Author: morejoyful PM
AU. They say your life flashes before your eyes right before you die. Spencer Reid doesn't know whether or not that's true. What he does know is that on May 21, 1946, what flashes before his eyes is not his life but rather his death.Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Tragedy - S. Reid - Words: 2,244 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 6 - Published: 01-30-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7789534
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Written for CM Prompt Meme R3: AU: Reid as a scientist working on something that goes wrong. Based on the death of Louis Slotin (en(dot)wikipedia(dot)org/wiki/Louis_Slotin).
The properly formatted version of this fic can be found on LJ: morejoyful(dot)livejournal(dot)com/4691(dot)html
They say your life flashes before your eyes right before you die. Spencer Reid doesn't know whether or not that's true. What he does know is that on May 21, 1946, what flashes before his eyes is not his life but rather his death.
It's a simple mistake: he drops his screwdriver.
The problem is that he also drops the upper half of the beryllium sphere that he was using the screwdriver to prop up. The sphere is a neutron reflector. The lower half encases a plutonium core.
The two halves of the sphere touch. They bombard the plutonium with neutrons. Fission occurs. Each atom that is split continues the chain reaction and releases neutron and gamma radiation.
The blue glow that illuminates the room is terrible and beautiful. A wave of heat washes over him. There's a sour taste in his mouth.
His left hand, still holding the sphere, burns hot and sharp. He jerks it upward, away from the pain, and dislodges the upper half of the sphere.
It falls to the ground. The light and the heat dissipate. Nothing remains behind to suggest that a prompt critical reaction has just occurred.
Nothing except the looks of horror on his colleagues' faces and the nausea that suddenly incapacitates him.
There is protocol for handling this. There is protocol for everything at Los Alamos. Nevertheless, he has no recollection of what happens next—only of pain and dizziness. Someone helps him outside. He doubles over, vomiting.
He feels strong, soothing hands on his back and shoulders. He looks up at a grave, careworn face.
"Hotch," he says. "I really messed up this time."
They rush him to the hospital. He thinks but doesn't tell them that there's no need to hurry. He knows it's already too late.
Too late. It's a sad thought. Any remaining interest he had in this work ended together with the war. He didn't want to think about the atomic bomb any more. He was planning on leaving, wanted to resume his own research in biophysics and radiobiology. He'd already trained his replacement. This was supposed to be the end of his tenure at Los Alamos.
It still is the end, he supposes.
He doesn't believe in karma, but nevertheless he finds it fitting that he'll share in the death that his work has inflicted on so many people. An appropriate end to a life that helped end so many others.
There are worse ways to go. He's a scientist dying in the name of science. Few have been privileged to see and understand the things that he has.
What's galling, though, is that he's supposed to be so fucking smart and yet it's his own stupidity that's going to kill him.
His radiation sickness is kept a secret, due to the classified nature of their work. The enforced silence is hard on his colleagues, who have to keep doing their jobs and living their lives, pretending they don't know that one of their own is lying in the hospital waiting to die.
They visit him every day. He hates what this has done to them.
"I'm sorry I got you into this," he says to Morgan after he's first admitted. Morgan was the one standing closest to him when the accident occurred, just a couple of feet behind him, watching over his shoulder.
Morgan looks stricken. "Reid—no. Don't."
"I'm afraid I have less than a fifty percent chance of living. I hope you have better than that."
"You're going to be fine," Morgan lies.
Nobody else wants to hear his apologies either. They talk about how quickly he acted, how he used his body to shield the others from the radiation, how he managed to stop the supercritical reaction and save everyone else. They call him a hero.
He'll let them say that, if it makes them feel better, but he knows it isn't true. If he hadn't been so careless, if he had followed the proper procedures, if he had paused just once to consider his own safety and that of his colleagues, this would never have happened. It's his own fault.
They tell him how selfless he was for knocking the sphere apart with his bare hand without concern for his own well being, for risking his own life for theirs. He wonders how much the sacrifice of his life means when he knew he'd already been sentenced to death from the moment the screwdriver slipped from his hand.
And how much the sacrifice of his life means when he can't repay even a fraction of the damage he's caused. Rossi used to joke, when someone had done something particularly dangerous or foolhardy, that they had taken years off his life. Reid knows that this time, he has literally shortened the life expectancy of everyone who was in that room with him.
He sees their anguish as they watch his hands swell, his skin redden, his arms erupt with massive blisters. He's just grateful that they don't hate him. Or if they do, that they've at least decided not to tell him while he's still alive.
It takes him nine days to die.
It's not the pain that's unbearable, but the wait.
He relives the accident over and over again in his head. Maybe he feels the need to punish himself for his mistakes. As if he weren't already being punished enough.
If he had simply chosen to manipulate the lower half of the beryllium shell instead, dropping it would have sent it tumbling harmlessly to the countertop or the ground, rather than onto a 6.2 kilogram mass of plutonium. Or if he hadn't removed the shims specifically designed to separate the two halves and prevent just such an accident from occurring, it would never have been an issue to begin with.
If he hadn't decided to balance his own fate and that of six other people on the end of a screwdriver, he wouldn't be dying now.
The doctor tells him that a number of volunteers have donated blood for transfusions for him. He wonders whom they're trying to humor, because he and the doctor both know that it won't do any good.
His colleagues continue to visit, some of them more often than others. Hotch and JJ have families to go home to, families who cannot know anything about the accident. The stress of maintaining the charade of normalcy is visible on their faces.
Morgan is a constant fixture in his hospital room when he isn't at work. Garcia accompanies him less and less often. Reid knows it's difficult for her to see him in this state; she has to weigh that against the fact that if she doesn't see him now, she will never get the chance to again.
Prentiss seems to be handling it the best, although Reid knows that her composure is largely for everyone else's benefit. She's the one who does the post-accident calculations, figuring out where everyone in the lab was standing and how much radiation they were exposed to. She tells him that Morgan received 360 rem. Prentiss herself, who was nearest to them, received 250 rem.
Reid received 2100 rem, about four times the lethal dose. That sounds pretty accurate, considering how he's feeling right now.
Unexpectedly, he finds he enjoys Rossi's company the most. Rossi's the only one who doesn't treat him like he's already dead. He's always felt the most self-conscious around Rossi, but now Rossi somehow manages to distract Reid from the constant fever, the headaches, the diarrhea, and, eventually, the gangrene. The fact that he's lost all his hair, that his intestines have stopped functioning, that his skin is peeling off him, literally falling apart. The others scold Rossi for going too far when he tells Reid to buck up and jokes that what's good enough for Madame Curie ought to be good enough for him. Reid laughs for the first time since he's been in the hospital.
"Get them to give me two Nobel prizes," he says to Rossi, "and then we'll talk."
"I would if I could, kiddo," Rossi replies. "If anyone deserves it, it's you."
He doesn't know if it's more surprising when his mother comes, or when his father does. He's always wondered how he would act, what he would say if he ever saw his father again. Now he doesn't have to decide. He doesn't have the strength to enact any of the myriad scenarios he's concocted in his head when he's imagined confronting his father. He lies there and lets the man who abandoned him hold his hand as his bodily systems disintegrate and fail one by one.
He doesn't know if what he's feeling is forgiveness or apathy. He's glad that his condition relieves him from the obligation of having to respond to his father's apologies.
He wonders if his mother even understands what's happening.
He starts to feel a little better on the last day. They tell him he has a fever of 106 degrees. He asks a nurse what his blood count is. She starts to cry and doesn't answer. He doesn't ask again. The number doesn't really matter anyways, not anymore.
He asks his mother to sit with him. He hoped she would be lucid, but part of him is glad she's not. He doesn't know how to explain to her that he's dying. He hasn't even come to terms with it himself.
He's already dictated a message to Garcia, in case he doesn't get a chance to say goodbye to his mother properly. Dr. Norman can give it to her when she's doing better.
His mother recognizes him today, although she thinks he's ten years old and in his bedroom in their old house. She offers to read to him. He asks her to recite him a poem instead. He has an eidetic memory and can read 20,000 words a minute, but no one reads poetry like his mother can.
The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne,
Th'assay so hard, so sharp the conquering,
The dredful joy alwey that slit so yerne,
Al this mene I by Love...
She pronounces the Middle English with as much historical accuracy as possible, which makes it challenging enough that working to understand it distracts him from the pain, but not so difficult that it lessens his appreciation of the language or the pleasure he takes in its beauty.
He closes his eyes, letting the sound of his mother's voice and the lilting rhythm of the poem lull him into a peaceful rest.
He never opens them again.
For out of olde feldes, as men seith,
Cometh al this newe corn fro yeer to yere;
And out of olde bookes, in good feith,
Cometh al this newe science that men lere.
agonie [agɔni], s.f. Death agony, death-struggle, pangs of death. Être à l'agonie, to be at one's last gasp. Lente a.,lingering death, long-protracted death-bed. (Heath's Standard French and English Dictionary)
ἀγωνία, ἡ, 1. contest, struggle for victory, ἀγὼν διὰ πάσης ἀγωνίης ἔχων Hdt.2.9.1; πολεμίων ἀ E.Hec.314, cf. Tr.1003; esp. in games, Pi.O.2.5.2, P.5.113:—also in Prose, ἐν δημοτικῆ ἀ. X.Cyr.2.3.15; ἄπασαν ἀ. ἐκτεῖναι [D.]60.30, etc. 2. gymnastic exercise, Hp.Art.11, Pl.Men.946, Lg.765c, etc.: generally, exercise, Id.Grg.456d. sq., R.618b. 3. of the mind, agony, anguish, ἐν φόβω καὶ πολλῆ ἀ. D.18.33, cf. Men.534.12 (pl.), Arist.Pr.869b6; ἐν τοῖς τῆς ψυχῆς φόβοις, ἐλπίσιν, ἀγωνίαις Id.Spir.435a5, cf. Chrysip.Stoic.2.248, al., Phld.Ir.p 56W. (pl.), ..9. (Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon)
1. Louis Slotin to Alvin Graves: "I'm sorry I got you into this. I'm afraid I have less than a 50 per cent chance of living. I hope you have better than that." (www(dot)mphpa(dot)org/classic/FH/LA/Louis_Slotin_1(dot)htm)
2. The life so short, the art so long to learn,
The attempt so hard, so difficult the struggle,
The fearful joy that slides away so swiftly,
All this do I mean by "Love"...
(Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Parliament of Fowls", ll. 1-4)
3. For out of old fields, as men say,
Comes all this new grain from year to year;
And out of old books, in good faith,
Comes all this new knowledge [science] that men learn.
(Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Parliament of Fowls", ll. 22-25)