Disclaimer: I do not own Criminal Minds.
"Now, we have inscribed a new memory alongside those others. It's a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning. But not only of loss and mourning. It's also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a friend–even a friend whose name it never knew." – President George W. Bush, 11 September 2001
o o o o
11 September, 2009
"Calliope? What are you doing?" Dr. Spencer Reid propped himself up in bed and blinked as he listened to his girlfriend throw things around in their closet. Scrubbing his eyes, he glanced at the clock and groaned when he saw the red numbers glowing. One of his shoes tumbled out of the closet and he dropped back down, pulling the pillow over his head. "It's four in the morning, Sweetheart. Can't you be crazy in two hours?"
"Shut up, Spencer," Calliope Sellers sniffed quietly from inside the closet
Spencer raised the pillow and pushed himself out of bed, scrubbing his eyes again, and his grabbed his crutches. He stumbled into the closet to see Calliope sitting in the middle of a pile of cloths and shoes and scarves and bags and all sorts of other things. "Sweetheart, what are you doing?"
"I can't find my bracelet."
"What bracelet? And why do you need it now?"
"Meaghan's bracelet. I can't find it," Calliope finally turned to look at him and he saw tears streaming down her cheeks and her eyes red and puffy. She used a beautiful, probably close to priceless, Hermès scarf to wipe the her nose and Spencer crutched himself carefully over the rubble and knocked some stuff out of the way with the end of his crutch so he could awkwardly lower himself down to sit next to her.
"Come here," he pulled her close and she started crying into his old white t-shirt. Brushing her hair back, Spencer kissed her forehead and rocked her back and forth. Calliope mumbled something he couldn't understand, but he kept holding her and letting her cry.
He'd seen the pictures all over their house. His own sweet curly hair redhead always in the center with the tall brunette, her best friend Jill Ackerman, on the left and a wavy haired blonde, Meaghan Harvell, on the right. The most recent picture of them had taken eight years ago yesterday in Times Square.
"The pink bracelet?" Calliope nodded and Spencer sighed in relieve. "You left it in your studio. You took it off so you wouldn't get paint on it."
Calliope bolted out of his arms, nearly tripping over her own mess and ran out of the bedroom, probably waking Eli and Isaac with what sounded like an elephant stamped. How did such a tiny person produce so much noise? Gingerly, Spencer stood as well and trying to make his way through the destruction and out of the closet without killing himself or his throbbing knee.
Her trip back to the bedroom was much quieter and she had the bracelet around her wrist. Spencer called it 'the pink bracelet,' but it was really a twenty-four carat white gold cuff with three pink topaz stones. Calliope slid back into bed and looked at him expectantly. Smiling, he eased back into bed, accidentally dropping a crutch in the process. Calliope got out and took his crutches, leaning them against the nightstand – out of the way, but still within reach.
When Spencer was safely back in bed, Calliope crawled in on her side and scootched over to cuddle close to him. He wrapped his arms around her and cuddled her close. He waited patiently for her to be ready to talk, knowing better than to push her into talking. He knew his sweetheart backwards and forwards by now; being with her, loving her, taking care of her… everything was simply second nature to him now.
"I love you," she whispered, tilting her head back to catch his lips with hers and tangling her fingers in his long, scraggly hair. "I love you so much."
"I love you too," he kissed the corner of her mouth and squeezed her.
"I'm sorry I woke you up."
"What happened? Nightmare?"
"It's alright," he assured her. Calliope fidgeted with the cuff, twisting it back and forth, tracing the tip of her acrylic nail over the gemstones, following the metal patterns with her pinky.
"I miss her. Every year, it gets worse and worse. Because I don't think about her as much as I used to, I don't… I just…" Calliope dragged the back of her hand under her nose and sniffed. "She… I don't… I should have been with her, Spencer. Jill and I should have been with her."
"What happened?" He asked gently. She'd never told him what happened. He'd been away on a case on the last anniversary of September Eleventh, but they had only been dating for two weeks at that time so she probably wouldn't have told him the truth anyways. At least not the whole truth.
"Jill and I were playing hooky. We'd flown up to New York to met Meaghan even though we should have been in class at Washington and Lee… I mean, school had only just started, but Meaghan had gotten a small role in The Producers when one of the extras broke her elbow so we ditched one weekend to go see her. We were supposed to come back to Virginia Sunday night, but we stayed Monday to watch rehearsals and stuff… plus… New York is kind of intoxicating, ya know? It's hard to leave sometimes. You find reasons to stay. So we were like, 'Okay. We'll leave Monday night.' And then that turned into Tuesday after breakfast at Windows on the World. Jill and I were at my apartment a mile and a half from the Twin Towers. You haven't seen that apartment yet, String Bean. My apartment's on the thirty-fourth floor. I was over by the elevator shoving my runners on – I had my heels in my purse because you can't walk in New York in heels. I can't at least. I looked really funny 'cause I was all dressed up for Windows with these yellow Nikes on. I remember yelling for Jill to hurry up. The elevator doors had just opened and I had one foot in when Jill screamed.
"She sounded so terrified. I remember being annoyed because we were already late and I figured she'd just found a bug. Though, I don't know what a bug would be doing in an apartment on the thirty-fourth floor. I guess it could have ridden the elevator and gotten off with the cleaning lady. I need to pay the cleaning service. Have I paid Kate? I think I paid her last week. Ask her if you see her when she comes. I think I paid her."
Spencer didn't say anything as she rambled about Kate, the woman who game to clean four times a week. He always thought once or twice a week would suffice, but his Calliope was an anal retentive neat freak and a single fingerprint on the stainless possessed the ability to send her right over the edge.
"– last Saturday. Nevermind. I remember writing the cheque now. Anyways. Jill was stand over by the wall and pointing at the towers."
Calliope's hands shook as she dove into her purse for her cell phone. "Is that a plane? Jill, is that an airplane in the tower? Oh my god. What the hell kind of pilot loses control that badly? Please, God, don't let her be there yet. C'mon, Meag. Pick up, pick up, pick up. That's not the Windows tower, is it Jill? That's the other tower, right? Say it's the other tower."
"Meag? It's Callie. Are you okay? You're not in the tower, are you? I love you, girl. Call me back. C'mon, Jill." Calliope grabbed the stunned Jill by the hand and dragged her to the elevator, immediately hitting the 'lobby' button. As soon as the doors opened at the bottom, the panic of the world engulfed them. They pushed their way through the people standing in the marble lobby.
"Oh, my God," Jill gasped. "Look at the smoke."
"Oh, my God! J, it's the Windows Tower!" Calliope look off at a sprint towards the Towers and Jill screamed at her.
"Callie, what the hell are you doing?" Jill yelled, running after her. Adrenaline and fear kept Calliope running closer and closer with Jill yelling and trailing behind her. Block after block and the gap between Calliope and Jill grew. Calliope's hair had fallen loose from her bun and Jill followed the bright red curls bobbing in and out of view.
"I'm sorry," Calliope gasped an apology as she ran into a man running in the opposite direction. The man didn't respond, simply kept putting distance between himself and the smoking tower. "Oh God Meag… Please be okay."
Calliope stopped dead, slack jawed and terrified, when a second commercial airliner sailed low overhead and slammed into the South Tower, disappearing completely within the building with a sickening, deafening crunch. Her hand flew to her mouth and her hazel eyes welled uncontrollably.
A scream-like noise she didn't know she was capable of making ripped from her soul as a terrible fireball exploded in a mushroom cloud from the tower, growing and moving so quickly she couldn't see the top of the towers from where she stood on the cement two football fields away from their bases.
Her hands flew up to cover her head and neck as steel and glass and concrete rained down.
"That must have been terrible," Spencer whispered, remembering. He'd been in Las Vegas visiting his mom when it happened. She had been having a bad day. He'd been sitting with her trying to read to her, but he couldn't get her to settle down. It was like she knew something terrible was going to happen. Then he saw the nurses' shocked faces.
Calliope nodded and buried her face in his neck. He could feel hot tears drop from her cheeks to his skin. Kissing her forehead, he hugged her tightly, unable to imagine experiencing the hell first hand. Through the television was horrific enough.
"Goddamn, I should have done Cross-Country with you," Jill gasped as she caught up and stopped, panting, next to a barely winded Calliope, but Calliope only grabbed her hand in response. Jill closed her eyes against the flaming World Trade Center. "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God…"
Calliope rooted through her purse, grabbing her phone. "Meag? Oh my God! Meaghan! Are you okay? Meaghan? I can't hear you! Meag, if you can hear me, I love you."
" – my mom, I love her, okay?" Finally, Meaghan's voice came over the line and Calliope heard her shaking voice.
"Don't talk like that Meaghan. You're gonna be fine. You can tell her yourself when they get you out," Calliope wiped tears from her face and batted away burning paper as it rained down all around them.
"There's no way out, Callie," Meaghan was crying too and Calliope could only hear bits and pieces of what Meaghan said when the phone lines cut in and out. "I love you guys. Please, please, tell my mom I love her. I can't get through to her."
"I'll tell her, Meag," Calliope let Jill take the phone from her and they hugged while, both sobbing, while Jill spoke to Meaghan.
"I love you, girl," Jill pulled a burning piece of paper from Calliope's hair and tossed it to the ground. "Meaghan? Meaghan?" Lowering her hand, she glanced at the screen to see it blinking 'CALL LOST' at her, like she could just look behind a bench and find it again.
"The cell towers are down," she shook her head. Calliope cried outright now and the two clung to each other as people pushed past them, rushing away from the burning towers. Eventually, they shuffled out of the middle of the sidewalk and over to the building. They sat out of the way, leaning against the building and crying for the third of their threesome they knew would be missing forever.
Spencer brushed a few red curls away from his face and dusted kisses across her freckled cheeks and nose. He wanted to take away her pain, but knew he had no power to alleviate any of the anguish she felt. Not tonight. Not over this. He could fix Foyet, he could safeguard her against the monsters he fought at work, he could assuage her fears… he could fix so much, but the pain of eight years ago could not be fixed by his hands. Calliope reached up and pulled his head down until their lips met and the world melted away for the briefest moment.
He would gladly wade through whatever pain and hardships life brought, even if it meant being awoken before dawn to things being thrown around, if he could kiss her thus whenever he wanted to.
"I love you," she mumbled into the kiss and pressed close, carefully not to hit his knee.
"Everyone, please, stay calm as you evacuate," a few policemen herded people away from the tower and police barriers were set up and more and more fire engines screamed towards the decimated landmarks.
"Girls, you can't stay here," a bloody officer squatted next to where Jill and Calliope sat. Neither girl responded, but stood up and let him lead them beyond the wooden barriers. They walked slowly, completely stunned that this was really happening. It felt like a sick nightmare.
All around them, people screamed and cried, running past them as fast as they could, but it was all Jill and Calliope could do to keep moving at all. The mile and a half they had just run in ten minutes took what felt like forever. Police officers and firemen yelled for people to evacuate, but it all sounded like white noise as they walked, occasionally batting away burning paper, being bumped by people running, unable to fully see through their tears.
A man sprinting away bumped Jill hard enough to knock her to the ground. He paused just long enough to apologize before he turned and kept running. Screams intensified as Calliope helped Jill to her feet and the ground started to shake.
"Jill! Run!" Calliope grabbed Jill's hand and jerked her forward. They passed the door to Calliope's apartment building, running as fast as possible to a soundtrack of crumbling steel crushing floor after floor as the South Tower imploded, collapsing too quickly to flee.
Closing his eyes, Spencer ignored the pain in his leg and listened as Calliope's uncharacteristically quiet voice spoke. He always knew when something was truly wrong because it was the only time she was ever quiet. Now, she stopped talking, her eyes closed in exhaustion and her fingers slipped under his shirt to warm themselves against his side.
"You don't have to tell me anymore, Sweetheart," he told her gently, "not if you don't want to."
The rolling, expanding cloud of concrete dust gained impossibly fast and they inhaled the caustic air even before the cloud overtook them. A fireman grabbed Calliope's wrist as they ran past and pulled the girls behind a building, throwing his jacket over their heads and ducking his own into the crook of his elbow. The concrete cloud suffocated them as it rolled over them, burying them in unbreathable air.
Even sheltered under the thick, protective coat, Calliope's lungs filled with a thick chalk that choked her to the point where she thought she would black out and die right along with Meaghan. Just as she light-headedly began to welcome the idea of death, she felt the man fumble an oxygen mask over her face. It suctioned to her face and cleared itself and she took in a wonderfully clean breath of oxygen.
After a few deep breaths, she took one last gulp before the fireman maneuvered the mask onto Jill's face and she held her breath against the chalky air for as long as she could. It wasn't long until she couldn't hold her breath anymore and grit filled her lungs again.
The fireman took a turn on the oxygen tank before shifting it back to Calliope, who had started coughing violently after too much of the concrete and steel powder clogged her esophagus. Her eyes burned regardless of how tightly she clenched them. Soon, all three were coughing and the fireman got them up, still awkwardly shielding their heads with his jacket.
Unable to fully see through the grey, murky fog, the threesome felt and fumbled their way away from the Towers. Jill tripped first; she staggered, but stayed upright on her feet. Calliope wasn't so lucky. She stumbled into something painfully sharp and she had a feeling it was a broken sign of some sort as her knees and palms scrapped the ground and a sharp piece of metal scratched a deep gouge in her neck. With help, she got back to her feet and they kept going.
Before they realized it the firefighter left them standing in the foggy street several miles from where he'd so suddenly saved them. They coughed and sputtered along with the other people tottering around the streets in disbelief. They were five miles from the World Trade Center when the North Tower mimicked the South and crumbled floor by floor until all that was left was a massive pile of rubble, ghastly screaming and another cement smog that choked and gagged them.
Calliope squeezed out fresh tears and Spencer held her close, tightly wrapping his arms around her. Within his arms, she was protected from everything. Even memories weren't as bad when he was there to hold her and keep her safe. Spencer knew her so well and wanted her, all of her. The good, the bad, the loud, the quiet… the completely crazy.
He knew the Calliope who could put on the Go-Go's as loud as the speakers would go and dance around in a t-shirt and underwear singing terribly into a paintbrush, so hyped up on espresso that she couldn't hold still even with his hands on her shoulders trying to keep her from going straight through the ceiling.
But he also knew the Calliope that could curl up on the couch after a particularly harrowing phone call from her mammy, put in Driving Miss Daisy and cry for hours on end, stuffing herself with Godiva truffles until she made herself sick from eating so much chocolate and consequently couldn't get off the couch without feeling nauseated.
Spencer knew both and loved both the same, for some reason she still couldn't quite figure out. He stuck around through all the crap her mammy pulled to try and discourage their relationship. He was so perfect and she was so ridiculously flawed. And yet he loved her.
"Don't leave," she whispered without realizing she spoke out loud.
"Never," he whispered back, kissing her forehead through a few stray green and purple curls, never gladder for her and her exasperating tendency to run late at the most inopportune times. If she'd been on time that morning, he'd never have met her. She'd have died that day right next to the two thousand nine hundred and seventy-seven innocent victims who left their home one morning and never returned. But, even as he cuddled her close, his eyes never left the picture resting on the shelf that ran the length of the wall right under the row of stained-glass windows that would, once the sun rose, send opaque shades of purple and teal and aqua dancing all over.
The three girls stood on the bright green, grassy lawn of Liberty State Park in New Jersey with their arms wrapped around each other's shoulders. Each girl wore an identical silver bracelet with three stones of pink topaz. Laughing smiles beautified each girl's face in a way no make-up could ever mimic and they glowed with a youthful innocence that had, like so many others, been shattered beyond repair that fateful, terrible morning eight years ago.
Behind them, rising like beautiful, shining beacons into a clear and cloudless New York sky, the Twin Towers soared.
I do not presume to know what being in New York that day felt like.
All I know is I was in my 6th grade math class with Mrs. Smith. It was the 3rd period of the day. We were checking homework and my science teacher Mr. Reese barged in, telling her to turn on the television. She asked what station, confused and scared. Mr. Reese never acted this way. He said it didn't matter. Pick a station, any station. Both towers were in flames with this awful black smoke billowing from the top. We didn't understand what was going on. Boys sat stunned, some of the girls started crying. Mrs. Smith just stood there, unable to speak. We never left third period that day.
All I know is that my dad was supposed to be in those Towers on 10 September through 12 September for a business trip, but stayed home instead because his back and neck were hurting from a car crash five years prior. I know that a drunk driver I once hated for running a red light and leaving my dad with a five-inch metal plate in his neck and a bad back saved my dads life five years later and gave me seven more years with him.
All I know is that 2,977 innocent lives were lost for absolutely no reason. 40 people died as heros on Flight 93 in retaking the plane from it's hijackers instead of letting them destroy the White House or Capitol. 411 emergency responders in New York City died rescuing those they could from the World Trade Center. 341 of them were firefighters, 10 paramedics and 60 police officers.
The remains of 1,124 victims in the World Trade Center are still unidentified.
They left behind children and spouses, brothers and sisters, mums and dads, grandparents. So many of them never got a chance to say goodbye, never got to tell their families they loved them one last time.
This is dedicated to them, though I know it can never do them justice. So, in the immortal and courageous words of Todd Beamer, "Let's roll."