Spencer Reid was sitting in the middle of the table with photographic archive books all around him. He was currently browsing through the files of the National Archive in College Park, Maryland. This was a haven for photographers of all ages and skill levels. The Archives were open to everyone, you just needed to make an appointment. Spencer had waited weeks for his and now that he was here he felt just as frustrated and stagnant as he had before he came in. He owed a gallery owner an installation and by no means was he ready. He didn’t even have a subject or project in the works. Sitting on that table with some of the most beautiful photography he’s ever seen scattered around him he wasn’t even inspired. To him, it was like his muse, that inner part of himself that drove him and his art, had left him. He closed his eyes and hung his head as he tried to find his missing inspiration. Taking a deep breath, he centered himself then slowly opened his eyes back-up. Looking back down at the books around him something caught his eye. It was a male model, a gorgeous male model and it made Spencer sit up a little and take notice.
Slowly Spencer uncurled himself from his position and got down off the table and sat in one of the chairs. He pulled the book with the model that had caught his eye to him. Flipping to the back of the book to find the name of the model he was pleased and disappointed at the same time. He found the name, Aaron M. but the photograph was from 1963, taken by an unknown source. There were a few other photos of him two of them being candid shots. The smile the photographer caught was one of the most beautiful smiles that Spencer had ever seen. Sitting back in the chair Spencer himself smiled. He had to find out more about this Aaron M. He didn’t care if he was from 1963, he just had to know. Getting up from his chair Spencer stood, put the books he wasn’t looking at any longer away and took the one with Aaron in it to the librarian. Spencer laid the book down and asked for reprints of all the photos of Aaron M. The librarian quirked her brow but complied with Spencer’s request. Even though the library didn’t have the actual film of the early prints they could make high-resolution copies for their patrons for a small fee. The librarian came back a few minutes later, gave Spencer the copies and they settled the transaction reasonably quick.
A few minutes later Spencer was getting into his car and making his way to the Library of Congress. He now had a name and a lead to other publications that Aaron might have appeared in, thanks to Jenna, the Archives Librarian. Spencer easily found his way to the photography and art section and went about looking for the books that Jenna had steered him to. Finding what he was looking for Spencer pulled the books out and went to one of the small tables and started to go through the books one by one. When he did find pictures of the model, Spencer made note of its place in the book to so he could once again have copies made. Once that was done, he was ready to leave. A plan was in place and ideas on how he might be able to use the photos came to mind.
Spencer sat in his car for a long time looking over the photos and what little information there was on the model. Closing his eyes, he laid his head back against the headrest of his seat and sighed. He didn’t quite know what he was doing anymore, and it scared him a little that he was obsessing over a model that lived and worked over fifty years in the past. Something about that smile though called to Spencer and he was determined to find out more and find out if he was still alive. It didn’t matter that he would be well into his seventies, Spencer just needed to know.
Spencer made his way back home and pulled up into his driveway and just sat there. He knew what waited for him inside and what didn’t. It was times like these that he found himself wishing Maeve would just do as he asked. He wanted to sell the house and move. It held too many painful memories and those memories Spencer knew were chipping away at his marriage a little every day. He knew something had to give; he just wasn’t sure what it was going to be. Taking a deep breath, he grabbed his briefcase with the pictures in it and headed inside.
Spencer had some ideas for some photo manipulations, but he had some research to do first. He needed to find out if the photographers who had taken the pictures were still alive and if they still held the copyrights, or if they were no longer around who it was that did hold them. Inspiration had struck on the way home and he wanted to use the photos in a series of layered manipulations. He had some double exposure overlays sitting in his computer that he’s never found a use for but now he had. It was the eyes and the smile of Aaron M. that did it for him. He hoped that he could use them because he guessed that these might be some of his best work if he was allowed to use Aaron’s likeness.
When he finally made it inside, he saw his wife at the kitchen table pouring over some of her research material. The geneticists’ mind was much like his, always on overdrive, never stopping. It was one of the things that had first attracted Spencer to Maeve. Here was someone like him. He walked up to her and kissed her on the cheek and when she looked up and smiled softly at him, she almost looked like the woman he had married eight years earlier. But it was a moment later that the look was gone replaced by the sadness and grief that were her constant companions. Spencer pretended like it didn’t affect him, though it did, he didn’t have the energy or will to talk about it yet again.
“How’s the research going?” Spencer decided to keep their conversation on a safe subject, Maeve’s research into Jansky-Bielschowsky disease, the fatal disease that took the life of their child the previous year. The disease was so rare it was categorized as an orphan disease and research was limited or even non-existent in some cases. All Maeve has had to go on were the case studies of the children who had died from it and the genetic material she was able to take from James, their own son.
“Frustrating. All the previous cases the genetic materials available for study have been so degraded that it’s almost impossible to get any accurate information. There are currently eight children in the US that have been categorized with this disease. I’m going to try to speak with each of the parents to see if I can get samples of blood and tissue. I know it’s asking a lot from them, but their help could be invaluable.” Spencer watched as Maeve sat back in her chair and tried to ignore the air of anger and frustration surrounding her. He knew it would set off a fight if he asked her to put away the research for a while. They had been so disconnected since their son’s death Spencer wasn’t sure if they would ever be able to get back to what they had once meant to each other.
“Well, you and your Mother are brilliant at what you do so I’m sure that you’ll find something soon.” Spencer smiled as he put his briefcase and messenger back down on the table.
“What is that supposed to mean?” The tone should have warned Spencer to turn around and back off, but he was tired. Tired of the constant air of grief surrounding them both. Tired of this disconnect between them, tired of the fighting and accusations they kept throwing at each other. Spencer was just tired.
“It means that I believe in you and the research you are doing, that’s all.” Spencer moved into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee when Maeve followed behind him.
“I know you blame me. I know you think what happened to James was my fault. Why don’t you just say it, Spencer?” Spencer’s shoulder slumped and he had to take a deep breath before he turned around to look at his wife.
“I don’t blame you Maeve. I have never blamed you. I don’t’ know what you want me to say. I don’t know how many times we have to have this same conversation before it sinks in that I never thought what happened to James was in any way your fault.”
“I’m the damn gene carrier Spencer. I saw it in your face when the Doctors finally told us. You keep looking at me like I could have done something, but what the hell could I have done.” And there was the yelling and the anger. This too Spencer was tired of. He didn’t know how to get it through Maeve’s head that he never put the blame on her for their child’s condition.
“I’m not having this fight again Maeve. I don’t know how else to tell you that I never thought you were responsible for what happened. This was just a horrible trick of fate. You need to forgive yourself because I did a long time ago.” Spencer grabbed his bag and pushed past his wife and was out the door. He couldn’t be around her, not when she was in this mood. Getting back into his car he started back down the driveway and headed towards his Uncle’s house. He looked up to see Maeve running out after him yelling for him to come back and that she was, once again, sorry for the things she said. Spencer just looked hard at his wife before he turned his eyes to the road and left.
Even though his Uncle’s house was over an hour and a half away he needed to go. He needed to get away from Maeve for a few hours and Uncle Rob always welcomed him with open arms. Spencer quickly called his Uncle to let him know he was on his way. It helped that he never questioned Spencer too deeply on why he came over. Rob knew that he and Maeve were having problems and it stemmed from the loss of James. Spencer didn’t come out of that loss unscathed though. In his grief, he had developed terrible headaches, and nothing had worked to stop them. He turned to narcotics and became addicted to Dilaudid. A powerful medical grade heroin. It had almost ruined him professionally as well as personally. When he finally got help is when he finally properly grieved over the loss of his son. Rob had been instrumental in helping Spencer overcome his addiction as well as work through his grief. He just didn’t know how to help his wife. It was like she held onto it because it helped shield her from moving on from taking that final step to say goodbye. And maybe it was shielding her from her own feelings, but Spencer knew unless she got help, he just couldn’t live like they were much longer.
Spencer pulled up to Rob’s house, grabbed his messenger bag and the bag of clothes and other things he started to keep in the car. These retreats were happening too often lately, and Spencer wanted to always be prepared. When he knocked on the door, he saw no surprise on his Uncle’s face.
“You had another fight, didn’t you?” Rob asked him. Spencer was grateful that the question was asked in compassion and not recrimination.
“Yes,” Spencer said with that air of sadness and regret that was constant companions to him as of late.
“Come on in, kid. I was just going to sit down to some of my Cajun shrimp. I got plenty for the two of us. Got some coffee on also.” Spencer smiled and knew that Rob had made this special for him. He walked in and smelled the delicious smell of a mixture of rosemary, garlic, seafood stock, and spices. Putting his things down it didn’t go unnoticed when his stomach growled.
“Smells delicious. You didn’t have to Uncle.” Spencer walked towards the kitchen and got down a coffee cup and poured himself a cup of the chicory coffee that his Uncle preferred. He didn’t say anything else until he had gone through a full cup and poured himself another. He was never more grateful for his Uncle’s patience than he was when he needed to escape.
“She wants me to say that I blame her for James’s death. I don’t’ know how many times I can have that conversation with her Uncle.” Spencer looked down at his coffee as the tears came unbidden to his eyes. Wiping them away quickly he looked up in embarrassment.
“Shutterbug, there ain’t nothin’ you can say. Maeve has to come to terms with what happened but she don’t gotta bring you down as well. I know you still love her but Spence, she may never pull herself out of her own cycle of grief.” Spencer gave a quick smile at the old endearment, but it was quickly squashed by the reality of the rest of his words.
“I know Uncle. I just don’t know what to do anymore. I know if I leave it’s going to shatter her but if I don’t what will be left of me?” Sighing Spencer put the coffee down and moved to sit at the table.
“I don’t got the answers for you, Shutterbug. What I do got is a place for you when you need it.” Rob placed a hand on his shoulder and Spencer reached up and grabbed his hand, grateful for the contact and the love he felt from his Mother’s Brother.
Rob had been there for him through so much of his life. Putting his Mother in the Sanitarium, the bullying he endured in school and even helped him when he was going to CalTech. But it was art school and photography that fueled a passion in him, and Rob was very supportive when he suddenly changed direction in his life. Now he was a celebrated photographer and was often praised in certain circles for his use of double exposures. One thing he was famous for was photographing tiny particles through high-powered microscopes. He invented a new way to photograph anything from blood particles at 5000x zoom to dirt. He then double exposed them and overlaid for interesting and unique photos. It helped to have an interest in Physics and Chemistry as well.
“Thank you, Uncle.” Spencer pulled back not wanting to talk about Maeve and his marriage anymore. Spencer was once again grateful that Rob knew him so well and decided to keep his own counsel. A few minutes passed in silence then a large bowl of steaming Cajun-spiced shrimp was placed in front of him with a plate of fresh baked thick crusty bread. Spencer smiled at the food in front of him as his stomach once again growled in protest. Picking up some of the bread he broke it off in large pieces to dip into the rich, spicy seafood broth. Eating the shrimp was a messy deal but it had both men chuckling as they peeled away the shells and popped the tasty crustaceans in their mouths. By the time Spencer was done he knew he was a bit of a mess. But the laughter and the food did him a world of good.
Spencer opted to clean up over the protests of his Uncle. After he was done, he bade his good nights and went up to the room that his Uncle always kept for him. After taking a quick shower Spencer grabbed one of his books off the bookshelves in his room and laid in bed to read.
A few hours later Spencer woke with a start. He had been having strange dreams of the man in the photographs. He never knew what compelled him to get up that night and go to the attic, but he did. His Uncle liked to downplay his past as a renowned photographer himself, but Spencer often was found in his Uncles tightly sealed and air controlled attic going through many of the photos stored there.
He hadn’t realized just how long he had been up there when Rob had found him and brought him a cup of coffee.
“How long you been up here Bug?” His Uncle has asked him.
“Not quite sure, maybe since three or so.” Spencer held out his hand accepting the cup. He took a long appreciative sip of the dark brew, closing his eyes and smiling. “Perfect as always.” He set the cup aside.
“You lookin’ for anything in particular?” His Uncle had asked.
“No, I was just restless. I’ve been uninspired lately Uncle. I was hoping that looking through some of your old stuff would help me through this block.”
“Been there a time or two myself Bug.” Spencer felt his Uncle’s eyes on him trying to appraise him, “Well, I’ll let ya’ get back to it. If there is anything ya’ need just let me know. I’ll have breakfast for us ready in about an hour.” Spencer watched Rob get up and head back downstairs. Once again, he was alone with his Uncle’s collection.
Spencer noticed a box in the northern most corner of the attic that he didn’t ever remember seeing before. Getting up to stretch he walked over to see what it was. In it was a strange looking amulet. It was a thick copper ring with numbers etched on the inside and what looked to him like ancient Aztec writing on the outside. There was a small moveable ball on the outermost part of the ring. It was attached to a long silver and copper chain and Spencer was instantly attracted to it. Smiling he pocketed the amulet and went back to what he had been doing before.
Spencer glanced at the clock on the left-hand wall and took note that half-an-hour had already passed. He had found in his Uncle’s collection pictures of the model that he had been dreaming about in the early hours of the morning. Pulling them out he decided to see if his Uncle knew who the man was.
Taking the photographs and his coffee cup with him he walked back downstairs and into the warm kitchen. Seeing his Uncle humming to himself and cooking always soothed Spencer. Uncle Rob was a tall thin man that most wouldn’t suspect had any domestic qualities at all. He was a rough, though Spencer admitted somewhat handsome, man. After the loss of his Aunt Stella, Rob had to learn to cook and clean for himself. They were tasks his Uncle had come to enjoy and take pride in. Cooking quickly became Rob’s second-best activity in the world. He had even taken to entering local contests and had one wall dedicated to the ribbons and certificates he won.
Spencer smiled when Rob looked up and acknowledged him with a nod and smile of his own.
“Be ready in a few. Made ya’ that frittata that you liked so well last time. If you could pull out the fruit compote and slice some of the leftover bread to toast, I’d ‘preciate it.”
“Anything you need Uncle.” Spencer put his coffee down and quickly completed the tasks his Uncle had asked of him. By the time he was done making the toast the frittata was done and Rob was placing it on the table.
Partway through breakfast Rob asked him about the photos he had set aside at the far end of the table so they wouldn’t get ruined.
“Oh, I was going to ask you about these. Do you know that model Uncle? I found his photos in some of the obscure books at the National Archive yesterday. Then more at the Library of Congress, but I couldn’t get any information on the model himself.”
Rob put down his fork, thoroughly cleaned his hands then picked-up the plastic encased photos. Spencer saw recognition dawn in his Uncles eyes as he took in the photos.
“Aaron Michael Hotchner. I haven’t thought about him in years.” A soft smile played across Robs lips and Spencer wondered about it.
“Did you know him well?”
“No one knew Aaron well. I think I was closest. He always had this stoic nature to him and if you pissed him off, I could have sworn the saying ‘if looks could kill’ was invented after someone tried to take him on. But, once you got to know him, he was quite the young man. He disappeared suddenly one day. His body was found a few weeks later. There was speculation that he was a victim of The Iceman, Richard Kuklinski. He was the head of a protest group that was trying to stop the beginnings of the gentrification of the SoHo district in New York. That didn’t go over well with the Mafia at the time. Land was in high demand and the SoHo district was being fought over by several of the families. That was one of the reasons I got out of New York when I did.”
Spencer had never heard this part of his Uncle’s past. However, the news that Aaron had died in such terrible circumstances saddened him. He wished he could have been that, could have helped in some way. Maybe he would have kept Aaron out of the fight. Spencer closed his eyes and shook his head and berated himself for having these thoughts. Those events happened over fifty years ago and there was nothing he could do about it.
“Uncle, do you mind if I stay here for a few days? I need to just not be at home right now.”
“Of course, Bug, anything you need, you know that.” Spencer was again grateful for the love and support of the only functioning family member he had left.
“I just need to go home and pack a few things and grab my laptop and some of my external drives. I should be back in about three hours or so. Why don’t I take you out to dinner? My treat.”
“Sounds good to me.” Spencer cleaned up the breakfast dishes and as he was gathering his things to head out the door he stopped and turned to ask his Uncle a question. “Hey Uncle Rob? Those photos of Aaron, would you be willing to let me use them for a project I have in mind?”
“Of course. I’ll sign them over to you if you’d like.”
“That’s too generous. We’ll set-up a standard use contract. You should get part of the credit as well as a share in any money I make.” Rob started to protest but Spencer quickly squashed those protests saying that it was just the right thing to do. After that was settled Spencer was out the door and heading back home.
Three hours later he was walking back into his Uncle’s house. He had gotten home and gathered the things he wanted without incident. Maeve had left a short letter telling him that she was sorry for the evening before, but Spencer just didn’t have the strength to stay now. He needed distance. He packed-up, left a short note for Maeve to let her know where he would be then left.
Uncle Rob’s house had five rooms. When Rob and Stella had originally bought the house, they had anticipated children but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. They found out too late that his Uncle was sterile. A genetic condition that no matter what they tried; they just couldn’t conceive. Spencer had asked them once when he was young why they didn’t adopt. His Aunt Stella said that they had talked about it but decided that if they couldn’t have children, they would just pour all their love into Spencer and it was enough for them. Spencer had spent many happy years with his Aunt and Uncle, who had taken over his care when his Mom needed to be placed in the Sanitarium. It broke Spencer’s heart but he knew he just didn’t have the means to take care of her with her schizophrenia.
Spencer had taken the room next to his and converted it into an office many years after he had finished with schooling and before he met and married Maeve. He set-up his laptop and the high-resolution photography scanner on the long table he used as a desk and work space. He then put the cameras he had brought with him in the converted cabinet he had custom built to hold his cameras and other equipment. Once he was done, he wandered down into the kitchen to fix himself something to eat. While he ate, he contemplated his ideas for the installation and mentally ticked off the photos he wanted to use and integrate with Aaron’s likeness. After he was done, he washed up, grabbed the photos and went back to his office to start working.
He was startled when there was a soft knock on the office door. His Uncle stood there smiling at him.
“Oh, I ah, I’ll just be a minute then I’ll change, and we can go.” Spencer had gotten so lost in the work that he hadn’t realized the time. Setting aside what his was doing he made notations in one of his notebooks then proceeded to get ready to take his Uncle out for the evening.
Several hours later they returned to the house happy but exhausted. They had ended-up at a Jazz club and an impromptu concert. Spencer hadn’t felt so relaxed in months. As an after-thought Spencer grabbed the amulet before he laid down in bed. Turning it over in his hands several times he played with the moveable ball and ran his hands over the numbers on the inside and wondered just what it all meant. Slowly closing his eyes, he held the amulet close and thought of Aaron.
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when he woke-up, but he noticed that he was laying on something cold and hard. Slowly opening his eyes, he looked around and found himself laying on the ground in an alley.
“What the hell?” He got up, his body stiff and sore from the position he had been in. “Where the hell am I?” He asked himself as he took a few tentative steps towards the street. When he got to the end of the alley to where it connected with the main sidewalk he again looked around.
“Hey buddy, you need to put on some clothes can’t have you walking around in your pajamas now, can we?”
Spencer looked up startled at the face of a policeman.
“Oh, ah right.” Spencer looked around confused then turned back to the police officer. “Um, I know this is going to sound crazy but ah, can you, can you tell me where the hell I’m at?”
The officer lifted a brow as he looked Spencer up and down and Spencer got the distinct feeling that the office really did think he was crazy.
“Kid, you don’t know that you’re in Manhattan?”
Spencer choked as he tried to speak. “Wha-what?”
“Kid, you’re more messed up than I thought come on.” The officer gently grabbed his arm and pulled Spencer towards a police vehicle.
“Look, I’m not crazy I guess I just had a few too many or something. Please can you just tell me where we are? I think my friends may have ditched me.” Spencer was quite pleased at how he thought fast on his feet because whatever it was that he said the office looked like he believed him.
“Well, around here that is pretty common. You’re in the SoHo district of Manhattan kid. Do you need to call someone?”
Spencer’s mind was whirling. He looked around again and noticed that nothing seemed right. The cars looked older, there were no technology stores, no fast food restaurants, or upscale coffee shops. In fact, the area looked a lot like some of his Uncles photos of SoHo during its heyday as a haven for artists, protesters and activists.
“Um, I ah know this might sound even crazier but well, you know how it goes when someone’s been on a bit of a bender, right?”
The office just laughed at Spencer and shook his head, “What do you want to know kid?”
“What ah, what’s the date?”
The office just stared at him for a few minutes before he answered, “July 22nd, 1963.”