of their being paired up with the other people in their group. “At least, you’ll enjoy the company. Slut.” He said it almost fondly, and Reid forced a smile.

“Right!” the Russian boomed. Reid had tried to find out his name. None of them knew it. It was probably a deliberate omission, to make him more intimidating. It worked. “Numair with Fulton. Blue, get in with Grigorji. Demyan with me. We take lead. No fuck-assing around or I’ll ensure you spend the rest of the trip with my baton up your ass. Move!”

Reid sighed with relief. At least for the next eight hours, they were still together.

 


 

Reid drove through endless patchwork farms and squat, brightly painted villages. Romain napped, the birds in their open cage on the small cushioned spaced between the cab and the back where the slaves were chained. Two hours in, he snapped awake and began fiddling with the radio, humming along off-hand with the Turkish lyrics. At one point, Reid glanced at him to find him with two fingers on the dial and one pressing a strange knob of clay against the screen. “What are you doing?” he asked with interest.

Romain didn’t answer, but two seconds later the radio spat and, instead of the bouncy drumbeat, voices issued from it. “And we have a signal,” Romain murmured, turning the dial slowly so the voices sharpened. Turkish, more Turkish, an argument about fish in Russian. Reid listened with his eyes on the road, but nothing more came of it. Eventually, Romain pulled the clay off and tucked it back into an inner pocket of his shirt. Reid had his coat off, his arms bare and the silver kept catching the light. “Swap at the next intersection,” Romain said suddenly, tugging a notebook out of his bag. “Anything you overheard or oversaw—this is going to be the only time we get on our own to write it down. Ensure you code it. The notebook is spelled to be uninteresting, but I don’t count on that to dissuade anyone determined. Reid agreed placidly, settling back into the calm of the drive.

It was almost possible to forget what they were doing. Almost.

 


 

He was with Grigorji next. They rode in silence. There was a knife on the dash, held down by the werewolf’s booted foot. Reid drove and the man’s eyes bore into the side of his head, never wavering. For eight hours, the man stared. Silent. Reid kept his coat on and his eyes ahead, even when they began to burn from the effort of staying focused for so long. It was a relief to swap again, but, even once he’d settled into the passenger seat of the truck Kökelun was driving after making sure the demons were all fed and watered, he still twitched at every noise.

Sleep that afternoon was elusive.

 


 

Romain again, and Reid spent the first four hours of the drive laying behind the seats, out cold.

“I think,” Romain said, when Reid surfaced and dragged himself into the passenger seat with gritty eyes and a mouth that felt like he’d been eating socks, “the werewolves suspect us.”

Reid was half-asleep, still exhausted, and dizzy from dehydration. He paused from gulping down a mouthful of water that spilled down his chin and snapped, “I’m not fucking the werewolves.”

The truck lurched as Romain’s hands twitched on the wheel, his mouth twisting. Reid stared. Romain didn’t look away from the road. When he began to laugh, it was an unfamiliar enough sound that Reid didn’t know quite what to make of it. “Understood,” Romain gasped eventually, wiping his eyes, and Reid couldn’t help but grin.

That was probably a turning point for them.

 


 

The Iraqi border was absurdly easy. They weren’t even searched. Iraq allowed demons, so Reid shed his coat for good. He suspected every one of their group knew by now, they didn’t intend on following them all the way back to Russia, and the sight of a thrall-bound demon would be enough to give the werewolves pause for thought on just how far they wanted to take their intimidation tactics with Romain. So long as they didn’t turn back towards Uzbekistan or the Baltic States, there were no countries in the immediate vicinity that would execute him for his species.

Romain tried the radio three more times. The only notable strain of speech they heard was a fluid, lilting language that made Reid’s ears ring uncomfortably and settled a strange kind of blankness into Romain’s eyes.

“Turn it off,” Reid snapped, and Romain shook his head and stared at him like he didn’t understand. With a snap, Reid slammed his palm against the radio and the clay dropped to the carpeted foot-well to roll about until it came to rest against the heel of Romain’s boot. “It’s elvish. Neither of us can understand it anyway, and we’d be stupid to try.”

“What are elves doing in Iraq?” Romain muttered, wiggling his finger in his ear. Outside, the sun was rising to reveal scrub and dusty mountains, a red morning threatening an uncomfortable day. Flipping the visor down, Reid glance at his reflection quickly in the small mirror. Just under a month, and he was already a stranger. His face had bypassed stubble and was approaching actual beard status, something he intended to rectify as soon as he could get hold of something to do so, and his hair was on the shaggy side of unkempt. He doubted the team would recognise him.

It was the first time he’d thought about the team in a while, and that was startling.

He looked… healthier than he had though. Under the scruff.

The human mind could adjust to any situation, given enough time. And this wasn’t so bad. Not as bad as the train, as the Green Mile and the hours spent in that rattling, claustrophobic space. They were apart from the demons, out of sight, out of mind, and after spending eight hours in a cab with a Russian werewolf, even Romain’s sweat-and-bird scent was bearable. Besides, Reid didn’t smell that much better.

“Do you have a pen?” Romain asked, shaking his and scowling at it. He’d kicked his socks off, propping his feet on the dash, oddly at home on the road. Revenir perched on his shoulder, looking down at the notepad resting on his lap. Gambit was behind Reid, chewing on the seat leather by the sound of it.

“In my bag,” Reid responded. “There should be some in there.” Romain snapped his seatbelt off, half hanging into the space behind the chair, the sound of vigorous rifling floating back out. “Found them?”

Romain slid back heavily, Reid’s bag in one hand and a frown on his face. “Numair,” he said slowly, his eyes dark. His mouth was hidden behind his own beard, somewhat more artfully combed than Reid’s scruffy attempt at facial hair. “Your knife is gone.”

Reid snapped his head around to look, fingers slipping on the wheel, and Romain held his bag open. He was right. The iron kila, Emily’s knife, was gone. The demon slayer. Someone in their group now had a knife known as a demon slayer.

It wasn’t all that was gone.

He’d stopped carrying the poetry book. It had felt wrong, especially after the first time he’d been forced to use the tip of the baton to correct a demon’s posture, a move that the Russian fondly referred to as a ‘love-tap.’ He didn’t want any part of Emily seeing that. So he’d put it in his bag. Put it out of sight. The first night, he’d reached for it constantly to check it was there. That stopped as the days had worn on and he’d lost more of himself in the job and the paranoia and even in the mindless, meaningless sex with Kökelun.

And now it was gone.

The book was gone.

Chapter Text

Emily Dickinson once said, “Parting is all we need to know of hell.” Unfortunately, Emily Prentiss had come to realize that was true. She’d forgotten that. For a little bit, obsessed with hunting Doyle, with revenge, she’d forgotten what she’d left behind. Forgotten the hurt and the grief and the misery of her loss—because it was a loss, her leaving him, and part of her knew she might never return—and instead replaced it with anger and hate.

Clyde had kept her grounded. For those three long months, slowly tracking a nightmare through Russia, he’d kept her grounded. Kept her going as the nights grew warmer, but never warm enough, kept her safe when she finally had to sleep. Occasionally, when the memories and the hurt had been too close, too raw, he’d distracted her from her rueful self-destruction. And she’d done the same for him. They were a team, and she’d been stupid to ever think she could have done this alone.

Occasionally, when she had thought she could risk it, she’d booted up the laptop JJ had supplied her with. Clyde promised her he’d shielded enough that “It would take nothing short of data itself to find it,” and Emily had laughed and thought that was a pretty apt description of one Penelope Garcia. There was very little on the laptop. A web browser, a word processor, and an online scrabble app that blinked New Messages! at her. At first, those messages had been scared. Scared of the way she’d slipped all their safeguards and vanished into the night.

Cheeto_Breath: Don’t do this alone, E. Please. He’s too strong.

Cheeto_Breath: Don’t make us bury you again. I can’t do that.

Cheeto_Breath: I’m going to freeze you to your damn desk when you get back.

Emily had responded occasionally, inviting the anger. It was better than nothing. And she’d known anger those days. She’d never asked about him though.

Blackbird: I’m fine. We’re close.

They weren’t. That was Doyle’s ground and he’d led them like a fox did hounds. Letting them get close and then slipping away like smoke. It had been infuriating. It was still infuriating.

Sometimes, the messages had turned sad. Emily always checked the time those ones came through. Usually the weekend, always late.

Cheeto_Breath: A. is worrying himself sick over you. Losing weight. You have no idea how much we miss you.

Cheeto_Breath: Why won’t you let us help you?

And once, just once, they’d been stunningly manipulative.

Cheeto_Breath: He’s not fine.

That was three months after she’d died. She remembered getting that message. They’d been outside Tomsk; Doyle a day ahead and heading for Moscow. He’d been moving aimlessly, or appearing to, before this. Then, for no apparent reason, he’d turned and made a clear beeline to Moscow, leaving them a perfect trail to follow.

Trap, she’d been sure. Clyde had been sure. They’d followed anyway.

The laptop had stood open and she’d been squabbling with Clyde over who got the lion’s share of the pastry he’d brought. It beeped. She’d stolen a chunk of the food, shoved it into her mouth before he could retaliate, and dropped heavily back into the backseat to peer at the screen. She remembered, vividly, the buckle of the seatbelt digging into her spine.

JJ knew how to deliver the worst news possible in a way that somehow lessened it. She knew how to soften the blow, how to stop families from shattering on the impact of death.

She hadn’t bothered that time, and that was a hint to how furious she’d been with Emily.

Cheeto_Breath: It’s been three weeks since you’ve made contact. We need to talk.

Cheeto_Breath: You need to contact us.

Cheeto_Breath: Don’t make me do this on fucking Scrabble, Emily, just don’t.

Cheeto_Breath: He stepped over last night.

And there it was.

The final straw that had broken Spencer Reid: her death. She had closed the laptop, closed her eyes, and quietly grieved for the next few hours. Clyde hadn’t asked her what had happened or if she was okay, and for that she’d been glad.

But she hadn’t stopped. She hadn’t shattered. There’d still been the hunt.

And that hadn’t changed.

 


 

They’d lost Doyle in Jordan. Emily had begun to dream of Spencer, constantly, and every time, he was a little further away. In her dreams, he was unfamiliar. Dressed in black under a thick grey coat, his hair longer than she’d ever seen it and face covered by a shaggy beard that both appalled and appealed to her. Sometimes, he was glamoured. Sometimes, he wasn’t. Sometimes, he was a dark profile against the night with his wings outstretched and his face glorying in the violence of a storm above.

Sometimes, his shoulders were bowed, and she could see him trembling.

They were disturbing dreams. But they were just dreams.

She was sure they were.

“You’re falling apart,” Clyde had remarked one warm evening in Irbid, as she leaned on the balcony of their tan-brick hostel and peered out over the blocky Jordanian horizon. “Maybe it’s time we let it go, love. You’ve lost too much.”

“Exactly,” she’d responded quietly, adjusting the scarf she’d tied around her hair to keep it out of her face and peering back into the dark rooms behind them. In them, the weapons they’d gathered. Doyle had been there. They’d confirmed that. But then he’d trailed aimlessly, like even he’d lost sight of where he was going, and vanished again. She’d seethed. “Sunk-cost-fallacy. I’ve put too much into this to give up now.”

Besides, had been the weary thought, what do I have to go home to anyway?

Clyde’s contacts had radioed them. We don’t have Doyle, they’d said, and she’d growled and turned away. But we do have something of interest. Got some American task force looking for slavers. They put a feeder out for you two.

“For us?” Clyde had said, frowning. His eyes had skittered to their weapons. A dangerous game. Trap, Emily remembered her mind whispering, sounding oddly like Rossi, and she hadn’t been able to tell if it was common sense or the paranoia that tended to follow being this hyper-focused on a monster for that long. “That doesn’t sound fun. I don’t think we’ll be taking them up on that offer, do you, Em?”

Nope. They’d moved on.

A week later. A coded message from another contact: Ephilalte magic sensed. Travelling through Turkey. Moving quick. You’re not the only ones watching.

When they’d looked into who else was tracking the signal, it had been American again. But it couldn’t have been Doyle, because he had been in the same city as them only two days before, in Jordan. He couldn’t move that fast. Not without flying; impossible into Turkey.

Three days later, another message. Stop hunting. Wrong way. Blue Diamond. Cambion.

“Blue Diamond is a combat camp in Iraq,” Clyde had said. His fingers had tapped the message, smoke curling from the cigarette he was anxiously chewing on. “Or, used to be. Ramadi is not somewhere we want to be strolling cheerfully into with our backs open. It’s a war-ground. Highly contested. If these Americans are there, I’m casting serious doubts on their legitimacy.”

But it was that last word that had got her: cambion.

Spencer.

“We’re going,” she’d ordered, heart in her mouth. If it was him… if there was a ghost of a chance...

Emily Prentiss was four months dead, and she was done with missing him.

 


 

That lead to this moment. Hunched in a half-mortared mud-brick house outside Ramadi, waiting for either a trap or salvation.

And they weren’t alone.

Emily hadn’t seen her on her first scope of the meeting place. Hadn’t realized that she and Clyde were being just as carefully watched. Not until they’d stepped into the house, breathing a sigh of relief at the lack of anything immediately murderous in the vicinity, and the floor had bubbled up and said, “About fucking time you idiots, I’ve been waiting hours.”

Eris. Goddamn David Rossi’s crazy fucking familiar in the—shadow? –flesh. Emily hadn’t known whether to laugh or cry and hug the silly thing, so she ended up doing an odd mixture of all three, thinking numbly how long it had been since she’d smiled like this. She’d missed her. Missed Rossi. Missed them all. It’d taken this moment, having their intelligence questioned by the sardonic shadow, to remind her ruthlessly of home.

And now she was reminded, she missed it fiercely.

“It’s them, I promise you,” Eris whispered, curling up the wall as outside a truck ground to a slow stop. Emily gripped her rifle, sweat beading down her spine, and tried to remember how to trust something implicitly. Eris would never steer her into a trap. Rossi would never steer her into a trap.

“I swear to god, if David bloody Rossi walks in here,” she muttered to the shadow, seeing Clyde glance curiously at them both, his own weapon ready. “I’m going to kick your ass. I’m supposed to be dead. Don’t you people understand what dead means?”

“Apparently,” Clyde drawled, “it means gallivanting around Iraq with a talking doormat.” Eris just chuckled and refused to tell them any more. Footsteps crunched up the path. Whoever it was, they were confident.

“Please don’t shoot him,” Eris added, as knuckles brushed the door in a tense knock that she fucking knew and goddamn it if she wasn’t giddy at the idea he was here. “I’d hate to take him home in pieces. Dave would be so disappointed in me.”

The door opened and Aaron Hotchner walked in, bearded and dressed in combat gear, unsmiling. Their gazes met.

“You look like shit,” she said. Lowered her weapon. Bit at her lip, unsure of her welcome.

His dark gaze studied her. “And you look great, for a dead woman,” he said, and smiled. It was a tired smile. A worn smile. It made the grey of his beard and the hair at his temples all the starker. But it was real. He was here. Emily stumbled forward into his arms and he hugged her close, their hearts thudding dully together.

He was here.

He smelled like home.

 


 

Aaron Hotchner was hiding something.

Emily hadn’t spent four months away and forgotten how to profile. If anything, it had improved her skills. And Hotch was being a squirrelly little fuck, his eyes locked on the road, knuckles white around the steering wheel, and absolutely expertly side-stepping every question she shot his way.

Rude.

“Why are you here?” she asked, in five different variations, and he just hummed and said ‘holiday’ with a sneaky grin that was more Morgan than him.

“Are you alone?” she tried, and he replied with a pert, “No, I’m clearly with you.”

In the time she’d been dead, clearly everyone at home had gone completely mental. So, she sulked. “Where are we going?” she grumbled finally, kicking at the footrest edgily and hearing Eris snicker from the backseat at her restlessness.

“Here,” Hotch said, and killed the engine. In front of them, a makeshift camp had been sprung with the kind of strict efficiency that just screamed Marines. But there wasn’t a uniform in sight, or an insignia, or the barest hint of anything official. Aaron Hotchner, what are you up to? she wondered, unbuckling her seatbelt and slipping out of the vehicle, following him. Behind them, Clyde was silent and Eris chattered about nothing in particular. It was an unreal feeling, walking at Hotch’s back, almost as though she’d just hallucinated the struggle of the past few months. Like there was every possibility they could fly home and she could walk into her apartment and find Sergio waiting, and Spencer curled up on the couch, warm and alive and smiling…

“Seriously, Hotch,” she snapped, her temper flaring. She was tired. Confused. A little worried that the man had done something stupid. That he was fucking with her. “If you don’t tell me what the fuck is going on right now I’m going to—”

“Hi, Emily.” A soft voice. A soft, female voice.

Emily turned. And broke.

“JJ,” she gasped, and stepped forward as though to hug her, pausing. Unsure of her welcome.

“Oh my god, Emily,” JJ said, eyes glittering. “I missed you so much.” And she was on her, wrapping her arms tight around Emily’s shoulders and dragging her into a hug that was crushing. Emily pressed her mouth against her friend’s hair and clung on grimly.

This. She couldn’t walk away from this again.

Not now she had it back.

 


 

Clyde stuck to her side like glue, not saying a thing, just leaning his chin on his hand and studying the three maps in front of him carefully. One very clearly tracked their progress. The other was more sporadic, but Emily could recognise Doyle’s trail anyway. Especially after living and breathing that same information for four months. The other one, though, was barely marked. Just three push-pins. One in Istanbul. One in Moscow. And one, differently coloured, midway between Istanbul and the Iraqi border.

Hotch hovered. Another man, an elf, loomed by the doorway, his eyes locked on JJ but saying nothing. JJ tapped her map. “Took us a while to track you down but… well, once we got Garcia onto it, it became exponentially easier.” Her voice was hesitant. Garcia. So Garcia knew she was alive now. Which meant Morgan as well. Rossi, obviously. Her mom?

Spencer hadn’t. If he had, he wouldn’t have…

She swallowed back the burning pain that brought and just nodded, unwilling to trust her voice. “Why now though?” she croaked eventually. Why not earlier? Why not when it could have made a difference? But she didn’t say any of the questions racing through her mind, because she knew she couldn’t blame them, knew she could have brought Spencer with her; he would have leapt at the chance. Could have done a million things other than what she had done; convinced a man who’d lost everything before that he was facing that nightmare again, but with no hope of respite this time.

That silence again as they tried to work out just how much to tell her. It was grating. She’d broken something, some trust, the day she’d gone after Doyle alone. Or maybe it had been the day in Paris when she’d booked a flight to Germany and then gone the other direction, shedding their careful surveillance of her like water from a duck’s back. It was also telling. They wouldn’t be this obvious about their secrecy if they were working in tandem. There was a disconnect here.

“I’m here to find you,” Hotch said finally, and there was truth in that, but not completely. “JJ is working a little more officially.”

JJ’s mouth twisted. “Hotch,” she said, and stressed his name to show how unhappy she was to be saying this, “isn’t supposed to be here. In fact, him being here is violating every confidentiality contract myself and the other members of this taskforce signed. You as well, and Eris. You have no idea how many rules we’re bending—”

“Breaking,” corrected the unnamed man mildly, smiling. JJ nodded at him, her gaze still fixed on Emily.

She tapped the blank map. “Slavers,” she said finally, quietly. “We’re assigned to retrieving seized Americans from demon slavers working in these areas, trafficking their… captives. This cell is slippery. They’ve been operating for years. Until now, we haven’t got a foot in on them, but now we’ve finally managed to make contact. Sources indicate that the current workers are willing to work with us to rescue a number of slaves from their route, and we’re going to use that opportunity to get some kind of surveillance on them. Track them to their hub and break them apart from the top down. We already have eyes on two other convoys, the ones carrying the majority of our Americans, but this one… we found another.”

Emily blinked. Out of everything she’d expected, that was the last. “Why?” she managed, staring at the map. “I mean, slavers? What? Why is this the pretence you used to get here?”

“It’s no pretence.” The man strode forward, expression focused. “I’ve been building this task force for over a year now in preparation for just this event, Miss. Prentiss. Until now, there was no point launching it. We couldn’t get a grip on any of the workers, those that did try to make a deal with us ‘vanished’ mysteriously before they could follow through and, even if we got the slaves free, they died as soon as their bindings registered that they’d escaped. Your rune has changed things. And your quarry has too. Haven’t you wondered why he’s been leading you on such a merry little dance?”

She had wondered. Clyde exchanged a look with her, his eyebrows raised, curiosity plain on his face now. They waited.

“He was leading you to them, to this convoy we didn’t even know existed, Em, as best as he could. He wanted you to find them. He wanted us, in tracking you, to find them.” JJ paused, and her nose scrunched up unhappily. “I hate to say this, but… he’s turned out to be an extremely valuable ally. Although he’s lost the trail a few times, and I’m afraid completely overshot their route. They’ve slowed down considerably over the past few days, according to the few readings we’re getting from them. We think they may have been travelling by train, perhaps switching to trucks or small vehicles after Istanbul.”

“Why would Ian Doyle be assisting you?” drawled Clyde, itching at his chin. “He is not exactly the generous sort. And he is, I’m sure, aware that we are hunting him to kill him, no offense.”

“None taken,” Hotch said in a low kind of tone that suggested he would like to do just the same. If Emily wasn’t so unsettled by the wild twist her life had suddenly taken, she would have smiled at that. “Emily, I need you to remain calm at this. There’s a reason Doyle is hunting the slavers. They’re taking demons. The younger the better. The stronger the better. From all over the world: America, Iceland, Japan; we’ve even found evidence that Australia has been hit by them.”

Emily clicked.

“Greece?” she whispered, and Hotch nodded slowly. No. She hid him there to be safe. No one could have gotten through her defences. No one. “Declan. They’ve got Declan.”

“I’m sorry, Emily,” JJ said. “But I’m afraid so. We’ve picked up trace amounts of ephilalte magic along their route, and he’s no longer at the safe house you assigned him. That’s why Doyle hasn’t confronted you yet. He’s using you to save his son.”

 


 

It was a dazed kind of feeling. The very definition of being ‘pole-axed.’ To know that, while she’d been chasing her tail in Russia, Declan had been in danger, was still in danger… it was a monumental failure on her behalf, and she added it furiously to the list of those she’d betrayed with her inaction. Sergio, Spencer, now Declan…

It was growing to be a long list.

But there was still the question of everything they weren’t telling her, so she shoved aside her rage and her guilt and waited until the weakest link was alone before striking. And the weakest link, she knew, wasn’t Eris, because Eris had been a part of David Rossi for so long she’d just talk Emily in circles until Emily forgot what she was even there to ask, and it certainly wasn’t JJ, because JJ could be frighteningly cold and she’d proved that the day she’d killed Emily Prentiss without flinching.

Emily found Hotch in his tent, staring moodily at his hands like he could see all the blood that was on them. Join the club, Emily wanted to say, and avoided looking at her own. We’ve all hurt so many.

“You think I’m hiding something,” Hotch said without looking at her, and she stood steady in the doorway and nodded. “You don’t believe I came looking for you just out of a desire to see you home safe?” That seemed unlikely. Emily stepped into the tent, twitching the flap shut and carefully taking a seat on the creaky camp-bed next to her ex-boss. He smelled of smoke and the oily soap that the army favoured, his clothes stiff and cleaned with a bleach-sharp solution the same as every other soldier. That was unfamiliar. But under that, he smelled of himself, and she tried not to lean into that scent.

God, she missed her home.

“Why are you here then?” she asked, picking at a thread on his scratchy blanket. “For Declan? For JJ? Shit, Hotch, I can read between the lines. If you’re here unofficially, then, what? You took leave? Retired? I can’t think the Bureau just let you toddle on out to the Middle East on a whim.”

“Resigned. Morgan and Rossi lead the BAU now.” The answer was stunning. Her breath escaped in a whoosh of shock and she stared at him. “After Spencer… did what he did. I couldn’t do it anymore, Emily. I killed you and by killing you, by hiding your death, I set the stage for his choice. This is my atonement for that.” His hand was steady on his lap, folded over his thigh, and she studied it, lost for words. The ropey trail of veins over the back of his hand, the skin stretched tight over knuckles; he’d gotten old hands without her noticing the passage of time aging him.

“What Spencer did wasn’t your fault. If anything, it’s mine. I knew he wasn’t stable, knew he wouldn’t cope with me being… gone. I knew by leaving him alone, I’d be destroying him.” And I did it anyway because I was so so angry and I knew I’d use that anger to justify twisting him, she thought, but didn’t say. Did she really need to specify how tempting the choice to use Spencer’s dark powers to her own advantage had been? His coercion, the shades of cruelty that Foyet had left in him… all horrendously useful in this line of work. All skills he’d use in a heartbeat if she asked him to. For her, he’d seen himself burn without even stopping to think if she was worth it. All skills that would twist him beyond recognition if he indulged in them. Darkling was a slur for a reason. To become characterized by the dark.

Demons could be swayed by that darkness all too easily, and they didn’t return from it.

Hotch swallowed and the noise was loud. “Emily,” he said, abruptly, and turned to her, his expression intense. More intense than usual. It pinned her. She, very suddenly, did not want him to finish whatever he was going to say. She shook her head, pulled away, but he didn’t stop. And what he said both destroyed and rebuilt her in quick succession. She hadn’t even realized she’d been grieving him properly, as one did someone dead, until suddenly he wasn’t anymore. “Spencer isn’t dead. He faked his death. He came after you. He came after you, and we can’t find him.”

Reeling, she stood. Pressed her hand to her mouth and then dropped it, uncertain, before laughing. Of course he’s alive. Of course. That little shit. Alive, alive, alive, her brain sang, because if he was alive, there was an end to this. A home to go to. Something to actually keep going for, beyond ending Doyle and saving Declan. “That dick,” she snapped, instead, and Hotch’s mouth twitched. Almost. “I’ll kill him myself. I can’t believe he had the balls to do that to you, or JJ, or Rossi, or… Henry…” She trailed off. It had been funny for a moment, now the horror of it hit. “Oh my god, you thought he was dead. Henry and Garcia… how long until you guys worked it out?”

“About a day. Rossi guessed it, came to me for confirmation. Morgan was… unhappy. But when we tried to track him down, we got nothing. He’s just vanished, completely. Even Garcia can’t find a whisper of him.”

Wait, what? Emily could name three times that Garcia had been completely foiled, and two of those times she’d at least found something. “How is that possible?” she questioned warily. If Hotch was here, with her, it meant that they’d given up on tracking Reid, if that was their true purpose, and instead come to her. Which meant they really did have nothing. “His magic should register if he uses it and you have a half decent tracking mage. No electronic trace? No surveillance cameras picked him up? Nothing? How is that possible?”

Hotch stood now too, and his mouth thinned. “It’s not,” he said slowly. “Unless… unless someone is hiding him. Has been hiding him from the start. For him to get out of the States, to have even discovered that you’re alive… he had to have had help.”

Emily sucked in a breath that chilled her teeth and settled heavily onto her tongue. “Spencer, you idiot,” she murmured, because she knew exactly who could have given him that information. Who had the facilities to disappear a demon without a trace. Who would have a keen interest in an incubus with coercive abilities and a genius-level intellect. “You’re thinking CIA?”

Hotch’s grimace was all the answer she needed.

That idiot.

 


 

Emily wasn’t allowed to go with the task force on their retrieval of the child slaves, and she was furious about it. “Why even involve me at all if you’re not going to use what I can offer you?” she raged to Hotch and JJ once Cruz and his team had vanished into the night, faces grim. They’d told them nothing about the operation. Not how they intended upon obtaining the children, not where they were, not what they planned to do to the traffickers once they were there. JJ probably knew, but she wasn’t talking, and Emily savagely hated her in that moment. “It’s my rune they’ll be using to unbind them. My magic is attuned to it! I can get it done in half the time, save twice as many!” See Declan sooner.

“I’m not permitted to go either,” Hotch pointed out mildly, and JJ just bit at her lip and looked away. It was alright for her. She’d chosen not to go. She wasn’t trained for a hard retrieval, wasn’t trained in combat, and she wasn’t confident enough to insert herself into that kind of operation.

But Emily was. And she should have been there.

“Ah, I hate to break up this lovely little party you’re having here,” Clyde said from the entrance of the tent, poking his head through, “but Emily, sweetheart, can we chat? Just for a second.”

Emily shot a withering look at Hotch, who didn’t even twitch, and tried not to look too much like she was storming out in a temper. Even though she was. “What?” she snapped, as soon as they were far enough from the tent that Hotch couldn’t hear them. JJ probably still could though. Around them, the night was calm and warm, a noisy kind of quiet. The few remaining members of the taskforce, mostly intelligence and coms operatives, chattered in their tents to each other; somewhere, a car fired up; distantly, she could hear goats.

Somewhere, probably not all that far, Spencer was probably listening to much the same. She glanced up at the moon in the clear, dark sky, and wondered if he was thinking about it too. The temper she’d been cultivating dimmed, just a little, replaced with a weary longing. Where are you?

“I think the hunters may have become the hunted,” Clyde murmured, holding out his phone. Emily took it. The picture on the screen was grainy, green and black, shot on a night vision camera from a distance. The figure on it was clearly outlined though, his eyes white-green flashes as the camera failed to account for the nocturnal cast to his retinas. Like cats’ eyes.

And he was immediately recognisable, despite this.

Doyle.

“My birdies got that about an hour from here, right smack bang in the centre of Ramadi. Not even half an hour ago. He’s right here, Em. He’s right next to us.”

Emily studied the picture carefully, then smiled. There was no flicker of anything positive at the sight of the man she’d once… cared for… not a hint. Just hate. Hate for Sergio, for the ruin he’d made of her life. “Let’s go,” she murmured, handing the phone back and checking her gun at her hip. If they ended this tonight, with Declan safe and a bullet between Doyle’s eyes, she could focus on finding Spencer.

This could end tonight.

 


 

They moved silently through the empty building, Clyde leading the way in his shifted form and Emily covering him with her weapon at the ready. She knew how to follow Clyde, knew it innately. Just as much as she knew how to follow Hotch or Morgan or Rossi, although in practise, much closer to following Sergio. It was an odd feeling to glance down to read his posture and to find the russet coloured back and flank of a fox slinking in point rather than the sleek black of her cat, but his senses were just as keen. Wide bat-like ears twisting to pick up on the minutest of sounds, dark nostrils flaring red; he was the perfect foil to her human inadequacies, just as she made up for his inability to wield a gun in his current shape. On her arm, the rune that curled around her bicep warmed. Demon close by. She tapped her tongue against her teeth, the tiniest of sounds, and watched Clyde nod once to indicate he’d heard it and was aware. We’re close.

In this part of Ramadi, many of the buildings were rubble. Destroyed in the skirmishes before the Iraqi Army had reclaimed the city from US Forces, and as of yet un-recovered by the decimated population. Few lived here, except for those made destitute, and the streets and surrounds were eerie-quiet. Emily stepped over a twisted mass of black-charred brick and turned, slowly, to put her back to the wall as she sidled into the next room. Empty as well. Her rune heated. Wielding her gun in one hand, she traced the fingers of her other across her palm, creating a simple rune that would create a sudden, flaring light if something were to dart out of the darkness at her. For a nocturnal creature like Doyle, it would be crippling.

Clyde slipped under some masonry, vanishing from sight into the next room where she couldn’t follow without making noise scrabbling over the loose rubble. She waited, not worried. He was fast and silent on his paws, and she was a heartbeat away from him if he got into trouble.

She scanned her surroundings again. Long, reaching shadows, made uneven and alarming by the unfamiliar shapes of the mortared walls. The soft shift of clouds outside across the face of the moon changing the weak illumination, hiding parts of the space and then revealing them moments later. The window beside her was a concern. Pressing her back against the cool brick, she peered out onto the ground below. They were on the second floor. The street was empty, no street-lights or houses lighting it. A dog padded out from an alley, tail low and head close to the ground. She turned back. Room still empty. The shadows lengthened. Clyde was still in the next room. She heard a soft clatter from there, as though he’d knocked something. Rolled her eyes at him as a gentle huff echoed back to her, his signal that all was fine. It was an animal sound, easily overlooked, unless someone was on high alert.

When she looked back at the shadows, Doyle stepped out of them.

“Hello, darling,” he whispered, and the room went dark as her palm flared. It was barely three seconds of casting, but, in that time, he had the upper-hand. And he knew it was temporary. He was fast, faster than her, and his hands were around her arms before she had time to fire her gun. Or maybe she did, and the darkness he’d sunk her in had muffled the sound and the impact. When she blinked, the black didn’t shift. It was all-consuming, suffocating, and she couldn’t tell if she was standing or falling or lying flat, only that everywhere she looked was a void.

“I’m not going to kill you,” he murmured, behind her, his mouth to her ear and his arms wrapped tight around her. Her arm seared a warning, screaming demon at her.

“That’s nice,” she spat, slamming her heel backwards and finding nothing to connect with. “Stay still then, so I can kill you.” A hand grabbed hers, wrenching her fingers back painfully. She yelped, her gun falling from her grip to tumble noiselessly into the echoing void beneath her, and her head spun as her brain tried to make sense of her spatial surroundings.

“Forget him,” Doyle snarled, appearing in front of her. Stupid. She wasn’t unarmed because he’d taken her gun. The offensive rune was one she was clumsy at, but she cast it perfectly this one time and the space he was standing in exploded in a muffled soundless whump of pressure Doyle flickered, reappearing again just to the right of her blast, face twisted with anger. “Forget your demon boyfriend. He’s just like me, I warned you he was. Just as fucking cold, as inhumane. Why aren’t you saving Declan, you stupid woman? Was your care for him a fucking lie too?”

“Go to hell.” She prepped the rune, ready to cast again, hoping distantly that Clyde wasn’t in her firing range since she still couldn’t see. “Here, I’ll show you the way.” The second explosion was just as muffled as the first. Whumf. From far away, she heard rock shifting.

Doyle flickered. Touched her arm, his chin to her shoulder. “You’re always so blind in your love,” he whispered savagely, fingers digging into the rune on her arm. “Let me show you. Can you hear him screaming for you? Let me show you what he’s become.”

And they dropped into nothing.

 


 

Doyle is still wrapped around her when she opens her eyes, but they’re not her eyes. She’s felt this before, this stepping into this familiar mind, and she knows it instantly. Almost instantly.

It’s changed.

Where once Spencer’s mind had felt gentle and soft, now it’s blank. Smoothed over. Like he’s taken all his kindness and tucked it away, leaving his personality a carefully constructed facsimile of another man’s. He’s speaking to her, reaching for her.

He’s furious .

See this Emily! he silently screams, his nails digging his hip through his jeans to where their rune had lain before she’d destroyed it with a thought. See what I’ve done in your name?!

His loathing, his fury, is breathtaking. Cruel, almost.

Demonic, certainly.

In that moment, she knows he hates her. So she looks.

What? she breathes, seeing a nightmare. A truck, the interior of a truck. Children laying around him, still. Silent. Dead? Or dying. Their faces flushed and bodies failing. Another in his lap, dark head pillowed against his arm. Spencer cradles him, the hot heavy weight, his own hands—familiar hands, she sees them and aches at the memory—curled with painful care around the slim body, holding him steady.

What is this?

Someone else in Spencer’s mind, an unfamiliar flavour. Male. Predatory. Cold. She shrinks back from his gaze, looks again at the nightmare around her. The arms. Spencer’s arms.

Bound. The silver twined around them. Horror, hers.

Shock, his. He’s heard her.

Emily?

She lunges at him, ripping herself out of Doyle’s grasp and scrabbling for a grip on his mind, his magic, anything to drag herself closer to him, to offer him some support, just to touch him and know he’s real and alive and not a twisted figment of Doyle’s sick imagination.

Oh my god, she sobs, feeling her grip fail and slip. He’s fading, the image failing, she’s being dragged away. He reaches back, just as desperate, and they brush against each other, just for a second. Their touch falters. He’s gone.

Wait, no, Spence! Where are you? Are you bound? No, no—

 


 

And her eyes opened on the shattered floor of the building with Clyde crouched over her, his face grim. Around them, the air was thick with the scent of burning.

“He got the jump on you,” Clyde said, glancing back at the dark marks where her rune had blasted into the walls and floor. “Almost. You alright?”

“Where is he?” she gasped, trying to orientate herself, still half reaching for Spencer, his mind, the much-loved flavour of his thoughts. What had she seen? What was that? Who had captured him? Trapped him with those children, those dying children, all demons. The ones she’d seen, they’d all been bound. Gold instead of silver.

The answer seemed horribly clear. Maybe he’d come after her on his own behest, but he’d been waylaid. Captured. Bound again, again, and the thought of that was gut-wrenching, and all because he’d been searching for her. He’d put himself in that danger for her, and she’d broken their rune, the one that protected him.

It was her fault.

“I don’t know,” Clyde was saying, helping her onto her feet, her gun in his hand. “He was gone by the time I got back in here.”

What?

“Not Doyle,” she snapped, grabbing her gun and looking about wildly. He had to be close. Had to be. Doyle’s range wasn’t that far. Miles at most. What were the chances that there were two cells operating in the same area? “Spencer. Reid! He’s here, somewhere close. We have to go. Come on—come on!” And she bolted for the exit, hearing Clyde shout something after her, following despite his confusion. She couldn’t wait though. If she waited, he was on the move…

She’d lose him again.

 


 

The camp was teeming with activity when their car skidded to a halt, Emily almost throwing herself from the driver’s seat in her haste to find Hotch and JJ. The taskforce was back. She barely spared them a glance, seeing two mages glance curiously at her as she pelted past, ignoring Clyde’s yelp of protest at her leaving him behind again.

They weren’t in Hotch’s tent. Or JJ’s. Or the command tent. She snarled in frustration, looking about wildly. Time ticked steadily onward, every moment she wasn’t actively out there finding him another moment he could be moving further and further away from her. Medical bay. She ran there next, ducking under the flap. JJ straightened, blue eyes wide and startled, from her position next to a bed. From the bed, two children blinked at her.

“JJ,” Emily gasped, her breath rasping. She inhaled, calming her nerves, striding forward. “Where was the convoy? The slavers? I need to know. I have to go there, now, we need to go there. Now!”

“Prentiss.” Hotch’s voice. His tone was a bark, an order to calm down, and when she looked at him, aware her own expression was wild and verging on panic, he was seated on a bed next to another child with his hand on the child’s shoulder soothingly. The child, a girl, stared at Emily, shaking with fear, hands over her mouth. “Outside. Take this outside.” He stood, murmuring something to the child, and Emily glanced desperately at JJ. Please. JJ nodded, soothing her own two charges, and Emily looked at them and jolted.

Black curls. Thin features. She knew those features.

Giddy with fear and excitement, she stumbled out, her team following.

“Where the hell did you go?” JJ hissed, anger clouding her face. “You just vanished. You can’t do that anymore! It’s dangerous here, and you put us all at risk if you go off on your own—”

“Spencer is with the slavers,” she said, cutting JJ off. “Doyle showed me—”

Hotch. “You were with Doyle?” Angry.

She ignored him, “—and I saw that kid, the one you were helping, except he was sick, terribly sick, and Spencer was holding him. He’s with them, Hotch. Captured by them. And we were right fucking there and didn’t know! We left him!”

Both their faces took identical expressions of shock. “Impossible,” JJ whispered, hand twitching towards her mouth as though to hide how appalled she was.

“Are you sure?” Hotch’s voice cracked. Emily nodded. “Oh, fuck. No. No, we couldn’t have…”

“What’s going on?” Cruz ducked out of the tent, brows furrowed. “You’re scaring the kids. They’ve had a hell of a time, shouting is the last thing they need.”

“Was there a man with the convoy?” Emily said, fierce, stepping into his personal space as an unspoken request to hurry hurry hurry.

“Yes, of course, our contact—”

“A demon.” She kept going, watching his expression carefully. JJ and Hotch did the same. “Tall, thin, winged. Bound with silver.”

Silence. Cruz tilted his head back slightly, eyeing each of them before he answered. “Yes. Why?”

“Oh my god.” JJ did cover her mouth now, skin tinged with green. “He’s bound? We have to go back! We have to go get him!”

They all looked to Hotch, oddly, except for Cruz. Even now, even here, they followed him.

“Get your gear,” he ordered, turning on his heel and striding away. “We’re going back.”

 


 

One of Cruz’s people had placed a tracking rune on the exhaust of the truck Spencer and his captor were travelling in. He guided them until morning was a purple suggestion on the horizon and he swallowed and said, “They’ve stopped. For a while now.”

There were six in their vehicle. Emily sandwiched between JJ and Clyde, both armed, both tense, and Hotch driving with the mage in the passenger seat. Eris was curled up small around JJ’s feet, silent and waiting. Cruz was behind them in another car, with four more of his people. They were ready for a confrontation. They expected one.

But they weren’t leaving without Spencer with them.

Emily felt JJ stiffen. “How long ago?” she asked.

“About an hour. We’re maybe forty minutes from there now. Maybe they’re resting?”

That would be useful. Catch them when their defences were down. They could end this in a heartbeat, minimal collateral. Simple. Easy. But when had things ever been simple for them?

Emily reached for him, finding nothing as expected, and cast a desperate thought in his direction. We’re coming, she thought, closing her eyes and picturing him, smiling, angry, pensive, depressed, every mood she knew on him, every aspect of him she loved. Stay strong. We’re so close now.

“Declan wasn’t with the children recovered,” JJ said suddenly, as though the thought had just hit her. Emily’s heart twisted. “We checked. There were supposed to be eight children—our mages report sighting eight children, but we only have six in custody at the moment.”

“What else can go wrong?” Clyde muttered, hands tracing his weapon, and Emily wished he hadn’t said that. So much else could go wrong.

And did.

 


 

They found the truck. Several trucks, in fact.

They found bodies.

Emily circled the closest truck, nose burning from the acrid scent of ozone still thick in the air. She stepped over a demon, eyes blank and empty from the bullets that had caved his chest in, and peered in the open back of the vehicle. Some water canisters, mostly full. Boxes of what she assumed were food. Gas, some empty, some not. They’d abandoned them in a hurry, taking little. The whole space stank of too many bodies enclosed in the airless room, of waste, of illness. Around them, bodies were littered like leaves from trees. The sun beat mercilessly down on them as Emily counted almost two dozen dead, as task force members went from one to the next carefully checking for survivors. There weren’t any. Those that weren’t demon, weren’t slaves, were American. They were soldiers.

“Emily.” JJ came up behind her. “He’s not here. None of these bodies are his.”

Yet.

Emily nodded, studying the truck. She could see the line of soldiers, level with the bullets that had sprayed the vehicles. The demons had been standing against the truck when they had opened fire on them. Had the slavers? Where were they now?

Where was Spencer?

“This is weird,” one of the task force members was saying, her voice shrill. “Look at this. These… these guys shot each other. These soldiers. What the fuck? Why would they do that?”

Emily shuddered.

A whistle. Clyde’s. Obediently, Emily trotted towards it, finding him off to the side of the road at the end of a long trail of blood across the roadway. Something had been dragged. Hotch had beaten her there, crouched with his head lowered and shoulders slumped. Her gut dropped into her shoes, breath failing her. For a long, halting moment, the world stopped around her. She couldn’t see what he could. Didn’t know who he was crouched over, who Clyde was looking down on, who Eris was peering at. Didn’t want to know. Couldn’t know.

A touch on her arm. Gentle. Cold.

“It’s not Spence,” JJ soothed her, and Emily snapped back to life and took those final few steps to see.

It was a woman. Dressed in black, a baton at her hip. The only way Emily could tell she was a woman was from the shape of her body. There was no way to tell from her facial features.

The bullet that killed her had struck just below her right eye.

Emily swallowed back nausea. “Slaver?” she asked, stepping closer and studying the body. The woman’s hands were curled, clawed. Thick fur coated her arms. Her ears had shifted slightly, further up her skull. Therian, mid-shift when she’d died. Her shoulder was mangled, canine jaws having closed on it, dragging her away. To safety or for their own means? Emily didn’t really want to dwell on that.

The stiff cloth of her uniform rustled as Hotch searched her, gloved hands nimble. “Looks like,” he said, and paused. “Oh.” His hands pulled back, cupped around what he’d found. “Emily.”

She’d already seen it. She took it from him with hands that trembled, and let the book fall open to the familiar page, revealing the contents tucked within. A drawing, the barest hint of green crayon and nry. L visible. Three photos. One of the team. One of her. One of him.

It was their book.

Chapter Text

The loss of his last link to himself hovered over him at the next rest stop as he carefully ensured each of the demons had water and at least a mouthful of the jerky and muesli bars they were supplied. In the back of the truck, a stark contrast to the fierce heat outside, it was cool and almost comfortable, despite the close cloying scent of bodies packed closely together in the tight space. He was alone with the slaves, so he could afford a moment of being Reid again, one final desperate grasping attempt at clinging to himself, instead of the Numair that he was expected to be.

Romain hovered outside the door, uncharacteristically close, and his hand was seated on the butt of his baton. The demons’ eyes skittered to him constantly, nervous and wary of his proximity, but Reid knew he wasn’t focused on them at all. While Reid mourned his book, the photos of his family, Henry’s drawing… Romain obsessed over the knife.

Declan was pressed against the wall that separated the back from the cab, huddled close to the demon next to him. Reid kneeled, offering him the water bottle and studying the girl who held him. Thirteen at most, the wiry kind of slender, with dark, straight hair pulled back into a loose ponytail. Her features were elfin, delicate, a tiny bow-shaped mouth the focal point of her face.

Her eyes were white. Blind.

“Water?” he offered, and touched the bottle to her hand. She flinched back. Nimble fingers traced the bottle, curling around the cap, and she shook her head no.

“She doesn’t speak English,” Declan said quietly, taking the bottle. “Can you stay with us? Please?”

His heart twinged in his chest. “No,” he murmured, standing and leaving the bottle with them, despite their instructions being to remove anything that could be used as a projectile, or leave a trail. “I’m sorry. But you’re perfectly safe in here, I promise. And I’m just through that wall. You can even hear me, through that.” He gestured down, at the vent by Declan’s side. It was closed at the moment, but if he so wished, Reid could open it while lying in the space behind the chairs, and Declan could speak to him. They had done it previously, once. Romain hadn’t liked it much though. Don’t get attached, he’d warned him. There’s no guarantee he’s one of the ones we’ll be able to save.

Reid was determined he would be. For Emily.

As he stepped out of the truck, turning to close the door on them once more and plunge them into darkness, Declan spoke once more: “I know I’m safe. But you’re not.”

The door closed.

 


 

“You two, Charlie and whatever, keep together. I want the wolves taking it in turns sniffing ahead. This was not the route I wanted to take.” The Russian was scowling, expression a snarling kind of grim. Reid eyed him warily, sensing something almost inhuman lurking behind those cold eyes and being entirely unwilling to tempt that ‘something’ forward.

The werewolves didn’t seem so cautious. “We are not to swap?” one growled in Russian, cocking his head towards the other. “Why? What is ahead?”

“Roadside explosives are laid along this route; it is known for it,” the Russian snapped in reply. Reid focused his gaze off to the side, almost distracted, so they didn’t think he was listening. Romain watched them openly, but his Russian was fractured, broken, and Reid wasn’t hugely sure it was an act. He clearly understood ‘explosives’ though, because his eyes widened very slightly. From the cab behind them, Revenir whistled nervously. “We will move slow. Few rests. You two take turns sniffing, then sleeping.” He switched back to English, turning to the woman. “You, what do you shift to? And your hound? Will you be useful for this?”

She sniffed, leaning against the truck and wiping her hand across her forehead, leaving a dark streak of grime across her swarthy skin. “Nothing helpful to you,” she said, and looked down at her companion. “He might. If you can make it worth his while… which I doubt.”

Romain had vanished, barely visible half in and out of their cab. Reid slunk back to him, voice low. “Why is he keeping us together?”

“Don’t question it,” Romain suggested, pulling himself up into the cab and swinging himself easily into the driver’s seat. Revenir and Gambit both squalled before taking to the skies. Romain had ensured their safety, even along the IED laced roadway. “Come on. I think the next day or so is going to be painfully tedious. If you are called upon to drive one of the wolves’ trucks alone, you can search it for your knife. I have no doubt it was one of them.”

Reid nodded, glancing over his shoulder before following Romain into the truck. Behind him, one of them had taken wolf form and watched him with cold, blue eyes. Hulking and as tall as a wolf on four paws as a man would stand on two, a fission of fear worked its quick way down Reid’s spine.

It could kill him in a heartbeat if he fell under those jaws.

So why would they take his knife?

 


 

He napped with Romain driving, but on the next swap he had Kökelun and she settled into the passenger seat and glared when he looked longingly at the sleeping space behind the chairs, filled with the hulking shape of the hael hound. Driving had become… monotonous.

“I can spice it up for you a bit,” she teased once, snaking a hand into his lap, but he shot her a look and she retreated, smirking. Just the idea of the effect that would have on his ability to concentrate effectively on the road had his wings mantling in worry. At her touch, he felt a spark of his old power reminding him what he was, tasting her arousal, her emotions. Just a taste. Gone as soon as her hand pulled away. He filed that titbit of information away to mull over later, the sudden unexplained failure of his shield to block her from him.

Midnight passed and they followed the dim lights of the Russian’s truck ahead, trees to the side of them occasionally being illuminated by Romain’s own lights as he followed behind, time slowly ticking on till morning.

Reid’s concentration lagged. Kökelun slept, her neck kinked back. He eyed her cautiously, her tank top visible under the open front of the stiff black uniform shirt and cargo pants. Hardly room to hide his book… or the knife. She didn’t appear to have any bags or carriers either, not within sight, unless she had them in the back. It had to be the wolves. Or the Russian, but he didn’t seem to care what Reid was, so why would he go out of his way to take it?

The truck jolted, dropping suddenly, and the movement was so unexpected and shocking that he almost let go of the wheel before jerking it back onto the road, wheels skidding. Kökelun lurched upright, her hound yelping as he was thrown into the seat, and Reid slammed the brake on and stared ahead at the dusty road, stunned. He’d drifted off. Just for a second, a single second, and the truck had edged off-road.

Such a simple, easy, fucking stupid mistake to make. And he could have killed them all.

Bang!

Reid snarled, whirling on the driver’s door as someone smacked it with the palm of their hand before wrenching it open. Air cracked, light glittered; he almost slammed lightning into Romain’s chest, the mage barely reeling back in time. His alarm thundered through their link, and Reid snapped his hand shut around the spell, feeling it fizz and die against his skin.

Silence except for the hound’s heavy panting, Kökelun gasping, and the rhythmic thump of Reid’s own pulse in his ears. The engine whined, chugging sadly along, and Romain swallowed hard and stepped forward, slowly.

“Check the demons,” he instructed Kökelun, who for once didn’t argue, just unbuckled her seatbelt and silently exited the vehicle, leaving them alone. “You idiot! Utter arrogant fool! You could have been killed—you almost killed me. I almost ended up your fucking ass! Get out. She drives. You’re with me again.” The anger in his voice was palpable, and Reid meekly obeyed, undoing his own seatbelt with a shaking hand.

“The fuck are you lot playing at?” The Russian. Reid slid to the road, his bad knee twinging at the impact as he twisted to reach for his cane. “I almost left you behind. We’re on a fucking schedule, we don’t have time for this bullshit—where is he going?”

“He’s tired,” Romain said coolly. Reid limped to the bright interior of Romain’s truck, feeling dizzy and a little unwell at the unpleasant shock. A hand pressed into his spine, pushing him forward, and he almost leaned back into it, grateful for that warm, firm support. “I’m not. She’s not. It makes sense to—”

“No.” The Russian’s voice was closer. “You’ve driven together enough today. Numair, with Grigorji. Charlie, you drive alone for now.”

Shit.

 


 

He didn’t sleep. How could he?

The wolf drove as the night cleared to morning. At the next break, the Russian wove them on. They didn’t stop. The tension grew. Silence in the cab, the day heating outside, and the thick-musky scent of fur and copper and old sweat was choking. Reid watched the wolf and the wolf’s mouth twitched into what should have been a smile, but showed far too many teeth.

The heat grew. In front, the road wavered and distorted with the illusion of water. Grey and brown and dusty and never-ending, the barest dark shadow the only sign of Demyan. Eyes burning, Reid tried to focus on the road, on the shadow, but his head thumped and he had to close them, just for a second.

And snapped awake again, the shadows shifting. Outside, the landscape was the same. Inside, it was hotter, thicker, drier, and his mouth ached and throat screamed, stomach twisting unhappily with thirst. His flask was still in Kökelun’s truck. Ignoring the thirst, he closed his eyes again and counted, desperately, the hours until the next stop.

 


 

The dreams were vivid, chaotic. Exhaustion and the crippling heat and the strain of the danger he sensed played havoc with his mind.

Emily with her hair covered by a deep blue scarf, peering out from behind a dusty curtain. In her hands, a rifle gleams.

“How do you know they’re who they say they are?” Clyde says from the other side of the hut, his own hands resting around an automatic weapon that looks strange in the arid surrounds. “It seems very… neat, that they’ve found you.”

Emily’s mouth twists. She’s lost weight, lost condition, her skin taut and eyes dull. “I don’t,” she says quietly, and bites at her lip. It’s dark, scabbed, from where she’s gnawed at it previously. “I just have to hope.”

She can’t do this alone. Not anymore. Not with so much at stake.

“It’s them, I promise you,” whisper the walls, darkening around them.

Someone says something in French. Reid turns. Romain is there, and he’s dying. A bell rings, light and mournful.

“No,” Reid moans, because he’s buried so many people, so many, and he can’t lose another. “Emily, help him. Help him.” But Emily is gone. The wolves are in her place, smiling, and Romain’s neck is torn open, bitten; their mouths are red.

He smells smoke. Distantly, he’s aware he’s dreaming. He can feel his body twitching, trying to jolt awake, but he’s tired, so tired, and horrified, and the dream drags him back.

A small hand touches his, and the smoke vanishes. “Come on,” whispers a young voice, and he looks down and finds Henry beaming up at him. “Come on, Unk’ Spence. Play hide and seek?”

They’re at the park. Henry pulls him to the slide.

It’s not Henry.

Reid crouches. “How are you casting?” he asks him curiously, and Henry becomes Declan, his arms gold banded and his expression nervous. “I thought they put blocks into the bands to stop you guys from casting.”

“They did,” Declan says, shuffling his feet, his lip pinching as he nips at it. Reid reaches up, cupping his chin, tugging his face up to meet his gaze. “It don’t work on me. And I don’t like bad dreams… I can make your bad dreams better. It just took me a while. Your dreams are hard to get into, they’re all… foggy.”

The shield. The shield blocks him. But, not completely.

Interesting.

He coughs and tastes pennies. The playground wavers. Why is it so hot?

Declan jolts suddenly, eyes widening. “Wake up,” he yelps, and shoves at him. “Something yuck is near us. Can you feel it? Wake up! Please!” He runs, vanishes, and Reid

opened his eyes and coughed again, his throat screaming and eyes streaming. It was unbearably hot. He was coated in sweat, head spinning, and every movement felt sluggish, slow.

“Cooler broken,” Demyan grunted, and held out a water bottle. Reid blinked. When had they swapped? He was sure that Grigorji had been driving. Sure of it. Hadn’t he? “We stop.”

They had stopped. Reid could see the barest glint of another truck almost two-hundred metres ahead. They’d staggered themselves along a river, the ground outside baking, all the better to move quickly if they were seen.

Water sloshed under his nose, the wet scent of it making his mouth ache as it tried to salivate and failed. He shook his head slowly and the world tipped. Took the bottle and choked it down, tepid and cloying and so good he almost moaned. It was hot. Too hot. He needed… something. To lay down. To press his head against something cold.

“I have to…” he mumbled, trailing off and fumbling for the door handle. His coat was off. Had he taken it off? The silver glinted on his arms, heating against his skin, searing. A bell tinged slightly, audible only to him, brushing against his wrist. The river nearby. He could go to the river, the water. How had Declan casted?

Heat seared through his boots as he staggered into the sunlight, feeling his neck instantly burn. Dehydration. He was dehydrated. It was all too easy in this climate.

Two more steps and he found his feet, narrowing his eyes against the glare and moving resolutely towards the water. His ears thudded, a headache thudding with them. Thump thump narrated his footsteps. Not just his footsteps.

Behind him.

He turned with a hiss and a crackle of his magic flaring, but a weight slammed him forward onto the baking ground. At the first slow slide of the kila into his body, he was paralysed. The demon killer. He couldn’t fight it. The iron took his will, his strength, and left him limp and pliable on the ground. He felt his wings twitch, his hand smacking once against the rock to try and press him up, the cruel knee digging into his spine, and the hot, sweet breath of the man on his back. His glamour flickered and dropped with the touch of the iron, leaving his wings exposed, his species visible.

“You think I don’t know what you are?” Demyan growled in Russian, and Reid felt that breath change, turn doglike and putrid. “Demon scum. Filth. You flaunt it. You think you are safe because your handler protects you. Where is he now? Where is he, mutt?”

Reid turned his focus inward, hammering on the connection to Romain, cursing the stupid fucking shields they’d been given. If it was Emily, he could have summoned her in a heartbeat. Romain!

Demyan wasn’t going to be slow about this. Reid felt the knife tracing a quick, sharp pattern into his back, the slow, coiling burn of the iron seeping into his bloodstream promising a world of pain later on even if he escaped this. If he focused on the rune, he could almost recognise it. An exorcism rune. Romain! Help! Reid’s hands moved slowly. Painfully. He brought his hands together and pressed his fingers to the rune under the band. The bell brushed his skin. Romain…

The wolf screamed suddenly, the knife skipping and cutting deep as he was shoved forward. Shadows danced overtop of them, a frantic clap of beating wings. A deep, throbbing, screaming sceeee-yak!

Gambit.

The hand on his back shifted, becoming a paw, and Gambit screamed again. The weight on his back vanished as the wolf leapt upwards, jaws reaching for the bird, and Reid pushed against the paralysis, pushed, kept pushing, rolled onto his back, kicking out. His foot caught the knife, sending it tumbling down the side of the bank. Above them, Gambit whirled around the wolf in a dangerous dance, his wings moments from the crushing jaws, talons slashing.

Another flickering shadow, smaller, and Revenir dropped onto Reid’s chest. Her claws dug into his abdomen as she rattled a warning, wings and feathers flared and beak gaping. Tiny and angry and hopelessly protective; if the wolf turned on her, he could crush her with a half-hearted tap of his paw.

And Reid couldn’t cast, could barely move, not until the flowing blood from the cuts on his back pushed the traces of iron out of his body. He was useless. Barely able to lever himself upright, one hand reaching down to try and curl around Revenir, pull her out of harm’s way.

The wolf grabbed Gambit by one great, grey wing and wrenched him down. Gambit screamed and Reid cried out hoarsely with him.

Through their connection, horror.

The wolf turned, black lips curled back to reveal white fangs, and he lunged at Reid with a roar. Knife thrown aside, he was just going to tear him apart. Reid flung his arm up. Revenir screeched.

She was silent. He didn’t even see her strike. He saw the wolf’s jaws, the red expanse of his mouth and throat, felt the heat of his death bearing down on him, and then the wolf overshot, eyes widening and then unfocusing. He dropped, as suddenly as if he’d been shot, and the snow leopard fell with him, her wide paws wrapped around his shoulders and fangs crushing down with brutal force on the back of his skull.

Dead in seconds, and none of them had heard her coming.

Reid heaved a breath in the second of silence that followed, the wolf still twitching with the shock of his death on Reid’s legs, a dead, crushing weight. The leopard let go, licked her lips, and studied Reid with watercolour eyes, ghost green-grey and deadly. The world wavered around her, and Kökelun squatted on the wolf, human and frowning with blood on her mouth.

“I,” she began slowly, and he recognised fear in her tone, her scent, “just risked my life for you, demon. I… have never done that for anyone. I would never do that for anyone. I don’t even particularly like you, beyond what carnal pleasures you can offer me. And I was resolute that I would stand by and watch your death. So why is he dead and not you? Why?” Her voice pitched, rumbled, and he could hear the leopard in it now he knew.

Because I compelled you not to betray me, Reid thought suddenly, his gut lurching, and he knew that guilt showed on his face because her ghost eyes widened and she snarled as he confirmed her suspicions. And letting me die is a betrayal to you. I’m sorry. He blinked to hide her horrified face, just for a second, and when he opened his eyes again, there was a wolf stalking her and she was too busy reeling from the implications of his guilt to notice.

He opened his mouth to warn her right as she sensed and turned. Almost too late. The wolf leapt. Reid yelped as the weight shifted painfully on his legs as she took to leopard form again and reared, still not fleeing despite the fact that in a fair fight, she had no chance.

Two gunshots rang out, one after the after. They barely slowed the wolf, despite slamming into his shoulder and the side of his thick neck in quick succession, but they distracted him. He turned, facing Romain and the gun he handled awkwardly.

Romain sighted. At this range, he couldn’t miss. The barrel was tilted, tipped, and if he fired now it would send a bullet hurtling through the wolf’s skull. With a roar, Grigori leapt at him and Romain fired again.

And missed. The bullet clipped the wolf, just clipped him. A disabling shot, and it stopped his attack, but not fatal. Staggering, blood dripping from his ruined ear, the wolf rethought his advance. Behind Romain, the Russian appeared, his own gun held much more confidentially, his expression a storm. Grigorji turned and ran. Reid took a shuddering breath that was laced with the heat of the day and the scent of blood, and treasured, for a moment, his life.

Romain strode to him. “Can you stand?” he snapped, except it came out strangled, clipped—C-an… you… st-and—and he was ashen. Gambit hopped across the ground to him, wing dragging, and Romain dropped to his knees and scooped the bird up, shushing him with soft noises. Reid watched numbly as his partner’s hands traced the bone of the bird’s wing carefully, Gambit screaming in pain as his wing jarred, biting down deep on the meaty flesh of Romain’s thumb, drawing blood that dripped. Romain didn’t seem to take much note, even as talons scrabbled at his bare arm.

Reid couldn’t stand, not yet, but he stayed silent because he knew the effects would fade quickly, once his body realized what had happened. A hand was thrust down at him. He took it without thinking, letting it drag him up, leaning heavily on it, and it was only once he realized the arm was thick, masculine, that he realized it was the Russian and not Kökelun at all. The man studied him, eyes emotionless.

“You ride with Charlie,” he said finally. “Blue, your dog needs to get on the road. We’ve got another eight miles that could be trapped. And we need to be out of here before someone finds that.” He jabbed his thumb at the dead wolf. “Or before his brother decides to return for revenge. You, demon, have made a deadly, deadly enemy, and royally fucked up this route. I won’t be forgetting this. Get in your trucks. We don’t stop until nightfall.”

When he released Reid’s arm and stalked away, Reid didn’t fall. He didn’t reach for his cane. He just doggedly took one step and then another until finally he was at the werewolf’s truck.

Kökelun came up behind him as he pawed through the glove compartment, ignoring the trickle of blood down his spine. “Looking for this?” she asked, holding out the knife, or what he assumed was the knife, bundled as thickly as possible in his coat. He had no idea when she’d taken that, but was beyond caring.

“Yes,” he lied, closing the compartment with a snap. The book wasn’t in there. They didn’t have it, unless they’d hidden it in the Russian’s truck, which he doubted. “Thank you.”

Or unless the other werewolf had it. If he did, it was gone. Just like Emily.

 


 

The pain in his back grew exponentially as the night wore on and the iron continued to steadily bite into his skin. He hunched, knees to his chest on the seat and buckled over them, just so he wasn’t pressing his back against the seat behind him.

The truck huffed as Romain finally turned the ignition off, night surrounding them. He fiddled with his pocket, tugging out the clay and pressing it to the radio before sighing and scrubbing at his face with his fingers, still not looking at Reid. He hadn’t looked at him once, not for almost seven hours. Just driven in silence, looking ahead, after strapping Gambit’s wing and soothing the rattled Revenir.

Revenir sat in his lap, eyes closed, and she opened one sleepily to look up at him as he shifted around to finally study Reid. Reid kept his gaze downwards, expression blank, waiting for anger or disappointment or anything but this forced silence.

“How is your back?” Romain asked finally, stretching his arm behind Reid’s seat to run his fingers over Gambit with a soft come here, big annoying thing. Reid could hear rustling from the man’s hand as he pawed through his bag.

“Sore,” Reid said, because there was no point in lying. Romain could feel the pain, even muted by their shield. “You’re a terrible shot.”

Romain nodded slowly. “I am… sorry,” he mumbled finally, voice strained and ignoring Reid’s weak jibe. “I should have been quicker.” In the shocked silence that followed, the radio crackled and voices issued out, speaking a language Reid didn’t recognise. Fingers darting over the dial, Romain avoided eye-contact once more. “I knew you were endangered by the knife and the wolves. As your mage, it is my responsibility to ensure your welfare. And I failed you.”

Reid cut him off, “No, it’s not.” Dark eyes snapped up to study him, and he scowled, his best Hotch impersonation. Thinking of Hotch didn’t hurt as much as it had. In fact, it didn’t feel like much at all. His family felt… distant. As though they belonged to someone else. Strangers to him now, just like he would be to them. “You said at the beginning. We’re not friends. We’re not companions. I’m responsible for my own well-being, and, when this is over, we part ways.”

Maybe he was defending himself. He didn’t really know why he was protesting Romain’s guilt so vehemently. Maybe he’d started to cling to the idea that if he was killed, or if Romain was, as long as there was no emotion involved, there would be no grief.

Romain stared. A muscle worked in his throat as he swallowed, or struggled to. “You adapt frighteningly fast to the ideals of others,” he said finally, and his voice was cold and familiar again. “Recline your chair and lay on your belly, shirt off. I need to treat your injuries or they’ll fester.” In his hand, he weighed a small container of some thin, oily mix that stank of aniseed and glimmered yellow in the dim light of the cab. The radio kept chatting, in Russian this time. “Tomorrow, Revenir is flying to Paget. She has hinted that a trade of some of the demons is coming soon if we cross paths with the men she is in contact with. Keep your focus on the radio while I work, it is likely that we will receive a warning if this is so.”

Nervously, almost, Reid tugged his shirt off, wincing as it pulled at the congealed blood on his back. Romain kneeled on his seat as he snapped on gloves, awkward in the confined space, gesturing at him to hurry, impatient.

The first touch of the oil burned and Reid whined out a shocked breath between clenched teeth and buried his face into the crook of his arm.

“Pay attention to the radio,” Romain snapped, fingers poking and prodding painfully, using both the oil mixture and water to try to clean some of the sticky flakes of blood from him. Reid rolled his eyes into his arm, and focused. Finnish. He didn’t understand it. He memorised it anyway.

Romain pressed down sharply on the worst of the cuts and Reid’s concentration wavered with a wash of pain. The oil wasn’t burning anymore, but pulling at him, like it was drawing the remaining iron to the surface. What’s in it? he wondered curiously, followed by, and where did he find it… and why?

Russian now. They were discussing a road traffic incident, laughing. Reid listened in case it was coded, but it didn’t seem to be unless it was a cipher he was unfamiliar with. Completely possible. The hands on his back slowed, the strokes deepening. He relaxed into that touch, missing a gentle hand on his skin, missing Emily…

“Your belongings are shielded heavily,” Reid said suddenly, and his voice was oddly slow. Tired again, he realized dully, and Romain paused. “It’s not your shielding. Otherwise you’d have done the same with mine. That bug isn’t yours either. This magic isn’t yours. I’ve never seen you cast, beyond what you did with Revenir.” Hands stilled on his back; he was aware of Romain’s breath, his presence, the careful consideration he was giving Reid’s words. On the radio, the voices switched to English, mocking a man for his choice in bed-mates.

“That was not me casting,” Romain said, and his hands began to move again. Slow, even strokes of pressure, working around where the knife had broken skin, and the pain finally, finally began to recede. Reid realised his eyes had slipped closed, and snapped them open, turning his head to try to look at his partner. “Stay still, darkling. Almost done. That was Revenir’s magic. She has her own, quite considerable, powers.”

Reid hummed and closed his eyes again, focusing once more on the lilt of voices. American accents. Hope you were careful, they teased, or you’ll have a surprise delivery coming your way. Will you see her again tomorrow?

His eyes snapped open. “Charlie!” he hissed, but Romain was already turning to the radio.

“I heard it,” he was saying, and Reid struggled upright, the warm contentment fading and leaving a thrill of excitement in its place. “Well then, biggest annoying of all, I think we finally get to do something good.” He looked at Reid, and there was a desperate relief in his eyes that suggested Romain was being as inexorably eaten away by their work as Reid himself was. “Let’s save some lives.”

 


 

The next day, there wasn’t a single ache in his back to remind him of how close he’d come to death. Whatever was in the oil Romain had used, it was effective. For it to be so quickly healed, it had to have somehow drawn the iron from his blood. There were several things Reid could think of capable of the trick, but none available commercially.

Revenir vanished into the sky early morning as they traded vehicles again. She was gone for the majority of the day, as they approached the Saudi Arabian border, and, by the time she returned, they were already checking on the demons for the night, ready to rest. The Russian was ranting, furious at the increased stops they were having to make with only four drivers in three trucks, and they kept well out of his way.

After settling the demons in, Reid found his way to Romain’s truck. The man was leaning against the back of it, his expression fixed on Revenir on his arm, and there was a sick worry pasted across his features that immediately sank a deep pit of horror into Reid’s own stomach.

“What?” he murmured, stepping close after glancing around. The woman was barely visible by the side of the road, pouring water into her cupped hands for her hound, and the Russian was audibly shouting at the demons in his own truck up the road. “What’s wrong?”

Romain held something up. It was a greased paper packet, twisted closed, and it gleamed thickly with shielding runes. “This,” he said slowly, and held the packet away from himself as though he could barely refrain from throwing it, “is how we cover their escape. The children’s. They want the children out, they specified. All eight of them.”

Declan then. Reid breathed a sigh of relief, even as he examined the packet. It was a simple twist, the type that hearth or hedge witches used to packet powdered spells, nothing as complex as what would contain a curse or invocation. “What is it?” he asked, reaching for it. Romain jerked his hand away and used his free hand to wipe a bead of sweat from his forehead. His hand trembled. He was…

Scared.

Finally, he answered. “It does not say. But there is a… marker on it.” He turned the packet, showing the curling green rune that Reid recognised instantly. Medical biohazard.

It was an infectious vector.

Reid recoiled. Out here, in the middle of nowhere with no medical supplies?

They were going to kill them to save them.

 


 

“What are you doing?” The Russian peered out of his cab, hands wrapped around a bowl of some kind of reconstituted meal product, frowning at Reid. Reid turned, awkward with the gas canister throwing him off balance, and did his best to look irate.

“Refuelling,” he said, shifting his stance more evenly onto his good leg. “Figured might as well do it now before night sets in. Problem?” The lie hung in the air between them, as heavy as the baton at Reid’s waist, and the moment lingered.

“No problem,” the Russian replied, vanishing back into the cab with a yawn. “Check mine at the same time, since you’re the reason we’re pulling fucking double shifts.”

Reid hovered, heart thumping, the realization he’d gotten away with it sinking in. One down.

In theory, it was simple. So simple.

“Do not touch it with your bare skin,” Romain had said, sliding the packet across to him. “Volunteer to refuel and feed the slaves tonight; they will believe it is because you feel guilty for the wolf. When doing so, press one of each of these onto the arms of the children. When they fall sick they will isolate them in the one truck; we will volunteer ours. I will drive, you will remain in the back with them. Is simple.” ‘Is simple’ he had said, but Reid could feel the sick, nauseous near-panic thrumming through their connection, and Romain was making him do this section alone. Something about this plan terrified him.

Reid had a suspicion.

The first truck went without a hitch. “Still, be still,” he ordered the three children in that one, and the bands on their arms and the baton at his hip forced them to obey. “Do not touch this.” The adults stared, silent and uncaring, listless after the endless time they’d spent jolting around in the dark.

The second was Kökelun’s. Easy. She was avoiding him; as soon as she saw him coming, she vanished over the other side of their rough camp, her dog snarling at him as they went. The twins were in this one. Reid hesitated as they obediently held out their arms without even questioning him, one smiling shyly. “Can you tell us another story soon?” one of them whispered, hugging his knees, and Reid reeled.

“Yes,” he choked out, and bolted out of the truck, almost slamming the door in his haste.

The final three were in his. A small boy. The blind adolescent.

Declan.

“What is that?” Declan asked doubtfully, eyeing Reid’s glove and the innocuous red sticker held carefully between his fingers. “It smells bad.” It did smell bad, to the demons. And to Reid. Romain hadn’t noticed.

Reid swallowed. And he betrayed Emily again. “Do you trust me?” he asked Declan seriously, and Declan nodded without hesitation.

“Yes,” he whispered, and held out his arms. Reid pressed the curse to his skin, feeling it snarl and catch. Declan winced, then looked to the girl. “Come on,” he said, nudging her. “Spencer’s our friend. He’s going to save us. I know. He dreams of it.”

The guilt was staggering. Reid placed the final curse on the blind girl’s arm, wincing again as she gasped and murmured something in her native tongue, rubbing her fingers overtop the dot before bringing them to her nose to sniff.

He left them there. Walked as far from the camp as he dared and ran water and the aniseed antiseptic Romain had used on his back over his hands after tugging the gloves off, before using lightning to burn the lot until not even a trace remained. It was four a.m. By nightfall of the oncoming day, their allies would be moving in on them. And the children would be saved.

Hopefully.

 


 

Midday brought horror.

“How did they get sick?” the Russian raved, jumping out from the back of his truck and waving his hands furiously. Reid stood behind Romain, swallowing hard, and Kökelun watched them both suspiciously. “Fucking shit, this goddamn trip has been jinxed from the start. This is what you get bringing darklings along! See if you bastards get paid!”

Romain smoothly interjected, but Reid could see sweat trailing down the back of his neck. “We should isolate those that are ill into the one vehicle,” he said, voice calm, “to avoid losing all the products if this should turn… fatal. I volunteer. It only makes sense; my demon can work to keep them alive. He is hardier.” Replaceable, he hinted at with the quirk of his eyebrow, and the Russian nodded.

“Whatever, yes, yes, hurry up and move them. We have to get moving. We’re days behind schedule! Days!”

“I will move the healthy ones from my truck,” Romain instructed Reid and Kökelun. “You bring the ill ones once they’re out. Hurry.” He strode off. Reid had to hand it to him, his fear was well-hidden. Reid’s, once he stepped into the cool interior of the cargo compartment, was not as well hidden. Not once he realized what exactly they’d done.

They screamed when he carried them into the light, their eyes streaming. Their skin burned, a fever raging inside their scrawny bodies, gagging helplessly and bringing up nothing from empty stomachs. Out of the five he moved, not a single one of them was lucid. The twins were listless, blank-eyed, worse than the rest. When he picked one of them up, they held their heads stiffly, necks awkward, and he knew.

Fuck.

“Bacterial meningitis,” he hissed, coming up behind Romain, keeping a careful distance, and trying to hide the way his hands were quivering, desperate to wash, to scrub his skin of the children’s sweat, their vomit, their infection. “That’s not going to stay contained, Romain. We’re all going to get it. What the hell are they thinking?”

Romain’s already ashen skin, if possible, went paler. “I didn’t know,” he stammered. “They didn’t tell me. I can’t… I can’t go in there, Numair… Reid… ah, I don’t—I don’t—I don’t—c-ah-ah-an’t…” His back hit the cab, chest heaving, and Reid stared at him blankly. This level of panic was unsettling. Romain’s accent had thickened, his tongue tripping on the words.

Ah. Reid pushed his fingers through his hair, shoving the grimy locks away from his eyes. “When did it happen?” he asked gently, and Romain stared at him with pupils wide enough to hide even the suggestion of iris surrounding them, pale enough that Reid could see blue hints of his veins under his skin.

His mouth opened, twice, no sound emitting. “Fuh-five,” he said finally. “I… was f…five. Stroke. It’s worse… if…” He trailed off and closed his eyes, swallowing hard. When he spoke again, the accent was smoother, the sentences shorter and clipped, the impediment barely noticeable once more. “I panic. Chicken pox. Can you believe it? The damage is slight. But it leaves me vulnerable.” Mouth quirked upwards in a weary half-smile, he chuckled darkly. “It’s why they picked me. Your cauchemar cannot harm me. I do not dream.”

They had told Romain about Doyle, but not about Emily. Interesting.

Reid nodded slowly. “The children could die,” he said finally, glancing at the truck. Declan had been conscious, almost healthy still, the only sign of Reid’s betrayal the odd stiffness to his neck. Reid couldn’t look at him because he could feel the confusion and the hurt in his fevered eyes following him about the cabin. “This could kill them very quickly. What is their plan here?”

“I don’t know,” Romain admitted, following his gaze to the truck. “I truly do not know. I’m as blind as you are.”

From the truck, they could hear crying.

Their fault.

 


 

The other two trucks peeled away from them, neither wanting to be anywhere near Reid’s quiet diagnosis once they told them. Eventually, with Romain keeping a slow pace in order not to jostle their fragile cargo, they could barely see their taillights ahead in the twilight. Reid alternated between pressing water into the increasingly ill children and slipping into the front to help Romain translate the garbled messages over the radio for some hint of the plan.

At one o’clock that morning, the first child died.

Reid curled in the back with the surviving twin on his lap and wondered how quickly it would be until the rest followed. “How is this saving them?” he asked no-one in particular, all seven remaining children either silent or breathless with pain. “We’ve killed them.”

The blind girl whimpered something in her language, shaking her head slowly and reaching for Declan. The boy looked almost angelic in the gloom: white-blonde hair tumbled about a completely tranquil face, cheeks flushed red and deceptively alive. At Reid’s side, the dead twin lay still, face calm. He stared at that face, memorising it, anger and hate and guilt tearing him apart.

See this, Emily, he thought savagely, reaching into the part of his mind where she used to be and screaming it to the empty void. He felt Romain tense, ignored him. Fuck him. What good was he? He was just a CIA dog, doing what they said. Sit, mage. Heel mage. Kill these children, mage, so they can’t be used against our precious fucking country. See what I’ve done in your name?!

The rune burned in his mind, the one that had been on his hip. He settled his spare palm against it, digging his nails through the denim of his jeans, memorizing every loop and whorl and regretting every single moment he’d shared with her. Damn you, he thought, and wasn’t sure if he was damning her or himself or if he was already damned anyway, so what did it matter?

His palm burned, his magic reacting to his turmoil, and he let it sear his skin through the fabric, because he deserved so much more than just this small pain.

What? he thought suddenly, but the thought wasn’t his. A thin thread of… something. What is this?

A whisper. A sigh. It was the merest hint of a sound in the distance, someone following his shout back to him, slipping through his shields like they weren’t there at all. Only one person had ever managed that.

Emily?

Spence? Shock and delight and curiosity as she surged towards him, almost falling short. She caught and he let her in out of habit, before realizing moments later what she’d see if she did.

And she did. His eyes were open so as soon as her weak grip caught on his mind, familiar and agonising in its touch, she saw. The dead child. The dying children. The silver on his arms, the dark truck, the scent of illness and death. Oh my god, she gasped, reeling back, and her grip shuddered and slipped. Wait, no, Spence! Where are you? Are you bound? No, no—

She was gone. The connection snapped like it wasn’t there at all, leaving him alone. He blinked, stunned, and the twin in his arms sighed once and stopped breathing.

The truck stopped. Reid turned his gaze slowly from the boy in his arms to the doors. Anger flickered, wiping away the disorientating glee/delight/hysteria at having heard Emily’s voice for the first time in four months. Foyet’s anger. Coiling and slow and cold.

The air turned sharp. He stared at those doors and waited for them to open.

“Do not panic,” Romain called through the shuttered vent, his voice muffled. “It is the Americans. Be ready.”

Ready.

Reid wasn’t sure if he was ready to hand over the surviving children or if he was ready to burn the first person to open those doors, but he was ready for something. Voices hummed outside. Heavy boots. Moving closer. He stood, gently placing the boy next to his brother, and moved so he was between all of the children and the opening.

They grated open. Romain was visible, standing right back from the doors, face expressionless and Revenir on his shoulder. A man peered up at Reid, dressed in plainclothes with the bottom of his face covered. The storm responded to Reid’s low warning growl, pressing outward from his palms and turned the air thick and slow, spreading his wings wide to fill the expanse with the dark shape of them, a threat. The man paused. Romain stepped back, eyes widening.

“Don’t cast,” the stranger said, holding both hands up warily. “I’m unarmed. We’re here to help.”

“They’re dying,” Reid said. His voice was a drawl, careful and predatory, and he saw the man shiver. Reid bared his teeth, knowing it exposed the delicate points to his canines, knowing it made him look hungry. Romain stared. “Some are dead. How is that helping?”

“They’re not dead,” the man responded, lowering his hands. “May I enter? I can show you. The disease is designed to make them look as though they are deceased. I need to trigger the remaining ones so you can call your boss back. Without bodies, you will be suspected. But I assure you, every one of these children will live. Do you trust me?”

Reid hesitated. “I don’t know you,” he said finally, folding his wings tight. “Why should I trust you?”

The man studied him with brown eyes before lowering his mask. Reid jolted, recognising a distinctive cast to his features. Elvish. The man was an elf. “Because I will trust you first,” he said. “My name is Matteo. Matteo Cruz. I’m with a taskforce dedicated to the retrieval and rescue of thrall-bound demons. And I promise you, I will help them, if you’ll allow me to do so.”

Dredging up his profiling skills, Reid studied him. His face was open, earnest. Posture expressive.

He was telling the truth.

“Okay,” Reid murmured, and stepped aside.

 


 

It went off smoothly.

Almost.

The Russian was fooled. He came back, studied the bodies from a distance, raged, and then screamed at them to bury them and follow. They were to dump the infected truck outside Riyadh, and contact him once they’d procured clean clothes and washed themselves of the infection. Then, he was gone. The Americans slipped into their camp silently, two medical magi working quickly over the still, cold bodies of the demon children. Reid watched them carefully. It was with a thrill of shock that he recognised the rune that one of them was working into Declan’s bindings.

It was his rune. Emily’s rune. He stepped forward, hungry to see, and his chest pinched and tightened at the familiar whirls and loops, the one that had stood on his hip.

“Clever, isn’t it?” the magi said, spotting him. Her eyes traced his bindings, narrowing, and she looked away quickly. “Some genius came up with it a few years ago. I tell you what, it’s changed things here. We used to just have to… well, there was no saving the captives. Now we can save them. And we’ve saved so many, all because of one guy.”

“It was a woman,” Reid corrected sharply, and her head snapped up at him. Damn. He wasn’t supposed to talk. None of them knew they were undercover—they just thought Romain was a rat, and Reid his bound familiar. And an American accent on a thrall-bound demon was going to raise hackles among their ranks. He continued, the mistake already made, and determined to place credit where it was due. “The creator of the rune. It’s a woman. An amazing woman.”

His throat burned, and the last word squeaked. The rune caught and flickered, and with wonder Reid watched the bindings melt and peel away from Declan’s skin, leaving them bare and bruised where they had rubbed. Already, his colour was returning to a healthier shade, his breathing easier.

The magi looked around, head twisted, then she stood and advanced on him quickly. “I can do the same for you,” she whispered quickly, reaching for his arm. “He can’t stop me, not surrounded by soldiers. Let me free you, please. You can come with us. We’ll take you home.”

Declan’s eyes flickered, widened. He was awake. Reid looked down at him. Around them, the other children were waking up, gasping, touching their arms, being soothed by soldiers who gently smiled and murmured to them. Next to Declan, the blind girl blinked and stretched her hand out, weakly wrapping her fingers around Declan’s hand. She smiled. They’d saved them. Eight children, saved. But so many more they hadn’t.

“No,” Reid said, and stepped away. “I’m where I need to be.”

He could do this. He needed to do this. And when it was done… when he’d saved them all…

Then he’d find Emily.

Chapter Text

The truck was lighter with its cargo removed, and Reid felt somehow lighter too. Window down, the sharp hot-dry air of the Iraqi summer whipping into the cab, with the radio beating a steady tune into their ears… it was very much like freedom. They’d done it. Right under the nose of the slavers, they’d saved eight children. Eight! Reid almost laughed with the triumph of it, success buzzing through his veins and setting his brain humming excitedly with the possibilities. Who was to say they couldn’t do it again? Save more?

Save them all?

Logistical impossibility, a quiet part of his mind whispered, but he shoved it aside. Spoil sport.

Romain seemed jubilant as well, tapping his fingers along with the music, his own mouth quirked upwards into an easy smile. “That was easier than expected,” he said finally, shouting to be heard. Reid wound the window up reluctantly to reply, his face and throat stinging from the gritty wind and mouth dry. “Satisfyingly easier than expected. Paget will be pleased, I believe.”

Reid laughed. “Told her not to doubt us,” he said, almost smug, and Romain’s eyebrows lifted at his conceit. Flushing, he glanced back into the empty space behind them, feeling his heart skip a little at the sight of the vent and the reminder that Declan is free, Declan is free, you did it, you saved him! Not just for Emily, although his intentions had begun that way. For himself too, and also for Declan. “Hungry?” Romain hadn’t even answered before he’d unbuckled his belt and twisted his torso around to reach back for the bag of food shoved next to the birds’ cage.

He was hungry. Starving, in fact. The fear and the horror of the past few hours over, he longed for something to eat, a chance to find some fresh water to wash away the grossness of his acts to free the children, perhaps even a chance to sate another hunger that pinched at his belly and below and reminded him of his desires. The good feeling receded, and he paused in his rifling for the dried meat he’d thought they’d had stored back there. Kökelun. What he’d done to her. Her knowledge of what he’d done.

His appetite vanished.

“What’s taking you so long?” Romain asked, sounded irritated. “Hurry up. Je suis affamé.

Swallowing back the biting guilt, Reid pawed through the bag. The zip caught the binding on his arm and he wrenched it irritably, hearing the bell tink gently against the silver. Someone gasped. In her cage, Revenir’s head snapped around.

Reid froze, eyes locked on the bird, who looked past him. Behind his seat. Into the empty space, eyes glinting emotionlessly. Gambit’s head appeared out from under his wing, blinking sleepily, crest rising.

“Numair?”

He’d counted their supplies carefully. Calculated rations in case they were slowed down or held up… he knew exactly how much food they should have. And it wasn’t how much was in there.

Revenir clicked her beak, and then whistled, an impossibly sharp pitched noise that no bird could have voiced, and Reid’s magic reacted to the power of that spell and purred within his chest. Declan appeared with a twap as Revenir broke through the shielding spell he’d been using to obscure himself.

Not his shielding spell. He wasn’t alone.

The female demon wrapped her arms around the wide-eyed Declan, tugging him back into her lap against her thin chest, and both stared at Reid, terrified. Reid stared back, heart sinking. “Ah, damn,” he said finally, and Romain began to swear. “Declan, what are you doing?”

“I didn’t want to leave you,” Declan said, chin wobbling, and then burst into tears. Romain continued ranting, thankfully in French because the only way this could get worse was if Reid finally managed to get Declan back to Emily in one piece and he was swearing like a sailor.

“We have to take them back,” Reid said, thumping back in his seat to look at Romain. Romain was furious, his mouth tight and eyes grim. “The Russian thinks they’re dead—if we show up with them, we’re screwed.”

“That is not an option,” Romain snapped. His fingers tightened around the steering wheel and he jerked it roughly, straightening the vehicle from where it had veered slightly off-road when he’d turned to look at the commotion. “They will be long gone and we will incite suspicion if we… argh.”

A quick glance out the windshield explained his sudden groan. Ahead, the glint of trucks parked along the road. Their trucks. Fuck.

“We can hide, we can be quiet—” Declan began, and Romain made a vehement noise.

“You do not move, or speak, nor so much as breathe out loud, do you understand?” he snarled, and Reid could feel his anger radiating through their connection, hot and biting. “If you are caught, we will not help you. They’ll kill you if you are lucky, or bind you again if you are not. And we will be killed for harbouring you—do you understand?

Declan nodded, fat tears rolling down his cheeks and off his chin. Reid stayed silent. If they were scared, they’d obey. And they needed to obey, because if they didn’t…

“Why are they stopped here?” Reid said as they pulled up closer. Romain yanked the handbrake on, shaking his head. His hands were trembling, almost as though he was afraid, but Reid could still feel the rage thrumming through their connection.

“I don’t know,” he spat, and slipped out the cab. Reid sighed, tapping his finger to his lip once for the empty space behind the seat where he knew the girl was hiding Declan, and followed his partner. Beating down steadily, the sun made the endless expanse of sand and rock around the roadway waver and wobble in the heat. The trucks stood mute. The only sound was the thump of their feet on the packed earth road as they strode towards their companions’ vehicles.

“We were supposed to dump our truck,” Reid said. Romain ignored him. “Romain, wai—”

Charlie,” hissed Romain, and layered in his voice was the dislike that Reid had thought they’d moved past at some point, maybe even replaced with something like respect. “For fuck’s sake, darkling, get your fucking head in the game. You keep fucking up, we die, understand? I don’t intend upon dying because of a foolish darkling mouse who can’t keep his—” Whatever withering insult Romain was about to throw over his shoulder was drowned out by a soft hissing whistle that Reid was already unconsciously reacting to before his mind snapped into gear.

He looked down right as he stepped into the demon trap and it flared to life around his feet.

Roaring, the rune surged to life under him, trapping him in the vicinity of the trucks and hurling him off his feet. Out of the corner of his eye as he fell, he registered Romain staggering back, turning, eyes wide.

“Numair!” he yelled, and it wasn’t out of concern. It was a command. Around them, people appeared, soldiers throwing aside glamours: armed, shouting, threatening. Seconds after crying out, his eyes darkened, expression turning callous and uncaring. Charlie now.

Reaching into the back of the shield in his mind, Reid found the bubble of personality installed there that he hadn’t originally recognised and dragged it forward, hiding himself within it, hiding away his mind in favour of being Numair—

 


 

It wasn’t like stepping into Emily’s mind. It wasn’t like that at all.

Numair was a broken creature crushed by a life of servitude, and like any cornered and beaten dog, he was a heartbeat away from lashing out.

Snippets. Snippets of the world were all that Reid knew, lost in the hazy disorientation of being someone other than himself. He’d been wrong, all that time, to believe he was being Numair. He’d been Spencer Reid all along; Spencer Reid playacting at being Numair the demon.

Snippets:

Snippets of soldiers moving around them: heavy boots, the stink of sweat, the hot sand burning through the palms of his hands, his knees, cringing.

Snippets of the demons being dragged from the trucks, the soldiers shouting, angry, confused.

Snippets of the Russian and Kökelun against the truck, their arms behind their heads.

Numair was savagely gleeful, delighted, to see his hated maester (Romain) kneeling in front of them, head turned towards them, eyes unfamiliar and cruel (he’s not cruel, he’s hidden, just like you are) and the weapon against his temple, the automatic weapon, an itchy trigger finger away from spraying the contents of his skull against the baking ground. Blood on his face. He’d been struck.

And Numair was gleeful, but Reid wasn’t, when the Russian shouted his, it’s his demon, he’s the one who fucking bound it, and eyes turned to him, to Romain, angry eyes, and that finger slipped to the trigger. The soldiers hated him, he could tell. Hated his species and the bands on his arms, but they hated Romain more, and when they went to shoot, Numair sat by and did nothing but

Reid

reacted

panicked and stood, reaching with his power for Romain, for anyone

the soldier lurched as Reid’s mind slammed into him and

Numair fought back, trying to wrench control, but the gun was still at Romain’s head and Reid remembered his dream and

“Don’t,” Reid begged, out loud and in the man’s mind, and told him to do anything but what he was going to do, in fact, make sure no one did what he was going to do, and

the man did.

It was like when he’d told Doyle to walk in front of his gun, but so much more potent. An overwhelming hunger that surged and settled, leaving behind a euphoric coiling darkness in his mind and his body and his magic that responded fluently to his every whim. Every pain, every weary thought or feeling that had dragged at him… gone. It was mesmerizing in a way his magic very rarely was. There was power in a storm, power he loved, but this… in this moment, he was ecstatic.  

Focused on the magic, on slipping like smoke through the soldiers’ minds, he only distantly heard the gunfire as they turned on each other, screaming with the horror of what they were doing, some fighting him off, some not. Smiling, because this was good, this losing of self, this wielding of the power he was born to. His birthright.

He only distantly saw the hael hound go down in a rain of bullets, following Kökelun as she dived towards him, towards the demon trap at his feet, the one that wasn’t powerful enough to stop him¸ of course it wasn’t. He only distantly saw her reach for the trap, her eyes wide and scared, and he only distantly saw the bullet that killed her slam into her head and send her reeling backwards to never get back up.

He felt the blood though. On his cheek, his mouth. He tasted it.

And distantly, so so distantly, he heard someone calling his name. A name.

Spencer!

Not here, he thought absentmindedly, and laughed. Try again later.

 


 

“Spencer, fuck me, wake up!”

His eyes snapped open. Staring at the ground as it moved beneath him, being carried. Arm slung around a warm, damp shoulder. Feet dragging across the rocks. He tried to take a step and stumbled, their gaits mismatched, turning his head to look at Romain. “Did I help?” he asked, right as exhaustion heavier than he’d ever felt, except perhaps when Doyle had been targeting him, smashed into him and sent him reeling with a, “Woah.”

Romain’s eyes were wide, his mouth pale. He stared like Reid was a stranger, like they were new to each other, and said nothing. Blinking, slumping, Reid was seconds from nothing and barely clinging on. But he needed to know, so he tried to look. “Don’t.” A hand caught his jaw and yanked it roughly to face where they were walking, their truck. “Just… walk. Come on. Don’t look back.”

Reid didn’t, but he did look to the side. Kökelun looked back. Sprawled and forgotten on the side of the road. He studied what was left of her face and numbly reminded himself to grieve for her because no one else would.

“I don’t feel well,” he mumbled. Romain tried to shove him into the cab, hands around his hips. The touch of his fingers was a sudden, disorientating realization that Reid was hungry, hungrier than he’d ever been. Dangerously so. He whined and snarled almost at the same time, turning his head towards that touch. Dark eyes met his, jerking back as Romain twitched away from him, frightened by something; Reid could scent that fear, that shock, the blood under his skin and the oils on his skin. A smell so human that he let his mouth slip open just to better taste it. Romain shivered and his breath quickened. His heartbeat was rabbiting in his chest; Reid listened to the rat-ta-ta-ta of it and licked his lower lip, tasting blood that wasn’t his.

“Are they all dead?” said a small, shrill voice. The moment broke and Reid blinked and felt like himself again, barely. Barely. Declan.

He wasn’t really sure how to feel like himself anymore.

“Yes,” Romain said, bluntly, and tentatively tapped Reid on the back, a careful get in, and his pupils were huge with fear or arousal or both. Reid was pretty sure he was responsible for both of those things and not really sorry for that. “Get in. I have to go back and find anyone who lives. The Russian, I think. Some of our demons. Just… don’t move. Don’t look. Revenir, stay with them, my girl.”

Reid dragged himself onto the seat and then through, painfully slowly, into the back section, curling up small and miserable on the cushioned surface. The girl scrambled away, into the passenger seat, oddly nimble considering her blindness. Declan stayed, studying him, blue eyes huge on his skinny face. “Your eyes are black,” he said finally, biting at his lips hard enough to draw blood. “Why are your eyes black?”

Reid didn’t answer, just closed them.

 


 

He woke once, to the hum of voices and a warm weight tucked against him, his arm around it. Declan. Asleep with his thumb in his mouth, despite being far too old, huddled against him for the slim protection he could offer.

“Put your seatbelt on,” he heard Romain say. The truck bumped along. “Christ. The hell language do you speak, girl?”

Reid stared at the fractured light glinting through the windscreen between the backs of the two chairs, his nose thick with the smell of the birdcage by his head, still so distressingly exhausted that he felt like he was sinking, weightless, leaded, not even really a part of his own body. An arm reached across that light, shielding his eyes for a moment. A seatbelt clicked. The arm retreated. The radio hummed, a song playing he didn’t recognise. French.

Romain began to sing, the tension in his tone leeching away with the music.

I can’t hear the speech disorder at all when you sing, Reid tried to say, feeling a strange kind of smile flicker across his face at the realization, but the words tangled and dripped away without being voiced. Not even a little…

He drifted away again with the song guiding him.

 


 

The Russian had not been as quick as Kökelun to duck when the bullets had raked the truck they were lined in front of. Not that that had, ultimately, done Kökelun much good. If there was one regret that was crushing, even more so than what he’d done to the soldiers because he couldn’t really remember what he’d done to them, except that it had felt shocking (satisfying), it was Kökelun’s death. No matter who she was, what she’d done, his powers had drawn her to her death and he grieved that.

“Perhaps I should bring him into the cab,” Romain said, crouched beside the prone Russian on the makeshift stretcher they’d strapped him to in the back of the truck. The surviving demons, twelve, watched silently. “I can better attend medically to him in there.” This was the first they’d spoken to each other in the terse sixteen hours since the shootout, besides singular comments about whose turn it was to drive or some small discussion about crossing the border into Saudi Arabia. There was no discussion about stopping. They couldn’t. After what had been done, there was no turning back. They’d paused once, just once, for Romain to send Gambit and Revenir wheeling into the sky, but only that once.

Reid was silent. If the Russian was in the cab, they could hide the children in the back with the other demons. Reid would also be required to stay in the back. He couldn’t. Not in the enclosed space, surrounded by bodies, by scents, by…

Romain’s head jerked up, staring at him. “What is wrong with you?” he hissed, and Reid didn’t answer because he knew his magic was flaring again. The hunger was a snarling, demanding voice that he was helpless to ignore, and he knew Romain could feel it too, knew his expression and his glamour and his body were all visibly responding to it. “What did you do?”

Reid couldn’t answer that either.

But he had a horrible feeling that whatever it was wouldn’t be easily undone.

 


 

The border.

Reid kept his head down in the passenger seat as Romain laughed and joked in Arabic to the border patrol. They barely spared him a cursory glance beyond checking his passport. Just another demon, he knew they were thinking. He kept his head down, chin on his knees and eyes partially lidded, and fought to try and push back the side of his magic he’d spent his whole life avoiding until now. It didn’t want to be pushed back. Sinking into his own mind, his own magic, he examined it, nudged it. Within it, he could feel the storm he commanded effortlessly, the runes Emily had taught him, the general spells and incantations he’d taught himself when he was little and afraid of his own mind and lost in the wonder of the spellbooks he’d found.

It’s not so unfamiliar, he thought, absently, and brushed his thoughts against that magic, feeling it welcome him. I could control it…

A hand grabbed his shoulder, small nails biting deep. He startled awake and jerked his head around, finding Declan kneeling on the centre console with Revenir on his shoulder. “I don’t like when you do that,” Declan whispered, shaking his head and shuffling back behind the seat, the girl reaching for his hand. “Please don’t do that. You go all… yuck. It feels yuck.”

“Sorry,” Reid mumbled. He pressed his fingers under his eyes, head throbbing. There was a half-eaten protein bar on the dashboard in front of him, his lunch. He’d gotten two mouthfuls in and put it aside. It wasn’t… enough. He was starving, but the food was nothing, just tasteless ash in his mouth. Maybe it was expired. He could eat something else, but he didn’t really want to. Moodily, he sank deeper into his chair.

Something banged outside. Revenir chittered nervously, invisible while she was touching the two shielded demons in the back. “Stay here,” Reid told them, and slid out of the cab, pacing silently around the edge of the truck. Placing each foot carefully, he twisted the air around himself, making himself unimportant, difficult to see. Hunting.

The guards were arguing with Romain in Arabic. He didn’t look overly concerned, arms folded and posture lax, but Gambit was stiff-feathered on his arm. Reid came up behind them unseen and scented the air. Anger. Tension. Wariness. Suspicion. They suspected them. There was money in one’s pocket. Reid stepped up beside him, inches beside him, close enough to see the movement of his neck where a vein lay, and studied it. Romain had followed the plan, tried to bribe them to ignore what was in their cargo hold. He could guess the rest.

They’d gotten greedy.

He let go of the air, flickering into sight, but before they could react the power lurched up gleefully, and he had them. “Go away,” he whispered, quiet, and they stared at him like mice. The mice Romain had named him for. Not a mouse anymore though. Not a mouse anymore, am I, Romain? “You didn’t see us. You didn’t see anyone.” Another step, close enough to smell the salt-sharp drip of sweat that worked down one of the guard’s jawlines as he struggled to pull free of Reid’s control. Gave in. Relaxed into it. “We are nothing to you.” Reid smiled, shivering. The moment lengthened.

“Numair.”

He shook himself, glancing at Romain. The soldiers backed away, walking at first and then running. Scared. He felt his lip curl, stepping towards them. But they were escaping. He could stop them. Stop them all…

“Hey!” The blow on his cheek was sharp enough that his head rolled with it, the skin smarting. Romain grabbed him, grabbed his arms, and shook. “Stop that! No more of that.”

Reid didn’t think, didn’t use the mind that he’d relied on for so long, he just reacted, leaning closer into that touch, that man. “Isn’t this what you hired me for?” he said, voice almost rough, and Romain’s expression glazed and turned dangerously blank as Reid let his nose bump against the musky skin of Romain’s throat, scenting. They pressed together, Romain making a soft noise of want. “Isn’t this my purpose?”

Gambit lashed out and Reid hit the ground, hard. Blood dripped from his shoulder. Swearing, Romain shook the bird off and crouched, Gambit’s wings beating heavily as he took to the air. “Listen to me,” Romain said intently, dark eyes fixed on Reid’s, and he’d never sounded this worried, this almost consoling, so Reid shook off the weirdness and the impulsivity and tried to focus through it all. “You’ve been odd since the attack. Odder than usual. I don’t like it. Whatever you did back there, whatever your hand was forced into, I don’t want you to do it again. I don’t believe you have as much control over it as you think you do.”

Reid swallowed. And then again, because his throat was tight, his breath rasping, and the first time hadn’t worked: “But this is what they want me to do,” he choked, and horrified, felt his eyes burning. Just a CIA dog, now, Spencer, just like him. Sit dog. Good dog. “Compulsion. It’s what you need.”

The hand on his wrist was something he could cling to, some point of sanity. Despite everything, the part of his mind that was still clear and not desperate for touch, to taste, to press against another being and feel their energy bolster his flagging self, noted that Romain was still helping him. Still coming near him. That part of his mind was distantly aware that he’d come dangerously close to luring Romain towards him twice now, involuntarily, and still the man helped him.

Something muttered in French, and the hand gripped tighter, shook his arm once, twice, the bell dinging along. “No, I don’t,” Romain said, intent, “I don’t care what Carrick or Paget told you, tried to tell you. If this is the price we pay for that power, this… perversion of your mind, I don’t want it. You’re more useful to me clear-headed. Every time you use this, all I can feel is hunger. It’s aching. Distracting. You’re devolving too fast.”

“Devolving,” Reid murmured, and thought of his team. His mind cleared, just a little. “Interesting choice of words.”

Romain’s eyebrows flickered up. “Better,” he said, mouth in a tight line. “There you are. Come on. We need to keep moving. I’ll drive, while you eat.”

But everything he ate was tasteless, nothing helped, and the hunger lingered.

 


 

Reid saw very little of the bustle of Riyadh but it hardly mattered because he couldn’t find the energy to care. When he wasn’t sleeping to try and regain some strength, he was snappy, unreceptive, cruel. Lashing out at Romain, at the birds, at the demons or the children or whoever dared to speak to him. The Russian woke, limping, viciously harsh with the pain of the injuries that should have killed him, and Reid was listless when he wasn’t mean. There was a bullet hole in Romain’s bicep that Reid had somehow failed to notice. It wasn’t healing.

The heat turned oppressive, the job mind-numbing, and there were too many people moving around them constantly in the city, a constant flux of bodies and minds and voices and lives and it was all too much, too much, not enough, he couldn’t think. More sales. Reid kept to the back. The Russian hid his injuries well when there were clients. There was a lot more work to do with only him, Reid and Romain remaining, but neither of them seemed overly keen to approach him to ask him to do anything. Those few clients who glanced over at him quickly moved away.

There was a bathroom in the fancy showroom they worked in this time, all waxed floors and cream walls, and Reid felt like a wound, a sore, something grotesque and out of place in the glimmering surroundings. Uniform reeking of his body and weeks on the road and his skin coated with grime; only the Russian had had time to wash and change before the sales had begun. Reid stank of misery, the demons of waste and weakness, and there was the faintest hint of the smell of old blood and pus to Romain’s shirt, his temper was shortened. Sick of the mix of unpleasant stimuli, Reid slipped away to the bathroom, boots silent on the tiled floors, finding himself facing a bank of mirrors polished to a shine.

The man staring back at him wasn’t a man he knew. Hollow eyes in a sunken face that were three shades darker than they’d ever been before, black and pitiless, almost hidden by the hair that hung scrappily into them. Bearded and wild, he licked his lip and scrubbed his thumb over the rough scruff of his face, wondering what Emily would think if she were to see him now. Stretching the wings he didn’t have the energy to glamour anymore, they ached at the movement, reminding him how long it had been since he’d flown, felt cool clean air around his body, used the powers he loved instead of the ones he knew were eating him away from the inside out. He could see that they were. His uniform hung from his frame, the silvered bands rubbing painfully against his arms where they weren’t held flush against the wasted skin anymore. Problem. Real demonic bindings would keep tight to his body even with considerable weight loss.

It didn’t take long to find a kitchen, find a knife. He made his way back to the bathroom, rune-locked the door, and faced the mirrors. If he was going to fight this, he needed to be himself.

He started with the beard.

 


 

Romain cost them a sale. On the fourth day in Riyadh, they’d been working without a break despite having half the amount of demons to sell, and the Russian had heavy disapproval coming down on him from blank-faced men dressed in purple and silver who kept stepping into the glamoured showroom and looming over them.

“Your pet?” a client asked Romain, jerking his head at Reid. For once, Reid was with him, baton in hand, pacing behind the eight demons remaining. “Good work. Looks like you’re keeping him lean. Always the best with those types, I find. Makes them meaner.”

Romain’s carefully constructed this job is nothing to me persona vanished in a flicker, and Reid blinked as suddenly it wasn’t Charlie in front of him but, dangerously, Romain. Whatever he said was in Arabic, fast and vicious, and the client’s face reddened with anger. The Russian moved towards them, furious, but Romain was gone, stormed out. Reid followed him; what choice did he have?

“He didn’t appreciate me pointing out that the only reason he’s buying male demons is to fuck them,” Romain snarled when Reid followed him into the bathroom. Reid watched him in the mirrors, the pacing, agitated mage and the wasted husk with demon eyes tracking his progress. Romain stopped and swung around to face him, his hand rubbing at his arm obsessively, the bulk of the bandage hidden by his shirt. “I preferred the beard,” he said. He sounded tired, so tired, Reid wondered if they could stop this, go home, how long had it been? “At least then I couldn’t see you.”

Reid blinked, but Romain was already shoving past, walking away again. He examined himself in the mirror. But he looked better, didn’t he? Shorter hair, cropped close. Bare-faced. Clean, now he’d finally found a shower. Found a shower and spent an hour in there huddled under the warm water after scrubbing his body until it was pink and sore and almost bleeding. He didn’t look human though, not really. Not with the sharp edges to his cheekbones and the way the short hair made the slight ridged point to his ears more prominent, but… not wild anymore, at least.

Maybe that was it. Maybe Romain just didn’t like the reminder of what he was.

Whatever.

Like it mattered anyway.

 


 

Nine days, and the only demons left were three hulking, winged demons who silently watched Reid as he loaded them back onto the truck. Their bindings were different, thicker, and the Russian had smoothly ensured that no client looked twice at them. Whatever their fate was, it wasn’t here. He was recovering quicker than a human would, although Reid had seen him with his shirt off prodding at the three bullet holes in his chest, still open, still oozing, and there was a decidedly concerning fatality to that sight that suggested the only thing keeping the man alive was sheer willpower. Reid wasn’t sure what would happen if he died, so he was hoping that that willpower persevered.

“Revenir doesn’t know where Paget is,” Romain had murmured to him the night before, waiting until Reid was returning from the bathroom to sidle up behind him. Reid had barely managed to catch the hissed words from the hot-lightning jolt of heat and hostility that had flared in his belly and below at the man’s proximity. They’d been careful, before then, to keep distance between them, but Romain had… forgotten. “We’re out of contact.”

Out of contact. Two weeks out of contact soon enough. Problematic. Almost as problematic as the fact that Reid was dangerously close to losing what little control he had, and the Russian wasn’t helping.

“That trick he did with the soldiers, he can do it more?” he’d asked, and Romain had ummed and ahhed and eventually been cornered into saying yes. Reid could count every time since then he’d compelled or slunk into someone’s mind under the direction of the Russian, because every time had been something good, something better, something to ease the pressing, crushing need of his hunger, and he longed for the next.

Romain was gone, muttering something about needing to pick up something from nearby, the Russian smoothing over loose ends before they hit the road for the UAE. Last stop. Then they’d be taken to the cell that was operating this run to be paid, to be given further orders, to call down the CIA on them like a pack of hunting hounds. And it would be over.

So close.

Romain was gone so Reid was alone with the two demon children they’d barely managed to keep hidden, knowing what would happen if they were found, when everything went wrong again.

“Do you know when a magic user is at their weakest?” a professor lecturing about magical safety had said, so long ago, and Spencer had known all the answers but had to go anyway. “When they are tired. When they are tired, or hurt, or under the influence of any mind-altering substance, their magic controls them. They are not the ones with the power.”

Reid was reclining in the driver’s seat, one foot on the steering wheel, when someone opened the door roughly, startling him up. Behind him, the kids were glamoured, but he could hear dogs snuffling, panting, smell sulphur.

Hael hounds.

“Demons are magically essenced beings,” said the same professor, sometime later, and he wasn’t supposed to be talking about this with Spencer, but he had because he’d believed he needed to know this stuff. He’d been right. “If they don’t feed, their magic wanes. If their magic wanes, their bodies suffer. Injuries cause more damage, take longer to heal. They exhaust faster. They lose control of their magic.”

Rough hands dragged him out, dropped him roughly to his knees. “We don’t like shedim around here,” said a voice in Arabic, and Reid looked up to find the client Romain had insulted standing over him. “Or their maesters.” There was a logo on his chest. An official uniform. هيئة الأمر بالمعروف و النهي عن المنكر.

Hai’a. Fuck. Religious ‘sin’ police.

Hot breath washed over him as a hael hound tugged against its leash, bayed, stinking of heat and rot and something sickly sweet. Red glinted in its eyes, the back of its throat. Reid didn’t speak because there was nothing he could say that would help him right now. A rune glinted blue on the cheeks of the men surrounding him. Emily had one similar. Protection against compulsion.

He closed his eyes and reached for the kids’ minds. Found them slipping out the other side of the truck, the girl holding Declan’s hand, running, running, not quick enough; the hael hounds wouldn’t be fooled by the girl’s invisibility trick. She wouldn’t escape.

Declan could. Ephilaltes could take incorporeal form.

“Declan!” Reid shouted, inwardly, and he couldn’t reach the boy like he would Emily or Romain, were the shield not blocking him, so he was forced to reach for his powers and coil, hearing Declan cry out with terror at the touch, the dogs turning to him. “Declan, run! Now!”

“But my friend—” he protested, and the dogs howled in triumph and dragged the men towards them.

“Leave her!” Reid compelled, forcefully, viciously, and Declan did. He didn’t have a choice.

He vanished and the girl screamed as they fell on her.

They couldn’t exorcise him. They wouldn’t. He was property. It would be theft and Romain was a mage, he outranked them all. They could beat him though. Punish him. If Romain was here, this wouldn’t happen, it couldn’t, Reid would be protected.

She wasn’t though.

A girl child,” the client said, his face twisting into a smile behind his henna dyed beard as the girl was lifted over to them by a man who handled her as though she was nothing to him, shaking her to stop her from crying. “How unfortunate for your mage. The law against possession of demons is very strict about the ages and sexes of those demons. How… unfortunate.” Reid stared at the girl. Her arms bled from where the dogs had pulled her down, another bite on the side of her face. He couldn’t compel them. He couldn’t save her, she’d be carried away and rebound. If he called a storm, they’d kill them both and then Romain for bringing an unsecured demon into the country.

He was property, but property could still sin.

“She’s mine,” he lied, and hoped to god he hadn’t forgotten how. “She’s mine. Not his. I’m the only one who has touched her.”

“What happens if I get hurt when I’m malnourished?” a younger Spencer had asked, painfully curious about the secrets of his species that had been denied to him. An older Reid would later find out, under Hankel and then Foyet and then once more at the boots and canes of religious police.

“Don’t,” the professor had suggested, laughing, and two days later he’d been fired for violating the contract the college had signed with the State Care to ensure Reid wasn’t allowed access to information about demons until he was eighteen.

“Fortunate for him, then,” said the man, and Reid closed his eyes. Pulled his shield tight around his mind, closing out Romain. He couldn’t walk in on this; they couldn’t both be hurt. “Not for you.”

 


 

Every step felt like it was tearing him apart from the inside. But he kept going, even as the world listed under him like he was drunk. There was something wrong with his knee, his bad one, it wasn’t… kneeing anymore. That would have earned a chuckle, but his mouth wasn’t mouthing anymore, and he paused, not sure where he was going anyway.

The tiles were cold and nice. He sat for a bit. Maybe a bit longer.

Got up, but couldn’t. Tried again.

Romain. Looking for Romain. He’ll… help. He helps. Except when he doesn’t.

My team would help.

Emily would help.

Emily…

“Numair? What the hell are you… ah, shit.

He was standing. Good. He didn’t remember doing it, but he was, which meant he must have, and he looked up to find both Romain and the Russian moving quickly towards him. He blinked. Half his vision was odd, fuzzy, pink-tinged. Ow. It hurt to blink.

“I think I lost the bell,” he confessed, vaguely remembering a boot on his arm, and slumped forward. “Don’t shoot me.”

He hit a wall on the way down. A firm, warm wall that lowered him gently.

“No, no, idiot, don’t pass out, who—”

 


 

They’re in a hotel room. The bed is soft, the pillows softer, and Emily is reclined next to him, grinning catlike at him. “Nice place,” she says, with a cocky toss of her head, and he’s naked and she’s gorgeous. “How’d you afford this on a teacher’s salary?”

“Slave trafficking,” he admits, ducking his head shyly, and she laughs and laughs and cups his cheek, pulling his mouth up to hers.

“Aww, you’re cute when you try to be funny, darkling,” she says, and he blinks. What? She never calls him that. “This might hurt. If you’re awake, brace.”

“What?”

It hurts.

 


 

“Can you move it now?” He blinked his eyes open, feeling the lashes gunk together, refusing to move, and Romain was wobbling overhead. “Your arm. It was dislocated. Can you move it now?”

He moved it. Moved it up, slowly, and brushed the tips of his fingers against the wavering face above him. Now Romain, now Emily, now Emily again. The face moved away, came back, and his arm was still in the air.

“You’re fine, darkling. Just a bit knocked about. I gave you painkillers. Sleep it off.”

Painkillers.

Oh.

“No,” he sobbed, and knew the rush, the touch of this delirium, this longing nothingness. “I don’t want them. I don’t want them. Tobias, please…”

But that had never stopped him before, and it didn’t now.

 


 

Emily’s drunk. She paces the hotel room, unsteady on her feet, and he’d normally laugh at the flushed look to her face, her slurred words, but, somehow, today, it’s not funny. “You know they count the thrall-bound as a separate entity, right? Your actions while bound won’t be held against you after you’re free.”

He’s heard that before. A long time ago. Far away. There was a cat. As he thinks it, he feels a warm weight against his back, purring. Sergio.

“When I’m free,” he parrots obediently, because that’s the script, it’s what he said last time, and Emily covers her face and moans in distress. He needs to help her. He needs to stop whatever is distressing her.

“Why aren’t you getting better?” she snaps, stepping closer. Her birds fly away. “Take us home.”

 


 

Romain was on the bed next to him, one knee pushing the mattress down as he leaned over Reid, examining him critically. “Why aren’t you getting better?” he murmured, and Reid couldn’t hear the birds.

“Hungry,” Reid rasped, and Romain jumped and looked at his face. “When our magic wanes, our bodies suffer. I’m waning. I have waned. I fed so recently, before I killed her, but I’m being eaten now. You said you’d help me.”

“I never said anything of the sort,” Romain said, protesting, and frowned. “What do you need?”

The answer was so fucking simple and so impossible.

“Emily.”

 


 

“I love you, I love you,” he repeats, over and over and over and over, because the more he says it the more she’ll believe. “I did this all for you, and that’s not fair, I know, but… I couldn’t just let you die. I had to come to you. Had to find you. Don’t you understand, you never gave up on me… I couldn’t give up on you.”

Emily is on the bed next to him, but they’re not touching. Her chin is on her knees, dark eyes watchful, and she’s listening to him plead his case for her heart. She doesn’t say anything; she doesn’t need to.

She’s always had his heart. From the moment she walked into the bullpen, mysterious and stunning and thrilling and herself. Everything. He’d fallen in love with her on a rattling fire escape on a humid summer morning under the rising sun, and he’s never, ever, fallen out of love. He never will.

“I’d burn for you,” he admits. “I am burning. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I was never shown how to do this, how to control this power, and I don’t think I can…”

She looks away.

She doesn’t talk because he can’t remember what her voice sounds like.

 


 

Silence. There was still a weight on the bed, the impossibly soft bed after so long sleeping in trucks or on hard mattresses on filthy warehouse floor, and the room was light and freshly painted. A hotel. It wasn’t Emily next to him though, but Romain. “You talk too much, even unconscious,” he said without looking at Reid, and Reid swallowed, despite even that small movement jarring every bruise on his body. Romain swallowed too, several times, before speaking again. He smelled of whiskey and his eyes were red. There was a book in his hands, loose. He was reading. “You love her very much.”

Damn.

“Yes,” Reid said, because he couldn’t say otherwise. “Immeasurably.”

“You’re doing all this for her.”

“Yes.”

Quiet again. Dogs barked outside and Reid shivered at the reminder.

“You’re not going to die out here.” Romain’s voice was low, serious. He didn’t meet Reid’s eyes. “Neither of us are going to die. We’re almost out. It’s almost over. You can find her and go home. I promise you.”

Declan. Where is Declan? Reid closed his eyes, tired, so fucking tired he couldn’t keep them open or voice a straight thought. “You can’t promise me that. No one can.” How long had he been out? Were they officially ‘no contact’ with their handler yet? Did she know it had all gone wrong, that they were so close to losing themselves and everything else with it?

Romain was drunk and Reid was broken, and they were a matched pair. Two disasters, failing together. Failing spectacularly.

“I can,” Romain said, finally looking at him, and Reid felt pinned, studied. That was Hotch’s stare on another man’s face and it hurt in so many different ways. “I can promise that. Whatever it takes.”

He went to reply, but fell asleep before he could.

 


 

“No more painkillers,” he slurred at some point, and felt the hand on his arm pause. “Can’t. Dependency before. Can’t do it again.”

“Hah.” The laugh was wondering. “You? You’re a man of many surprises, Spencer.”

Spencer?

Since when have you called me that.

Are you even listening to me…

 


 

He showered. Or rather, he turned the shower on and sank, naked and with his shoulders bowed against the beating stream, to the tiled floor, and sat there with the water eddying around him. He could walk. Could wake up. Could do things that a human was supposed to do, barely, and he didn’t really want to think about what he hadn’t been able to do before this moment.

The door opened and Revenir hopped in, peering at him. “Checking you’re not a drowned mouse,” Romain called through the door, and Reid blinked. How long had he been in here?

“I’m okay,” he called finally, and dragged himself up to turn off the taps. Revenir ruffled her wings, chittered in a disapproving manner, and vanished out the door again. “I’m okay…” He wasn’t. The hunger churned, a constant companion now, and it dulled even the pain and the lingering craving. He couldn’t bear it, couldn’t stand it, needed something, settling the palms of his hands on the taut skin of his concave stomach, the jutting bones of his hips, his body painted with bruising vivid and swollen, anything, help me…

The door opened again. “I’m naked,” Reid reminded him, tiredly, and let his face press against the basin of the sink, buckled over it. Not that Romain hadn’t seen him naked before, but…

“Obvious.” Silence. It stretched.

Reid’s heart was hammering. Breath coming in ragged gasps through clenched teeth, and it tasted like damp and soap and a hint of the man standing behind him. He focused on his heartbeat. Tha-thump. A step closer. Tha-thump.

Close enough that he could feel the heat of his body behind him. He could lean back, step back, and they’d be pressed together, and just like he was hard and shaking. He could smell whiskey again.

Drunk, again.

Tha-thump. Tha-thump. Thathumpthathumpthathump…

A hand settled on his hip, fingertips tracing the sharp curve of his pelvis and Reid couldn’t help it; the moan slipped out, involuntary, and he was shuddering. “Don’t, please.” The hand paused, shaking too. Both their hearts were hammering. “Don’t… offer what you’re not prepared to give. I can’t. I can’t decline it.”

“Don’t then.” The voice was a bedroom voice, a rumble, and he felt it in his chest because there was a body behind him, tight against him, a hand around him and oh god oh god finallyfinallyfinallyplease.

He wished it was more than what it was. Once, he’d thought ruefully that sex with Emily was just her giving him what she knew he couldn’t live without. He’d been wrong. There was so much more to it with her. But this, this moment, in this tiny hotel bathroom with his knuckles white around the ceramic basin and a hand on his back, big and steady and scarred, this was perfunctory. Just sex. Just sex and release and it was exactly what he needed and nothing more. Hot breath on the back of his neck, their gasps mixing together, a single moment when the man against him (don’t think of his name in case he’s shamed by this, let him have his anonymity) panted and stiffened and his lips for a second bumped against the bone of Reid’s spine. A feather-light touch. They didn’t speak. They didn’t kiss. They didn’t look at each other.

It was the first time.

Reid wished it was the last because it was nothing he’d ever wanted from a friend.

But it wasn’t.

Chapter Text

Romain dressed silently. The casual deep blue shirt and jeans looked odd after seeing him for so long in black and black and little else. “For you,” he grunted, twitching his head towards a similar neat pile on Reid’s bed. Green shirt, instead of blue. Jeans, boots. All new. Nothing that had been touched by their work. On top of the pile, a book.

Reid picked it up, turning it over thoughtfully. It was old, ink on vellum, written in Hebrew. He couldn’t read it. But he knew the symbol on the front. “This is a daemonum,” he said, paging through it. “Or… part of one.”

“Part of one,” Romain said, unwinding the bandage on his arm carefully with nimble fingers. The skin underneath was raw and swollen. Healing, but it would scar horribly. “I managed to source a copy while you were dancing with our friends the Hai’a.” He paused, looking almost uncertain under the neat stubble of his trimmed beard, and continued slowly, “Something needed to be done. You were using magic you didn’t understand. We needed to understand it. Incubi are originally Middle Eastern demons… if there’s any remaining information on them, I assumed it would be here. I was correct.”

“I can’t read this.” Flipping through the fragile pages, there were faded drawings, lost to time, and line after line of scratchy, illegible Hebrew. Frustrating. All the answers he wanted at his fingertips, and language was the barrier between them.

“I can. I have. While you were recuperating.” Romain met his gaze evenly as Reid’s head snapped up to stare at him, knowing he was wide-eyed, knowing he looked painfully hopeful.

And then Reid knew.

“Oh,” he said softly, and felt the burn of Romain’s fingers on his skin and press of them together again. “Is that why…”

Romain flushed, his eyes over-bright, and when he moved Reid heard something liquid slosh in the flask at his hip. He stepped closer, skin still red, gestures awkward, and said, “Partially. Also, this…” His fingers brushed against Reid’s arm. The familial connection hummed suddenly, surged, and became. When he spoke next, it wasn’t out loud. “Incubi magic bypasses almost all mental shielding once a physical bond has been established. Even beforehand, if the connection is strong enough.”

Reid blinked, reeling. It wasn’t a tentative connection anymore, fogged by the shield and their distance to each other. It was strong, binding them tightly, and he knew Romain in that moment and forevermore, in the way only a familiar could know a mage. Just like he had Emily. Just like Sergio had known her, before him. There was still the arrogance and the coldness that Romain projected, everything he’d first felt. But beyond that, so much more: the feel of feathers under his hand, the savage glee of a successful hunt, a whirling, looping magic that glowed creamy-gold shot through with the faintest streaks of coppery brown. There was love for his birds, his job, his abilities. Grief for his family. A bitter determination that drove him relentlessly. There was a dull affection, a sense of duty; those were centred around Reid himself.

There was the thing he’d hidden.

The cream magic wound delicately against Reid and he knew it wasn’t Romain’s. It was Revenir. She was a part of him, irrevocably so. Despite them severing their familial bond to make way for Reid, for this case, she was still his heart and soul and had been for so long there was no way to tell them apart anymore.

The copper was Romain. And it was shattered.

“You have no magic,” Reid breathed, his eyes flickering open, unaware that he’d closed them. “Just… traces. You did have magic.” He had to have had, or the familial bond would never have caught in the first place. “You lost it.”

“What I do, I do because I am good at it,” Romain said quietly, dropping his hand. The connection didn’t falter. Whether both of them wanted it or not, they were companions now, until such time as they dissolved it. “Gambit is just a normal bird. He has no magic, no tricks, no spells. His skills at this work are because I trained him to be so. The spells I use, I source from elsewhere. My abilities in the field stem from countless years of practise. Do you know what use a French spymage has for a student whose magic is crippled by illness, despite that student keeping up with his class quite easily without that magic?”

“What?” Reid didn’t really want to ask. There was pain here. A long-held resentment that festered and left a bitter taste of hate and simmering anger in his mouth. But he asked, because he was reeling, stunned, completely blindsided.

None.” Romain’s face twisted for an instant, eyes grim and furious, his mouth unmoving. His voice was a bird call, a hawk’s hunting cry instead of Emily’s cat-purr, and it made the hair on the back of Reid’s neck stand on end. “None at all. The student is sent away. A reject from his esteemed family. Isolated. I think you know how that feels, dar… Spencer.”

He turned away, shoulders stiff. Reid was silent.

“Where are we going?” he asked finally, as Romain picked up keys off the counter, the silence suffocating.

“To find your Declan.”

 


 

Whatever conversation between them was stifled by the fact that driving in Riyadh was apparently forgoing the right to live. Romain made liberal use of the horn, Reid clung grimly to the door-handle and prayed for salvation, and around them there was a through disregard for any kind of road traffic bylaws.

“You look tense,” Romain commented once, grinning smugly, and Reid peeled his fingers from the handle and turned what he knew was a shell-shocked stare onto him.

“They’re overtaking on the sidewalk,” he whined, voice rising in pitch as the light turned green and the sound of motors screeching as multiple accelerator pedals all hit the floor at once. “Argh!”

“Tsk. You frighten easily, little mouse.” Romain switched to French, bellowed something out the open window, and narrowly avoided another car that swerved in front of them from the oncoming lane in order to overtake. “Don’t you think this is fun?”

Insane. His partner was insane. Reid closed his eyes again, hoped they at least returned his body in one piece, and suddenly realized who was missing. “Where’s Gambit?” Turning his head, Revenir was hunched awkwardly on the backseat with her talons tearing through the rental car’s seat, but her bigger companion was nowhere to be seen. Hadn’t been seen. Reid couldn’t remember seeing him at all in the time they spent in the hotel.

Romain went quiet, a nerve in his jaw working. Worry and tension rang hollowly through their link, setting Reid’s teeth on edge and his stomach twisting uncomfortably. “Working,” Romain said finally, eyes skittering along the red-dust horizon blocked by the buildings around them. They were making their way to the outskirts, hoping that Declan would have tried to make it out of the bustle and chaos of Riyadh. “I sent him to Paget, almost a week ago. He has not found her, I assume, since he has not returned. I worry… something has gone amiss.”

Revenir clicked her beak a couple of times and then the oddest sensation tugged, not at Reid’s mind, but at the link between him and Romain. As though something was nibbling its way through, like a rat gnawing at drywall to reach food on the other side. It wasn’t words as he knew them. It was sensations. Jumbled sensations that made no sense, until they suddenly did. The knowledge of a bigger bird, known. He flies still. Prey unknown. We miss.

She knew loss. Not… as a human would. But there was the knowledge of what it meant for a being who had been there to not be there anymore, and Reid stared at Revenir in wonder. Cats were as sentient as animals tended to reach, followed very narrowly by corvids, with canids close behind. If you wanted a logical human-orientated conversation with a member of Animalia, it was with one of those geneses. Everything else, you approached on their level. Revenir was no exception. Sentient, yes, but in her own way.

“He’ll come home, Ma chérie,” Romain assured her, and Revenir clicked her beak and ruffled her feathers. Sad, sad. I miss.

“Come here,” Reid said softly, reaching back, and she hopped onto his arm, talons biting into his skin despite her care, allowing him to resettle her on his lap. “She has a sense of self. Incredible.”

Romain’s mouth twitched, despite currently being embroiled in a bitter battle to not have the car behind him attempt to nudge their car out of the way with its bumper. “Yes. Raptors and owls do. My sister works with Columbidaes. Pigeons and doves. Started referring to herself as ‘we’ eventually. Very unsettling. Revenir also understand abstract logic and levels of cognitive reasoning that many thought were beyond the abilities of avians.”

Revenir turned her beak up towards him, dark eyes expressionless as always, but he knew now that that was an illusion. One her mage had clearly learned from her. You miss. Mate unknown.

“She also understands English,” Romain said, grinning, and Reid shook his head in wonder. After all these years, after everything he’d learned, there were still so many new things to be astounded by.

The smile vanished as they finally made it through to the outskirts, driving instead through fenced paddocks and along runs for livestock erected to keep them apart from the hard-earth packed road. “I think we are alone,” Romain said suddenly, and Reid looked around.

They were close to the warehouse where Declan had escaped, just outside the city circuit. The lands around them were owned by the same company who owned the buildings where the slaves were trafficked. “I don’t think we’re going to find him just by aimlessly driving, even going in a radius around the warehouse where we lost him,” he said, but Romain was already shaking his head.

“I don’t mean your little nightmare child. I mean our handler. Paget. I am concerned that she is no longer in the position to be of… assistance to us.”

Reid went cold, his guts turning to water and hands clenching shut with the sharp-shock of the words. Without a handler… they had no ID. No passports. Their money relied on Paget being in contact with them to activate accounts in the cities they visited. If they were discovered, it was… “How do you know?”

Eye line shifting down, to the left. The slightest sheen of sweat to his forehead that could be the heat, but more likely, guilt. Hands that rapped uneasily at the steering wheel cover, the sound muffled by the faux wool. “I… sent both Gambit and Revenir to separate areas where Paget was previously. With… extraction requests.”

Silence.

“You pulled us?” Reid gasped, mind whirling. It’s… over? We’re going home?

He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that.

Mouais,” Romain began. “I felt it… prudent. You were injured, you weren’t improving, my arm was teetering on infection. It seemed unlikely we were to make it throughout the route without disaster, and I wasn’t sure I could pull you back from the path you were walking down. I spent the last of our money on this rental and the hotel, then found that our other accounts haven’t been activated, which means she is unaware of where we are. But Revenir returned, stating the area had been uninhabited for some time, and Gambit is still on wing. Which makes little sense. Even when my communication was uncertain as to our locale, she still kept hot on our trail. Why lose us now?”

Reid thought. He ran back over the last few weeks in his mind. They were a hazy blur, and if he lingered too much on the events, something dark and aware in his mind uncurled and purred with anticipation. Romain watched him sideways, through his lashes, and Reid swallowed.

Oh.

Oh no.

“The attack on our convoy,” he said, feeling flushed and hot and panicked despite the air conditioning blasting cold air onto his chest from the vents. “You hadn’t updated our locale with them before that but the siphon went off without a hitch despite it. Someone else told them.”

“No one else could have,” Romain countered. “The curse that we walked through. The only way I got around it was by having Revenir inform them of where we travelled. Unless they found a workaround… ah.”

“Kökelun,” Reid said miserably, the guilt rearing and choking him. “She was the help we were promised. She was one of us.” And I killed her with my neglect.

“That is… unfortunate,” Romain said gently, wincing at the realization. A light on the dash flashed, a deep rumbling scree outside rattling the windows almost at the same time. Reid could see a rune winking behind the thin plastic: warning against cryptids.

Cat brother, Revenir sent suddenly, and Reid spent a long, strange moment trying to work out what she meant, before he saw it.

“Oh, I really hope Declan didn’t go this way,” he whispered, tensing in his seat as the great beast wheeled alongside them, wings brushing the magicka fencing keeping it in. It was as long as their car from beak to withers and easily half again as tall. The gryphon tossed its head, rolled one round, predatory eye at them, and swept away in a proud flurry of golden feathers and a tawny rump, screeching as it went. “Holy shit.”

Romain’s eyes were just as wide. “A gryphon in Saudi Arabia?” he said, shaking his head slowly as though trying to wake himself up from a dream. “But they’re Greek. And a protected class. They have one out in the open, so blatantly?” The gryphon landed, the ground shaking slightly, outlined starkly against the blue sky with its wings outstretched.

Reid very abruptly ached to fly.

“Would you be willing to argue with a man riding that?” he said instead, leaning back against his wings and folding his arms. “We need to keep moving. We need to find Declan quickly.”

 


 

There was no scent nor sign of Declan that day. Revenir flew, Reid slipped invisibly through farmyards and outbuildings, and Romain kept close to the radio, listening for anything that could indicate someone had found the lost demon, although he doubted it. Laying in the backseat of the car while Romain fed Revenir outside, Reid fiddled with the pages of the book he couldn’t read resting on his chest, and considered their next move. If they stayed much longer, there would be no returning to the Russian to continue their mission. They were already away too long, already suspiciously late in following him on the road. He’d travelled ahead to the UAE with the final three demons and firm instructions that they were to meet him on the following Wednesday morning, once Reid was recovered enough to take to the road.

They wouldn’t make it. And, at this rate, they weren’t going to find Declan either. Or maybe…

“He’s looking for us,” Reid murmured, staring at the sagging roof, excitement thrumming through him.

Sleep, once he’d realized this, was hard to come by but it did eventually come.

 


 

“Declan!” he shouts, ignoring their surroundings. It’s a wide open paddock. A shadow circles him, getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and he turns his back on it. He’s not interested in dreams tonight. “Declan! Can you hear me? Come here!”

“You are very bad at keeping track of your eyasses, tiny wing brother,” booms a voice that makes Reid’s everything ache. He spins, finding the gryphon looming overhead, hooked beak gaping wide enough to make a considerable dent in his skull if it decides to snap it shut. “So many lost. Your hen, your little tiercel eyass. The noisy grey beast. How thoughtless of you, to have lost them all.”

Reid narrows his eyes at it. “I don’t know if you’re real or a dream,” he admits, stepped back out from its shadow and frantically scanning through everything he’s ever read about the rare beasts. Sentient? Probably. They’re not admitting it though. “You’re not Declan’s dream. He wouldn’t know that gryphons use hawk terminology instead of eagle.”

He could be mistaken, but the creature’s face turns up almost in a smile. “Clever,” it says, the feathers around its neck lifting and giving it a maned look as it tosses its head back. Reid blinks as the wings clap noisily. In the space of the second it takes for his eyelids to shutter shut, the beast is gone.

Declan leaps into his arms. “It smelled like home,” he cries, and Reid can scent carrion and sticky tree sap on his dirty skin. “I was scared and it smelled like home. But I couldn’t find you; I tried and tried and tried and you were gone. Where’s my friend? Where is she? Is she okay?”

Reid hugs him close. “Where are you?” he asks finally, sidestepping his questions. “We’ll come get you.”

 


 

They found him huddled under the fencing with a smaller but no less intimidating gryphon stalking behind him, hissing a warning at them as they approached.

“Bow,” Reid muttered out of the corner of his mouth. Romain did so, Revenir flapping to keep her balance on his shoulder. Reid arched his wings slightly, the gryphon eyeing them, before huffing and stalking away.

“Making friends?” Romain said mildly as Declan scrambled up and repeated his leaping act of the night before, Reid catching him easily with only the slightest twinge reminding him of the still-healing cracks in his ribs, his cane knocking against his legs. Declan said nothing, just buried his face in Reid’s chest so they couldn’t see him crying.

What do we do now?” Reid said wearily to Romain, seeing the other man glance up at the empty sky.

Our jobs,” he said, finally, and turned away. “We don’t have a choice.”

 


 

It was only a nine-hour drive to Dubai, but it was a tense nine hours. Gambit’s return didn’t help things.

“He’s got blood on his feet,” Declan pointed out as the big harrier screeched in displeasure and tore hungrily into the rat Romain was holding, almost taking his fingers.

“It’s not his,” Romain said, fighting the bird to get a hand under the grasping talon to try and examine them for injury. “And he hasn’t hunted. He’s too hungry.”

Prey bleeds, Revenir tried to explain, her tail feathers flaring with distress and wings mantled. Prey find. Gambit find. Gambit prey.

“We need to go back,” Romain argued later that night, pacing alongside the road with Declan and the birds watching them from inside the car, a row of beady eyes pressed against the windows. Reid stayed still, watching Romain pace. “Something has happened. They wouldn’t give us a green handler. She’s good at what she does. Something has happened to her.”

“We can’t,” Reid said. He rubbed his fingers together for something to distract his mind from the grim horror of this. “If we go back, that’s it for this operation. We’ll never find the Russian again, we’ll never find the convoy. If we don’t hurry up, we’re going to miss them completely.”

They had Declan. Which meant Doyle would be coming after them, which meant he could still find Emily. All wasn’t lost. But…

There were the other demons. The ones he hadn’t saved. If he failed this operation, went home without making a dent in their workings… he knew what would happen to them.

Romain shook his head. “Revenir thinks something chased Gambit,” he snarled, carding his hands roughly through his dark curls and leaving them flicked up unevenly. “Something followed him. Whatever it was, it’s stopping us from reaching our handlers. We need to find them, and we need to face it.” It was a silly, nervous reaction, but Reid glanced up at the sky. Looking for a storm cloud, a black fog, something ominous to follow this unnerving statement. Of course, there was nothing, because danger was never so kind as to announce its presence, but he felt the weight of it approaching anyway.

It could have gone either way, Reid suspected, had Romain’s cell not chosen that moment to ring. He stalked away to answer it, and Reid slunk back to the car, unsure and worried about the choices they were making.

“Can you feel it?” Declan asked, biting at his nails. Reid smacked his hand, gently, tsking at the bloodied stubs of nails he’d left. “Something is coming.”

“Well, it’s got to get past me first,” Reid said firmly, digging around in his bag for the antiseptic. “Give me your hand. I need to clean those.”

 


 

There’s a hand over his mouth. He sits up, finding Declan crouched over him, Revenir on his shoulder. “Shh,” he says, pressing a finger to his lips. “Follow me. He’s looking for you.” They creep away through darkness and night and uncertain landscapes. Declan is a constant presence. Revenir is silent and watchful, overlarge on the child’s slim shoulders. They’re hunted. It’s a wolf howl, the rumbling growl of a predatory cat, the hiss of something serpentine and cruel. Everything fearful, all at once, and everywhere.

Reid knows what it is.

It’s nightmares.

“Memories confuse us,” Declan explains. “The stronger the better. Like this.” The world lightens. It’s a villa in Greece, a woman in white. A woman Reid knows. He gasps and Declan furiously flaps his hands at him to shut him up.

“Lauren!” cries a smaller Declan, a younger, not-yet hurt Declan, and Emily scoops him up and cuddles him close.

“I love her, too,” Declan says, and the villa darkens. “Quick, another!”

They run. Through memories: Reid’s, Declan’s, even one of a boy in a room filled with navy blue beds hiding behind the door so the bigger boys don’t find him. He watches them accusingly as they slip through this memory, dark eyes huge on his narrow face almost obscured by a tumble of black curls. On his shoulder, Revenir watches just as silent.

When they woke, they were exhausted—a horrifyingly familiar kind of exhausted that had Reid thinking, miserably, of home and Emily and his old life—and Romain was still watching them. “We don’t need to go back to find it,” Reid croaked, reaching for a water bottle. “It’s Doyle. And he’s already here.”

 


 

“The Russian waiting for us outside of Dubai. He wasn’t very forthcoming, but I believe he has further work for us. What do you think? Do we go?”

Forward or back?

Reid took a deep breath. Next to him, Romain was reclined in the passenger seat, his head lolling on the shoulder strap of the seatbelt, mouth parted slightly. The road outside flashed by under the yellow beams of their headlights, reflective lines glinting back at them. Endless, monotonous roadway. In the back Declan was asleep with the belt wrapped around his waist, head pillowed on Romain’s bag with Reid’s coat spread over top of him.

Forward… or back.

The silence of the car was broken by the steady tic tic tic tic of the indicator. He pulled the car to the side of the empty highway, coasted along the verge with the wheels crunching slowly over the gravel. Tic tic tic tic.

Romain wouldn’t be happy. He was technically in command here.

“Romain,” he said softly, glancing back to the sleeping Declan. They could turn back. It wasn’t so far back to Dubai from here. “Romain, psst.” Romain slept on. Reid worried, for a second, about whether Doyle would attack Romain, if Declan could keep him safe. If they were wrong, Romain would die and he wouldn’t be able to wake him, to stop it.

The worry ached. He reached out, still tentative despite their recent physical altercation, fingers hovering over his shoulder. Remembered the bullet, the still-sore wound. Dropped his hand to the man’s knee, tapping him gently. “Romain?” His wrist brushed against his cane propped between them, clacking it against the centre console. It rolled, taking his wrist with it, trailing his palm down Romain’s thigh. He winced, the movement far too affectionate, far too friendly.

“Mm,” Romain hummed, tilting his head around towards Reid. His mouth twitched, one eye opening very slightly. When he spoke, his voice was thick with sleep, almost slurred. Reid was exhausted, always, but Romain pushed himself to collapse unless forced to rest, and with Reid injured the past week, he doubted Romain had been taking care of himself. “Wha’, Spence?”

That was… also far too friendly. He pulled his hand away before talking again, and Romain’s eye tracked it sleepily. “I’m turning around,” Reid said, firm but soft, and flicked the indicator around despite the emptiness of the road. Tic tic tic. Both of Romain’s eyes snapped open, but he didn’t speak. “We’re going to Dubai. We’ll be a day late, but it’s not like he expects professionalism from us now, is it?”

“Explain your reasoning.” All traces of his fatigue had vanished from his voice, but Romain didn’t straighten his head or sit up from his reclined position. In the weak light cast by the display, his throat was a long pale expanse of skin, and Reid shifted uncomfortably. He shouldn’t be hungry. Not so soon. Especially not when he hadn’t drawn on any magic. Romain’s fingers twitched against his stomach where they were resting as their connection betrayed Reid’s emotions, but his own face remained blank.

“We’re not responsible for Paget’s wellbeing,” Reid mumbled, flushing red and looking down at his own lap. Tic tic tic. “We are responsible for this mission and therefore the wellbeing of the demons trapped within it. There’s no choice here for us to make. We weren’t given the prerogative to make our own choices… just to follow those given to us.”

Romain’s face might have been expressionless, but the huskiness to his voice gave it away, even if the shift in his scent hadn’t. “If I thought for a moment you were basing your decision on ‘we do as we’re told’, I wouldn’t even consider listening,” Romain replied. His eyes were dark in the gloom, so fucking dark that Reid was drowning, and he groaned inwardly. Downside of his magic. It didn’t care that they were on the road in the middle of nowhere or that there was a child in the back they were caring for and no way that there was going to be any kind of release anytime soon because of that. All it was registering was the proximity of someone close by who he’d already established physical contact with. And it was affecting both of them.

Problematic. But they’d deal with it. Later.

“We’re turning around then?” Reid clarified, gripping the wheel tightly, and his blood was humming with tension. “Back to Dubai?”

Romain nodded.

 


 

They’re tired. Trudging along, heads down, hands gripping each other. Reid holds Revenir, the bird too exhausted even to cling to his shoulder. Declan’s feet scruff the dirt, sneakers battered and tight. His head jerks up, eyes narrowed. “Something is weird.”

Reid tugs him back behind him and studies the world around them carefully. Something is always weird in these places; they’re dreams. It comes with the territory. But he can feel it, what Declan is referring to. A… presence. Not the looming darkness of the demon hunting them. Something else. A faraway sound. Just slightly out of earshot. Like someone calling their names.

“Maybe we should go?” Declan suggests, scared, and Reid nods. If it’s frightening Declan, they should. It’s bad enough as it is, the kid is a wreck. He doesn’t need more things haunting him.

Spencer.

There. Again. His name.

“That sounded like…” Declan trails off.

“Emily,” Reid whispers, and begins to run, Declan following him. Glancing over their shoulder, just in case. Revenir churrs, complaining about the rough treatment, and Reid takes a short moment to gleefully note that in his dreams, he can run. No limp, no cane. It’s the small pleasures.

The call doesn’t get closer, but a scent does. They both recognise it at once, skidding to a stop.

Sulphur.

Spencer!

Someone calls again, and distantly, along with the name, a howl. Hael hounds. Hunting them. Or hunting Emily.

Hael hounds in front of them, Doyle at their back. They’re being herded from both sides. Declan sobs and clings to his waist. He’s getting taller. His head brushes against Reid’s bicep. Even in the worst situation, he’s still growing. Spencer’s determined that won’t change.

“Come on,” he orders, and they leap from the path and into the wilderness.

 


 

The Russian seemed oddly delighted to see them, despite their lateness. “We are getting a big fat bonus if we get this done, this new job,” he boomed, and Reid felt Romain’s concern tick up several notches. Reid could agree with that. Bonuses? They’d barely gotten half the demons there alive, and they’d lost three employees. Although, he seriously doubted anyone cared about the loss of the employees. Three less to pay.

“What’s the new job?” Romain asked, his voice openly suspicious, but that was fine. The Russian would expect reticence on their behalf. Reid kept back, out of the way, and tried not to seem on edge, half his mind on the car parked outside and Declan huddled inside under a blanket Reid had laid cooling runes into. Probably not the best childcare option, but… well, Declan had had far worse. At least he had the birds for company.

“Ah, can’t tell you that,” the Russian said, mouth splitting into a wide grin that showed far too many teeth.

“Trap?” Romain sent, his expression giving away nothing.

“Trap,” Reid agreed weakly. “Decline?”

“After all, is top secret, hush hush. All I can tell you is that I require you both to travel into Qatar and meet with my boss. He’ll direct you from there. He’s specifically asked for magic users, and I was delighted to suggest you guys. Especially after how useful you’ve been.”

“Oh, trap trap trap,” Reid began to chant. Romain settled back onto his heels, smiling oddly.

“You say we’ll be paid richly?” he asked with Charlie’s voice, greedy and simpering, and the Russian nodded. “Qatar… there’s a lot of intel stemming from there. It’s not the centre of the cell, but it’s very close to it. If we’re meeting someone higher than the Russian there, they’ll be high enough to know more. If we get your little… thing… under control, perhaps he can be… useful.”

It was an unhappy mix of caution and eagerness that bubbled in Reid’s belly at the thought of being able to use that side of his magic again, both exceedingly unwilling to do so while practically leaping at the opportunity. He knew Romain felt it all, knew his weaknesses. It wasn’t as embarrassing as it could be. He knew, after all, how much Romain longed for his own ways to soothe the strain. Constantly. It became harder to judge him for the times he gave in when a part of Reid was very aware how often he didn’t.

“Okay.”

“Sounds good. When do we begin?”

“Good, good,” the Russian said, still smiling. “They expect you Monday.” And just like that, they were in again. Neck deep in trouble and completely on their own this time.

Chapter Text

There was a storm brewing. Reid could feel it. It was a dry, violent build-up in the atmosphere around them. They were driving into it, a dim purple-blue bank of clouds that moved sluggishly across the far horizon.

“It feels alive,” Reid said, winding the window down slightly and inhaling the ozone-tanged air with a wild grin. “Can you feel it?”

“I’ve never been fond of electricity,” Romain replied grouchily, and Revenir whistled in agreement, highly disapproving of Reid’s glee over the aversive—for a bird—conditions. “Birds are grounded during a storm.” Reid didn’t feel grounded. He didn’t feel grounded at all.

“How do you deal with him, he’s so crabby,” he sent to Revenir, and she sent back a soft, I love, and a vivid memory of Romain’s hands preening her feathers cleverly, just the way she liked them. Mine. He grinned at her and at the storm, cast his magic in that different-but-familiar touch of it, and felt it welcoming him home.

“It will probably hit in the early hours of the morning,” Reid added, testing it curiously. The storm was still sleepy, still growing as it rolled towards them. “We’ll reach Dubai before it hits its peak.”

“Wahoo.” If Romain’s tone got any drier, it’d crack. “I’m pulling over. Your turn to drive. I’ll read while you do.”

Reid nodded eagerly, out of the car before it had even rolled to a complete stop and spreading his wings in the brisk touch of the desert air. There was humidity, static, barometric pressure. Everything he loved. From behind him, he heard another car door opening, and Declan laughing. Romain shouted something, but the boy was already darting over to Reid’s side, delighted with the chance to stretch his legs. Reid glanced down at him. His face was split in a wide, silly grin, his cheeks flushed and overlong hair hanging uncombed into his eyes. Clothes slightly too small for him and feet bare because he’d finally outgrown his shoes, he looked the very picture of a street child.

He hadn’t outgrown one thing yet though.

“Want to feel the storm?” Reid asked him, and before Declan could answer he scooped him up in his arms, whupped his wings twice and dragged the hot air still thick on the sandy floor upwards to fling them both into the air, letting the wind take them in a violent tumble of centrifugal force that seemed completely uncontrolled to anyone watching.

“What are you doing?!” Romain yelled, panicking, and Reid laughed because this wasn’t the compulsion, sickly and dangerously overpowered. This was flying. It was storms. It was something he’d mastered before he’d even perfected consonant blends. “Reid—”

“Come with us,” Reid offered, letting the wind tug them higher towards the heavy air of the storm-front. He couldn’t fly with Romain, not without a repeat of the Emily incident, and Declan was already a heavy, awkward weight, but he could invite him into his mind, his eyes, and let him feel the giddy freedom that came with this. There was a pause. Then he felt Romain attentively step into his mind, the soft oh that followed as he saw what they saw. They hit the heavy air and dropped suddenly. Reid had expected it. The cold front of the storm couldn’t support his weight as easily as the hot air from below, but Declan screamed, wild with fear and shock and delight, but his arms didn’t slip and he trusted Reid completely even as the ground grew distant. He tucked his wings, pulled Declan close, and let them free-fall headfirst with a whoop, before banking in a smooth curve.

“The storm is… alive,” Romain said suddenly, pressing against Reid’s magic hungrily and feeling the storm press back. “It… knows you. It welcomes you.”

“It’s magic,” Reid replied, and because he was feeling silly and free and a little bit in love with being alive and with these people and with the possibility of home looming just behind that storm, he admitted, “I don’t think it really has to make sense, do you?”

“I never thought I’d live to see the day Mr. Logic himself said that.” Romain laughed, and it wasn’t a familiar sound, but Reid craved it instantly. He knew he wouldn’t forget it. “Come down. The wind is picking up and you’re stressing Revenir. We have to keep moving.”

It was an opportune time anyway. He hadn’t been flying enough lately, his arms and back muscles were aching, and he might not mind the cold so much, but Declan was shivering. Lazily, he circled towards the car below, wings hardly beating, just riding the air. It was sedate, calm, and something deep inside him settled peacefully down at the reminder that he could be himself again, if given the right situational context. But you can also be a monster, in the wrong one, the pesky part of his mind that never shut up reminded him, right as his feet nudged the ground, wings folding, and he let Declan slide to the ground to stagger a few steps away and giggle uncertainly at how uneven the floor felt after riding on wind.

“Alright, hurry up,” Romain snapped, back to his brisk self, and held up the bag of their food. “We eat and then we leave. I don’t want to be driving into those winds once they pick up.”

“I can redirect them from us,” Reid pointed out smugly, catching sight of his appearance in the car window and almost laughing at the sight of his windswept hair, frizzing with the electricity of the storm he’d called into himself and sticking up awkwardly in every direction.

“Wait,” Declan said, dancing on the spot before darting to a nearby bank of bushes. “Gotta… pee. Don’t leave without me!”

Silence settled over them as they waited. It was an easy kind of silence, the silence of men who knew how to be around each other, and it ached. Reid missed his team. “He’s recovering quickly,” Romain said suddenly, his eyes skittering to the bushes. “Far quicker than I thought he would, considering the level of trauma he underwent.”

Reid heard feet pattering towards them. “The human mind can adapt to any situation, if given the chance,” he replied, opening the car door for Declan to bound into on the fly. Just like any other boy. “Children are particularly resilient.”

“Read loudly so I can hear too,” Declan demanded, sprawling on the backseat with Revenir on his lap so he could preen her with his fingers. She looked smug. Romain rolled his eyes, let the book fall open to the page they’d last been on, and began to read as Reid drove into the mouth of the storm.

 


 

“Hmm, it does say that a level of control can be regained through hyper-focusing on a beacon of some kind.” Romain licked his finger, turning the page and eyeing it, before flipping back. “It’s not specific, however.”

“You’re paraphrasing,” Reid pointed out, eyeing the book in his peripheral vision.

“No shit,” Romain replied snidely, silently. “Kid in the backseat. Sex, you idiot. You can hyper-focus on someone with whom you have some kind of emotional or physical bond with. It will, however, impart a lot of what you’re feeling onto them. As well as a hefty dose of your magic. So… it seems unwise if I’m in… combat. Of some kind. Although it also states that the focus doesn’t have to be a persona difficult puzzle or mathematical problem may suit you better.”

“Are you guys talking with your brains?” Declan said, and Reid blinked twice and tried to figure out how to answer that without the obvious ‘all talking is talking with brains’. “Is it cos it has sex bits in it? Incubi are sex demons. I know. Jerecay told me back in the trucks. She said you were a… um. I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you.” He paused, and Reid turned his head to glance at him, taking his eyes away from the road for a moment. Declan was shifty-eyed, staring intently at Revenir with his cheeks flushing red, and Romain’s face was pinching oddly. “Sex is gross.”

“Yes, yes it is,” Romain agreed, closing the book and coughing twice. “So. Ah. What did she say Reid was? I promise you won’t be in trouble.”

“I don’t think—” Reid interjected, as a very vivid image of Emily’s disapproving face wavered into his mind, foot tapping and all, but Declan was already launching into the opportunity to be lewd.

“She said that you’re a whore,” he said, overloud in his excitement, and Reid sighed as Romain began to snicker. “And that she feels sorry for you, because at least she knows that she’s more than just a whore, really, but that you’ll never be anything but.” Romain stopped snickering, abruptly, and Reid tightened his fingers around the steering wheel until they ached. “That was mean of her though… I’m sorry.”

“We’re not the sum of the labels we’re given,” Romain said quietly, nail scratching across the cover of the book as he picked at it. “Nor our species.”

“He’s right,” Declan added. “My dad used to say all the time that a demon is a demon, no matter what, but we’re not. I’m not. And you’re nice, so you’re not either. Or a whore.” He paused. “What’s a whore?”

“Oh boy,” Romain muttered, and buried his nose back in the book.

 


 

They stopped to get gas in at a twenty-four-hour gas station, quiet as to not wake the lightly snoozing kid in the backseat. Romain stopped him with a hand on his elbow as he peered at the squat-brick building, checking for bathroom facilities that didn’t look too seedy.

“Problem,” he said quietly, and he looked… guilty. “We still don’t have any money…”

Oh.

“I can do it,” Reid said, glancing back at the gritty window. “I’m fine. I’ve been fine for days now. Since we… well, I’m not so hungry anymore. I can focus. It will work. And we need food anyway.”

Romain nodded slowly. “Just… be careful,” he warned. “We’re closer now. We don’t know what will happen if you lose control again. If you sicken, I may sicken with you.”

Reid rolled his shoulder, gripped his cane tightly, and smiled as he made his way slowly to the automatic door. Behind him, he could feel Romain’s eyes locked on him, the back of his neck burning. The automatic door grated open, wonky on its runners, and tinny music from hidden speakers leaked out into the windy night. Inside, the light was overbright, the single cashier a man who looked thoroughly bored, paging through a magazine with the cover obscured by a folded newspaper. Reid nodded at him politely, and inched his way into the aisle, senses on overdrive as his adrenaline kicked in at the task in front of him. He hadn’t used the compulsive powers since his beating. He hadn’t had the nerve. They’d almost destroyed him, come so close to destroying him; could he really invite that back?

A whisper, Romain politely keeping on the outside of the mental shielding and calling through: “Is there a problem?”

“No problem,” Reid replied, snappily, eyes scanning the candy. They needed food. Energy. Declan would be hungry when he woke up. Grabbing whatever was closest, he ended up with an armful of chocolate and muesli bars, humming as he scanned the bags of potato chips on the way to the counter. There were some kind of meat pastry in a warmer, but he really didn’t trust them.

The cashier greeted him in Arabic. Reid nodded once more, smiled nervously, and slipped into his mind, watching the man’s eyes glaze. It was instant. Thrilling. Distantly, Reid heard himself gasp because the magic was stronger, hungrier, and he hadn’t beaten it at all. For a wild moment, he almost let go, gave in, because it was delicious, this power, and the man’s mind was helpless against him.

But he… didn’t. Romain was talking, his voice thin and far away, repeating something in Arabic over and over, so Reid parroted him, oddly understanding the words as Romain flooded his mind and continued chanting them. He focused on Romain, on the rapid beat of his heart and the edgy thrill of tension on his skin as he worried about the way Reid was heedless, half-lost in his own mind. “We’ve paid for our food and gas,” the words said. “Thank you very much.”

“Good, good, have a nice night,” the cashier responded vacantly, staring at Reid without actually seeing him as he bagged their items. Reid grabbed the bag of food from the counter and staggered outside, heaving in a deep breath as the night air struck him, fresh from the storm and tugging at his scattering thoughts.

Reid bolted. The bathroom was nearby and he pitched through the door, feeling it catch his heel on the way through, hitting the ground on his knees as the exhaustion and hunger and want surged and left him shuddering. The tiles were cold, probably disgusting, and he didn’t care as he dragged his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, trying to hold himself together and failing.

The door opened, just as violently, and Reid leapt up with a snarl and turned on the interloper. Romain crashed into him, heels skidding, and there was a wild, heady moment where Reid wasn’t sure if he was attacking him, falling onto him, or—

His back hit the wall, Romain’s knee pressing between his legs and eased them apart and Reid moaned and tilted his head back to bare his throat, inviting more, needing more. One of Romain’s hands found his wrist, slamming it back to the wall above their heads, and Reid choked with the restless need of that gesture and twisted his hips into the other man as a hungry mouth found his neck. Neither paused to think and neither stopped, because neither of them was entirely in control.

It was rushed, miserable, and entirely unsatisfying, and Romain was wide-eyed and slightly absent from all of it, and a distant part of Reid whispered, you did this, you’re doing this, not him, look at himlook at what you’re doing, but the majority of him wasn’t listening. Didn’t know how to stop even if it was. As Reid hurtled unstoppably towards a climax that felt anxious, wrong, he closed his eyes and thought of Emily, holding the memory of her close, the scent of her and the shape of her mouth. I miss you, I miss you, I miss you, and he realized he was focusing on the wrong person, the wrong body and mind, and he missed her so much he almost cried out with the pain of it. And then it was over, they were still pressed against each other, panting heavily and clothes in disarray, and Reid didn’t know what to say.

“I think,” Romain said finally, his voice muffled by Reid’s shoulder and the words hot on the skin bared by his open shirt, “we now know what happens if you lose control.”

“I’m sorry,” Reid breathed, staring at the wall over Romain’s shoulder and feeling weak and sick and more than a little monstrous in that moment. “I didn’t… I didn’t mean to.”

His wrist was still against the wall, Romain’s fingers gripping him tight enough to bruise. Their arms dropped together, and still the other man didn’t let go. Reid felt his lashes flutter once against the side of his neck as he blinked, his fingers easing up, and Reid didn’t pull away. Just slipped his hand up to trace those calloused fingertips with his own unspoken I’m so so sorry. For the first time, he was sorely glad that Emily wasn’t here to see this. He couldn’t have beared it if it was her who’d been caught up in that… whatever it was. Couldn’t bear to see her sharp expression dazed.

Romain jolted. Reid leapt away, realizing how close they still were, but the other man grabbed his hand, turning it over to examine the palm, dark eyes narrowed. “What is this? I’ve never noticed this?”

Reid looked down, noting the way the harsh lights of the bathroom made the rippled scarring across his palm from where Hankel had burned his sigil look all the more gruesome. “A scar,” he said, redundantly, and Romain frowned. “I… I have lots. You’ve seen them.” Some of them. He pushed past, unwilling to talk more about his past when Emily was still thick in his mind and he was clear-headed and desperate to wash the previous few minutes from his skin.

“Spencer.” Romain held something out, something small and silver. When Reid took it, it dinged gently. “Here. Revenir found it, after you were… hurt. I didn’t want to give it back, figured you’d lose it again…” They both watched the bell roll unevenly across the ragged scarring of his palm. “She insisted. She’s absurdly fond.”

And in that moment, Reid looked up and Romain looked away, and Reid knew that he knew. He knew that Reid’s thoughts had turned to Emily, to someone, anyone, other than him, and he was resigned to it. Closed off. They were more than the job asked them to be to each other, but less than their current situation demanded, and Reid wondered tiredly if this disconnect would be the death of them. “We should clean up,” he said instead of any of that, and closed his hand around the bell. “Declan is still in the car. And we need to keep moving.”

If they stopped, he doubted either of them would have the strength to start up again.

 


 

He needed a way to separate Romain from his emotions when he had no control over them. If he couldn’t stop them, he needed to somehow shield his partner from them…

Whether or not it bothered Romain, Reid wasn’t so casual about physical intimacy that he was okay with this; Romain being acutely aware of where Reid’s thoughts had turned during their encounter. Not only that, but the whole thing was a disservice to Emily, the unwitting third party in this entire fucked up situation.

“Ow,” Romain snapped, twitching, and the car twitched with him as his hands moved on the steering wheel. Opening his eyes at the sudden swerve, Reid could see the lights of Dubai splashed across the horizon, blurred by the light rain patterning the windshield. “What are you doing?”

Reid paused from his silent surveying of the shielding the CIA had installed in their minds. It was almost flawless. A smooth expanse of spellwork that was invisible, almost impenetrable, and entirely… imperfect. Not in its spellwork. No, it was foundationally sound and just as strong as Reid had suspected.

But… Reid was stronger.

“The shielding in our minds,” he murmured, and closed his eyes to focus once again on it, tracing his magic so tightly against it he could feel every minute texture to the surface. “It’s made of rune-work. Very, very miniscule runes, wound together.”

“Fascinating,” Romain said, sounding anything but. Reid smiled. If it was rune-work… well, if there was one thing Emily had taught him and taught him well, it was runes. It would take time, but he was sure he could manipulate it to his own ends. It was a puzzle. Just like his rune had been, before all of this, the rune he sorely hoped someone had completed in his absence.

Reid loved puzzles.

 


 

“You’ll be back soon, right?” Declan asked, fretting. Reid sighed, on edge from the tension of the meeting they were due at in less than two hours. The meeting that was probably a trap. Was almost certainly a trap. But a trap that, if they survived, might be the key to breaking this case. To getting them home.

Home, he breathed silently, like a promise, and leaned back into the car to double check the shielding and cooling runes he’d installed. Declan would have to stay alone, unprotected, for the foreseeable future. Neither of them knew how long this would take. Hopefully mere hours. Probably not. If it went wrong…

“I could leave the birds with him,” Romain suggested, counting through the food supplies they’d stockpiled. Reid shook his head. They needed them. They both knew that they needed them. “Kid, you listen. You do not leave this car. You have water, food. The shielding will stop anyone you don’t want getting in from getting in—do you understand?”

Declan nodded miserably. Around them, dawn was grim and foreboding, the storm halfway gone. Rain lashed the hard ground, kept the streets empty. Reid kept his wings arched above his head, a rudimentary shelter keeping the rain from his back and from sweeping into the open car door. The parking lot they were leaving the car obscured in was thick with scraggly desert-thriving weeds, the asphalt torn and buckled by heat and neglect. Declan would be safe here.

If they returned.

“See you soon, okay?” Reid said, because he was nothing if not a liar, and what was another broken promise? He fingers brushed Declan’s, tapped twice on his wrist. Stay safe, Reid thought, and closed the door. They walked away from the car, towards what they very well suspected might be their deaths, and with only the faintest hope of an end to guide them.

 


 

It went fine. The man they met with was human, jovial and charming. They met in a brightly painted office filled with art and cheerful décor.

Reid felt the tension recede slightly.

“Okay, so this route is a bit tricker,” the man said, unfolded a map and tracing his fingers over the lines. “You’ll have only a couple of products with you, but they’re rare and expensive, and we need them in tip-top shape by the end of this route. We have people very interested in them on the other end. Rarities, all five of them. But, of course, we have this to worry about.” Reid memorized the map in a heartbeat. Greece. They wanted them to travel to Greece. Sea travel, according to the route marked. “Which is where your demon comes in handy, Charlie. We’ve heard he has truly remarkable abilities that will absolutely make this possible. And we really, really want this to be possible.” The man smiled, showing just enough teeth, and Reid relaxed. He could taste the emotions in the room. Romain was calmer now, his fingers tracing the glass of single malt he’d been given with a kind of weary longing, despite having only wet his lips with the liquid. The man was hopeful. Excited. Extremely intrigued. There was no taste of deceit, of tension.

It wasn’t a trap.

In the breath of air he took after realizing that, he glanced down at the map and his mind whirled into gear. The gryphon. The Greek man with a Russian name who gave us our route. Declan. How did they catch Declan? He was safe.

The cell is centred in Greece.

“They’re sending us to the centre,” he whispered to Romain, and Romain smiled his Charlie smile and laughed, saying, “Of course, we will be paid handsomely for the extra… skills… that my demon brings to this company? As, ah, incentives to stay with you?”

The man thought he’d won. His eyes glittered, his mouth curling up into a smug grin. “Of course, of course!” he exclaimed, throwing his hands into the air. The conversation shifted to monetary matters, the man stating a price for their services that even Reid, with his slim knowledge of the going rate for slavers, knew was far too low. They haggled, and Reid paid attention without paying attention, watching everything in the room for anything that could be of use. On Romain’s shoulder, Revenir settled down, bored. By the door, Gambit was on a coat rack, awkwardly angled and chewing studiously at the door frame.

A mere two hours into the meeting, it was over. Romain shook the man’s hand, organized a time to be inducted, apologized for the doorframe, and then they were walking down the long, brightly lit corridor to the entrance hall, to the outside. They were done. It was done.

“You know,” the man was saying, and Reid was walking in front so he didn’t bother to hide his expression of distaste at what followed, “you’ve got a damn useful demon. What is he? We like to think long-term here, with our products. Have you ever considered breeding him?”

Romain choked. Reid hid a smile, barely, despite the sick twist of his gut at the casual implication in the man’s words, and Romain spluttered, thrown helplessly off-track by the unexpected question. The man laughed, Reid pushed open the door into the foyer, walking backwards to pull it open for the two men, and turned his head away so they couldn’t see his face.

Found himself staring into a cold pair of horribly familiar eyes. Whatever thin amusement he had pulled from Romain’s disconcertion vanished in a wave of horror that he felt Romain react to.

Grigorji snarled, Reid felt his magic flare, and Romain shouldered past with a low growl. “This creature,” he snapped, “attacked my property. I want him arrested.” He was being Charlie, snide and arrogant, and the mask didn’t slip. The man flicked his hand, security moving towards them from the other side of the room, and Grigorji laughed coldly. The people with him spread out in a rough semi-circle, and Reid saw magic glittering in one of their palms. A rune.

Necromancer, his nose told him, and his heart dropped into his shoes. They’d come prepared for him.

They’d come for them.

“I wouldn’t cause a ruckus,” Grigorji said softly in Russian, and Reid knew in that moment they needed to run.

“Romain, get to the door,” he said urgently, because if that was a necromancer and they’d had time to prepare, it didn’t seem likely they didn’t have a demon trap ready. “Run. Run now, just run, go!”

Romain didn’t move. Reid could sense it in his thoughts; for that second, he doubted Reid, doubted his intentions, and that second cost them everything. “Wait, just wait. We can talk our way out of this. We’re too close to run now!”

“Unless of course you’d like them to have time to contact their handlers,” Grigorji continued. In that moment, Reid knew that Romain didn’t speak Russian. If he had, he’d have run. But he didn’t, so it was up to Reid. “The American CIA is cocky sending their men here so blatantly.”

Romain would have heard CIA, would have heard American, but he was already moving because moments before Grigorji said either of these things Reid screamed, “Run!” and slammed a palmful of lightning into the closest mage’s chest, stopping his heart.

They ran. Revenir leapt from Romain’s shoulder, raking the mage in front of him with her talons and sending him reeling backwards before he could cast, and Romain leapt over him and almost made it. Gambit burst ahead, wheeled at the door, and Romain reached out.

Reid went down, a weight smashing into his back and sending his face slamming onto the tiles. Hot, sour breath and a snarl filled his senses as teeth tore his shoulder. The werewolf. He kicked out, rolled, and cast again, the stink of burnt flesh and fur filling the air as the lightning flickered from his hand to the wolf’s leg.

And he was up, slipping, but moving. Romain was by the door, paused. Revenir and Gambit flew together; the door opened. “Don’t wait for me!” Reid barked, and spread his wings. He was faster than them, if they’d get out the way.

The mages cast. Reid ducked, felt the spell brush his head as it passed. He felt the familiar building hiss of a demon trap triggering and pushed himself faster.

The spell landed. Not on Romain. Over his head.

The fireball smashed into the wall above the doorway and splattered backwards with a wave of molten magic and acrid smoke. Romain yelped as it splashed him and a second spell landed, inches below the first. The birds wheeled backwards, too slow. Gambit cried out in pain and his wingbeats turned erratic. They both turned back, to attack.

A third. Explosive this time. Reid threw himself at Romain, brought him down in a tangle of wings and arms, as the wall above them ignited and an invisible fist punched them both to the ground, wrapping his wings around them to try and stave off the blow.

“Revenir!” screamed Romain, eyes streaming from the smoke, and the room was chaos. Reid leapt to his feet, back burning and head aching, and flung his arm out to send a spiralling wave of lightning dancing across the floor towards the other mages, backing up towards the mangled, dripping doorway.

He’d have to blast their way through.

Revenir screeched, diving. A spell that would have blown the floor out from under Reid’s feet vanished mid-air, dispelled by her own magic.

“Compel them!” Romain roared, firing on them with a gun Reid hadn’t known he’d had, and Reid nodded, reached for the dark magic and—

The necromancer was up. Her fingers glowed a slick red as she chanted, and he knew this spell. It was a demon-trap, a weaker, portable kind, but it worked by causing pain. She threw it. He abandoned the compulsion, tugged the air to try and redirect it, and failed. It struck and he fell and the world was pain, nothing but pain, nothing but screaming.

But he was aware enough to see what she was casting now.

“Stop her,” he gasped, if Romain was listening, and he must have been because both birds attacked her with a vengeance. “That’s… exorcism.” He closed his eyes, focusing on the shield, on blocking out the pain using it, his concentration shattered. He couldn’t think, couldn’t work it out.

Opened his eyes just in time to see the fire mage who’d destroyed their exit cast one final time before Romain shot him.

He cast, and the air above the necromancer exploded into an inferno, the air itself igniting. It brought down the lighting, the roofing, incinerating the plush chairs that were lined against the walls.

It brought down the birds.

They didn’t even have time to scream.

But Romain did, and Reid buckled because now it wasn’t just his pain, it was Romain’s too, and it was agonising.

There wasn’t really much they could do after that.

 


 

Romain was silent.

The cell they were in had whitewashed walls with a demon trap tiled into the brick. Reid stared at the pattern, memorised it, and knew he wouldn’t be leaving this room. There was nothing else in the space, just a small drain set against the back wall that he groaned at and a thin mattress with no blanket. It wasn’t set up for long-term captivity.

There was moss thickly layered in both corners where the walls had leaked, and Reid could smell it, was choking on it.

As far as graves went, it wasn’t any better or worse than the church he’d been sure he’d die in back with Foyet, or Hotch’s backyard. But he hadn’t come this far to give up. Declan was still out there. Emily was still out there. So, he kept lying.

“We might be able to break the demon trap,” he said, and stood with a wince to limp over to examine it. “If we can break the trap, I can compel a guard. Get keys, his gun, or a phone.”

Romain was silent.

He tried again. “They have to feed us,” he said optimistically. “We can overpower…” Trailing off, that didn’t really seem plausible. “They didn’t kill us… they might have plans.”

“Of course they have plans.” Romain’s voice was husky, thick, and he was huddled on the mattress with his face buried in the crook of his arm. “They’ll kill me and rebind you, intending to use you as planned. Incidentally, you’ll die too, thanks to our shielding.”

“We can—” Reid began, pacing on the spot, and Romain lifted his face and Reid winced. His eyes were red, his skin pale, his expression empty of everything but misery. And Reid knew; he didn’t care that they were going to die. He didn’t give a damn. With this job, he’d always expected it. Maybe he even welcomed it a little.

But Revenir’s death had destroyed him.

He didn’t say a word, just looked at Reid, and then lowered his face again.

And they were silent. Waiting.

Like mice in a cage, waiting to be fed to the snake. And just as helpless.

 


 

Hours passed and Romain was still mute, still lost in his grief. After everything, everything they’d been through and suffered and done, just to reach this moment… Reid didn’t really blame him.

Eventually, pacing became tedious. His knee ached. The ground was cold, dirty, and lonely, so he crept towards the mattress, unsure of his welcome. Romain didn’t even register his presence, his mind closed to him.

Reid slunk onto the mattress next to him, hesitating before inching slightly closer. Their thighs pressed together, their hips bumping, and still Romain ignored him.

When Reid swallowed, it was loud. “It took almost two months for Emily to invite me into her home,” he said suddenly, almost to himself. Romain’s shoulders were moving rhythmically, with his breathing, and it was the only sign he was still alive. “Before that, we sat on her fire escape and watched movies through her kitchen window. It probably… probably wasn’t the best beginning.” He thought about that. “A month later, I was bound by a necromancer we were hunting. Serial killers. We… we hunted serial killers, through behavioural profiling. He… bound me and made me help with his work.”

Romain’s shoulders had stilled. He was listening. Reid kept going, kept rambling, because he didn’t think he could stop now.

“Emily never stopped looking for me. Not when I k… killed someone for the first time because he ordered me to and I couldn’t remember how to fight him anymore—” Here, his voice choked and faltered, but he didn’t stop. “—and not when my inaction led to the death of her teammate, my mentor. The closest thing to a father I’ve ever had. She still believed that I was still in there, that I could still be saved, brought back from the dark…”

“The actions of the thrall-bound are the actions of the necromancer that binds them,” Romain murmured into his knee, his voice cracking and stuttering. “You didn’t kill anyone. Of course she didn’t stop looking, idiot, why would—”

“One year, seven months, and nineteen days,” Reid interrupted, and now Romain looked up. His eyes were huge on his pallid face. “That was how long he had me. How long I was a monster under his command. He drugged me, beat me, dehumanized me, and eventually I believed what he said, of course I did. I was a monster. A nothing. No one was looking for me, no one would ever look for me, and if I died the world would be better for it. I believed him for so long and so strongly that after it was over, after Emily dragged me back from the brink, I waited until she was released from the hospital and reprogrammed my morphine drip to administer a fatal dose. I knew how. Of course I did, I was so clever, don’t you see? I understood, like no one else, that there was no escaping that nightmare… that I’d never be free.”

“Spencer,” Romain whispered, and he was shaking. Their emotions were tangling again, on purpose this time. There was very little undeliberate sharing of feelings with them, not like with Emily. They knew their distance. Reid knew was he was doing.

“But… I was wrong.” The silence sat strangely between them, and Romain was still shaking, as Reid staggered to a halt with his retelling, his attempt at fixing this, his own hands trembling in his lap. “There was an escape. I did get free. I am free. Even if I die here, I die as myself. Emily gave me that, my life, my self… she gave that all back to me and so much more, and if I lie down and die in this room, how is that repaying her for everything she’s given me?”

“We can’t escape,” Romain said, closing his eyes, and there was a glittering promise of tears on his lashes that Reid didn’t quite feel capable of handling. “Revenir… I. I sh…” He stopped, his words tangling, stuttering, and he stopped to spare himself the shame of Reid realizing he couldn’t speak. But Reid knew. He breathed slowly, inched closer yet, and let the other man slump against him, pressing his face against his shoulder. Felt the shudders become tremors that became muted sobs.

“She was my everything,” Romain moaned finally, silently, and Reid closed his eyes against the burning knowledge of what it felt like to lose everything. “They bound us when we were two. It’s how it’s done in my family. When they sent me away, she came with me. They tried to take her and she fought them and followed and… I let her be killed. I deserve to die for that.”

Reid felt the pain, the disorientating grief, the loneliness that was crushing him. It was Emily losing Sergio all over again, but so much more potent because Emily had him and the team and her mom and Matthew and Romain had…

Reid. Just Reid. No one else.

Tucking an arm around Romain’s shoulders, he made a stupid, reckless, reactionary decision, but they hurt, they both hurt so bad it felt like they would die. Reid grieved Emily and Romain grieved Revenir, and neither of them pulled away when Reid found the other man’s lips and pressed his own against them in a damp, awkward brush of comfort, of affection, some kind of reminder that there was more than this grief.

It was the first time they’d kissed.

It would be the only time they kissed.

 


 

Declan was alone, and the time dragged on. Reid knew they had to do something, but what the hell could they do?

Romain finally slipped into a fitful kind of sleep, his head on Reid’s thigh and occasionally jerking awake in a fit of panic. It was stupid and saccharine, but after the fifth time he shuddered awake, Reid took his hand and held it tightly. Some point of contact. It had helped him, back when he was still trying to adjust to being free, any small touch Emily had dared to gift him. Now, he did the same for Romain.

Declan.

I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, he thought, as though the boy could hear him, and desperately tried not to imagine what would happen to an eight-year-old alone in the middle of Dubai. How long would he wait? When would he realize they weren’t coming back?

Would that realization break him?

At least… at least the team thought he was long dead. Their grieving was done, over and done, and they didn’t have to know that he was going to die here in this room; that he shared his death with a man none of them would like or understand. A man that Reid wasn’t sure he understood, but knew he liked. You couldn’t bear the brunt of what they’d borne without growing to like the person who shared it with you, at least a little.

There was no way to say goodbye to them again; he’d already done that.

There was no way to reach Declan, to say goodbye to him, to apologise for how he’d suffer now, alone.

There was no way to reach Emily. To tell her how hard he’d tried. To tell her how effortlessly he’d failed. To tell her how absolutely fucking in love with her he still was, even after all this time. Even after everything.

Maybe always.

He closed his eyes. If he slept, maybe he’d dream. Maybe Declan would…

Oh.

If he slept.

Sleep was a long time coming, but it came eventually, and it brought the one man he needed right then.

 


 

He knows he’s there before he opens his eyes, feels the cold, cruel regard. When he finally forces his eyes open, distantly aware of the warm weight of Romain against him, safe from the demon looming over them, Doyle is wary.

“You’re in trouble, pet,” Doyle says, and smiles like a knife. “You’re trapped in a clever, clever cage, and I don’t think even a slimy little thing like you can wriggle your way out of this one. Oh, I was going to kill you… but you called so loudly for me, I figured I should at least say hello. Let you know that I’m not going to kill you, because they’ll do it so much slower. Maybe they’ll bind you first. Oh, how delightful if they do…”

“I called you to ask for your help,” Reid says, and Doyle laughs shrilly. “Not for me. I’m not asking for myself. I know you’ll watch me burn.”

“Gleefully,” Doyle assures him. “Who am I helping, demon? Emily? My Emily? Truly my Emily now. Perhaps I’ll show her this moment. I think I will… show you caged and beaten and dying, and how alone she is without me.”

“Declan.” Reid has to cut in, because every word is slicing him open. He feels like he’s bleeding, raw, the wounds on his soul open for everyone to peer into and whisper, yes, yes, see here… this is where his heart was, before it was broken. “He’s alone. I can show you where, show you how to undo the shields I placed around him.”

Doyle isn’t laughing now. He’s watching Reid and saying nothing, until, “Why would you give him back to me? After running from me for so long, why now? I would think you’d go happily to your grave knowing you’d thwarted me to the very end.”

“He’ll die on his own,” Reid says, and swallows hard. “I promised to protect him.” He pauses and considers, only for a moment, that they have the same enemy here. “The slaving cell is based in Greece. Do with that information as you please, but remember that you’re not the only one who wants them destroyed.”

There’s a strange look on Doyle’s face. In that moment, he looks very human, and vulnerable. Like any father.

“Please help him,” Reid whispers, and Doyle does.

 


 

Reid woke with a shudder and Romain was already up, studying the walls. “There may be a way to break this,” he called over his shoulder, and Reid stared at him, hardly even daring to hope. “I need your help though. It would take an encyclopaedia to memorise every rune linked into this pattern.” He turned and smiled, his face still lined with grief, but it was something. “Lucky for me, I have one handy. Help me?”

“Of course,” Reid sent, standing and brushing his pants smooth, stepping up beside his partner.

There was a minute, just a minute, where they were working together, fiercely determined to ensure they both had a tomorrow, when they actually believed there might be an escape to this. Something more. Some kind of hope.

But then the runes were activated, flaring. The door slammed open.

Reid didn’t even have time to shout before they had iron batons on the back of his knees, his shoulders, forcing him down.

Romain went down too, wincing. Their eyes met, kneeling beside one another. “It’s okay,” he said, “Just ride it out, whatever they have planned. If they question us, use your shield. We can get throu—”

The man behind him struck him hard and, before Romain could recover, dragged a rough, black, hessian bag over his head. Reid stared, horrified, as they dragged him back, out of the room. Snarled something in Arabic that Reid didn’t catch, couldn’t understand, and then they were gone, the door slamming closed and—

He was alone.

“Romain!” he screamed, and Romain’s mind tackled his, wild in panic and fear and the thick scent of coppery blood that the material covering his head was coated in.

“Don’t panic, don’t panic,” Romain was rambling, desperate to try and stop the terror that was crippling them both. “It’s nothing. There’s still time. They won’t kill me, they won’t, they haven’t even questioned us yet—”

He was being forced to his knees. Someone yanked his head forward, baring the back of his neck. They were still talking, still Arabic, and Reid cried out, “What are they saying?”

Romain said nothing. Then, “I’m sorry,” and no, no, no, not again, not like Emily, not like Emily, not again.

“Romain, don’t, don’t sever the bond. Let me stay. Don’t do this alone, don’t—”

The bond snapped.

He was gone.

Chapter Text

The drive back from the massacre was silent. Hotch drove, Clyde in the passenger seat, and JJ kept her hand on Emily’s knee the entire way; Eris curled around their ankles and humming morosely. Emily paged through the poetry book endlessly without taking any of the verses in. Every time, she landed on the same page. The same photos. The same snapshots of a time that was now so long past she was vividly aware they’d never recapture it again.

“He’s still alive,” JJ said, looking down at the photo Emily was staring at. Reid smiled back, looking past them to whoever was holding the camera. Under that, Henry’s drawing peeked out. “There’s still hope.”

“There’s always hope, love,” Clyde murmured from the front seat. Looking into the rear view mirror, she met Hotch’s steady gaze. He didn’t say anything, but he did nod.

“We were,” Emily began, and the photo complained under her fingers as her grip tightened, “so fucking close. How long dead were they? Two hours? Barely even that? If we’d just…” If they’d been a little faster. A little better at their jobs. Reid would be back with them, six soldiers and the demons caught in the crossfire would all still be alive. The nameless woman who had been carrying something she shouldn’t have would still be alive. This entire nightmare would have been over.

She’d be in his arms again.

“Camp coming up,” Hotch said finally, because none of them had dared to finish her desperate attempt at pinning blame on something. “What the…”

They peered between the seats, seeing Cruz pull up his car and leap out, striding towards a group of strangers standing at the entranceway of their campsite. JJ muttered something, out of their own vehicle before Hotch even had time to park properly, and jogging to catch up with her commanding officer.

“Oh look at this, it’s a party,” Clyde said, smiling crookedly and unsnapping his seatbelt. “Wonder what this lot are here for.”

“Trouble, no doubt,” Emily said, looking to the sallow-faced mage standing with the group of five, seeing Cruz turn automatically to speak to him upon approaching the group.

“That’s not the leader,” Hotch said, walking ahead, and Emily slammed the car door shut and followed on his heels. “How can we help you?” He was using his ‘team leader’ voice, and he wasn’t aiming it at the mage. Instead, at a dull looking man to the mage’s right, one who Emily had almost overlooked.

“Aaron Hotchner, I presume?” the man said with a smile that left his eyes shark-hungry. All of Emily’s nerves immediately began jangling, feeling Clyde move closer to her back as her runes reacted to the sudden tension. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Hotchner. Special Agent Carrick, CIA. We need to talk.”

 


 

“Is it necessary that we have such an… audience?” Carrick looked intensely displeased at the gathering of grim-faced agents and ex-agents all scowling at him within the confines of the command tent. “These are sensitive matters I wish to discuss… confidential, and time is absolutely of the essence.”

Emily was done tiptoeing around. She ignored Hotch’s glare and strode forward, hearing JJ sigh. “Going to tell us where he is then?” she demanded, crossing her arms in front of her chest to hide her shaking hands. “Since I’m assuming you’re here about Spencer.”

Silence. Carrick lifted his eyebrow, eyes flickering from person to person.

“I really must ask that only those who need to be here remain,” he said finally, jerking his head at his own men, who filed out. “Agent Reid—”

“Doctor,” Hotch corrected coldly.

“—Doctor Reid is currently in deep cover. And in, I’m afraid, grave danger. Our operation has gone… awry. While it may become integral that more people be read into this undertaking, at this point in time every person in this room poses a threat.”

“No one here is a mole, Carrick,” Hotch replied. Cruz was leaning against a pole, his eyes half-lidded and lazy, letting Hotch take command. “So far, you’re the only one who has lied to us. Special Agent? They’re not going to send a Special Agent into the field to extract undercover operators from manoeuvres that have been compromised. They send case officers, or—”

“Chief Supervisor,” Carrick interrupted, drawing his shoulders back and standing to his full height. Suddenly, he wasn’t quite so nondescript anymore but met Hotch’s gaze evenly. “Now, please. Agent Prentiss, you will be integral to this, stay. But everyone else, understand. The danger does not come from within. Ian Doyle is very, very aware of  you all.”

Cruz straightened. “We’re not leaving,” he said, stepping up beside JJ. “We’re elvish. He won’t dare attack us so blatantly.”

“I stay,” Eris said, shifting into a whirling cat shape and leaping to Emily’s shoulder, an oddly comforting, familiar weight. “I am your first defence against him, after all, should he attack.”

“Hotch stays,” Emily said firmly. “Non-negotiable. Where is Reid’s handler?” Reid, not Spencer now, because the worst had happened. Why did you do it, idiot? she thought furiously. I would have come home to you… why do this?

Carrick’s mouth thinned. “You made contact with the target, Ian Doyle, very early yesterday morning, did you not? Within the outskirts of Ramadi?”

Behind Carrick, the shadows shifted; Clyde moving through them with his eyes glinting gold-green. She almost smirked at his easy side-stepping of the ‘you need to leave’ proclamation, but that probably would have given him away. Sly fox. “We did,” she said instead, carefully, and settled back onto her heels. “What does that have to do with Reid? Why are you avoiding the question?”

“Because Ian Doyle, as exasperating as he has proven to be, was serving some kind of purpose. One that we were, unfortunately, unaware of until he was meeting with you and no longer serving that purpose anymore. In his pursuit of his son, he had stumbled upon the temporary base that my people had set up as an extraction point for the undercover agents within the slavers’ organisation. We believe that was as far as he got; he hadn’t yet connected the handler to the operatives. And he won’t now.” They were silent, waiting for the inevitable. He continued, “It appears that, while his presence was unknown to our handlers, it was known to another. While he was with you, an attacker, or attackers plural, struck. We’re assuming their assailants didn’t strike beforehand under the belief that Doyle would protect them, simply to keep the last link to his son alive. They are very likely correct.”

“Reid’s handlers are dead?” JJ asked, her voice sharp. “Who killed them? Don’t you have backup? Is he alone?”

There was a building horror in the suffocating atmosphere of the tent. Carrick threaded his fingers together, arching his neck as though to ease tension from his shoulders. “We have no idea of the identity of our assailant. This was a small operation,” he said, and there was a notable level of regret in his voice. “There were five involved. A mage linked to the handler, a singular operative placed within the convoy some time ago who was to assist if needed, Dr. Reid himself, and Dr. Reid’s partner. Now, only Dr. Reid and Agent Enguerrand remain, and they are officially no-contact.”

“This other agent, where are they?” Hotch asked, zeroing in immediately on the one thin thread of something that remained, the rest of them mulling that over.

“That,” Carrick said heavily, his chest expanding as he sighed, “is what we need your help discovering. We believe Reid and Enguerrand are still within what remains of the convoy, although their condition is unknown. I understand you visited the… site of some altercation between homeland forces and the convey. Our intel alerts us that the convoy’s location was leaked using information stolen from my handlers when they were slain.”

“There was a deceased woman there, part of the slaving convoy,” Emily said, the book heavy in her pocket. “If she’s who you’re looking for, you’re shit out of luck.”

“No.” Now he smiled, almost wistful. “Agent Garmr, my previous partner. I believe he is still alive. If we find him, we find your Dr. Reid. A hael hound never loses the scent of the demon it hunts.”

 


 

Despite the bodies having been removed, the site of the ambush was just as grisly on their second stopover. They were travelling light, ready to move on as soon as information was found; four to a car and the taskforce splitting. Half, headed by Cruz and JJ, continued to follow their own intel towards Riyadh. Emily remained with Clyde, remained with Hotch, and followed Carrick and his men searching for the hael hound.

Emily glanced sideways to Clyde, his russet back vivid against the white sand and grey slate ground as he skimmed his nose over the brown smears where the woman had been dragged. His paws were more delicate than her boots, barely shifting the sand where he walked, even as he carefully followed the trail and vanished off the side of the road. Looking over her shoulder at Hotch and Carrick facing off, again, she slipped after him. “At your back, Clyde,” she murmured, and heard the soft wuff of him acknowledging her presence. They walked in silence, the night heavy around them, the echo of voices from the crime scene floating across the sparse desert scrub to their ears.

Clyde growled suddenly. Emily opened her mouth to reply, right as something growled back.

“Now, now,” Eris whispered, bubbling out of the darkness and curling through Emily’s shadow, moving with it in a bizarre shift that made Emily’s eyes ache. “Gently now, Agent Garmr. We’re here to help. Emily, step carefully. Your eleven o’clock.”

Emily turned, painfully slow, and found a shallow bank splattered with black in the moonlight. Clyde crouched alongside it, peering within, his wide ears perked forward and canine fangs visible as he bared them. When she stepped alongside him and looked down the narrow bank, a hulking black hound stared back, red glowing deep within its eyes and the back of its gaping maw. Around it, blood gleamed dark in the weak light from her hand as she lit the credentials they’d never deactivated when she’d ‘died’ and tapped two fingers against the centre. It flashed yellow. The voices came closer. “Help is on its way, Garmr,” she soothed, and the beast groaned and lowered its head. “Hang in there.”

Getting closer to that stink of sulphur and the dangerous look on its muzzle wasn’t on her top ten list of things to do, but Carrick had called him an agent. Which meant he was one of them. And she’d never left a man behind before. Sliding into the ditch, she ignored his muzzle curling, showing him both her hands. Clyde watched warily. Eris was silent. The bullets had torn his flank and belly apart, and she felt sick when she saw a hint of exposed organ shifting in the staring wound. There wasn’t much she could do for him right now, entirely unsure of the first aid procedures for demonic hounds, so instead she settled onto her knees and laid a hand on his over-warm shoulder.

His eye rolled back to stare at her. Under her palm, his fur was oddly fine, oily to the touch where it wasn’t sticky, and she could feel his heart beating. With a single, heavy sigh, he laid his ears back and closed those dark, dark eyes.

And they waited.

 


 

“What are his limitations?” Hotch asked quietly, coming up next to Emily as they both looked down on the mage working busily over the steadily growling hael hound.

“Oh shut up, mutt,” Carrick was saying, almost affectionately, scratching behind his sharply pointed ears. “You never did know what was good for you. Didn’t I teach you which end of a gun goes bang?”

“I don’t know,” Emily admitted. “I don’t know anything about hael hounds. I do know he should be dead. Nothing could lie in the desert with a belly full of metal for almost twelve hours and still be this lively at the end of it.”

“A demon could,” Eris said, in cat form again, this time choosing Hotch’s shoulder to perch on and ignoring his scowl. “They’re hardy bastards. If this guy has Reid’s scent, he’ll be able to track him down almost unerringly.”

“There was an ‘almost’ there,” Hotch pointed out, wincing as cat-claws dug through his thin polo. “The way this is going, I think we need to know all possible ‘almosts’ going in, don’t you?”

Eris purred. “Well,” she said, stretching out the ‘ell’. “There are a few ways to throw off a hael hound… several unpleasant, most illegal, and one that is… worryingly likely. If Reid is injured enough to bleed copiously, the hound will track to that location unless he uses enough magic elsewhere to draw the scent to that. Life’s blood is powerfully magical, and the magical trace is what the hound hunts.”

Emily looked at Hotch, who sighed. “Better start thinking of a Plan B then,” he grumbled, “if our Plan A relies on Reid staying in one piece.”

 


 

Plan B, when it happened, happened with a speed that took Emily’s breath away.

And she wasn’t there for any of it.

They were stalled while the hael hound healed enough to pick up the trace, stuck in the middle of the fucking desert twiddling their thumbs while both Reid and Doyle moved further and further away from them with every minute wasted. Emily felt the passage of time as a physical ache, one that made her teeth grit painfully and her skin itch with waiting tension. It didn’t help that Clyde seemed to take the waiting in stride, entertaining himself by playing some kind of betting game with Carrick’s men using bullets as chips. He appeared to be winning.

When the intel came, it came all at once.

Harrier spotted. Moving South en-route Riyadh. Mage-marked.

“Enguerrand is a bird mage, one of our best,” Carrick said, shuffling through the deciphered report. “Depending on which bird this is out of the two he has active, this may be useful.”

JJ and Cruz were next.

“Our mage picked up ephilalte magic from two locations over the past week,” JJ said over the satellite phone. Emily could hear her tapping her fingers restlessly over the other side, her voice strained. “One here in Riyadh, within the compound that we believe may be one of the facets of the cell. Another moving very fast between us and you… in an odd pattern though. Circular. Almost as though…”

“As though trying to shake a tail?” Emily asked, heart in her mouth.

“Or chasing something,” Cruz suggested. “Perhaps… a bird. His last link to his son, now the handlers are dead.”

The hael hound was the final piece.

“He’s adamant the trail leads directly to Riyadh,” Carrick said. By his side, the hael hound was silent, watchful. Emily wondered, just for a moment, how the two were communicating when the creature was, by all accounts, mute. “Agent Cruz, Agent Jareau, are you in the position to move in if the bird appears within the compound?”

JJ’s voice was static-y over the connection as she affirmed they were. Over the other side of the hood around which they were gathered, Hotch’s features pinched. If Emily hadn’t known him so well, she wouldn’t have noticed. But she did, and the worry on his face was justified. JJ going after Doyle without them there wasn’t how they wanted this to go.

“What about the men already here?” Cruz asked. “We can clear them out ahead of time, move our own men in… but that’s not going to be easy or quiet, and it may shake up the cell enough to send them underground. We also don’t know if your agents are here. If we clear out this ant nest and the bird never leads Doyle to us… it’s a big risk with no guaranteed reward.”

“There are gryphons being kept within lands attached to the premises,” JJ said suddenly. “They’re a protected class…”

“We don’t have the authorization to move in on the gryphons’ behalf,” Carrick said, straightening. “But… as elves…”

“We do.” Cruz laughed, the noise rough. “Or at least a legal leg to stand on if they sue for wrongful arrest. They’ll have to go through the United Persons to get us. Alright, we’ll clear this place out on the premise of retrieving the gryphons, and report back. Maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll find your men.”

“Since when have we ever been lucky?” Clyde commented wryly. None of them laughed, because it was horribly accurate, and not liable to change.

“Be careful,” Hotch said, his voice a thread away from desperate, and Emily silently echoed the thought. Please be careful, Jayge…

“I always am,” JJ replied cheerfully. “Alright, here we go. By the time you guys get here, we’ll be done. Feeling superfluous yet, Em? I’ll tell Spence you’re on your way. Get him to have flowers waiting.” It would have been cocky, except her voice was sharp and there was worry in it. Then, the line broke and they were gone, alone in the lion’s mouth. And no matter what they did, none of them would get there in time to help.

None of them.

 


 

They were eight hours from Riyadh, bumping along in the too-quiet convey when the satellite phone beeped with an incoming message.

COMPOUND CLEAR. TWELVE IN CUSTODY. NO LOSSES. JJ.

“Well, there we go,” Clyde said, dropping back heavily into the backseat from where he’d leaned between the chairs to look. Emily read it out to Hotch, noting the slight ease of tension in his shoulders. “Maybe this will turn out just fine.”

Five hours out, the phone beeped again.

BIRD SIGHTED. JJ.

“Can we move a little faster?” Emily asked, her throat painfully dry. Hotch’s fingers tightened around the wheel, his eyes locked ahead and face grim. The car shuddered as he eased on the accelerator without saying a word. In the backseat, Eris and Clyde said nothing.

They were only two and a half hours away when the phone beeped a final time.

DOYLE ENGAGED. WILL REPORT BACK. JJ.

And they waited, but she didn’t.

 


 

The compound was quiet when they reached it. Too quiet.

The gates stood open. The extensive building at the end of the drive seemed empty. The heavy wooden front doors were ajar, the wood warped and buckled around the gilded locks. They armed themselves before stepping from the vehicles. Gun held easily in her hands and runes alive, Emily took point with Hotch at her side. In their peripherals, the rest of Carrick’s men spread out, communicating silently. The hael hound limped behind them, head low and Carrick’s hand resting on his shoulder.

“They haven’t drawn a police presence,” Hotch noted softly, eyes scanning the empty streets around them. “Whatever happened, it happened quickly enough that they didn’t attract unwanted attention.”

Emily just nodded. Clyde bounded past, snuffing at the door before nudging it open to slip inside, his body rippling and vanishing as he slipped into the shadows. Hesitating by the door, she waited for the familiar coughing sound to echo back before moving in. Room clear.

As soon as they stepped in, the fight was visible. Scorch marks on the walls, pools of water, lines of bullet holes in the polished floorboards. They followed the trail of destruction down a richly carpeted hallway, hearing the humming spitting sound of security runes trying to fire up but failing, already burnt out by the previous assailants.

“Emily!” called Clyde, human, and she broke into a jog towards his voice. Down the hall, Hotch steady at her back with Eris around his shoulders, barely hesitating as they cleared each corner until they found themselves stepping out into a high-vaulted showroom.

Clyde stood with Cruz at his side, waiting for them. Along the floor on one side of the room, a row of bodies. Among the unfamiliar faces, Emily was grieved to note men she knew from the camp. The other wall was lined with bound slavers, gagged with their hands magically cuffed and a ring of runes impeding them from casting.

“Where’s JJ?” Hotch demanded, striding towards the two men.

Cruz’s face was carefully blank, and Emily could tell it was a practised kind of blankness designed not to panic them. “Injured,” he said, and Emily’s gut dropped into her shoes in one sudden swoop that took the rest of her organs with it. “My magi are working on her now. Doyle… resisted.”

“How badly?” Emily croaked, and Cruz just shook his head. It was difficult, impossible, but she pushed past the grim finality of that small motion to ask what needed to be asked. “And Doyle?”

 


 

“Oh goodie, the family is all here.” Doyle sneered from the demon trap they’d bound him in, just off-centre of a large garage big enough for multiple small transport trucks to park in side by side. The entire space, although large, stunk of diesel and iron and… the faintest hint of something rotten. “Hello Emily, my love, I’ve missed you so dearly.”

“Shut up,” growled Clyde, his movements sinuous and fox-like, even as a human, as he slunk around the demon trap, examining it critically. “Well, well. Look at you. A rat in a cage, and the cats are waiting for you to put a toe outside. How nice to see you… trapped.”

“Oh, I do appear to be, don’t I?” Doyle’s eyes raked them, examining Hotch and then Carrick and, finally, slowly tracing every last line of Emily’s body as though memorizing her. Ignoring the oily feel his gaze left on her, she folded her arms and focused on breathing, keeping breathing, the fury and hate and bitter ferocity of seeing him again threatening to undo her. In those hands that he splayed out in an innocent gesture, she could almost see Sergio’s blood. In his sharp smile, she saw a hint of the grin he would have worn as he tortured Spencer. In his eyes, the misery he still wished to cause her. And, in the still bleeding wounds on his torso and arms where JJ’s magic had lashed him before he’d thrown her into a wall, she saw her friend’s injuries.

Her runes sparked to life, writhing in fury, heat burning her palm and begging to be cast.

A low snarl drew her attention away from the sneering demon and around the hael hound, his nose tracing a dark splatter pattern on the ground along the far side of the room. Shaking his coat out with a wince as it jarred his still-healing wounds, he threw his head back and bayed, a booming, resonating noise that thudded into her head and made every part of her brain that was primal scream at her to run run run from that noise.

“Uh oh,” Carrick said, moving to look down at the floor under the hound. “Looks like Agent Reid was here.” Emily followed him, despite the fact that turning her back on Doyle—even bound—felt like turning her back on some large, hungry predator.

Blood. It was blood. Large splashes that were smeared as though someone had half-heartedly dragged a rag through them. A trail of droplets where the injured had stood, staggered, fallen again here… the blood told a story, all of it horror.

“Sneaky fucker, that one,” Doyle added with a dark chuckle. “Good to see someone thrashed the uppity little prick. I’m jealous. I would have loved for it to have been me… although, with his hobbies recently, I’m rather glad—”

“Stop talking,” Hotch said, his voice low and dangerous. “Where is Spencer Reid?”

Emily turned and found herself staring into Doyle’s cold eyes. They were half a room apart and he was bound, but she still felt transfixed, pinned, and the moment lingered between them.

“If I knew,” Doyle said finally, slowly, “he’d already be dead. I think there’s a better question you should be asking; is he still the man you love, Emily? Are you sure? After all, it’s in the nature of every demon to go dark eventually… and Spencer Reid is as dark as they come.” And she was staring into his eyes, his face on open display, and she knew he wasn’t lying. He truly believed what he said.

You’re wrong, she thought, but couldn’t find the words.

He had to be.

 


 

Two hours in, and Doyle still resisting all attempts at questioning him. If Reid had been there, he was long gone. The bloodstains were at least a week old, large enough to be worrying, and the bird that Doyle had tracked here had flown onward while they focused on Doyle. Stepping outside just to breathe air that wasn’t contaminated by the man she’d grown to despise more than anyone, Emily found Clyde pacing along the gravel drive, his expression a tumultuous mix of emotions she couldn’t fully decipher.

“You look stressed,” she decided to settle on, settling against the wall and watching as he chewed on the end of the lit cigarette between his teeth. “He’ll break. We’ll break him. We have Hotch, and I’ve never met an unsub that could handle Hotch. All else fails, we just let Eris have a crack at him.” It was a weak attempt at humour, but she still didn’t know more on JJ, that bloodstain was haunting her, and there was every chance that Doyle would be the match Hotch had finally met.

“What if he’s right?” Clyde said, unexpectedly, rounding on her. “What if the man we’re searching for isn’t a man at all anymore, Prentiss?”

Emily blinked. This was… not the conversation she’d been expecting to have. “The man we’re looking for is in there rotting in a demon trap,” she replied coolly, refusing to be baited into the bullshit she knew he was leading her towards. “We’ve got him, Clyde. Everything else is icing on this shit-flavoured cake. Whether or not he’s a man is negotiable…”

“Reid,” Clyde snapped, and Emily bristled and didn’t bother to hide it. “He’s been undercover for a damn long time. A damn long time… and you saw those soldiers. You saw what had been done to them. Could the man you knew do that? Stomach it? What man could?”

“There’s no goddamn point to this conversation,” she snarled, anger hot and bubbling in her belly, making her hands and voice shake. “I’m not going to fucking walk away from him because Ian Doyle is a lying little shit. Reid’s not Doyle, he’s not twisted. We don’t know a damn thing about what happened to those soldiers; all we know is Reid is one of us and we’re bringing him home. He’s still one of us.” Letting her eyes close and the anger slip, just a moment, the emotions she didn’t want to admit to showing through. When she opened her eyes again, Clyde looked sad and tired. “He’s still Spencer. That can’t have changed. Doyle is wrong…”

Clyde moved closer, resting his hand on her arm, and he smelt of cigarette smoke and a wild, musky scent that burned if she inhaled too sharply. The fox. “Em, you know I’m with you till the end of this,” he said, and his fingers trailed on her skin before he dropped his arm. “But you sound like you’re trying to convince yourself more than me. I mean, fuck me, I’m not blaming Reid for what… for anything he might have done to stay alive. But, if I was him… well, I’d be different. And I’m no demon. You know, he is right about one thing, our nasty friend in there. All demons are tempted by the dark. All of them. Even your Reid. It calls to them, it sings, and eventually most of them follow that call—if they don’t step over first.”

Eris saved her from answering. “Hate to interrupt what sounds like a really stupid conversation,” she said spitefully, turning a shadowy eye onto Clyde with recrimination visible in its grey depths, “but we have a problem. A really angry, elf-y problem.”

Emily was only too glad to turn her back on Clyde and follow the shadow ghast back into the cool interior of the building. With extra emphasis on the cool. As soon as they stepped into the garage, they felt JJ’s anger. Breath fogging in front of her mouth, Emily slowly approached the circle where Cruz appeared to be trying to coax JJ back. She was close enough to Doyle that her toes brushed the edge of the runes holding him in, her eyes glittering dangerously and the faint shimmer of magic on her skin not enough to mask how sickly-ashen her skin was or how red-rimmed her eyes. She didn’t just look injured, although there was a cast on her arm and a cruel bruise along her temple.

She looked like she’d been weeping.

“You found Reid once, you can do it again,” JJ said, smiling widely, her eyes wide and furious. “You take us with you on the dream paths and you take us to him, or you’ll never see the light of day again. Understand, Doyle? We’ll drag you back to DC and you’ll never know if we find Declan or what happens to him… in fact, you won’t know anything at all except four walls and the date of your execution.”

“You’re placing a lot of trust in the man,” Cruz said, shoulders rigid. “He’ll betray you in a heartbeat as soon as you loosen the trap enough to let him dream. We can’t control him on the dream paths, Agent Jareau. This is not the solution to finding Reid. Besides, what’s to stop him from attacking Reid as soon as he manages to get within striking distance? He could throw you out of the dream and do what he pleases, and Reid would be helpless against him.”

“Technically, he only needs to get within casting distance for Garmr to catch Reid’s scent,” Carrick said suddenly, straightening from where he’d been quietly observing on the sidelines. Hotch’s expression darkened at the sound of his voice. Emily wasn’t fond of the man and what he’d sent Reid into but Hotch… Hotch detested him for it, and he barely hid it. “If you take Garmr with you and Agent Reid casts at all, he’ll be able to track beyond the blood spilled here. Controlling Doyle is still a concern, however.”

“You all seem to be operating on the assumption I am going to... how do you say it?” Doyle paused for effect, shaping his face into an innocent smile. “Cooperate?”

They ignored him. “I can control him,” Eris purred, positively vibrating with pleasure at the idea. “I have almost as much power as he does within the dream paths. Enough to drag him out of them if he decides to be naughty, anyway.”

“Nope,” Doyle continued, rolling his eyes. “This is really quite rude—”

“You’re not going,” Hotch said, advancing on JJ. “You’re injured. Cruz—”

“—no one is going, thank you very much. I’m going to stay nice and cosy on this cement floor and Spencer Reid is going to suffer and die without my help, thank you very—”

“Like hell I’m not going.” There was a pause at this. JJ had never, not once in Emily’s memory, spoken to Hotch with this level of insubordination in her voice. This level of outright hate. “This is my command, Hotch. You have no power here.” Hotch stared, his brow furrowed. There wasn’t anger on his features at the sharp retort, more… apprehension. Emily understood that.

“Oooh,” Doyle crooned suddenly, pressing against the circle close to JJ, his nostrils flaring. Emily snarled and leapt forward, ready to kick his arse away from her despite the circle prohibiting them from touching anyway. “I think the lovely lady has a score to settle with me, Aaron. Maybe I should take her on the dream paths. Lead her to her Spencer. Only if she can look me in the eye and tell me she doesn’t plan on turning on me as soon as I’ve done what she wants… out of reach of any of you moralistic bastards who’d stop her from turning me into a demonicle. Is that right, Jennifer? Is it my death you seek?”

“Ignore him,” Cruz said, deliberately turning so his side was to Doyle, shutting him out of the conversation. “JJ, Hotch is right. You’re injured. I should go.”

“No.” JJ’s jaw was stubborn. Emily narrowed her eyes and studied her carefully. As much as she hated to give Doyle any credit, there was a look on JJ’s normally sedate face that was… worrying. Driven. “I’m fine. I’m beyond fine. Reid is my friend, and you need a magic user, which rules out Hotch. You and Clyde don’t know Reid enough to recognise his magic if Doyle tries to mask it, and he’s too fixated on Emily to be trusted if we send her.”

Doyle sighed, obnoxiously, and Emily really wanted to kick him. “You’d think she’d be a little more empathetic towards me,” he whined, woeful, and kept going despite both Clyde and Emily hissing shut up at him. “After all, of everyone here, I’m the only one who can really relate to the pain of losing a child.”

Silence. Raw, burning silence, and Emily actually saw what little colour remaining in JJ’s face drain out of it. The air cracked as it snap-froze, their breath suddenly icy and jagged in their lungs.

“I would say that if I’d known you’d lose your babe when I threw you into that wall, I wouldn’t have done it…” Doyle paused, his mouth a sad shape that was somehow more insulting, and Emily would have screamed at him to stop stop stop shut the fuck up you sick bastard, but she couldn’t speak through the winter in the air. The others appeared to be struggling just as hard, their hair white-frosted, the ground crunching under their feet, all of them soundless. “But I absolutely would have. What’s one less elf?”

JJ breathed once, and twice, and the winter weakened its hold on them. Air stole into their lungs again, warmth returning to the air, and she stepped back. “You’re blinded by what you are,” she said, voice odd, and Emily could see what she feared was a tear on the cheek visible to her. “You use being a demon as an excuse to be monstrous. Is that why you hate Reid so much? Because his choice to be human proves that all your arguments about being a demon are crap? Incubi are darker than any ephilalte… and yet if you stand beside him, you are nothing. Nothing of worth at all, and no one will miss you when you’re gone… not even your son.”

For once, Doyle didn’t seem to have a reply. Instead, he just looked… troubled.

“You’re also a shit liar,” JJ continued, ruthlessly. “You do feel guilty about what happened to me. It’s eating you up, isn’t it? Because, despite everything, you think you have honour, and there’s no honour in throwing a pregnant woman into a wall… not even an elf. Who are you trying to convince of your darkness, Ian? Because it sounds to me like you’re not even sure of it yourself.”

In the pause that followed, the only sound was JJ’s choppy breathing. Hotch stepped forward, catching her arm and tugging her towards him, and now she was crying. “Come on,” he murmured. “Let’s…”

“Okay,” Doyle said, and every eye in the room snapped to him. “But not for you. And not with you. Emily walks with me, just Emily and the beast. And when they are found, I want my son. I’m doing this for him, understand? If you lot are the only one’s looking for him…”

He trailed off and if Emily hadn’t spent a large chunk of a year undercover being in something that was almost like love with this man, she’d have been fooled. It was almost convincing. But his eyes skipped to her, just once, just for a second, and they were hungry.

She said nothing, because if they thought he meant it, they’d let her do this.

And they did.

Chapter Text

The storm rolled over them, hot and dry and crackly. It brought loss.

They went alone. JJ moved slowly, as though aged inexorably by events, one arm hunched around her belly and the other clutching the box containing everything she’d given for her duty. Hotch and Emily watched as the elf of ice and snow stood surrounded by humid heat and sand, facing the oncoming storm with her hair loose in the stinging wind.

Like the desert itself, it was fierce and openly dangerous, long forked tongues of lightning lighting up the purple clouds and casting shadows of grey and black on them. They waited.

Waited for the rain.

The rain wasn’t her element at all, but as it swept in, JJ welcomed it and asked it to bring a taste of home.

It shifted. Emily knew storms; she hadn’t been a part of Spencer’s life for this long without him showing her the vibrant heart that they contained. She’d flown with him through them, curled up safe and warm at home and watching through his eyes as he beat his wings in the rain and whooped as the squalls tried and failed to throw him to the ground. He took no greater joy from anything than he did from flying in a tempest. She knew the curious anger that was the closest approximation of human emotion a storm could manage. She knew they were savage, gleefully violent, utterly, fantastically merciless.

Because she knew all this, she was rigid waiting for the storm to deny JJ’s plea. In this desert, far from home and the ice that JJ was born from, this was their only hope of absolution. Not like the winter would have; the winter would have mourned with them because winter was just as deadly, but far, far gentler. This storm didn’t know nor care what had been lost.

There was a long stretch of time where the three of them stood in a lopsided triangle, Emily’s shoulder brushing against Hotch’s as the rain fell without cooling them at all. JJ stood in front with her shoulders straight and her face tipped up towards the sky. Her heart in her hands, her magic evading her.

Maybe it would have ignored her, but Emily felt for his magic she still possessed—that thin thread that felt like lightning and books and something that was familiar and comforting—and threw it out into the iron-scented atmosphere.

Please, she said, closing her eyes and mouthing the words with rain on her lips. The storm turned its regard towards her and she wondered if, somewhere, a demon flew within it. This loss is as much a part of you as it is the ice. He would have called a storm demon family. Take him home.

And the storm did. It allowed, just for this brief moment, winter to come to the desert.

The rain turned cold and sharp. The sand froze into shards under their boots. The clouds darkened, lost their purple cast as ice whirled around them. Whirled around JJ and her hands and the box and swallowed her. It was impossible to tell where storm ended and elf began, and Emily quickly stopped trying because there was a part of her that knew there was no real difference. For a single, haunting moment, there was a form in the ice that could have been a child or a sprite or even just an unlikely twist of the wind, but it was gone in a heartbeat and left behind an empty void.

Then it was over and the desert returned. JJ walked back to them as the humidity built once more, her hands empty and her eyes red.

Thank you, Emily said, and the storm took that remaining thread of Spencer’s power and the gift JJ had offered it and laughed as it leapt away.

Emily wondered if any of this was worth it.

 


 

The camp was eight miles from Riyadh, the atmosphere stifled compared to the hopeful air that had characterized the one at Ramadi. Unlike the neat rows that Emily had become accustomed to, this one was laid out in a circular fashion, each tent set on a point of a circle and connected to the next by deep incisions into the sand at Emily and Eris’s strict direction.

The camp was a rune, and in the centre was Doyle.

Within the command post, he was bound by a demon trap strengthened by every rune in their considerable arsenal. There was no escape, even for someone who could turn to smoke and slink away through the smallest of gaps.

Around him, she had drawn a rune of her own devising. It was concentric, spiralling out in glowing blue on the canvas floor and creating three evenly spaced circles around him. They would allow others to join him in his casting without becoming physically vulnerable to him.

Within one, Emily sat cross-legged, hands on her knees and credentials gleaming blue on one palm, a simple sleep-rune inked on the other. If at any point her credentials changed colour to reflect distress, whoever was watching over her would only have to draw a finger through it and break a single line to wake her. Within another, Garmr curled nose to tail. Within the third, Eris could crouch in the event that Doyle attempted anything untoward.

They were three days in, and he hadn’t so far. In fact, he’d been almost… helpful.

“Wink if you need us,” Eris whispered on the third day, Hotch nodding along sternly. “I’ll be there before he can say boo.”

“Boo,” muttered Doyle, right as Emily closed the rune on her hand. It was a quick plunge from being in the command tent, smelling sand and heat and Hotch’s cologne to there being nothing but sand and scrub, interspersed with thin trees twisted from harsh sea winds. The end of the road she’s standing on plunges suddenly into a cream-gold beach, waves lapping against the sand and deepening into azure as they vanish into the white-capped horizon. Emily takes a breath that tastes of thyme and salt and the faintest hint of livestock, and sighs. She hadn’t told Hotch about this when she’d reported that Doyle was being… helpful. It hadn’t seemed necessary.

“Beautiful,” Doyle says quietly, stepping up beside her, and she feels her lip curl with disgust, because it is beautiful, and he’s sullying it with his presence. But when she turns to tell him this, he’s looking at her instead of the view.

“I know how much you love Greece,” he adds, and smiles like a memory. A memory of the man she’d fooled.

Her heart is hammering, scared of something, and she knows he can feel it.

The ocean blows away in a whirl of salt and sulphur and Garmr pads up to them. Hunt, he demands, snapping his jaws at Doyle. Leave her alone.

Doyle smiles again, sly this time, and leads them through the dream-paths. They’re chasing the faintest hint of a storm on that far off horizon. That storm gets no closer no matter how long they walk, as the world around them twists like a dream, like a memory, turning faded and grey and patched at the edges. She wonders if Doyle is even really trying to help them find Spencer, or if he’s deliberately staying five steps behind him.

She knows they’re somewhat on the right track, because there are flavours of Spence here, sometimes. A memory of her laugh. The sensation of Declan’s arms around her neck. A fierce, predatory love clinging to a small boy’s shoulder. They’re only remnants, but she recognises them once Doyle shows her what to look for. Some of them. Some are unfamiliar. And as they find more, he grows quieter. The hound snuffs and occasionally bays as he traces a scent.

“Problem?” she asks Doyle finally, when they’ve been walking for hours without him turning the ground under their feet to lilacs or scenting the air with the perfume he used to buy her. “You’re not being as mouthy as usual.”

He’s staring at a battered toy, a rabbit, laying sprawled and forgotten with its limbs tangled in the brush at the side of the road, and he says, “That’s enough for today.”

She blinked. Opened her eyes. Doyle was hunched into himself, the others stretching out cramped limbs and preparing to leave him. Outside, the afternoon moved on. They’d begun at dawn.

“Come on,” Clyde coaxed, helping her up when her legs wobbled under her. “Let’s go see your friend before dinner. Give it a rest for tonight.”

They weren’t any further away from their goal, but they were hardly any closer either. One look at Doyle’s grim expression and Emily couldn’t help but wonder, how much longer will he help us?

 


 

It was becoming an obsession.

So close, so hauntingly close; she couldn’t get her mind away from the tantalizing prospect of the storm they chased. She ate a dinner that she couldn’t remember; visited JJ in the medical tent where she was still tired and sore and furious to be side-lined; then, instead of returning to her bunk to sleep, she found herself waiting until the others had retired for the night in order to slip back into the dimly lit interior of the command.

“Missed me?” Doyle asked. He was curled in the confines of the circle, head on a pillow and his arm propping both up. A camp blanket was folded next to him, next to an empty bowl. His voice mocked her, but his eyes were fatigued, his skin grey and loose. He looked… old. Tired and old and sad, and Emily felt drained looking at him.

But she couldn’t walk away.

“Have enough juice for another go?” she asked, and the hungry look returned to his dark eyes. She stepped forward. “He’s close. I know it.” She felt as hungry as he looked. Something was happening. Somewhere, something important was happening and drawing her in. She could feel it in her mind, her blood, her magic.

“You know,” he said with a wide grin, “if we were physically touching, my range would be stronger.”

“You fucking wish,” she snapped, and took her place in the circle. Ink on her palm, closing the rune. Doyle sighed, lowered his hands to the rune, and muttered something about her being incorrigible.

“This is different,” Emily notes instantly, the world around them narrowing. Pointing them in a singular direction. Doyle is quiet for a long moment. The air tastes of rain.

“He is close,” he says reluctantly. “My magic is tracing him. He must be asleep. Look.” He turns on the spot, foot shifting the dirt, and the world widens. Emily blinks, her eyes blurring as the world folds over multiple times, each slightly different but also almost the same. “See. Others around us sleep. And if I focus on one…” The world narrows again, altered this time, and ice coats Emily’s tongue and lips. The sky is darkened. Misery presses in on them.

“Get out,” snarls Emily, backing up. “Get away from her, you bastard. Why the fuck would you even touch her after what you did?”

One final time, it shifts. The same as when they began, except Doyle is morose. Guilty. Something in her chest tightens. It’s hard, so fucking hard, to see him look this shattered and remember those hands are the ones who took her Sergio from her, those eyes watched him die, that mouth laughed as it happened.

“She is right,” Doyle says, and walks down that narrowing path. “Jennifer, I mean. I never… I didn’t realize she was pregnant. You know, I wouldn’t have harmed her if I’d known. But they appeared out of nowhere, came in casting, and I… panicked. Thought they were slavers. Thought I was going to end up like your beau, and then who would help Declan?” He looks sincere.

Looks can be deceiving, and she doesn’t trust him an inch.

“Reid’s not bound,” she reminds him. “He’s helping Declan. Why is that so hard for you to grasp?”

Doyle’s mouth curls. “Helping him now, perhaps,” he says, and the ground under them quivers with his temper, “but how long will that last, sweetheart? Don’t you feel it? That mind we’re following? It doesn’t feel quite so clean anymore, does it?” She ignores him, but she can’t help but look towards the distant storm. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just magic. Familiar magic.

Familiar magic, but at its heart, somehow tainted. Darker. Hungrier.

Her hip itches. “Go to hell,” she growls. “Like I have any desire to listen to a thing you say. Not after Sergio. After what you did to Reid. After what you did to me. You’re so fucking sure that you’re in love with me, and yet you would have killed me that night. Now you want my trust?”

“Oh, I’m not in love with you.” Doyle is frowning, his magic testing the world. It coats her skin, making her feel oily, gross. Scratching at her hip, she tries to shake the feel of it from her mind. But it itches. It itches and burrows and there’s a thread of it within her, as though someone is tugging a thin spool from her centre. “Not anymore. You made sure of that when you killed Lauren. But I could be, Emily, don’t you see? I love the idea of you. Us, a family. More of a family than he can ever be—”

She’s ignoring him, reeling. Pressing her hand against her hip and breathing deeply to try and focus, to regain some control. What the fuck is happening?

The storm whispers her name.

Doyle hasn’t noticed. “—you and Declan. He loves you. Thinks the world of you, dreams of you as his mom, his real mom. And I know you dream of him, despite you blocking me out with your precious runes. Know you want to see him grow, see the man he’s going to be one day… do you think Spencer fucking Reid can give you that? A child? He can’t, you know—” The heart of the storm is spilling over, the darkness within lashing out. Emily is trapped in its path. Frozen. Doyle doesn’t stop: “—half-breeds can’t sire children. I’d happily… what is that?”

Emily doesn’t know.

But it’s hungry and hurt and terrified and she’s somehow connected to it.

Doyle snaps her out of it. “It’s him!” he roars, and blurs as he draws his magic up and shouts for Garmr, reaching for the hound’s sleeping mind. “He’s casting! We can track him!”

He’s casting. Spencer’s casting.

Her hip is on fire, and it doesn’t feel like him at all.

The hound bounds out of nowhere, nostrils flaring, and charges towards the storm with a wild howl and someone was shaking her, grabbing her shoulders. Her eyes snapped open, finding Hotch inches from her face with his mouth slack with shock and his expression wild.

“The hell do you think you’re doing without backup?” he shouted, but she shook him off and looked past him to where Doyle was still limp on the floor, his eyes white and form faded at the edges. The flap of the tent ripped open, Carrick bursting in with his coat half on and shoes undone.

“We found him,” Emily stammered, smelling sulphur. Carrick eased back and grinned. “He cast and we found him.”

“Excellent!” Carrick boomed, turned on his heel and striding out. “I thought so when Garmr had a bit of a turn—I’ll alert Cruz, get everyone moving.”

“Why don’t you look happy about this?” Hotch asked, before the sound of Carrick’s footsteps had even faded. Emily shrugged helplessly, her eyes aching and head throbbing, and she could smell the faintest hint of a foxy musk nearby. Clyde. Watching. Hiding himself from even her.

Listening.

“He didn’t feel right,” she said finally, despite not wanting Clyde to hear her admit this, because Hotch needed to know. “His magic. It didn’t feel right and…” Her hip seared and she twisted under his hands, staring at the pale, unmarked skin. “Something is wrong, Aaron. Something is so wrong.”

Their gazes met, and his was resigned. “Something’s been wrong since Doyle started this,” he murmured, helping her up. “All we can do is hope it’s something that we can fix at the end of it all. Come on. We’re close now, and I need your help.”

Following him, she frowned. “With what?”

His laugh was bitter and filled with regret. “JJ.”

 


 

Like a demented tennis match, Emily’s head followed JJ as she paced across the tent with her back ramrod straight, shoving belongings into her bag. Back, forth, back, forth. Hotch and Cruz stood together, both looking oddly similar in their shared irritation with her.

“You’re not coming,” Cruz said, folding his arms. “We’ve already organized for you to med-evac out with one of our healers and meet with the recovered children in Israel. We have allies there working to smooth over the treatment process of any slaves we free, but we need someone on site.”

“You’re sidelining me.” JJ’s mouth thinned, face pinching. It was testament to the limited effects of the painkillers and healing she’d been undergoing that even a shred of her discomfort was visible on her countenance. “Are you doubting my ability to do my job?”

“You’re still unwell,” Hotch said, quieter but no less firm. “I have absolute faith in you, JJ. Which is why I want you to take the med-evac to Tel Aviv. Those children need someone steady, someone who can protect them from anyone who still wishes them harm. Until this cell is wiped out, they’re in danger.”

“Hotch is right,” Cruz added. Emily watched JJ carefully, for any sign that she was listening. There was a slow, cold anger still burning in her that had Emily worried… it wasn’t the kind of anger that gave way easily to logic or calm rationality. Emily and Spencer both had tempers that flared and burned out quickly. JJ’s temper, in comparison, felt a lot more durable. Glacial. But just as monumentally destructive. “There is every chance that if anyone from the cell discovers the children’s whereabouts, they will attempt to retrieve them. If I thought you were injured beyond your ability to work, I’d be sending you home. You know that.”

“Emily?” JJ turned on her, expression unreadable.

Emily didn’t answer, not immediately. There were several outcomes here, and goddammit, her brain was starting to work like Spencer’s if she was considering outcomes and probabilities.

JJ might, unhappily, agree with their points. That was best case scenario. Worst case? She refused, decided to tag along come hell or high water, and Emily would ‘offer’ to draw a pain-assistance rune on her to alleviate her discomfort, and accidentally switch it out for a sleep-rune so they could pile her onto the med-evac chopper before she woke up. That was worst case because, while it didn’t end with JJ following Reid’s route to what appeared to be Dubai, of all places, it would end with JJ never speaking to any of them ever again.

Not one of her outcomes resulted in JJ coming along to retrieve their wayward demon.

She decided to be savage. “I think,” she said, swallowing down the Machiavellian-feel of this moment, “that when we find Spencer, I’d rather tell him that the children he risked everything to save are safe with you… rather than tell him they’re still in danger because you were too proud to know when to quit.”

JJ stared at her. Her eyes were ice. “Okay,” she said, finally. “Okay. I’ll go. But don’t you dare come home empty-handed, Emily Prentiss. And don’t you dare die.”

The grin that she slipped on for JJ’s benefit was crooked, sly, and only a little bit amused. “I try not to make a habit of it,” she said, and it was only really half a lie.

 


 

Emily took the chance to grab an actual nap three hours out from Dubai, and as soon as she did, Doyle pounced.

“Finally!” he yells, barging into her mind, and she groans. “I’ve been waiting—come with me.” Before she can tell him to shove it up his ass, he’s grabbed her by the arm and dragged her further into the dream. Furious, she readies to call for Eris, for Clyde, for anyone, when she does hear it. A shout.

A familiar shout.

Doyle!

“Is that Spence?” she gasps, stunned at the whispering sound of his voice. Why would he call for Doyle?

The world around them twists and moves and, faraway, she’s vaguely aware of someone touching her body, shaking her. They’ve noticed Doyle has her. Too soon. Not yet.

They need to—

The world steadies and Spencer is laying on the ground in front of them, back against the wall in a small, rune-locked cell with a man asleep on his lap, face lined with grief and strain. “Spencer!” she cries, stepping forward, but Spencer doesn’t react. Doyle is fucking hiding her from him, the bastard! When she tries to turn on him, to scream at him, the ground sinks around her, the air closing in, and she’s immobilized and can’t do anything but watch.

Spencer’s eyes snap open, and he looks up. Meets Doyle’s gaze. Swallows and juts his jaw out into a stubborn, determined line, hate tracing his wasted face. He’s skinny. Bloodied. Hair short and choppy and face scratchy with stubble. And he is different. Painfully different. She burns, in that moment, to crouch next to him and drag him into her arms, smoothing away that difference with her hands and covering the misery lined around his mouth with her own lips, to see if she can coax a smile from him. See if he still tastes the same.

“You’re in trouble, pet,” Doyle says, his grin wide and bladed with animosity. “You’re trapped in a clever, clever cage, and I don’t think even a slimy little thing like you can wriggle your way out of this one. Oh, I was going to kill you… but you called so loudly for me, I figured I should at least say hello.” Staring at him, her blood turns to ice. He’s been ignoring Spencer’s cries until she fell asleep so he could bring her to witness this. To watch how he’d planned on betraying them. “Let you know that I’m not going to kill you, because they’ll do it so much slower. Maybe they’ll bind you first. Oh, how delightful if they do…”

The nausea is violent and she buckles around it. She’ll damn him for this. Damn him herself, and she’s never learned how to exorcise a demon, but she’ll fucking learn for Doyle. She’ll throw him down to hell and laugh while she does it.

“I called you to ask for your help,” Spencer says, and Doyle laughs. Emily stares. At the cell, the runes, the strange man Spencer wraps his arm around protectively. “Not for me. I’m not asking for myself. I know you’ll watch me burn.”

“Gleefully,” Doyle replies, and his eyes flicker to Emily, with a secret smile just for her. “Who am I helping, demon? Emily? My Emily? Truly my Emily now. Perhaps I’ll show her this moment. I think I will… show you caged and beaten and dying, and how alone she is without me.”

“I’ll fucking kill you,” she whispers, and now there are more hands on her body, the cool touch of Eris, and their time is running out.

Eris. Eris needs to see this.

“Eris!” she howls, as loud as she can, and Spencer is still talking like he can’t hear her. Because he can’t, Doyle is still hiding her, and, “I’m right here! Spencer! Here, look at me! Where are you? Tell me where you fucking are!”

“Declan,” Spencer says, choking, his unfamiliar/familiar face crumpling with guilt and grief and she can see love there, too; Spencer isn’t the type to protect someone without loving them just a little, or a lot. “He’s alone. I can show you where, show you how to undo the shields I placed around him.”

Doyle is silent now. He takes a step back, his shoulder almost bumping Emily, and she’d laugh at how shocked he is suddenly, but it’s really not funny. “Ask him where,” she coaxes, despite her fury. “Where Declan is and where he is. Ask him, Doyle, or I swear to god, I’ll be the end of you.”

Doyle nods, half a nod; it’s for her and Spencer should notice that, but he’s hyper-focused on saving Declan and doesn’t, despite Doyle doing everything but handing him a sign saying ‘Emily Prentiss is standing right the fuck there’. “Why would you give him back to me? After running from me for so long, why now? I would think you’d go happily to your grave knowing you’d thwarted me to the very end.”

“Because he’s not you!” she spits. “Now fucking ask him!”

“He’ll die on his own,” Reid says. “I promised to protect him. The slaving cell is based in Greece. Do with that information as you please, but remember that you’re not the only one who wants them destroyed.” He stops, choked up, and Emily feels the world shifting again, waking, the dream and Doyle and Spencer all fading, and she doesn’t know where he is yet, and not yet not yet please not

“No!” she shouted, shooting upright, and almost head-butting Hotch. “Put me back, damnit! It’s Spencer—he’s with Spencer!”

They exchanged glances, Hotch and Eris. “Where?” Eris asked, shuffling backwards until she was out of the car, leaving Emily struggling to unbuckle her seatbelt where it had wrapped around her while she slept, Hotch still hovering protectively from the front seat.

Before she could answer, Carrick yanked open her door, his face savagely gleeful. “Doyle just gave us an address,” he announced to the disconcerted group, and behind him, Garmr growled with anticipation. “We’ve got the bastards.”

 


 

They moved in slowly towards the car the address led them to. Disgustingly slow, with their magic alive and testing every step. None of them were stupid enough to think they could approach a demon-shielded car without care. Especially not Emily, who was well aware of this particular demon’s abilities. Reid was quiet and bookish, and that meant he probably knew all kinds of grossly effective traps for someone wanting to touch something he didn’t want touched. Emily had once tried to steal his coffee while he was engrossed in a psychology journal, and had found herself with her vision flipped upside-down and the disconcerting sensation that gravity had reversed itself, while he pulled the journal up over his nose and giggled into the pages.

Garmr wuffed from deep within his chest. “Clear,” Carrick said calmly, and they stepped forward again. Emily growled furiously. This. Was. Frustrating.

Each word was a wuff, each wuff was a step.

“Clear,” he said again. And again. Once more. Emily rose up on her toes, peering forwards into the darkened, grime-streaked windows of the tan sedan. It looked empty. Looked being the operative word there.

“Prentiss,” Carrick said finally, and she crouched with her mind whirling over every detection rune she knew. Think like Spence, she thought, and smiled at the idea. He’s not going to rig it to hurt, he doesn’t know who’ll find it… auditory shielding, innocuous-sight spellwork… Mind still turning, she placed a palm down carefully on the asphalt below the car. Her skin gleamed slickly with the protection rune she’d placed on the back of her hand to avoid triggering anything, and she found…

Nothing.

There was no spellwork on the car. Or if there was…

“Fuck,” she said, standing and ripping open the door to multiple startled outcries at her recklessness. “Shieldings down. Shielding is fucking down!”

And the car was empty. There were bottles of water stacked messily on one side of the backseat, a pile of non-perishables, a folded blanket with runes for cooling stitched through. Books, gouges in the surface of the seating, some half built origami animals made by clumsy, bored hands.

Cruz strode up and his hands flickered with light that burned her retinas to look directly at. “Taken down from the inside,” he announced, gritting his teeth. “Looks like the kid did it. Probably watched your men put the runes up and then just undid what they’d done… clever little thing. How long since anyone has been here, Agent?”

Carrick answered for the mute hound. “Seven hours. What are we thinking?”

“He’s followed Reid,” Emily said, closing her eyes and exhaling angrily at Declan’s idiocy. “Reid left him here to be safe and he followed him.”

Garmr growled, lowering his muzzle to the ground and snuffing deeply. Barking once, a long, booming sound, he limped away with his tail held high. “He’s got Declan’s scent as well,” Carrick said, jogging after the dog. After a beat, they followed, holstering guns and slipping illusions over themselves to avoid excessive attention. “They can’t be far if they’re on foot. Come on. Be ready.”

They were over-ready, and the hunt closed in.

 


 

“Do we have the authorization to do this?” Emily pressed her back against the doorframe of the safety exit, smelling the acrid rotting scent of the alley where they were waiting for a signal. Gun in hand, Hotch on the other side of the door, and two more men waiting behind them to move in.

“Absolutely not,” Carrick hummed through their earpiece from where they were following Reid’s scent through the front door. Hotch’s mouth curled very slightly up at the corner as he ducked his head away to attempt to hide his amusement. “Try not to draw any attention to our operation, please.”

The men’s hands flashed gold. Time to go.

They were unmarked and silent as Emily traced a quick minor-incendiary rune onto the heavy handle on the iron door, feeling the heat radiate out as the lock-and-barrel melted and unclipped, the door swinging open with a low whine of complaint. The halls were silent. The sounds of their footsteps were muted by the luxury carpeting.

“Nice place,” Emily said sourly, clearing endless empty rooms decorated with swanky furnishings. “Hate to make a mess.” If it wouldn’t have been recklessly noisy, she would have shoved one of the over-the-top gilded vases with their haughty ferns, just to prove a point.

Then they stepped into the foyer and found that someone had already done her proud and made a mess. At first glance, there was nothing notable in the room except for how damn empty it was. On second glance, the glimmer of an illusion gave it away. Cruz destroyed the illusion with an irritated swipe of his magic, proving one more time that Emily never wanted to get on the wrong side of an elf with reason to use magic against her. It revealed destruction. Long streaks of blackened marble stretched across the floor, flaring out at a target point where the molten magic had splattered against a frantic shield. Above and behind that point, the front door was a twisted hulk of glass and steel, both warped almost beyond recognition.

On the unmarked marble between the two points of destruction, blood. Garmr hovered over it, his eyes on Emily, and she swore loudly. And then again, just because couldn’t her goddamn shit-fucking-useless boyfriend stay in one piece for a single goddamn day?

“This place is empty,” Carrick announced, as his men filtered in, all shaking their heads. “It’s been wiped clean. Looks like…” He stopped, expression shifting to concern as he picked something off the floor, laying it flat on his palm and staring at it oddly.

“Looks like they got made,” Hotch finished, his gun clicking slightly as he braced it against his knee and crouched forward to trail his fingers across the soot-marked marble. “Surface is still warm. Considering enough heat was applied to warp that steel frame, they may still be alive. We’re not far behind them, and they’re unlikely to have been executed immediately…”

The rest of that sentence was unspoken, but Emily’s blood ran cold despite that.

Not until they’ve been questioned.

“Can you follow the boy’s path if you’ve lost Agent Reid’s?” Carrick asked Garmr. The hound nodded, snuffed the air, and ambled towards a side door, casting a red-tinted look back at them from over his shoulder. “Cruz, can you get your men to bring the vehicles? We’re now rushed, if we wish to bring them home alive.”

“Aye.” Cruz gestured to his people, ducking back out the warped doorway through the small sliver of cleared space. It left them with Carrick, the hound, and two of Carrick’s mages as the hound led them back along the path Hotch and Emily had cleared. Back out to the alley. Towards the street. Emily didn’t say a word as they tracked Declan, her heart in her mouth and gut twisting painfully, desperately trying not to imagine what was happening to Reid right now, whether Declan had been caught, what they were going to find…

“Wait.” Carrick stopped, not even waiting for them to pause before moving faster than Emily had ever seen him move before. Emily jogged after him as he reached a dumpster shoved crookedly against the wall. “Garmr says he moved down here before leaving the other way. I…” Voice trailing off, he squeezed his hand shut before letting it fall open so she could see what he held. A single blackened feather, the tines tangled and singed. “It’s a long shot but…” To her shock, he boosted himself up, a significant feat considering he wasn’t exactly a lean man, one foot bracing himself on the side of the dumpster as he rifled through it without a care for his, until now, clean clothes.

And abruptly ripped his hand back, blood dripping from three ragged scores along the meaty part of his thumb. Emily blinked.

“There, there,” he murmured, soothing, and reached his hand back down. “Come on. Come on, lad, no fear. Oh, you’re hurt, aren’t you? Let’s get you out of there and fixed up…” A thin hissing noise followed his voice as he continued soothing, turning his head slightly to jerk it at Emily. She inched forward, Hotch following closely, and they both peered past Carrick’s hip to where a huddled mass of grey and black and red feathers lay amongst the greenish garbage, almost invisible among the muck. A beak gaped, eyes wide and staring, and Emily could see bloodied skin amongst the mess of feathers.

“A bird, Carrick?” Hotch asked, tugging his jacket off nonetheless and boosting himself up on a crate against the dumpster so he could lean in easier. “Is this worth the diversion?”

“Not just a bird,” Carrick said, and Emily thought of Sergio and her heart sunk. “Careful with him… there should be two.”

The bird screeched furiously as Hotch threw the coat over-top of him, bundling him up with the easy movements of a man who’d, many a time before, caught a struggling toddler in a towel before he could escape. Unfortunately, the struggling toddler didn’t have tearing talons, and the coat—and Hotch’s bare arms—were instantly shredded by beak and claw. Despite this, Hotch dropped back to the ground, gripping the bulging coat tightly, and Carrick sighed mournfully.

“Protection detail’s over, Gambit,” he said softly, and the bird stopped fighting within the confines of the coat, much to Hotch’s relief. “I’ve got her now.”

Emily watched as he wrapped his own coat around a smaller, horrifyingly inert bundle, and climbed down with it held as though it was fragile and endlessly precious. If it was what Emily suspected, it absolutely was precious.

“Move out,” he ordered, voice forbidding. “I dislike the callous manner of Revenir’s disposal. She deserves much more… and her partner will wish to honour her with such. Let’s ensure we’re not burying them together.”

 


 

Emily bailed on the car where Hotch was struggling to hold the furious Gambit still on his lap while the mage worked to heal the weeping burns on the bird’s wings before they crippled him. Instead, she climbed into the back of the heavily runed truck where Doyle was an anxious, pacing figure.

“Where is he?” Doyle demanded. “Where is Declan? I told you exactly where to find him, why has he not been found? Why is nobody telling me anything?” The last line was almost shouted, his hands clenched and shoulders shaking.

“If you betray me now, he’ll die,” she said in lieu of greeting, and Doyle fell quiet. “We need to find Reid, now. What’s the fastest way to do that?”

Doyle arched his neck, eyes unfocused. “If he’s close enough… I can drag him to us. You have enough of him left within you that I can use that to trap him. But it will be disorienting for all of us if he is awake when I do it, and take a monumental amount of power on my behalf. Can you guarantee my son?”

Emily couldn’t. No one could.

“Yes,” she lied, and then softened that lie with the truth. “I’ll do anything to save him, Ian. Anything.”

Doyle smiled tightly. “Well then,” he murmured, and stepped aside with a sweeping gesture at the demon trapped floor. “Step into my home. This is going to be a wild ride.”

It took every iota of strength she had to breach that final barrier between them. The physical barrier of the trap, and the mental barrier of her absolute abhorrence of his hands on her. But she did. It took an instant. An instant where her breath shortened, her heartbeat raced, and the skin of her chest burned where his brand had marked her.

She initiated the contact because he seemed content to let her make this final, irrevocable move. Their hands touched. Instead of making it painless and gripping her wrists as they kneeled, their knees inches from one another, he slowly trailed the tips of his fingers over her hands, the bone of her wrists, finally gripping her gently with his fingers on her pulse points and a grossly smug smile on his face.

I hate you, she thought savagely, and fought the urge to rip her hands away.

“Ladies first,” he said, and dragged her down into the chaotic dark.

 


 

“What?” Spencer cries, blinking at them, and then he’s gone. Doyle drags him back. “Stop! Stop! No!”

“Stop fighting us!” she shouts, freeing herself from Doyle and flinging herself towards him. The space around them is a void, distorting as her eyes try to make sense of it, and Spencer is struggling to wake until she wraps her arms around him. “Where are you? Quickly—we’re close, we’re coming, just tell us!” He’s warm and solid and becomes more of both as she holds him and he realizes who she is, what she is, that she’s real and there and begging. There’s a wild, staring terror to his eyes when he looks down at her, sagging suddenly as his body catches up to the fact it’s not conscious anymore.

And the world slams into existence around them.

“There we go,” Doyle says conceitedly, and then, moments later, “oh, well, shit.”

Because they can see where Spencer is now, exactly where she saw him last, but he’s not alone with the man anymore. The man is gone. In his place, there are others. And she’d know them for what they were even if they weren’t chattering excitedly about their new ‘conquest,’ red magic dark enough to be black bubbling from the floor around their feet as they summon it. Send it roiling across the cement to where Spencer is a crumpled, discarded form on the floor, his wings spread-eagled around him and his torso twisted disturbingly from falling.

“What is wrong with him?” one of the necromancers asks in Arabic, magic pausing. Doyle paces, eyes tracing the rune carefully. Emily clutches Spencer’s waking mind close, the physical representation of the man under them, and he’s shaking convulsively with his face buried in her shoulder and heart hammering so hard and fast she can feel it against her breast. “Why did he fall?”

“Is faking,” the other says. “Continue.”

On the ground, Spencer’s eyes are white, rolled completely back, victims of the violent force Doyle had used to drag him out. His nightmarish magic pins Spencer to this dream, adding to the fear and confusion of this moment.

“Help me,” Spencer moans against her, his pupils huge with fear and breath rasping. “I can’t… can’t think…”

“Pull back!” she snarls at Doyle. “You’re crippling him!”

“They’re binding him,” Doyle retorts, as they resume and the horrifically familiar magic oozes up Spencer’s limbs, peeling the silver binds on his arms away to replace them with their own slick touch. “If I leave, you’ll have barely a minute before my magic fades and you’ll both wake. And if he doesn’t wake up, he has less than five before he’s theirs.”

A minute. Her mind races. They can stop this. They’ve done it before. The rune is seared into her mind.

Plenty of time.

“Get out,” she says again, and Spencer’s nails scratch against her arms as he scrabbles to stay upright. “Now!” Doyle does. As soon as he’s gone, Spencer straightens, clarity returns, and time begins to run out. “Focus,” she says, grabbing his chin and yanking it around.

His eyes widen, stunned, and he gasps, “Emily, oh god, Em—”

“No time, no time,” she yammers, and he wavers in her hold. Below them, his body twitches. “We need to replace the rune. Help me.”

A deep breath that presses them closer. He hums and the sound rumbles.

“I’m shielded, this binding will kill me,” he murmurs out loud, eyes focused on nothing. “It will stop us resuming our bond…”

“Spence,” she whines, hating the whine and unable to stop it either, and she can feel him slipping away, falling, and not like this you bastard, not like this. “Jesus, no. Think, fuck you, think! We’re on our way, you need to live—”

“I intend upon it,” he says, and her arms slip as he fades very slightly. She clings and slides her hand into the narrow space between his pants and hip, dragging her nails across his skin in the shape of their rune, feeling his shield resist her, burning her fingers. He brings his mouth to hers, suddenly, hungrily, tasting her and memorizing her without really noting what he’s doing, mind visibly still elsewhere. “I… the shield. It’s runes. Made of… fuck, no…” Fades more. His body shudders. Eyes close. “Runes. Help me rework it. We need to remove the part that’s fatal.” It’s a familiar drop to plunge into his mind properly, not in the weird space of his dream where Doyle had left her. She slams against a shield, thick around his self, and skims along it feeling him working underneath. She can’t hear him. Doesn’t know what he’s doing.

But she knows him well enough to guess.

They work together. Unwinding the shield rune by rune by rune without even pausing to admire the skill in the working. Like a noxious fog racing towards them, she can feel the binding triggering fatally defensive runes, lashing out at him from within and causing blindingly painful agony, slowing him minutely.

Move faster , she screams at herself; he’s waking and dying and she’s slow, too slow, speeding up, moving faster than she’s ever moved before.

Dragging the shield into herself, turning the unfamiliar magic familiar, and returning it.

Searing it into his hip and his heart and feeling him burst suddenly into her mind, the remainder of the shield shattering between them.

“It’s done, it’s down,” he rambles, voice thin, “Now, the rune, quick—”

He vanishes. The room snaps away. She’s sitting upright, Doyle hovering overhead and his mouth was moving, shouting, and she screamed something at him and dived back, reaches, reaches, brushes very slightly against a thin, sweet thread of something—

“Fucking work,” she shouts at her magic, thrusting it towards him, and he lunges at her voice. Her face felt weirdly hot, blinking as Doyle shook her. “Help me,” she snapped at him, and he raised an eyebrow and didn’t. She’s on her own except for Spencer, and he’s dwindling.

“Last go,” he says calmly, and she bites her lip hard enough to draw blood and reaches deep into herself again for that magic, that rune. “If this doesn’t work, I love you.”

“Don’t say goodbye,” she said angrily, and Doyle laughed.

Their magic touches. She slams the shield back, different but the same, turning the working that should kill him when he’s bound into instead something that repels the binding. Uses it to bind them together. It’s their rune. The rune they made, the same, but different, and if it works, he’ll live. He’ll live and she’ll be with him. Her hip burns, until it doesn’t.

He wakes and vanishes.

“Spence?” she calls into her mind, and there’s nothing. Nothing. She can’t find the thread. She can’t find him. But she has to try anyway. “Cast!” she calls into that nothing, just in case he’s somewhere listening beyond her reach. “Cast as much as you can and we’ll find you! Anything!”

The nothing doesn’t reply, but from within, it turns dark and hungry and intoxicating. She keeps away, because it’s dangerous now and she doesn’t know it anymore.

But she calls out once before fleeing.

Live, you bastard.

Please live.

 


 

There was no rune on her hip when she checked. No familiar presence in her mind. There was, however, a darkling power that simmered and grew and threatened to draw her in. No… not threatened.

Called.

And she wanted to go to it. The power was seductive, thrilling… euphoric. She wanted.

As the car they were in drew closer and closer physically to that disturbing power, she brushed against it in her mind. Gasped as it brushed back. As it purred and coiled and sunk into her mind and her body and sent a sharp shock of heat down her spine to pool delightfully between her hips. Hoped the others didn’t notice her heart rate or her pupils or the way she folded her legs tightly and pulled away from it before it could devour her.

Clyde’s head snapped around, his expression sharp. “Are you okay?” he asked, and she couldn’t speak through the wanting. Closed her eyes for a moment, just to collect herself, and when she opened them, they were there. At the compound where Reid was dying.

She hoped.

She kept behind Hotch as everything moved terrifyingly quick. There was a building, modest and unassuming and large enough that Emily groaned. They’d have to split up. Garmr burst through the door, and they went in casting. The men inside didn’t put up much of a fight once Cruz rotted the wooden floorboards out from under them, coaxing the timber into growing up and around the men as Emily and Hotch disarmed them.

Gambit leapt from Hotch’s shoulder, and took off one way with a squall.

Garmr went the other.

Emily made her choice and sprinted after Garmr. He was going to Declan. She’d promised to look after Declan.

The hunger grew.

Hotch wasn’t at her side anymore. He’d followed Gambit. Her earpiece was alive with orders being barked, Carrick’s voice, Cruz’s, and gunfire. Mage-fire. She ignored it all.

Found six men clustered around a rune-locked door. She recognised the rune in a heartbeat. Only Reid used that particular type of lock; outdated and overly complex and completely pretentious.

They didn’t even know she was there. She shot two men and set another aflame. Garmr made short work of two more. All died and she wasn’t sorry because they were between her and that power. Wasn’t sorry yet, but maybe later she would be. The last dropped with a scream, his hands on his head, so she leapt over him and snapped the rune with ease, shoving the door open with her shoulder. Found bodies. The ground littered with bodies, three of them. No Spencer. He wasn’t here.

Declan was.

Huddled over a motionless, bloodied form, Declan stared blankly at her with shell-shocked eyes. Garmr growled. Declan’s hands and face were red.

“Lauren?” he asked, blinking. His eyelids were white and stark against the men’s blood on his cheeks. “They were going to kill Romain. I stopped them. I stopped them. I stopped—”

Her earpiece crackled. “Found cells to the east. Moving in. Hostiles detected.” Hotch.

There wasn’t time. Two steps forward and she dragged Declan into her arms, checking him swiftly for injuries even as she hugged him. Plenty of them, but none immediately fatal.

The blood came in handy. She lifted her hand to his cheek and drew the sleep rune with three strokes. He crumpled, out cold in seconds. Feeling numb, feeling empty, she laid him alongside the terribly pale man he’d killed to protect, noting the blood pooling around dark curls and matting them to the floor.

“Guard him,” she told Garmr, and ran without checking to see if he’d listened.

Ran and ran and the power grew.

Turned a corner and plunged into it. It was a storm and a seduction all at once, and she felt like she was wading through it. Drowning. Barely clinging to her self, out of sheer force of will, knowing that she had to hold on because Hotch had walked into this first.

Found a door. It gaped open. Splintered.

Walked through. Was she holding her gun? Maybe. No? Come here.

Yes.

She almost walked right into Hotch. He was standing, expression blank. His arms held oddly, crookedly, gun almost cocked back towards his chin. Like he’d jerked it away from his target, or turned it on himself, or forgotten it was there. Somewhere, Gambit was screeching, screeching, screeching.

“Report,” someone was saying in their earpieces. Neither answered. There were other men in the room. Dead. She was among the dead men.

A living man.

“Spencer,” Emily choked, as the power hummed and whispered, die. Gun in her hand for sure now. Gun against her jaw. Why?

“Report, Prentiss. Hotch! Where are you?”

The demon in the middle of the room snarled without snarling, his lip curling back. Hunched in a ball on the ground with his wings arched outward and eyes staring. Black eyes. No whites, just black and staring and wanting and, die, now. Do it.

Not a demon. Not.

Spence. She tasted iron. Tasted copper.

“There’s serious casting in the east wing. Cruz says get away. Agents? Agents! Easter, get back here!”

Don’t. It’s me. The barrel was cold and hard. It cut her lip. Her hand shook.

Please…

Nothing answered her and he was lost.

I love, she thought, and found the trigger.

Chapter Text

It didn’t work.

Well. It partially worked.

Reid felt the shield lash out, and dived within his own mind in a frantic attempt to avoid the fatal blow, evaluating his options as he went. Emily haunted his mind, that last desperate cry of cast before her voice had been torn away from him. But he couldn’t focus on her right now.

He had to focus on surviving this final storm.

Because it was a storm. It was building off his own magic, feeding on it and growing stronger, and the binding had caused an unstoppable cascade of reactions inside him. Outside, he knew the compulsion was ruling, protecting his physical self, but he couldn’t do anything about it until the bulk of the kickback had blown over. Part of the shield was the part he and Emily had rewoven, but it was thin and flexible and not enough to restrain the part they hadn’t had time to adapt. He dragged it with him, rebuilding it around himself smaller, and wondered if it would be enough.

It might be.

Maybe…

If it wasn’t covering as much of him.

Emily had once told him what she remembered of dying. She remembered the cold and the dark. She remembered Rossi. She remembered what they looked like in the void. Rossi had showed her. And Reid had been shocked and a little bit giddy when she’d told him who he was. The form his very soul took.

He was human.

Just a human. Not a demon, not a monster, not a first circle mage whose magic made even elves wary of him. Just… Spencer Reid.

This would kill a demon, he thought, drawing his magic close. They couldn’t survive this…

But I’m not solely a demon.

And I want to live.

Tugging his magic close, he felt for the last time the power of the storm tucked within it: the snapping temper of lightning, the mischievous curiosity of wind, the dark hunger of the compulsion, Emily’s runes and his own, the thrill of casting a spell, any spell. He felt them all, and remembered flying.

Then, he shoved every last aspect of them outside of the protection he and Emily had created together, and curled as small and careful as he could. I love you, Emily, he thought, just in case, and heard her reply with a faint I love that was abruptly cut off.

All he could hope was that the shield burnt out before his magic did.

So he hoped, until there was nothing—

 


 

He’s on the floor with his wings flared above him, a warning. Palms to the bloodied cement. Danger looms.

He lashes out at it. It wants to stop him. Stop his heart. Stop everything.

Stop him from reaching her.

So he stops it first. It can’t fight him. He’s stronger. Always stronger, always more.

Come here.

It comes. Blank eyes, hesitant steps, towards death. He’s death. He brings it to those who would stop him.

It’s almost funny. Almost. Inside, he’s tearing.

Maybe he’ll die anyway.

Guns aimed away from him. Towards themselves. Good. He won’t die by them. He won’t.

Dark eyes. Why dark eyes? Why? He fears them.

Wants them.

Struggles.

Die now.

But they don’t and they don’t because he doesn’t want enough, something stops him. Something.

Red. An animal. Angry.

It strikes her first. Gun to the floor, it knocks the weapon from her hands and leaves them bloodied. Comes for him. Snarling snarling snarling and there’s a bird as well, and he recognises that.

Romain.

They killed him.

They killed him!

Do it!

But the animal attacks and the woman does too and there’s nothing he can do but

stop.

 


 

Voices.

Distant voices that grew closer.

Get away from him. We don’t know what the hell that was.

Shut up, Clyde. He’s not casting, I can’t feel any of his magic. Any… any of it…

Is he breathing? Emily?

A touch. On his face, his mouth, his jaw. A cold cheek touched his, the shell of an ear brushing his lips. Fingers on his throat, his pulse point. Checking my airways. She’s checking. She’s worried. So he opened his eyes.

Dark eyes hovered over him, close enough that he had to blink to avoid his vision blurring when he focused on her. “Hello,” he said, and grinned shakily. “Hi, hello, Emily. Hello.”

“Oh my god,” she said, and the eyes vanished. “He’s brain damaged.”

“Is he safe?”

Reid didn’t recognise that voice, but he couldn’t be sure because his brain wasn’t working all that great. Fuzzy. Everything was… fuzzy. Emily was here. He was here. Where was here?

“I’m fine,” he said to the roof, and numbly turned his attention inward. Reached for his… magic.

Oh.

“Spencer.” Reid turned his head and found Hotch crouched next to him, pale and clammy-looking. “Are you… you?”

Hotch was making about as much sense as Reid’s brain was. Which was not much at all, quite honestly. Reid answered by grinning. Smiling. That would help. Maybe he should sit up. Sitting up took a lot more thought than he’d recalled it would. Put palm on floor. Lever self up. Wince. Note that palm is… sticky. Turning his head slowly to look, he stared at the red. The red on the cement floor, the tacky trails of the shattered binding rune around him. Shattered. From the inside out.

The bodies littered around it.

Cold slammed into him. Cold in his blood, his belly. The shaking returned.

“I killed them,” he stammered, and it all came back. Romain. The slaves. The soldiers. This. This now. Final straw. He couldn’t. Couldn’t do this again. Not again. “I killed…”

“Nope.” The voice was sharp and not Hotch or Emily. Emily. Emily was here, and Romain was dead. Reid looked at her first, something anxious and shocked slipping in behind the cold. Then he looked at the speaker. Unfamiliar. Fox shift, his nose told him. “You didn’t. Look at the bodies, Dr. Reid.”

Reid looked. His brain began to function again, finally. The blood was from their faces. Mouth. Noses. Epistaxis.

“Magical backlash, Spence,” Emily said quietly, and shuffled forward on her knees to touch his shoulder, as though she expected him to vanish out from in front of her. The bindings on his arms were gone, the skin bare. He stared at them. “You didn’t kill them. You surged the binding rune… their own magic killed them. And yours went haywire and then just… vanished?”

He reached for his magic again. Nothing.

It was gone. Just like Romain’s.

He surged upright, wings mantled, staggering. Knee screaming, he stared around, barely avoiding Hotch’s outstretched hand and Emily trying to grab his arm. “Romain!” he gasped, and the grief hit, dwarfing any lingering unease about the failure of his magic to respond to his touch. “My partner, they… he’s de—”

“Alive,” Emily cut in. Moving closer. Steadying him as his knee buckled and he swayed backward. “Dark, curly hair? He’s alive, Spence. Declan is with him. Come on. We’ll go to him.” Her hand pressed against his chest; it hit him suddenly that she was here. The next breath he took was heavy with that knowledge. She mirrored it, eyes widening. There was a cut on her lip. He focused on that as she suddenly lunged forward and threw her arms around him, dragging him in close. Hearts thumping together. The world fell away and left just this: this moment, this woman, his arms warming around her and his chest heaving in one great expulsion as he released that breath.

Then, he shoved it away. The looming, disorienting happiness. The suffocating panic about his magic. The shock. The love. Shoved it all away and tucked it back in the box in the back of his memories labelled Lauren Reynolds is dead despite her having been alive for a long time; because he had to compartmentalize, he was still working. Still needed.

It wasn’t over.

Her face shifted to uncertain and he knew his had gone blank. Expressionless. He dropped his arms.

“I need to see my partner,” he said, and tugged himself out of her embrace to limp to the doorway, unaided by arm or cane. “We need to move quickly, or the cell will go underground. We know where the centre is now.”

He turned his back on her and walked away because he didn’t know how to do this with her. She wasn’t a part of this, this new life. Numair and Romain and the birds and the destruction of his self. He didn’t know how to integrate the two without destroying both.

But she followed.

 


 

Declan was out cold, curled in a half-ball along Romain’s leg with his arm thrown over the man’s lap. Reid could see the flaky trail of dried blood on his face where Emily had drawn the sleep rune. They weren’t in the room where Declan had done it, they’d been moved to a room less macabre, but Reid knew that blood wasn’t his. Knew it by the angle, the spatter pattern, the white-edged look to Romain’s eyes when he looked down at the boy with half-unease, half agonising fondness.

There was something else on Romain’s lap when Reid walked over to him. Limped. Still limping. But by choice now. He had no idea where his cane was, and he refused to be beholden to it anymore.

A bundle of material. From Reid’s shoulder, Gambit kree-kre’d softly.

Romain looked up when he heard the uneven tread of Reid’s approach. His eyes landed on his bird first, face crumpling with relief. “You’re alive,” he murmured, his voice cracked, and Reid couldn’t tell if he was talking to Gambit or Reid himself. In reply, Gambit squalled and leapt, talons leaving bloody furrows on Reid’s shoulders as the bird flapped down to his trainer.

Reid watched as Romain greeted his bird mournfully. The bundle lay accusingly in his arms. Agile fingers threaded through Gambit’s feathers, petting, stroking, checking for injury, all at once. Paused over the tattered burns on his wings and chest. The tearing along his primaries. Whispered something in French to him that Reid didn’t understand, but sounded like an apology, and Reid understood that; he’d once stood over the body of a cat and whispered much the same. How our friends suffer for their inclusion in our lives.

And, only once he was assured of his bird’s survival, did Romain turn his attention to Reid. There was noise around them, so much noise. People talking. Shouting. Prisoners being taken, the rat-ta-ta-ta of distant automatic gunfire. The sound of runes being blasted apart, or others being rebuilt. But this small corner of the room was muted with everything they hadn’t said to each other.

“Perhaps I was hasty in destroying the link,” Romain said finally, resting his hand on Gambit’s chest and studying Reid intently. Gambit lowered his beak and rubbed it gently against his fingers, trying to encourage him to scratch the tuft of feathers between his eyes, his favourite spot. And still, Revenir was dead. Reid swallowed. “Are you able to continue? We have work still…” He trailed off. Someone approached behind Reid, and he would have known her by her scent alone, without the remembered tread of her footsteps.

“Agent Enguerrand,” she greeted him with a curt nod, stepping past Reid without a word to crouch next to Declan. “Has the healer been to see your head wound yet?”

“Is nothing,” Romain said stiffly, and just like that, he was the man Reid had met all those months ago in Carrick’s office. Standoffish, rude. Abrupt. “I am fine. Has the building been locked down? Communications halted? It would be stupid of your team to have blundered in here and destroyed everything I have been working towards. Utterly imbecilic.”

Emily quirked an eyebrow and glanced to Reid. He looked away. Muddled inside, his emotions a mess. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling and there wasn’t time to work it out.

There was a prickle of unease on his neck, a musky scent, and Reid turned his head to find the fox shift an arm’s length away, studying him with grey-green eyes and a barely curled lip. Reid hadn’t even heard him approach.

Carrick, however, wasn’t so subtle. When he strode towards them, they all knew it. “Reid, Enguerrand, glad to see you alive,” he said, eyes darting from one to the other. “I was starting to doubt it. Are you both still able to work? We’ve managed to silence this place, but we have to move quickly if we’re to take advantage of that. Nil communications from here to their central locale will cause suspicion within twelve hours. By twenty hours, we’ll have lost them all for sure.”

“We can work,” Romain said, struggling up and ignoring the blood that caked his curls grossly to one side of his skull. “Reid?”

Reid nodded. Emily bit at the scab on her lip, but said nothing, hands still pressed against Declan’s chest and forehead.

“Good,” Carrick finished, glancing about as weary soldiers began to filter in, bringing either their injured allies or the captive enemies. “We’ve managed to gain access to their offices. We’re still working on getting to the slaves underground—Prentiss, we may need your runic expertise. They’re tricky. Hotch will take you down there while Enguerrand and Reid come with me to the offices. There’s enough coded information contained within there to keep us deciphering until Christmas—it would take a computer to work through it all.”

“I guess it’s lucky we have one then,” Romain said, standing next to Reid with their shoulders bumping together. “Come on, darkling. Perhaps you’ll finally earn your keep.”

Emily’s look of disgust at the casual slur would have almost been amusing, if it hadn’t sunk something cold and sick into Reid’s gut. He wasn’t even sure the slur was still valid.

When he reached for his magic, there was still nothing. And he felt… nothing.

 


 

“Agents.” Carrick sounded odd. Almost emotive. They paused on the threshold and turned back to him, Reid looking down at the heavily bandaged hael hound by the field agent’s side. Not a field agent, Reid thought, narrowing his eyes. No field agent would be here with this many men at his beck and call, no matter how he’d introduced himself to them. “Wait.”

Romain spoke first. “You lied to us,” he said simply, folding his arms. Gambit wasn’t there. He waited below, standing guard over the body of his partner until such a time as they were able to lay her to rest as she deserved. “Chief Supervisor?”

Carrick smiled thinly. “It suited me for you to believe I was close in rank with you,” he said, eyeing Reid. “A bond of trust seemed easier to establish that way.”

“I’ve never trusted you,” Reid replied quietly, “and Romain doesn’t trust anyone.”

He actually laughed. Carrick laughed, a short barking noise, and his eyes wrinkled very slightly at the corners. Actual amusement. “Is that so? I thought that. It was part of my reservations about sending you two together, Dr. Reid. I know enough of Aaron Hotchner to know that he encourages, quite frankly, almost obscene levels of intimacy between his team members. I was under the belief that you would require coddling in order to keep your sanity within this operation… I was apparently wrong. On both counts. I also believed you, Romain, would prove the undoing of the whole thing with your absolute bull-headed desire to do everything alone. And, as it turned out, what almost brought this operation down were my assumptions. This is my apology, for what it’s worth.” The amusement was gone, replaced with fatigue and grief.

“Paget is dead, isn’t she?” Reid asked in that moment, looking down once more at the hael hound. He looked… familiar. Not just a hael hound. “Nergüi?”

“Garmr,” Carrick corrected. “I did say you wouldn’t be alone. He was my safeguard. Hael hounds are woefully underestimated, even by you, Dr. Reid. But yes, I’m afraid Paget fell to assailants unknown… although we do suspect a lycanthrope was involved. We were not prepared for that eventuality.”

Reid looked down at the hael hound, feeling almost foolish. “I’m sorry for Kökelun,” he said, and he meant it. The guilt was raw. “Even if she was a means to an end, her death was a tragedy. I should have done better by her…”

The dog lowered his blocky head. “He says she was a slaver and your guilt is misplaced,” Carrick said bluntly, wincing. Romain made a noise in his throat, irritated, looking to the doorway of the office. “He also says that the fault lies with him. The working you placed upon her was weakened by the unintentionality of it. He could have undone it. If it had of been purposeful, he would not have been able to do so. Take what you may from that.”

“We’ve talked enough,” Romain said abruptly. “We need to keep moving.” Reid nodded and slipped past him, through the door he held open.

“I am sorry for Revenir, Agent Enguerrand,” Carrick called after them. “I truly am.”

Romain paused. “As am I,” he said, and shut the door.

 


 

His magic might not be working, but his brain was working just fine. They gave him a sheaf of coded paper thicker than his arm, and it took him an hour to skim through and decode just enough to work out what was relevant. Another two and he had every location.

Fifteen minutes more, and he had a plan.

“We need to go to Athens,” he announced, limping into the room they’d set up as a rudimentary command with his notes in one hand and Romain following silently. “And fast. Where are you detaining Ian Doyle?” Emily wasn’t there. Despite not consciously looking for her, Reid was intimately aware of her absence. Had been all night, even when he’d been hyper-focused on his work. He’d come too far without her to be able to put her out of his mind now. She’s helping the captives, he thought distantly. They’re getting them ready to transport to safety. Romain found out while you were busy, remember? His mouth was moving still while his mind continued worrying over her like a terrier with a rat. “It will take four hours from Dubai to Athens, and we have less than eight before they start getting suspicious—and this plan will rely on them not being suspicious.”

“What are you thinking?” Hotch asked, taking the papers and skimming them. Reid let him. He knew it all anyway. “You have an address, yes, but little else…”

“I have a seemingly unrelated utilities invoice,” Reid said, mouth twitching. “From a rough calculation of water and electrical usage, I can gauge how many people are using the facilities. Considering that number comes up to a range within the three-hundreds, I also have to factor in how many of those are captives. They’re bound, and likely outnumber the guards. If we’re pessimistic, we can say we’re up against one-hundred and fifty hostiles. I doubt it though.”

“Doubt isn’t overly reassuring when that number could be one-hundred humans or one-hundred mages,” Cruz pointed out. “How does Doyle factor into this?”

Reid rolled his shoulders, sensing Romain stepping up behind him. Romain knew his plan, and—reluctantly—supported it. Hotch wasn’t going to just be reluctant about his dislike of it. And Emily…

“They’re not going to let a single one of us walk in there,” he said quietly, and every eye in the room was on him. “And we need at least one person on the inside to allow an invading force access. The runes within this building are rudimentary at best; the Middle East is renowned for their incantations and song spelling. Not runes. If you want the best rune-mages in the world, you go to Greece. They’ll have the best, and the best can only be taken down from the inside.”

“So we send Agent Prentiss—” Enguerrand began, but he was cut off by Emily striding in, her cheeks flushed with exertion and eyes bright with anger. Whatever she’d seen in the subterranean levels, it had infuriated her.

“Won’t work,” she said, voice clipped. “I was trained in Athens. Every rune mage is recognisable by their runic stylings. It would take one short call to my university and they’d have my name, my rank, my affinity. Everything. And if they’ve had any whispers of the CIA being involved, which they likely will have by now with Reid and Enguerrand being captured, any American will be immediately under suspicion.”

“Okay,” Hotch said, and Reid saw everyone immediately turn to him, ready to let him take command. It was a familiar, comforting notion for Reid to do the same. Let Hotch deal with it, just like old times. Hotch wouldn’t put any of them in danger. He wouldn’t send Reid into an operation he was vastly underqualified for, alone and heartbroken. In that moment, Reid sorely missed Hotch, despite him being mere feet away. “We travel to Athens. En-route, Agent Prentiss and I will correspond with the Hellenic Police and the Magisterium—we’ll need far more manpower than we have currently. Through them, we’ll be able to organize someone to breach—”

“No.” Reid’s voice was blunt and empty, and he saw people twitch at the roughness to it. No backing down now. He met Hotch’s gaze, and continued, “We don’t need to arrange anyone to breach the facility. We already have the men to do it. Three of them.”

Hotch examined him carefully. The silence between them lengthened, thickened, and Reid knew that it signified everything that had changed irrevocably between them. There was no going back to the Reid of old, the Reid who could happily stand below his commanding officer and let them make the decisions for him. That Reid had died five months ago; when he’d been forced to survive on his own wits, and succeeded.

“Not a chance,” Emily whispered, the words carrying despite her low tone. “Not a fucking chance…”

Carrick broke it. “You’ll be one of them,” he said, studying Reid. “I assume you have reasoning behind this decision, Agent Reid.”

There was no going back. He’d stepped up now. Time to serve up himself as bait, and put his life in the hands of a madman. “They want demons,” he said, and ignored Hotch’s quiet ah of realization. “They’d be very interested in an endling… the last of his kind. I’m not going in there as a free man. I’m going in there as a bargaining chip… Ian Doyle’s bargaining chip.”

 


 

There was an hour before they left on the transport Cruz arranged. An hour and one more duty left. Hotch and Emily came with them and the drive was silent. Reid sat in the back with Emily, and the space between them a yawning divide that neither knew how to breach. In it was the months they’d been apart, her death, Sergio’s death, this final mission. And it would be the final mission. Not because Reid expected to die; magic or not magic, he intended upon walking out of this hellhole and leave it burning behind him. They’d fought too hard for him to give up now.

It would be the final mission because he was tired, bone-achingly tired. He wanted to go home, wherever that was. Go home and rest for the longest time. Begin again. Something slower. Something less. He was changed too much now to ever go back to the BAU, or the Bureau.

There was a breaking point. Every law enforcement officer knew about it. A point where instead of adrenaline pushing them forward, it was a cold, liquid fear. A point when their hands began to shake on their guns and their minds whirled around the what ifs instead of the must do. A point when the shadows grew deeper, the dangers more vivid. There wasn’t often a coming back from that breaking point, and Reid had hurtled over it hours ago; when he’d believed another partner gone. Too much. Just… too much.

“Here,” Romain said suddenly. Gambit shifted from his awkward huddle in the foot-well between Reid’s legs. Hotch pulled the car up, the desert open and empty around them, and Romain exited without a word, leaving them all behind.

“Thank you,” Reid said softly, and followed.

The desert bit into them. Hot wind and baking ground and sand that shifted under their boots. They walked. The car was a smudge behind them. The air wavered. Distantly, Reid could still scent the storm. Romain was heading towards a flat rock, open to the elements.

Every Animalia had their own funeral rites. As much as it felt wrong to both of them, Revenir would return to the world in much the same way as any other harrier, wild or otherwise. Romain laid her exposed on the rock, the thin form fragile and impossibly dwarfed by the desert around them, and stepped away from her for the last time.

“This feels like a betrayal,” he said suddenly, tilting his head away, and Reid looked down so he didn’t see the tears. “Leaving her.”

“Not to her,” Reid said, swallowing. “Never to her. No matter how far you’ve been apart in the past, you’ve never left her behind. And you’re not now.” In his pocket, the bell was cool. He touched it, rolled it between his fingers, and then held it out to Romain. “Here.”

Romain turned to look, his eyes painfully bright and mouthed curled unhappily. He stared. Shook his head and took a shuddering breath. “No. Keep it. For now. Until the job is done.”

Reid nodded gently, and they began to walk away. Every step hurt, and Reid was sure it was almost more than Romain could bear. Because Reid had been trying to be comforting and in a way, he believed what he’d said, but he was also wrong. No matter how far Romain went now, Revenir would never follow. Just the memory of her. There was no changing that.

“Spencer.” Romain’s voice was sharp, no trace of the grief. “Look at me. There is something you’re not telling them. Some aspect of this plan you are wary about. What is it?”

He wouldn’t have told Hotch, couldn’t bear to show this weakness to him when he needed the man to believe him strong. Couldn’t tell Emily because she’d never risk him if she knew. Couldn’t tell Carrick, because Reid was only the sum of his abilities to the man. His mind and his training were irrelevant to the CIA in a way they never had been to the FBI, thanks to Gideon.

But he could tell Romain.

“They did try to bind me,” he admitted. “They almost succeeded.”

Romain studied him. “You should be dead.”

He nodded, face and lips stinging from the sun and the wind. Ahead, the car loomed. Time was running out. “I almost was. It triggered. I… altered it. Turned it back on itself.”

“That’s an impressive piece of magic. I’m not overly surprised you managed it.” Romain huffed a laugh, without amusement. “I bet it came with a cost. Are you hurt? Hiding that you’re hurt?” His eyes narrowed. “Hungry?”

“No, I’m…” Reid trailed off. Tried to start again. Coughed. “Romain. My magic. It’s… I crippled it. It’s gone.”

Romain’s silence said it all. Eyes wide, mouth white with what could be fear but just as likely anger, and Reid wondered how much of Revenir’s power remained within him. “You should be dead,” he said finally, and reached out as though to brush his fingers against Reid’s front. Hesitated. Wavered. “You’re a demon. A demon can’t survive without magic.”

Reid shrugged. Stepped forward so those fingers tapped his chest, felt his heartbeat. He heard the car door open behind them. Hotch or Emily, worried about how long they were taking. “I’m half human,” he whispered, hearing the sand crunch under the footfalls approaching. “Don’t tell them. If they know, they’ll pull me from the mission. They’ll doubt me.”

It was a low blow. But it worked.

“Okay,” Romain replied finally, words almost stolen by the wind. “I trust you. But if you fuck this up, I’ll kill you myself. Don’t make me have to face that terrifying girlfriend of yours and tell her I knew what you’d done, understand?”

Reid grinned shakily, turning to face the quizzical looking Emily. “Ouais.

A dark chuckle sounded from the other man. “Your accent is atrocious.”

One last lie.

 


 

“No, no, I don’t want to go.” Declan was sobbing. Great hiccups shook his slender frame as he wrapped his arms around Spencer’s shoulders and hung on grimly. Nearby, the trucks to take them to the airfield and off to Israel rumbled, a line of shell-shocked demons trailing around it, many rubbing their newly bared arms. “Don’t send me away. Please, please, please; I can help. I have helped. Spence, please, don’t, I don’t want to leave!”

Struggling to wrestle the sticky hands away from around his neck was harder than expected. Kid had a damn grip. “Come on, Declan,” Reid pleaded, feeling sick and guilty nonetheless. “You have to go. You’re not going to be alone—my friend, JJ, she’ll be waiting for you when you land. She’ll help you. You can’t stay with us.”

Someone grabbed Declan by the waist, hoisting him away with a startled cry from the boy, who kicked out furiously. “None of that,” Romain growled, standing him in front of him and cupping his chin to drag the teary gaze up to meet his. On his shoulder, Gambit peered down. “Ca suffit maintenant! J’en ai assez.”

Declan sniffed wetly. “I don’t know what that means,” he said, trying to drop his gaze, but Romain yanked it back up.

“It means I’ve had enough, Declan,” Romain said, and knelt. “Would you rather we stay—”

“Yes!”

“—despite that meaning that there are many children, just like you, who will remain in captivity? Would you have us leave them there to suffer as you did?”

Declan sniffed again, but said nothing, eyes shifting uncertainly from Romain and back to Reid. “But you’ll come back for me, right?” he asked finally, slim body shaking like a leaf. Reid stepped forward, holding his arms out and hugging him close when he hurtled into his embrace. “Please come back…”

“We’re going to come back,” Emily said, walking over from where she’d be quietly observing them from the building’s interior. “We’re going to come get you, Declan, we absolutely promise. You stick close to JJ and we’ll find you. Do you trust us?”

He took a long deep breath, and the guilt within Reid was replaced with pride as the boy tilted his chin back, wiped his eyes with the back of one grubby hand, and said firmly, “Okay. I trust you.”

“And no following this time,” Romain instructed, pushing him gently towards the truck. There was a long beat as the boy slowly walked away. “Aii. Look how forlorn he walks…”

“He has to go, agent,” Emily said, her eyes on Reid. He flushed and looked down at his feet, still unsure of himself around this new, touchier Emily. “He’s not safe with us. Not until this is over.”

Romain reached a hand up to Gambit, rifling his feathers, face inscrutable. “Fuck it,” he muttered suddenly. “Declan! Boy!” And he strode past without a look at them, ignoring both of their startled queries. Crouching next to Declan once more, the two talked in low voices, Gambit half spreading his wings to keep his perch on Romain’s padded shoulders, talons gripping the leather.

“What is he doing?” Emily asked, sidling up beside Reid and cocking her head curiously. “You make the oddest friends, Spence.”

He chuckled, the sound thin at first but strengthening. In front of them, Romain was… taking off his jacket? Gambit hopped to the ground, clacking his beak crankily, and Declan was wide-eyed as Romain slid the heavy jacket around his shoulders, rolling the stiff sleeves with difficulty until the tips of his fingers poked out.

“Oh,” Reid said, realizing, and Emily laughed at the sight of the thin eight-year-old practically smothered in the great jacket, the heavy leather hanging down around his knees. As they watched, Declan scooped up Gambit with difficulty, the bird clinging onto his front, eyes on Romain. “He’s making sure Declan isn’t alone…”

Declan walked away, Gambit peering curiously over his shoulder at the lonely mage.

“You okay?” Reid asked, and Emily’s fingers were brushing his wrist, rough where they used to be soft. Wrapping around his palm. He squeezed back. Romain shrugged, slinking past them.

“We all make sacrifices,” he muttered, and left them standing together.

 


 

They didn’t see much of Greece before they were thrown into the chaos of a multinational operation. The task-force splintered as they exited the hangar their military aircraft had deployed them from and found themselves lost in the ebb and flow of the Hellenic police forces. There was work to be done before any of them would be allowed within spitting distance of the central cell. Notably, the one thing the Americans lacked that the Greeks did not.

“Are we to protectively rune the demon as well?” one of the runic magi asked, curling her lip as she looked towards the room where Doyle was being held, oddly subservient about this entire plan. She didn’t look twice towards Reid, his wings glamoured under the coat Romain had given him so long ago, retrieved from the abandoned rental car before they’d left Dubai.

“I’ll do it,” Emily stated, watching another magus like a hawk as the man carefully painted a spiralling whorl of red and orange around Clyde’s bicep. Clyde smiled lazily, winking at her. “I don’t like this. You’re only a shifter. If shit goes down in there, all you have is a gun and—”

“My charm, my shift, and my years and years of experience in the field, darling,” Clyde drawled, and Reid twitched. Ridiculously. “More years than you. Do stop with the worrying. Go fluster over him; I can tell you’re barely restraining yourself.” He gestured towards Reid, and Emily turned to him, face expressionless.

Reid tried to smile but it didn’t work, the muscles in his face well aware of the lie and refusing to tell it. “It has to be him, Em,” he said finally, twining his fingers together nervously as one of the other mages looked up and saw him, waving him towards them. “They won’t trust an American, and they may have Romain’s description.” Am I comfortable with them spelling me? he wondered, and knew immediately the answer was a resounding no. But to ask Em… she’d realize there was something wrong with his magic. It would involve touch. Proximity. He missed her too much for that. She might be here, alongside him, just like she had been for the four-hour flight across the Mediterranean, but neither of them were fooling themselves that that meant anything had changed. They were still alienated. If he allowed it?

He wouldn’t be able to walk away from it.

The mage touched his arm. He wasn’t ready for it, jerking away with a growl that gave away his species as blatantly as if he’d thrown his wings outward. Her breath caught, eyes widening, and a quiet settled over the busy room. “Sorry,” he croaked, and she wavered back warily. “Startled me. It’s fine. Just… let me—”

“Leave him,” Emily said abruptly, standing. Clyde looked smug. “Reid, come on. I’ll write yours.”

Heart plummeting into his shoes and rocketing as it went, Reid wasn’t sure if it was horror or excitement that pushed him promptly towards her, following her as faithfully as if nothing had changed between them. Followed her out of the room, ignoring Romain’s frown and the magi’s protest, up the hall, into a small bathroom where she locked the door and waved her hand towards the low counter with ceramic basins set within. “Shirt off and get your ass on there.”

Reid obeyed, folding his shirt and coat neatly and sliding onto the counter with his wings against the mirrors, arms wrapped self-consciously around the differences he knew his body wore. Slimmer, wirier; he was firm in places where before he’d just been thin, and there was very little left of his form that was unnecessary. Keeping active in the peaceful moments between driving had been one of the few ways he could disconnect, reassure himself that he was alive and would remain that way.

Turning from where she was rifling through her bag, her eyes raked him, blank. Stepped forward, brush in one hand and paint in the other, and splayed her hand against his belly, coaxing him back until he was straight against the mirrors with his shoulders stiff. Still, she said nothing, and the brush dipped into the ink. It was warm when it touched his skin. Warm with her magic and her breath as she hunched over to examine it closely. Frowning. He tensed, waited. She’d notice eventually.

“They’ll be invisible once they set,” she said, unnecessarily because he knew that, but he also knew she was just trying to break the silence. “This one is a physical shield. It’s strong enough to reflect most blows, but a bullet or a spell will shatter it.” She moved quickly. Once done with that one, she moved up his chest, testing his skin with her fingers until she found the point where his heart beat strongly. If he looked down, his nose would almost brush her hair, scenting harsh soap and chemicals and, underneath, the faintest sweetest hint of her. “This one will pair with one on me,” she murmured. “It’s temporary. Does essentially what our credentials used to; if you’re hurt, it will respond and alert me.”

Another to make him appear meek. Clyde and Doyle would have a similar one with different results; theirs would make them seem trustworthy. They weren’t easy runes. Impressions were a powerful thing to influence. One more behind his ear; an increase in his sensitivity to stimuli. He winced as she applied it and sounds sharpened, scents strengthened, his eyes watering as they adjusted to the detailing in the tiles across the room. Her breath brushed his throat as she worked, her shoulder inches from his chest, and he breathed her in and mourned her keenly.

It was reckless. It was inevitable.

He broke first.

“I miss you so much,” he whispered, and she froze. “I looked for you. Never stopped looking. Can’t… can’t believe you’re here.”

“Spence,” she murmured in reply, turning her head away. He stared ahead, ignoring the quiver of the brush against the side of his throat. She swallowed, using her thumb to wipe ink away from where she’d slipped, breathing heavily. “Shh. Just. I can’t. Not yet. Not when I’m about to send you back in there with just… runes. Protecting you. Runes and a fox and…”

Doyle.

“Your runes,” he said, his voice stronger now he had a purpose. “I couldn’t be more protected than if you were sending the entire FBI in at my back, love.”

Love. It hovered between them. He heard her teeth click as she snapped her mouth shut, her breath whistling through a tightened jaw. Where her hand was braced against his shoulder, her fingers tightened.

“And if they try to bind you?” she asked finally. Brushed his mind, tracing the shield that still remained, the one they’d built. Slipped through easily. He didn’t think to stop her.

And she knew instantly.

“What the fuck?” she snapped, bolting upright and staring at him, eyes blazing. “Reid, what the fuck. Why are you… where are… you?”

He blinked. Swallowed. Coughed. “I… it was going to kill me. I couldn’t let it.”

Her eyes were wide, chest heaving ragged breaths that pushed them apart. “It attacked your magic? Do you have anything left?”

The slow shake of his head felt final. “I don’t think so,” he admitted, reaching for the nothing that remained. “Not yet. It might… I may have just drained it. It’s possible. It didn’t attack my magic; it attacked me. I didn’t want to die, Em. Not when you were coming for me. Not when I have so much left to do. I gave it my magic.” His mouth quirked slightly, finding the smile that had evaded him earlier. “I don’t even regret it that much. It was… part of it was destroying me.”

She winced and bit at the scab on her lip, eyes sliding away. Suspicious. Guilty. Evasive. Reid narrowed his eyes and examined her, trying to read on her face what she was trying to hide.

“What?” he asked, needing to know. “What aren’t you saying?”

“There has to be something left,” she said, ignoring him. Dropping her brush with a clatter, she slipped a hand into her shirt, over her shoulder. Pressing two fingers to the anti-compulsion rune she had there. “Come here. Let me see you.” Jerking away, he closed his eyes. No! Vivid in his mind, the blank acceptance on Kökelun’s face when he’d deliberately compelled her, despite what Garmr said. “Reid. Please. I’m asking you to do it. I trust you. If… if you wanted, you could overcome both these runes in an instant. They’re no protection against you. And you ne… never have.”

Liar.

He opened his eyes and reluctantly turned his gaze to meet hers, feeling nothing. Not the dark coil of the seductive powers that ensured the survival of his species. Not the hunger. Just fear and unease.

“You just lied to me,” he said, meeting her gaze steadily. Dark eyes that were darker than they should be, and inches from his. Her mouth close enough he could taste the coffee on her breath. His heart twisted. Her pupils were wide. Arousal. It’s not gone. You’re not free of it. You were a fool to think you were. “What happened in Dubai, Emily? Before I woke up?”

What did I do?

She studied him, expression clear despite the pinch of want around her eyes and the quickening of her pulse. Reaching for his power to reign it back, he found nothing to pull back. No idea how to stop it. “You protected yourself,” she answered, and leaned closer. He twitched away, but not quick enough, and their mouths met. Careful. Hesitant. A brush of contact. “You did what I asked. You stayed alive.” His body burned with it, gasping. Hand around her back, pulling her closer. Kissed her again, deep and soft and thrilling, and felt her melt into his body, relaxing into his grip.

And he turned his head away, panting. Needing to stop this.

“Spence,” she said, muffled into his bare shoulder, and he shuddered. “Spence. You’re not compelling me, idiot. It’s been almost nine months. I… I fucking missed you, okay? Stop freaking out and take your pants off.”

Wait.

What?

“What?” he repeated blankly, and now he pulled back to look at her. “Uh. I. I don’t think that’s a… good idea. I mean. It might trigger my magic but. We don’t really have…” Her smile was back, vivid over her swollen lips, and he ducked forward and, stupidly, kissed her again. Couldn’t help it. She was here.

Shit.

She was here.

They were together again.

“Not sex,” her mouth said with a huff of almost-laughter, and her eyes said yet. “You sold yourself to the CIA to come find me. Do you really think I have any faith in you being smart and pulling yourself from this operation with no magical reserves to call upon?”

He shook his head because he hadn’t been smart for a long time now; why start now? Grief appeared to make him stupid. Undoing his jeans, he slid from the counter, boots hitting the tiles. Pushed them slowly down thin hips. Emily waited, did the same, stopping when her hip was bared and reached for his.

And he knew what she was doing.

“If my magic is gone, it won’t take,” he said, and his blood was thrumming with the heat of this moment. “You can’t take a magicless being as a familiar.” Emily pressed against him from hip to sternum, mouth against his jaw and eyes open. Fingers digging into his hip. He placed his against hers, tracing his pelvic bone, swallowing. It felt impossible that this had been gone. Like picking up exactly where they’d left off with no in-between. There was no distance left between them because she was here, right here, and his heart ached.

“Let’s find out, then,” she whispered, and kissed him again. A hungry, hurting kiss that turned fierce. Nipped at his lip. He tasted copper and wasn’t sure if it was his or hers. He wondered, momentarily, how she planned on completing the recital with their mouths engaged. “You first,” she sent to his mind, in a rush of heartbreak and want, and he moaned into her with the unexpected touch of it and felt his mind and body both respond in unison.

“Within our lives, for this time, I choose to walk with you as companion,” he said once more, and swore it was the final time. Part of him was terrified it wouldn’t take. Terrified that they couldn’t fix what Doyle had broken.

But they did.

“As lover and heart and soul, and so much more,” Emily promised as the connection renewed, just as strong as ever, and Reid echoed the words back at her. The runes on their hips; the same but slightly altered.

“See this,” Reid sent, curling around her mind as though he’d never left, his hand tracing her hip and ignoring how she wriggled against him. Traced the parts of the rune that weren’t the same. It didn’t say half anymore. It didn’t say anything in any language the world knew. But he knew what it meant. “It means I’m not alone… it means that you’ve always been with me.”

He knew exactly what it meant, when paired with the one on her hip.

Whole.

Chapter Text

It felt obscene, saying goodbye to these people so soon after finding them. It hurt. And it wasn’t just him being an aggressively affectionate mess like it usually was; he didn’t need to be a profiler to tell it was hurting them too.

“Well, well, Dr. Reid. What fun we shall have on this little adventure, together. Almost like… allies.” Doyle sneered and, until now, they’d kept them apart and Reid suddenly understood why. They’d marched him out from the room he was contained in, iron shackles and three mages on his back, and Reid saw his eyes, his smile, and then red. Fury. Pure unconditional fury, and if he had his magic, he would have ended this right then and never regretted one moment of it. Only Emily knew the danger. She took his hand and said nothing, and he breathed slowly and turned away from their shared nightmare and the memory of the snap of flames.

“Oh, look,” Doyle said in a whisper that still managed to carry and turn heads in the crowded station towards them. “He’s angry. Such a demon trait. Possessive… you don’t like sharing the spotlight, do you, Dr. Reid? Don’t like that she’s watching me just as much as you…”

Reid shuddered.

“I’ll shoot him myself if it will help,” Emily sent, her grip tightening. “He is nothing to us.”

A lie, maybe. He was something to them for sure. A wedge between them, and the last nine months and the tree with her name on it proved that.

“Shut him up,” barked Hotch, a rare show of temper, and the mages muted Doyle’s voice with a flick of runes that glittered on the ground beneath him. “Reid… Spencer.” He took a breath, a loaded inhalation that made his unmarked vest rise and fall deeply. “Good luck. I have the utmost of faith in you.”

The hand gripping his squeezed once more then let go. A glance at her showed that her attention was distracted, dark eyes tracking Romain as he sidled uneasily into the group of profilers, sorely out of place. “A word, Dr. Reid,” he murmured. Reid nodded, following, feeling eyes locked on his back. Romain kept going without a pause, slipping easily through the throngs of armed and bristling officers, until they found a space by the wall where they could angle themselves to have some privacy. And still, he could feel Emily’s wary gaze. “I have this. Take it.”

Reid looked down at Romain’s steady hands. Emily’s knife glinted uneasily in the light, and his stomach lurched at the proximity of the iron blade. “I can’t touch that,” he replied, wincing away. “It’s unnecessary. Doyle—”

“Will betray you as soon as it suits him. You aren’t stupid. You know this.” Romain’s mouth thinned, his eyes dark. “You will be unarmed, more unarmed than any of them—”

“I’m rebound to Emily.” Silence followed this proclamation. “I have access to her abilities. That gives me some… advantage.” Reid grinned shakily, an expression the other man failed to return. “Aw, Romain, are you worried about me?”

“Yes,” Romain replied bluntly, and Reid was floored. “This plan is absolutely going to go wrong; don’t you understand?”

Reid did.

“I know,” he admitted. “But it’s our only option. Keep the knife… when I come out of there, I’ll swap you. That knife for your bell. Deal?”

“That’s disgustingly symbolic.” Romain pulled a face, slipping the knife into a roughly fitted leather holster he’d used to keep his own knife in and slinging it back onto his belt. “Fine. Don’t die, darkling. I’ll be extremely displeased if you do.” And he vanished back into the crowd, working his way towards Carrick.

Emily appeared like a wraith, clearly having been hovering over-protectively nearby. Probably listening. “I don’t know if I like him or not,” she began, right as the call came to move, Cruz shouting for Reid. “Oh. Guess we’re out of time.”

He touched her wrist, a gentle promise that they weren’t; they had all the time in the world left when this was over. Throat tight and chest tighter, he couldn’t find the words to soothe her worries. Luckily, she’d always been proficient in speaking for him when he couldn’t.

“I’ll be right behind you,” she promised, tipping her chin towards him and smiling.

He smiled back and found his voice. “I know.”

 


 

They’d taken the shackles from Doyle and put them on Reid. Despite knowing they were temporary—and despite knowing he’d worn bindings, voluntarily, for the past six months that were ten times worse than these could ever be—the weight of them felt like it would drag him to his knees.

They were searched at the gate. Doyle had two gun barrels shoved against his head; Clyde was forced to his knees. Reid had a demon trap around his feet before he even had time to take a breath of the rose-scented gardens the gate opened onto. A statehouse. Gorgeous architecture, all gilded railings and marble expanses surrounded by expansive lawns.

He hated it instantly.

Clyde was silent. Watchful. Bared his teeth when the guards let the dog they had leashed at their side too close to his face, jaws snapping, but did little else. They’d discussed this. Doyle was to appear to be in charge.

And Doyle was revelling in that. “Oh, I wouldn’t do that, laddies,” he said with a wide grin, as the mages moved to demon trap him. “I’ve got something that your top cats are going to want a look at. I think we can do business, don’t you? Put all this nastiness behind us?” Reid didn’t bother hiding the shake to his hands or the sweat sticking his clothes to his skin. They’d assume it was fear, and they’d be right, mostly. It was fear. Just not of them.

This was the point where if the operation was going to go horribly wrong, it would.

“Who is this?”  they asked in Greek, kicking at Clyde.

Doyle answered without a hint of interest in his tone, “Nothing important. You have your dogs, I have mine.”

“And this? Speak, demon, scum!” The guns rapped against Reid. Unlike when they aimed them at Clyde, their fingers traced the triggers. Oh, they despised him. He and Doyle both. Reid bared his teeth and snarled at them, letting them see his fangs, the hate he returned. Letting them see he was a caged animal. Allowing them to let their guard down around the smooth talking Doyle. The better of two evils, and perhaps a lucrative one. They eyed Reid, his wings, the suggestion of fangs and the way his hair whorled around the horns he normally carefully kept hidden, and he could see them trying to place his species.

“Congratulations, boys,” Doyle purred, beaming at Reid almost lovingly. “I’ve brought you the world’s last incubus. And it won’t even cost you that much to keep him. Just my son.”

A muffled discussion, wide eyes, the crackle of radios… and they were let in. Reid trudged down the path, his hands chained with Doyle walking side by side with slavers, and hoped to god they hadn’t just signed their death warrants.

 


 

“Incubus,” said the woman, walking to him and examining him with hungry interest. “You are sure?”

Reid stared her down. Everything he hated was hot in his mind, turning his expression inhuman and his eyes burning. Doyle’s hands on her, Sergio’s death, Gideon, Foyet, Foyet, Foyet, Doyle daring to love her… The growl was almost involuntary, and she cocked an eyebrow at it.

“Absolutely,” Doyle said, slouching in the plush chair they’d given him with his legs thrown outward, supremely unconcerned by the guards bristling with suspicion around them. “Trust me, love. Whatever you’re thinking, he’s up for it. Fuck him, breed him, whatever you want. Sell him, even. You’ll get a pretty fortune. Far more than any other of the sorry creatures you’ve got penned up down there.” He jerked his head towards the floor, and everyone in the room seemed at once to twitch with the knowledge. Reid could sense the security runes around them. Dimly muted, and he wouldn’t be able to do anything about them until they got the cuffs off him… but he hadn’t sensed the ones holding the slaves. By the flicker of Clyde’s face and the way he shifted on his feet, standing behind Doyle like a faithful guard, he hadn’t realized either.

“You are disgustingly observant,” the woman said, pursing her lips. “And here for a reason beyond bringing me this creature, evidently. No demon has ever walked in here quite so… willingly. There are few things that make people so brave. Or stupid.”

“Love,” Doyle said bluntly, and sat up straight. “Stop dicking around, you know why I’m here. You’ve got my son. I want him back. You can have the fuck-toy in return. He’s worth more than a multitude of my kind, and you know it.”

Clyde made a noise in his throat that was almost a laugh, and Reid scowled at them both. Not funny, he thought, and felt a whisper of something against his mind. Emily. Waiting for the cuffs to come off. Until then, he was deaf to her.

“And if I decide I want both of you?” she said with a hum, stepping closer to Reid without sparing Doyle another glance, eyes raking his face, his chest, his crotch. Almost flushing, Reid didn’t break his glare as she studied him like he was a prized horse she was interested in acquiring. Although, the temptation to open his mouth to show her his teeth was tantalizing, except he was pretty sure she was about ten minutes away from her requesting he did just that anyway.

“Greedy.” Doyle smirked. “And stupid, which I don’t think you are or you wouldn’t be standing pretty in this lovely little house of yours. I’d be mist before any of your mages could even think about tossing a demon trap up, and nothing you have here could stop me. You can shoot my friend here, he won’t mind… but I would have to avenge his death, which would be unfortunate for anyone in here who enjoys sleeping.”

“You’re very arrogant, demon.” She stepped into the demon trap. Reid fought the urge to step back, to press the backs of his heels against the rune holding him there and lean away from her. Fought it… barely. Instead, he continued chanting, continued staring her down, and didn’t move a muscle. Foyet’s scent, his voice, his touch, his cruelty… “And yet, you still give me no reason to believe that this is truly what you say it is.”

“Take the cuffs off him.” Doyle’s voice was coiling, evocative. A dark whisper. Reid twitched as she stepped closer. “I’m a generous man. Try before you buy. I have it on great authority that he’s exactly all his species is cracked up to be. My girlfriend swears by him.”

The bark of laughter that escaped her was harsh and sent sour breath coasting on Reid’s throat, barely warm against the sweat on his skin. “You are a beast. Filthy demon. Allowing your partner access to this.” Her nails tapped his chest, scraped up, caught his jaw. Yanked it sideways as she examined his throat, his mouth, eyes impassive.

“Well, you know. Sometimes I’m not there. Sometimes, she has to… settle. Base needs you know. A temporary arrangement. Once I have my son, I’ll return to her and you’ll keep that creature. See how well this works for me? I get my boy, you get a fortune in flesh, and she realizes that he’s merely a convenient cock and little else.” A flick of her hand and Clyde moved forward, unlocking the cuffs with ease, his palms clammy against Reid’s skin and a nerve under his eye twitching. Reid could see the same anger simmering there that he himself was cultivating. Doyle was still talking and every word about her was another needle under Reid’s skin, another reason for destruction. “—I mean, when given a choice, I’d probably veer towards the sex slave to satisfy my needs as well; at least he’s fantastic at it. But at the end of the day, she is mine.” And his eyes were on Reid, his intentions written all over his face. Reid wasn’t getting out of here alive, if he had his way.

Try it, Reid thought coolly. See how far you get.

The cuffs hit the ground and the woman shooed Clyde out of the way. “You,” she snapped, turning away from Reid and waving to a female guard. “Get over here. Test him.”

Clyde’s lips moved slightly, his hand twitching towards the invisible rune Reid knew he had on his arm. The panic rune. Reid shook his head, noting Doyle’s look of glee, and hoped to fucking god there was some semblance of his power left with him. Some remnant. Something. Otherwise, they were all hurtling towards an unfortunate end.

“I wouldn’t,” he hissed quietly at the guard as she approached. “I bite.”

“That’s a promising start,” the woman replied pertly. “Just touch him, Riane. Physical contact should be enough if he’s what he says he is.” The hand that slipped into his shirt was cold and dry. Pressed against his chest, nails biting into his skin. Reid closed his eyes, teeth grinding together, and tolerated it. Tolerated her wrapping her other arm around his back and pulling herself against him as he stood an immovable statue. “Disappointing,” the woman said distantly, through the buzzing in his ears, right as Emily slipped into his mind and said, The cuffs are off. What’s happening?

Lips against his and he gasped and snarled at the same time, trying to wrench away and feeling a gun slam into his spine from the other guard behind him. Eyes still closed, rigid at her hand on him, and furious at the invasiveness of it, Emily’s touch brought with it a surge of shock and power that he grasped angrily at.

And the guard gasped, softening into his body with a moan, her teeth catching his lip as she bit down hard enough to draw blood. “Oh shit,” she yelped, and Reid’s eyes snapped open, catching hers. “Oh, shit.” Her hand slipped down, pressed on the front of his jeans, and he wondered how far he could throw her.

Bitch, Emily breathed, a towering inferno of anger in his mind as she realized what was going on. We’re moving in. We’re coming now.

“That’s enough,” the woman snapped, and the guard slunk back, her pupils dilated and body shaking. “Well, Mr. Doyle. Looks like we may be doing business.”

Don’t, Reid sent back, letting out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, his lips burning. We’d do worse for less.

Alright, Emily said after a pause, still seething. But when I come in there, I’m kicking her in the cunt.

“Excellent,” Doyle announced, clapping his hands together. “Now, where is my son?”

 


 

Emily stayed with him during the slow descent into the depths of the building. Her touch was possessive, raw, needy, and he felt like he was vibrating with her anger. Their emotions weren’t muddled anymore, impossible to tell whose was whose; somehow, over the intervening months they’d been parted, they’d both changed too much to lose themselves in each other. But hers were furious, and he burned with them. The easy banter between Doyle and the woman hummed around them, but they ignored her. Clyde was calm, relaxed, his eyes scanning nothing and everything all at once.

And Reid worked. Emily worked with him. Under their feet, the building thrummed with runes that responded easily to the brush of their shoes on the marble, the tap of a finger against a wall when the guards were looking elsewhere. Emily coaxed them and teased them into her own designs. Like a lazily knitted rug, the complex tapestry of security work around them was being unravelled from the inside out.

It had never been designed for keeping people in.

They hadn’t put the cuffs back on him. They’d gone to. They’d gone to, and Doyle had brushed against them, still talking, and the lock had clicked shut. When Reid had looked down, the cuffs were dark against his skin. But weightless.

And Doyle had lowered his hand, oddly curled as though hiding something.

Illusion, Emily murmured. Watch him, Spence. He’s helping now but…

It’s okay, he’d soothed her, and she worried. How long until you can breach?

A terse quiet as she calculated. Then, Maybe another twenty minutes. We can’t do much until we know if there’s any kind of nastiness rigged up around the captives. They might be runed to kill if the facility is raided…

Reid swallowed and ducked his head, sensing someone glancing at him. The minutes grated painfully by. A door was opened for them as they reached the bottom of a stairway, and locked behind. Another one. Reid counted his steps carefully, and within him, Emily counted too. When they entered, she’d be coming straight for them. Another door. It opened, Reid stepped forward as the guard shoved him in the small of his back, Clyde walking ahead. Doyle was still chattering cheerfully, and Emily baulked and hissed, Stop! Demon traps—the whole room is laced with them!

Reid skidded, heels digging ineffectually against the slick marble as the butt of the gun slammed into his spine with a burst of white pain, refusing to budge.

“Ah,” Doyle said, stopping and peering past Reid into the apparently empty room. “This is unfortunate. A trap? Now, I’m not mad, just very, very disappo—argh!”

Reid turned with a hiss and found Doyle on his knees, blood streaming from a cut on his forehead. The woman stood above him, gun raised and aimed squarely at the back of his head.

“How did you sense the traps?” she asked Reid, and Reid froze. Her next word wasn’t a word at all, but a sharp sound that made Reid’s ears ring and the illusion of cuffs around his wrist melt away like nothing. “Trickery. Oh dear. I don’t do business with tricksters.”

Sorcerer, Emily gasped. Fuck!

“Time to go,” Doyle murmured, and vanished. Reid blinked. Behind him in the demon trapped room, Clyde swore. And the woman raised her hand, opened her mouth—

An invisible force punched into Reid, throwing him back into the demon trapped room and slamming the door between him and the sorcerer. He landed hard on his back, wheezing, wings screaming, and scrambled upright as Clyde rammed a bolt into place. The door bubbled.

It wouldn’t hold for long.

Doyle flickered into sight in front of Reid. “Saved your life,” he said with a wink, and peered around the room. “Well, this is a pretty pickle we’re in.”

Emily’s voice was gone, cut off by the demon trap as easily as if the door had slammed between their minds. The room was bare. Just the trapped walls, an empty desk and chair, a grate…

“The vent,” Reid snapped, pushing past Doyle and striding towards it.

“We’re bound here, genius, until that door gets opened. We’ll burn if we go through the vent.” Doyle sounded almost bored.

“We are,” Reid said, and turned to Clyde, who groaned. “You’re not.”

“Emily would shoot me if I left you here with him,” Clyde replied, baring his teeth in a fox-like grin at Doyle. The door began to groan as the metal within gave way.

“They’ll shoot you if you stay,” Reid said quietly, shoving his hands into his pocket to hide them shaking. His fingers brushed something cold on one side, something that dinged against his thumbnail… “We managed to loosen most of the runes. Enough that they can get in, but that won’t do you any good if you’re dead. And they’re not going to kill us until they realize they’re being raided—we’re far too valuable.”

Doyle sauntered past, digging his nails into the grating and wrenching it from the wall with a crunch, tossing it aside. “Go on, fox,” he coaxed. “Into your hole. I’ll look after Spence-y for you, I promise.”

Clyde cussed again, moving towards the hole as the door buckled inward. “Betray him and I’ll spend the rest of my life hunting you,” he warned Doyle, before slipping down into his fox shape and vanishing into the grate with a scrabble of claws on metal.

“Said the fox to the hound,” Doyle replied, staring at Reid with a crooked grin, and the door burst inward.

Spence, we’re in, we’re coming, where—

Emily’s voice was cut off as Doyle grabbed his hand, his palm oddly hot and dry against Reid’s skin. In his pocket, Reid reflexively closed his hand around Romain’s bell, feeling the bird mage’s attention turn irresolutely towards him, moving quickly.

“Time to fight, Spencer,” Doyle said, and the world turned black and collapsed inwards towards them.

 


 

Doyle was gone. Reid knew it in a heartbeat. He’d turned the world into suffocating blackness, plunging Reid and their aggressors into it, and he’d fled in the confusion. Around them, the black rippled and bulged as though nightmarish creatures were trying to push through, as if the shadows were a physical barrier between this realm and some otherworldly one, but Reid ignored them. Ignored the absolute absence of light. Ignored the way all of his senses felt muted, crippled. Wrapped his hand around the cool surface of the bell and followed the thin thread of Romain that called to him.

He closed his eyes, felt carefully for the floor beneath him that he knew was there, despite his brain trying to tell him otherwise, and took a step. Then another. And one more.

There had to be an end to Doyle’s casting. This spell was short-range. Limited.

The black groaned and reached for him.

He took another step. Found the wall. Trailed his fingers along it until they felt nothing, and slipped out of the open door. A demon trap was only as strong as its weakest point. Another step.

One last one.

And cried out with shock as light seared his retinas, sound assailing him, his head thumping as the world dropped back into existence. He was alone. The others were still trapped in the oozing shadows behind him.

Doyle was gone. Escaping. Above him, he could hear muffled pops, explosions, running feet.

Spence! Jesus, what the fuck happened there?

Nothing, he replied coolly, and reached a tendril of himself out to brush against Emily’s cheek in a phantom kiss, just in case. Doyle’s running. I’m in pursuit.

A quiet acceptance of his affection, until she finally returned it. With her touch, she brought the knowledge of the gun in her hands, the smell of blood, adrenaline thumping. Okay. Be careful.

Always.

Spreading his wings, she lent him her magic and he used it to fly.

 


 

Doyle wasn’t hard to find.

They hadn’t completely destroyed the web of security runes and unlike Reid and Emily, Doyle had no knowledge of the intricacy of the workings to avoid them. He clashed with them, tore through clumsily, and Reid followed that trail of destruction like a spider after a particularly large fly.

It wasn’t easy, flying through the tightly wound corridors. He was overly aware of the strain on Emily of the magic he was using, as he both created lift and twisted the air to hide himself to stop an overly excitable deputy from shooting him. Two beings drawing from the same magic source was a drain on both of them, and one he knew they couldn’t keep up for long.

But he didn’t need to, because, as he furled his wings and dipped through a shattered window and out over the sweeping grounds, he saw him. A flicker of magic ahead, just a twist in the air. If Reid didn’t know the way that air felt and tasted and moved as well as he did, he would have missed it. Can’t hide from a storm demon in the air, he thought with a savagely triumphant glee, and Emily turned her attention to him. He’s mine!

Careful, she began, but he was already moving.

Palmful of lightning, an examination of the wind, and he sent it hurtling into a space just where his calculations put the other demon. The lightning snapped hungrily from his fingers, and crashed home. Doyle hit the ground with a harsh cry, rolling awkwardly and buckling as the electricity spasmed through every muscle. Reid landed beside him, slamming his boot into Doyle’s spine and pressing him to the ground.

“Try to escape and the next one will stop your heart,” he said calmly, the electricity dancing around him, the fine hairs on his arms standing on end. Doyle’s eyes were wide, his body still twitching and clothes smoking delicately, his own hair jagged and unkempt. Blood trickled from his mouth where the gravel had cut into it. “This is it. Give up.”

“Are you going to kill me, Dr. Reid?” Doyle asked quietly. “Going to vent all that rage and hatred in your heart on me?”

“No.” Reid wished he had cuffs. Rope. Some spell beyond the threat of electrocution. “I’m not you, Doyle. I don’t kill indiscriminately.”

“That’s a lie.” Doyle’s voice was cold. Reid was looking towards the building, towards the police moving quickly towards them, and his guard wasn’t down but Doyle cast anyway. The lawn vanished. Reid blinked, stumbling as his foot dropped out from under him, almost sending him sprawling onto the body below. A woman. More of a girl than a woman. Dead.

Grace Harcourt.

“You killed her,” Doyle whispered from around him, and Reid spun with a snarl, but he couldn’t shock what he couldn’t see. “And him.” Another body. “And these people.” The men from the cult. Reid stumbled back with shock, away from their accusing eyes, and tripped over another cold form. “Oh, oh. And him.”

Gideon.

Reid’s palm had broken his fall, slapping against the wet rug in Gideon’s cabin, and when he lifted it, it was red with blood. Gideon’s blood.

A rush of air behind him and Reid propelled himself up, whirling again. Nothing. But behind him now—a noise. Empty space, but the sound still mocked him. He turned and turned and turned and there were bodies, endless bodies: Hotch, dying; Haley, dead; Sergio, dead; Kökelun, dead; Emily, falling, dying; Revenir—

Lightning again and he brought it crashing down around him, keeping it close in case help was near, and Doyle laughed shrilly. “That would have killed me if you’d hit, Dr. Reid. See. You’re entirely capable of murder. George might have taught you how to kill, but the potential was always in you.”

Another shift.

A burning house, the storm whipping the flames into an inferno. Reid cried out with shock, and there was a boy—just a boy—staring at the building with the fire in his eyes. Reid blinked. The shock faded. He studied the boy.

It was him, but…

He could see Declan in him too. Declan bound. Declan with blood on his face. Declan walking away alone with Gambit in his arms. The son of a monster, but with the potential to be so much more than people expected of him.

“No,” Reid said softly, and folded his arms, his wings, swallowing back the terror Doyle was trying to goad him with. The flames stilled. The world stilled. An icy calm settled over them. The boy turned to look at Reid, hazel eyes confused.

“No?” Doyle’s voice was cold.

Reid smiled at the boy, and ignored Doyle. “You’re not a monster,” he promised himself. “You never will be. You’ll be exactly who you want to be.”

The boy scrubbed his cheek, leaving an ashy smear across his skin. “Human,” he said finally, voice cracking. “I just want to be human. More than this.” He threw his wings open, juvenile and awkward, throwing him off balance.

Reid held out his hand. After a moment, the boy took it. “That’s exactly what we are,” Reid told him firmly, and turned away from Ian Doyle. The waking nightmare shattered. The boy was gone, the day returned, and Reid blinked in the sudden daylight.

Doyle stood in front of him, eyes burning. “You’d be that weak?” he snarled.

Reid braced himself. He wouldn’t kill him. But he wouldn’t let him escape either. “I think it’s far stronger to walk away from revenge, than to embrace it,” he said, and that was when Doyle attacked.

Reid hit the ground, and air itself trying to turn against him, as Doyle became a burning acidic mist that clawed at his skin. “Wrong choice!” the mist spat, bubbling into his throat and choking him, reforming above him as the infuriated demon from Reid’s original nightmares: made of shadows and nightmares, faceless except for the gaping mouth that reached for him. Claws across his throat, more slashing at his eyes. “Humans are prey!”

Reid gathered lightning. Pulled it close.

Readied it.

You’ll be my last, he thought grimly, struggling to ready his arm. His elbow knocked against his pocket. But not for revenge.

For my life.

He knocked his pocket again, fingers tingling with the power he was calling, spots dancing in front of his eyes. Distantly, Emily was calling him.

Closer, he heard a bell.

A bell.

He let the lightning flicker out. Doyle howled, either with laughter or triumph, Reid couldn’t tell. Slipped his hand to his pocket, found the bell. Held it close.

And felt Romain.

“Doyle,” Reid wheezed, and the demon paused. “Want to know the best thing about being human?”

Doyle just stared at him, incredulous. “Is this really the ti—” he began, his voice echoing, and that was when the bullet slammed into his eye.

Doyle staggered, slipping sideways. Moving quickly, Reid rolled out from under him, coughing blood from his damaged mouth, spitting to clear his airway. Another bullet slammed home, and the shadows splattered, leaving messy holes. No blood. Doyle wasn’t human enough to bleed. With a scream, the nightmare demon turned, hunching upwards into a thick, furious shape that towered over Romain. Romain just peered upwards, aimed his gun, and calmly fired again. Reid felt a tendril of something tugging away from his core, like being unravelled. He blinked. The air nearby flickered, warping his view of the lawn.

“That gun won’t kill me!” Doyle shrieked, twitching as the bullet tore through his chest. It took a single swipe of a clawed hand to send Romain tumbling, bleeding, to the ground. The gun clattered away. “I’ll kill you first, then—”

The flicker moved swiftly, coming up behind Doyle. Reid stared intently at it. Emily dropped the air, letting it settle back into place and snapping into view.

“The gun might not,” she said, and Doyle choked out a raspy sound of shock, and tilted his head towards her. Too late. “But this will.”

The knife slid easily into the demon’s back. Like a hot knife through butter, it cut through shadow and muscle and spine alike. And Emily didn’t flinch, just drove it home.

Twisted it.

Let go.

And Doyle fell. The shadows collapsed inwards, folded away, left a man dying on the bloodied grass. Staggering upright, Reid stared down at him. At the blood.

Maybe he could bleed after all. As it turned out, he could die.

Doyle choked, a wet, trickling sound. “Will you do this to him?” he rasped, looking at Reid. Reid stared back blankly. “When he becomes like me? When he becomes dark?”

Emily smiled and rolled her eyes, but Reid could feel pain in her heart. Part of her mourned this moment. “He’s nothing like you,” she murmured, spitting the words in Doyle’s direction as though she refused to let him die without believing them.

But he didn’t hear them; he was already gone.

 


 

Radios crackled around them, voices buzzing, shouting, crying.

Laughing.

The demons laughed because they were free. Because they were alive. Because, despite the world doing everything to break them, they’d survived.

And Reid stood by Emily’s side and watched them.

Hotch helped children from the wide open doors of the building across to the waiting trucks. Some had parents rushing to them. Some didn’t. Those that didn’t clung to him. He held a small girl in his arms, another boy hanging from his left hand, using his right to shepherd them, and Reid couldn’t tell if his heart was breaking because his own emotions were too chaotic.

Mages broke bindings, healed wounds. Emily twitched as there was an outbreak in one section of the crowd; female slaves panicking at the touch of the male magi as they tried to undo their bindings.

“Come on,” Reid said softly, taking her hand. They were both still wired, still shaking with adrenaline and shock and raw disbelief that it was over. Orbiting around each other because they were the only things keeping each other upright. “Let’s go help.”

It was over, over, over, and they were still together.

“One last time,” Emily replied, and gripped his hand tightly.

 


 

They were given eight hours to shower and sleep before flying back to Israel with the task-force and freed demons. Hotch had thrown them a hotel key and told them he didn’t want to see any of them until it was time to take off. “Figured you guys wouldn’t mind sharing,” he said to Reid and Emily, who’d grinned and thought longingly of washing the grime of this case off of them, as the adrenaline faded and left them morose. They travelled to the hotel in tense, waiting silence. There was a hands width of space between them in the taxi. The walk to the room was much the same.

Reid walked a step behind Emily, his eyes locked on the sway of her hips and his heart hammering so loudly in his mouth he was sure she must have been able to hear it. Something thrummed through him, some tension he hadn’t been aware of carrying. The key fumbled as she unlocked the door with tired hands. He stood back and watched. There was grime on her shirt, a bruise on her cheek, and her eyes were dark and shadowed. Hair tied back in a messy ponytail, he ached to tug the elastic loose, let it tumble over her shoulders, to feel if she was the same Emily under all of her aches and pains.

Finally, the door opened. Emily walked in slowly, looking around, shoulders drooping.

“Well, it’s not hom—” she began, right as he crashed his mouth against hers, her back thumping against the kitchen counter, their arms tangling together in a desperate attempt to keep their balance. Panting, gasping, he kissed her hungrily, exploring her mouth with his and then working his way down her jaw, hands flying over her shirtfront and struggling with the buttons.

An odd keening moan slipped from her lips as she arched her hips up into his, hooking a leg around his waist and dragging them together. Knocked his hands out of the way and undid her shirt herself, letting it slip from her shoulders as he scooped her up with his hands splayed over her hips and propped her on the counter. Eased her legs apart so he could crowd even closer, he found her throat with his teeth. Nipped as she tilted her head back to give him access. Hard enough to leave a mark and she squirmed against him, eyes huge and drowning.

Mine that mark said, and Reid breathed against it before ducking back, tugging her pants with him. Dropping them to the ground in an unceremonious pool of fabric and crouching to bring his mouth to the rune on her hip. Tasting the skin, sweeping his tongue across the lines of her pelvis slowly. She scooted forward, wriggling out of her underwear and kicking them down her legs, still silent, chest heaving.

He moved his tongue across her hips, before dipping within. Tasted her with no compunction or pause, just a hungry franticness that grew more frantic when she rocked forward onto his tongue with a gasp, his nose thick with the scent of her.

Mine his hand braced on her rune said. It linked them. Her emotions crowded his and he let them, taking them into himself and sending them back.

“Oh, fuck,” she hissed, as he flooded her mind with her taste and her skin and his love and everything he wanted right now. Fingers threaded through his hair, dragging him up, and he slipped in his haste and thumped against her. Mouths together again, panicky for a second and then everything just… stopped. They pressed together, hip to sternum, his lips on hers, and did nothing but breathe each other in. Frozen and wanting and unwilling to let this moment end. “Spence, oh…” She swallowed and the sound was ragged.

“I love you,” he murmured into her mouth, feeling her tasting the words, shaping them back to him. Hands on his pants; she was almost clumsy in her haste to undo them, pulling him against her, stroking and coaxing, shivering.

I love you, he sent again, and pushed inside her, both exhaling with some kind of release at the sensation of home it brought with it.

I love you in the stroke of his hips, the swipe of his hands over her skin, the burning hum of their runes when they knocked together.

I love you in her body when she came the first time, from his fingers working between her legs as he set up a steady rhythm that pushed her up and off the counter with every forward motion. The sound of skin against the granite top; the sound of him moving against her, inside her; every sound and sensation and movement was another silent proclamation, and she heard them all.

I love you when his rhythm broke, quickened, and he pulled her so painfully close as he tumbled into her, dragging her with him. I love I love, I loveIlove…

The moment ended, as all moments eventually did, but those words never would.

 


 

He woke up in her arms. She was a heavy weight against him, still asleep but her hands still pressed so tightly against his chest her nails nipped possessively into his skin. He said nothing, but held her.

Everything moved quickly after that.

The flight. Emily slipped away midway, leaving Romain and Reid sitting silently. Hotch took her place.

“Reid,” he said softly, leaning his head back against the headrest, and Reid tried to remember how to talk to him. “I’m sorry. For lying to you. For… everything my inaction caused.”

Reid nodded, then shook his head as Hotch’s words sank home. “Don’t,” he said, and his voice was rough. Hotch paused, eying him warily, like he was a stranger. And he was now. “Don’t be sorry. You did what you thought was right, to keep her safe. And so did I.”

Hotch nodded and they spent the rest of the flight in silence.

They’d be okay again one day. Just not yet.

 


 

Israel. JJ.

She was waiting as they exited the plane, and her feet didn’t hit the tarmac between them as she flung herself at him. Arms around his neck, dragging him down; she was a hot, heavy, sobbing weight with her mouth pressed against his shoulder, as undone as he’d ever seen her.

“I thought you were dead, you bastard,” she snapped, shaking him, and he stammered an apology she refused to heed. “I had to… Henry… he has no idea, how could you, how could you, we needed you?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he chanted into her hair, hugging her close and tasting winter on the air, and he meant it all in a way he hadn’t with Hotch. Couldn’t with Hotch. He’d hurt Henry. There was no atonement for that.

 


 

There was one last person Reid had to betray.

“You came back!” Declan hollered, bouncing on the medical bed he was kneeling on. Gambit aimed a filthy look in Romain’s direction, and turned his back on them all. “I knew you would! Is it over? Are all these other people slaves? Did you save them all? Can we go home now?”

“Declan…” Emily said slowly, and slid onto the bed next to him. Reid swallowed and sat on the other side of the boy, smiling tightly as Declan nudged him with his elbow and grinned. Helplessly happy. Endlessly resilient. “Your father assisted us with the raid on the slaving cell. While he… helped… I’m afraid he was killed in the—”

“I don’t care.” Declan’s voice was savage, and Reid winced at the sound of it. It was his own voice, from so long ago. Who cares about my father. He’s just a demon. Just a monster like the rest of them. “I just want to go home.”

A horrible thought struck Reid then. Romain was hovering by the door, silent and out of place around Emily still, and his eyes were worried. “Declan,” Reid murmured, and Declan’s face turned stormy. He knew what was coming. “You’re not coming home with us. You can’t. You have to stay with the people who can care for you. The doctors and the caretakers assigned to the children orphaned by the slavers, they’ll look—”

“No!” Declan shrunk away, his eyes furious but his mouth trembling. “That’s not fair. I did everything you asked. Lauren, please, you—”

Emily could be cruel when she needed to be. “Emily,” she corrected, and slipped behind the mask of Agent Prentiss. They’d broken hearts like that before. All of them had. Just another case. Another victim. Another broken life that doesn’t stop being broken because we get to fly home. “My name is Emily Prentiss, Declan. Not Lauren. Lauren was a front. A cover. She never existed. We were doing our jobs, keeping you safe. But our job is done now. It’s your turn. You have to be brave and—”

Declan flickered and vanished. When she leapt up as though to give chase, Reid settled his arm on her elbow. “He’s already gone,” he told her sadly, and the mask slipped.

And there was nothing they could do about it.

“Agents? Is there a problem?” The doctor was British, his voice gentle. Reid tried to answer him, but lost his voice somewhere between the intention and the doing.

“No problem,” Romain said, stepping forward. “What happens to the children now? Will their families be found?”

The doctor winced. “Ah. Well, obviously, great attempts will be made to reunite families. Understand that, unlike the adults, many of the children were taken so young or so long ago that they can’t remember their homes. And with the political undercurrents as they are, people are understandably reluctant to advertise that there are demon children in need of care. People can be… cruel.”

“So, what?” Emily snapped, and Reid could see her mind turned, his stomach already twisting at the argument he knew was coming. The one that would burn them both because he didn’t want to be the bad guy here; he wanted what she wanted just as badly. “They’ll get shoved into group homes? What bullshit is that? They’ll be in danger here.”

“Yes, they will.” The doctor folded his arms. “Magus Prentiss, I’m a great fan of your work. The rune you created? My team and I have been working on variations of it since you designed it. With little luck, unfortunately. There’s a personal flavour that you inserted into it that makes it quite difficult for anyone else to tinker with. I say this because I feel you’re missing the great change that your rune has brought. This can’t be swept under the rug anymore. People are saying that because demons can be freed, that they must be freed. And others are listening to that.”

Emily went to speak, but Reid brushed her arm. “You’re one of the doctors who’ll be assigned to the care of those whose families can’t be located?” he asked, and received a nod in return.

“Absolutely. And you’re correct, the Middle East is no place for them… but not for the reasons you’re thinking. We’re working with both the United Nations and United Persons to equally distribute the care of those displaced by slavery across as many countries as volunteer to take them. My team and I specialize in children retrieved from extremely traumatic situations. Most will be entrusted to us. I can assure you, they’ll be safe. Here. Take this.”

Reid took the offered paper. It was folded multiple times, coded, and took him a few moments to parse.

“We’re a long way away from removing the threat of thrall-binding,” the doctor said finally, as Reid lifted his gaze in shock. “But not so far that these children won’t see it destroyed in their lifetime. What you’re holding there is the second part of that destruction. Your rune was the first. And there’ll be so many more now they’ve opened the gates. Congratulations, agents. The world is changing.”

Reid didn’t see him leave. Tugging the paper from his hands, Emily stared at it. “What does it say?” she asked impatiently, glancing back at Declan’s empty bed.

Slipping into her mind, he fed her the cipher and felt the delight and surprise kick in.

As the legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset, intends upon modifying the Basic Law as of the first day of the month of December, 2011.

Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty

Section 8: The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect the right of non-human persons to human dignity and liberty.

(a)     All persons have the right to the protection of their life, body, self, and dignity.

(b)     There shall be no deprivation or restriction of the liberty of any non-human persons by imprisonment, arrest, extradition, thrall-bounding, or otherwise.

(c)      The right of a person to their agency is complete.

As of the first day of the month of January, 2012, all thrall-bound demons are to be freed within the State of Israel. There is an expected backlash from this momentous undertaking. Ensure all endangered parties have been removed to safe zones within allied countries before this date.

“What is it?” Romain asked, inching closer.

Emily laughed gently. “Change. It’s change.”

 


 

He probably didn’t want them there, but they went anyway. Kids clustered, some giggling, some stunned. Some stared at the plane waiting to take them to their new home, mouths gaping. Some chased each other, laughing. Playing.

One stood apart. Emily slipped her hand into Reid’s, mouth thin, and stared at Declan like her heart was breaking.

“I’ll go,” Reid said, and pulled his hand free. Without her hand, it felt cold and too light. “It’s okay.”

They’d fought. He’d known they would.

We can work something out.

He knows us.

Mom can pull strings.

If there was anything that showed how distressed Emily was, it was the admission that she would do the hated and lean on her mother to make this happen. And Reid had said everything he needed to, except for the one thing that wanted to be said.

How can we fix him when we’re so broken ourselves?

“New homes are exciting,” Reid said to Declan, without preamble, joining him in staring out the plate glass window at the runway. “I’ve had a few myself.”

“I’ve seen them,” Declan replied numbly. “In your dreams, when they’re bad. They were all bad. Why is this home going to be different?”

Reid winced, but he didn’t let Declan see it. “Because we wouldn’t send you somewhere bad,” he said instead, and rested his hand on the boy’s thin shoulder. Declan scrubbed his hand over his mouth, white bands of scarring visible on the tanned skin of his arms. “I understand what you’d hoped for. It hurts to lose hope in something. But sometimes we have to do things that hurt. Like… pretend to be someone we’re not. Hurt the people we love to protect them.”

“Send our friends away?” Declan asked, turning his eyes onto Reid. “I know. I know… I’m not mad anymore. Romain sent Gambit with me because I was scared and alone… now all these kids are scared and alone too, and they don’t have a Gambit. So I gotta go. Right?”

“Right.” Reid hugged him close. “Now, come say goodbye to Em. She’s going to miss you. Almost as much as I’m going to.”

They both turned to Emily, but she wasn’t alone anymore. Romain skulked by her side, looking entirely uninterested in the proceedings. “Declan, wait,” Reid murmured, crouching as though to brush hair from the boy’s eyes. “Want to do something fun?”

Romain’s startled yelp as Declan ran and leapt into his arms was absolutely worth the filthy looks it earned them from the milling caretakers. Giggling, Declan hung from Romain, until the giggling stopped and the clinging tightened, and he buried his face in Romain’s chest to hide the tears. His words were muffled and hiccupping, and Emily looked uncomfortably out of place standing beside them. “You’re gonna forget me.”

“Absolutely not,” Romain said stiffly, lowering him gently and pushing him away. “Go hug Spencer now, go on. Go, go.”

“Clary says saying goodbye in French is… ahh dee-yew,” Declan stammered, tripping over the unfamiliar words. Emily was kneeling now, reaching out for him, but he seemed determined to get this right. “Is that what I say now?”

Romain was silent for a long moment. “No,” he said finally. “That means… it is goodbye. But it’s not this goodbye. It means ‘Until God’. There’s a… finality to it. You would say ‘À la prochaine’. ‘Until we meet again’.”

“Ah la prosh-enne,” Declan parroted, and Emily laughed and hugged him. “Oh. That’s… that’s calling for me. I gotta go now.”

The intercom buzzed overhead, the carers beginning to shepherd children towards the gates, counting heads as they went and organizing each child with the passports they’d been given. One final goodbye from each of them: Reid’s halting, Emily’s teary, Romain’s awkward, and Declan was gone. Vanishing into the crowd of children, looking back at them until he couldn’t anymore, and then the gates closed behind them and the lobby was silent.

Romain murmured something under his breath, turning away. Reid gave him the courtesy of pretending he didn’t hear it.

Adieu, Declan.”

Chapter Text

His first breath of DC air burned on the way down, stunningly cold and making him shiver immediately. It was the first and last he managed for a moment, because as soon as his feet hit the tarmac, Garcia had done a JJ and hurtled into his arms. Unlike JJ, she wasn’t angry as she did so. Just… sad.

Somehow, that was worse.

“Don’t ever do that to me again, do you understand?” she whispered intently, kissing him once on either cheek. “Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. Do. You. Understand?!” Every word was another kiss and another tightening of her arms around him until he was wheezing in her grasp.

“You gotta let him breathe, Pen,” Morgan said, his voice quiet, coming up behind her and staring at Reid almost hungrily. When Emily descended from the jet behind them, he did the same to her, his throat working as he swallowed. Reid remembered their grief.

“I am, I am,” Garcia was saying—no, sobbing now, her face pressed into his chest—and Reid hugged her back and felt his own eyes beginning to burn. “Just, oh. Oh. You’re here. You’re all here and alive and my family, my family…”

Eris flew part, moving quicker than Reid had ever saw her, whirling around Rossi and digging shadowy paws into his torso as she clung. He scratched her head, his eyes glittering. “They’re home,” he murmured, as Hotch called out a weary greeting from the jet. “Fucking finally.” Reid detangled himself from Garcia only by carefully guiding her arms around Emily instead, walking slowly towards Rossi. Painfully aware of the reminder of his limp and the betrayal Rossi had suffered, he wasn’t entirely sure of his welcome. “Kid.” Rossi’s tone was cool. Mouth instantly dry, Reid swallowed twice before trying to speak, but Rossi shushed him with an irritated wave of his hand. “Shut up before you ruin this by being stupid. You’re about to apologise. Don’t. Don’t you fucking dare.”

Reid blinked. Behind him, Garcia was now completely undone, hugging Hotch with a ferocity that suggested she didn’t expect to get the chance to do so again. Morgan was standing stiffly in front of Emily, head inclined. As Reid watched, he broke, and lunged forward to drag Emily into a hug that was as rough as it was expected, burying his mouth in her hair. Romain stood silent and alone, JJ’s eyes on him despite her standing by Hotch’s side.

“I hurt you all,” Reid said finally. “I was so obsessed with finding her that I hurt you all to do so. I… I should have come to you…”

“Maybe.” Rossi sounded tired, but… happy. There was a smile on his face that was wary and old and wonderfully familiar. “But I don’t give a shit. Don’t apologise for bringing her home… not to me. I don’t care how many toes you stepped on to do so.”

“Why do you think I came with Aaron?” Eris added, her voice a sinuous whisper. “She’s my student too, Spencer. No matter how much she th