"Parker. There's a visitor here for you."

Greg's eyes flipped up from grading papers on his desk. He hardly ever got visitors at work and when he did it was usually either Marina with a lunch he forgot to take or Dean complaining about grumpy professors. They were never announced.

"Who…?"

But the secretary was already gone. Greg watched him go and another man take his place. A familiar crop of golden hair angled around the door.

"Am I interrupting?"

"No, no!" Greg stood. "Come in, Sam."

Sam waited for Greg to sit down and then pulled up a chair in front of the desk. He was still in his vest and gear, but wore no earpiece.

"Just got off shift?" Greg guessed.

"Yep. Only patrols today so no debrief to get back to. How goes life teaching the next generation?"

Greg favoured him with an indulgent smile for the same exchange they had every time: "They've got a full tank of energy…"

"Wasted on a smaller engine." Sam laughed. "No new surprises then, I take it?"

"Just you."

To most people, Sam was a calm person. And he was. He'd been trained to conserve strength; every movement had a deliberate purpose and use for maximum efficiency. He was the very definition of eagle-eyed, a mini Ed Lane with supplementary combat experience overseas.

He didn't do 'fidgeting.'

But Sam always had a certain potential energy that could be felt even at a distance. A coiling ready to launch in a split second. He hummed, in a way. His very muscles, still but poised, made noise, especially to a profiler like Greg.

That's why it took a moment for Greg to notice what felt different, why his senses went on alert.

Sam was still.

Not so much as a finger was tensed or wound up in his body.

Instead, a bone deep something painted shadows around his eyes. Not fatigue, exactly, not sorrow. Greg struggled to name the look. Sam was on the edge of his seat, elbows braced on the arm rests, just like that day in Holleran's office.

Had it really only been two weeks ago?

A lifetime had passed, filled with images that would haunt Greg for years.

"Boss," said Sam, when the silence had gone on long enough to be concerning. "I just came…I just need to explain why I never told you or Ed or my wife about the man who hit us both that day. Why I never wrote him up."

"Is it important?" That wasn't the question Greg meant to ask but it seemed right.

"Not to you or I." Sam shook his head. "But to Spike, yes."

"You're brothers," said Greg, without a drop of irony. "Your loyalty to him and this secret outweighs any professional obligation."

Sam's brow kneaded high. "You know about that?"

"Not specifics," said Greg. "No. But I do know Kyle was tied up with whatever Spike is ashamed of."

Sam's eyes darted back and forth across the floor, fighting an inner battle. "I don't know a whole lot of specifics either, but Kyle has an opioid problem that Spike figured out and explained to the company."

"And Kyle got angry about that."

"He claimed Spike had cost him a job opportunity, but by the sounds of it Kyle did that to himself." Sam couldn't contain a wry look, coated with disdain. "He was a write-off to this security company long before Spike came along."

"Wait, security company?" Greg's eyes narrowed. "Is Spike looking for a job?"

"I really don't know the whole story. But Spike made me promise to keep it a secret either way. That no one could know about Kyle or the security company offering him a position. Kyle was trying to threaten him, get Spike to turn down the job."

Greg eased back in his chair, mind spinning.

"Kyle was high, out of control, that day. I found him slamming Spike against a wall." Sam mirrored Greg's pained eyes. "I've never seen him like that. He looked…"

"Frozen," said Greg.

"Exactly. Like he was trapped somewhere in his mind."

Greg knew exactly where. Knew it so intimately he hated it.

Silence fell again and, if possible, Sam ceased moving altogether. The office's air was so inert, so quiet, Greg wondered if Sam's heart had stopped beating or if someone had pressed paused on the universe outside their bodies.

"Do you remember that night with Jill, the museum shooting?" Sam asked in a reverent murmur.

Greg nodded. He couldn't find words, in this moment.

"I meant what I said to her." Sam's eyes glowed with determination and that new, dark colour. "Greg, some people need to be protected."

Greg had gone over the reports of each interrogation, had bristled at Jill's aggression towards his team mates.

The thought struck him suddenly, replaying Sam's words—he was a parent now. He wrestled with his own instincts and needs towards those he treasured.

Like the axis balance of a swinging pendulum, Greg recognized the shadows in Sam's eye and it rendered him weightless—

It was understanding.

The dark, sticky arms of wisdom that warmed and strangled all in one breath. The deeper pockets of a man's soul that promised retribution for the shedding of a loved one's blood.

Sam said nothing while all this rippled across Greg's skin, open on his face for Sam to read.

He just cast Greg a long, knowing look, and blinked back a sheen clumping his lashes.

"Spike isn't helpless," said Greg, once he'd licked away the sandpaper in his mouth. "You said that to Jill, but he's not."

"No, he isn't. He doesn't need our physical protection, has a brain that could—that has—run circles around this city. Has a fire inside him to rival Jules. He's saved my life so many times I've lost count. There's no one more capable."

"But you're not talking about that kind of vulnerability, are you?"

Sam sighed through his nose. He hid his lips with lax fingers, eyes far away for a beat.

"I worked with EOD techs in Afghanistan. They were a certain breed. Difficult with authority, creative to the point of madness, but treated carefully because so much of their job was done alone, under enormous pressure, and they needed support."

Greg had read psych profiles of bomb disposal units for his thesis, the strange and unique element EODs always added to an otherwise macho and hot blooded team. Sam didn't elaborate on the comparison, didn't need to.

He pointed at Greg and said, slightly choked up, "He's different than all of us and you know it. You've downplayed it, covered it up, for years."

Greg longed for a glass of scotch, the first pang of desire he'd had in ages.

He almost begged Sam not to say it, the penultimate truth they were hovering around like a loaded gun.

"Spike could get shot, tortured, see the worst of humanity." Sam's eyes were big and earnest now, baring all the intimate nooks of his character. "And he'd still be purer than all of us put together."

I know. I knowIknowIknow. In a poisonous wave, Greg fought back a shot glass of nausea.

"Because this." Sam leaned across the desk to tap Greg's chest. "This is his weakest and strongest point. Even against all the EODs I've ever met, Spike is a caliber of his own."

Greg remembered the first time Dean figured out, just a bit, that Santa Clause may not be real. The secret of how it all worked.

Sam looked a little bit like that now, a child who'd grown up into a man, only to realize the implications. The threat to Spike's already sutured heart. Sutured a hundred times over, some by Greg's own hand. How many people had hurt Spike and used him…

Yet how he still saw the best in people.

"Other cops," Sam continued, like he couldn't stop himself now that he'd started, "They lose their wonder after a while. Not jaded, necessarily. Just world-wise. Dulled at the edges, expecting how things may go wrong."

Not Spike. Spike still gasped at every extreme act of violence and got bright-eyed by betrayal. Sometimes even on a call, not in private like the rest of them.

"There's no bullet proof vest for this kind of threat." Sam's tone turned pleading, fraught. "This can't happen again."

Greg looked Sam dead in the eye and carried the heft of his lilting spirit for a brief, exquisite moment. "That's what we're here for. Sam, we are his vest."

"And if we fail?"

"We won't."

Sam sat back. "I sort of feel like we just did."

"He broke through on his own," Greg whispered. "In the hallway. Fought back to protect himself."

Sam pinned him with one raised brow. "Because he saw you."

"Yeah, well. Now you know why we had to have cake and a movie night."

Sam and Greg grinned at the memory of Spike following Jules' lead and nodding off against Ed's knees, after he'd given up his seat to Greg and sat on the floor. How Ed held himself perfectly still to not wake them.

The image of their heads, one against each knee, would remain a cherished memory.

"It's not even the physical assaults that bother me the most." Now Sam looked tired. "It's that he felt terrified, alone, and didn't tell us."

"He's strong, Sam. Heaven knows how much childhood conditioning he's overcome."

Sam fell silent while this fact floated somewhere near the ceiling over their heads. Down the hall, a class of freshmen were released for the evening, chattering, the jangling of their lanyards and temporary badges a symphony of the future.

"He bridges that gap in a way I've never seen before," said Sam. "Neither fully on the offense as a stereotypical cop nor even close to naive enough to be in the same category as a civilian."

"He's innocent." Greg finally spoke it out loud, the 'secret' tucked close to his chest for over seven years. "He's an innocent cop."

"Like I said." Sam's eyes thawed the cooled air of this heavy conversation. They were warm, very Samtastic, and with them the world resumed again. "Some people just need to be protected."