"We go out on our own
It's a big, bad world outside
Carrying' our dreams and all that they mean
Try to make it all worthwhile."
Swiping a hand across his face with the slapdash accuracy of a sleepy two-year-old, the low-hanging bags beneath his eyes more prominent than ever, the BAU's youngest trails into the bullpen ten minutes late with none of his usual flurry.
Coffee in hand, triple-strength and seemingly absorbed by sugar, Reid slurps in a forgetful, vague kind of manner as he removes his messenger bag with cold, uncooperative fingers and proceeds to gather his share of paperwork for the morning, doggedly ignorant of the stares from all around him.
Spencer is just about to plop his cup onto the desk, - apparently not realizing that his desk has never quite extended that far forward and that even if, by some stroke of luck, he managed to plunk it down right there on the ledge, there is no possible way the styrofoam-protected-piping-hot-accident-in-the-making would hold steadily enough to allow Reid to sit, free of a lap that's been thoroughly soaked and scalded - Morgan reaches out thanks to his fortunately quick reflexes and jerks the menacing coffee safely away from his best friend.
Only then does Reid react.
"Hey!" he protests in a voice a few octaves higher than he ideally would have liked. "That's mine!"
Brow raised in amusement at the whinny tone, Morgan gives the cup a cautionary jiggle and peers inside.
His eyes go wide in an instant.
Gagging, he exclaims, "Damn, Pretty Boy! That's gross! How in the heck can you drink this crap?" Double-checking just to be sure he isn't imagining things, Morgan glances at the alarming contents once more and cringes, lip curling in disgust. "What'd you do? Dump an entire kilogram of sugar in there? Ugh, looks like some kinda nasty sludge from a horror movie!"
"It's not gross," Spencer mutters, cheeks quietly flushed, while Emily snorts in disbelief and loudly objects, "Oh, come on! It can't be that be bad! You've gotta be exaggerating. There's no way-"
"Take a peek for yourself then," Morgan shrugs, overly blase, "S'your own fault if you don't believe me. Just don't say I didn't warn you."
When he holds the cup out in offering, his expression pretty much screams, Go ahead. I dare you.
By the way Prentiss' nose screws up, it's entirely possible she regrets investigating.
Curious, JJ takes one look, freezes, then swivels 'round to bark at Reid.
"Spence!" The horror-choked cry would be comical if it weren't so fitting.
Besides, the fact that this is Reid... Well, a touch of melodrama is excusable, right? Especially when it's JJ channelling all that motherly concern she stores in spades for moments just like this. No-one bats an eyelash at this sort of fuss or attention anymore. Neither do they gawk at the occasional fond 'kiddo' or the disbelieving scoffs every time the kid insists he's 'fine' (Yeah, right. I'm sure you're juuussst peachy. That's why your arm's bleeding. Oh, a gun shot wound? Is that all? How silly of me!) Certainly not when Hotch pairs him with Morgan and they all privately sigh in relief, because Morgan will have their little resident genius' back and given how well they balance each other out, nothing could ever go wrong, surely?
"What on earth were you thinking?" she continues, in full-blown mama-bear mode. "You know better than this! You, of all people, are well aware of the implications to your health. I can't believe you'd be so careless. You can't possibly drink.. that."
"Chew, maybe," Rossi is heard grumbling in the background as he, too, pokes around the scandal at hand.
Shuffling his feet, Spencer avoids her demanding glare. He purses his lips and frowns miserably to himself, before tentatively opening his mouth and defending feebly, "I was tired, that's all. I needed something to liven me up a bit." If possible, he manages to look even more pitiable as he nervously wrings his hands, and adds, "I'm really sorry, JJ. I confess, I-I-" Stifling a yawn, he wearily rubs his eye. "I wasn't exactly paying attention. I'll try not to let it happen again."
JJ sighs. With those great, big eyes staring her right in the face, she could not, under any circumstances, stay angry.
"It's okay, Spence." Laying a comforting hand on his shoulder, she tries to put the young man at ease, "I'm not really mad. It's just that…we're worried about you, you know? You don't seem to be getting much rest lately, particularly on a case, and I don't know, you look-" She suddenly cuts off.
Sick, her mind whispers. You look sick.
And it's true. His already pale complexion is that much paler. His already thin figure seems so much thinner. Gaunt cheekbones. Clothes that hang loosely off his frame. And, and his smile.. it's like it's disappeared. With all of those missing girls.
Washed away with the blood. Drowned out by a single child's cry. Gone in a way he can never forget. Not when he closes his eyes.
Clearing her throat, the profiler adds, "Not to mention, you're never late."
Reid's eyelids sag and he tugs around the edges of them, vision blurring, as he answers vaguely, "What can I say? Bad hair day?"
Morgan snickers. "If that were it, your tardiness record would be lot less clean, mister."
The younger man scowls. "Watch it! I'm not sure I like what you're insinuating."
"Insinuating? Dude, at one stage, so help me God, you looked like Jesu-"
JJ swats the muscular profiler before he can land himself in any more trouble than he is already in.
"Don't listen to him, Spence. Your hair always looks great," she soothes.
"Sure, tell that to the poor soul who had to give it the chop two years ago."
"What?" He grouches. "It's the truth and you know it. More than once, I thought to myself, you know, it's about time someone released that thing on his head back into the wilderness."
"Oh, you did not just-"
In that second, all heated glares and flaring nostrils, the two ladies have never looked so terrifying.
Next thing you know, the whole lot are bickering like school children, words like 'insensitive', 'thoughtless', and 'hammer-headed-douchebagged-jackassed-meanie' being thrown around like normal, because whaddya know, a certain tech goddess wandered in and quickly got swept up by the commotion.
Meanwhile, from a safe distance, Rossi narrows his eyes. The kid's too skilled in the art of redirection. He has the sneaking suspicion that Reid knew exactly what to say to drop the subject. Morgan never could let an opportunity like that slink by without comment and somehow, he sincerely doubts that would slip the lanky profiler's mind all of a sudden. 'Course, all he has to do is appear insulted and voila, step back and admire his handiwork as the overprotective ladies pounce on their target. Crafty little bugger.
Sure enough, not long after, he spies Reid slowly extracting himself from the argument with all the delicacy of a bomb expert which, by this point, is less about articulating thoughts in any semi-coherent fashion whatsoever and more about who can come up with the most creative insults without using the letter S. Or T. Soon even A is outlawed, as it so happens - a turning point for all the wrong reasons.
That's if you can even call it an argument with the way they're all clutching their sides and laughing hysterically as Morgan accuses Prentiss of being a (oh, hell, if he succeeds in making it through this godforsaken day without requiring extensive therapy then that's one bullet he'll be proud to say he dodged miraculously) nincompoop in the deepest voice he can muster.
The finest FBI agents, you say?
Riiighhht. More like effing kindergartners.
Still.. Rossi finds himself precariously in danger of cracking a smile at the sight of tear-tracks on his colleagues' faces.
Yip, he chuckles to himself, this is nothing like what he'd signed up for. Nothing in the least.
Before heading back to his office, Rossi has every intention of calling Reid out on his schemes.
Right up until that last moment.
He gathers himself, draws a deep breath inwards, even opens his mouth to speak.
But then, out of the corner of his eye, he notices the poor fella massaging his temples, unblinking gaze watery from his unbroken chain of yawning, and his knuckles white as he grips his pen with one hand and struggles to concentrate on what's in front of him, and Rossi thinks, maybe, just maybe, the best thing for him right now is a little peace.
"Maybe I'm wrong
Or maybe I'm right
Maybe it's just too late but this is keeping me awake all night
Maybe say yes or maybe say no
Maybe I'm just too shy to admit that it is time to go"
The wrinkle on his forehead appeared somewhere around ten that morning and ever since, it refused to be smoothed away.
Hotch is worried, on the verge of doing something drastic, and if he is perfectly honest, this intervention has been a long overdue, judging by the way the solution seems to pop out of nowhere.
His self-denial is truly astounding. You'd think the team leader hadn't spent the past week pondering the ins and outs in his head.
But he is worried and if part of Hotch wonders if perhaps he's overreacting, then it's easily brushed aside as he recalls all of his very valid concerns and what propelled him to do this in the first place.
And it's about Reid, no less. Anyone with half a brain could see the kid was having a hard time at the minute - the genius' never-ending supply of energy not altogether never-ending anymore.
It is time to take action.
He can't stand by any longer. Not only because he is obligated to look out for the welfare of his team members on principle, but because it hurt, somewhere down, down further in his chest - a muffled twinge that only ever announces it's presence when faced with his son in the slightest pain and it stirs up every deep-rooted urge to protect within him.
That... and, and with Reid.
The boy has always needed a little more encouragement than most and for all his social awkwardness or ill-timed ramblings, he has been somewhat of a sneaky weak spot for Aaron from the start and yes, some might say his overt sentimentality is eerily similar to that of a father. Or father figure. But, no matter.
Spencer tries so desperately to cope on his own, needs to stand on his own two feet because that's just how it's always been, that Hotch felt he owed the kid the chance to seek help of his own violation, but as the days have passed and it has become abundantly clear that such a hope is hopeless, the troubled leader has made the executive decision that Reid will accept support and he will be okay and that's all there is to it, really.
When twelve o'clock rolls around, (or rather, if you prefer to be precise as Reid so often does, two minutes and thirty-eight seconds ahead of midday) Spencer is surprised to glance up from his desk and discover a shadow looming over him.
"Reid, my office. Now."
The stern, no-nonsense words from his boss are enough to produce a spike in his blood pressure instantaneously.
Shakily rising to his feet and immediately following, the confused genius sweeps a glance over the bullpen to determine if any of his team members are aware of what this impromptu summoning is about.
The sudden absence of Morgan and Prentiss is striking and indeed, suspicious.
He wipes sweaty palms against his khakis - call it instinct, but Reid knows, feels, that this concerns his earlier delay in arrival, but for the life of him, he can't figure out why. If they'd a case, sure, then they'd have a problem. Wheels up in thirty means wheels up in thirty. And he'd promised, hadn't he? Never to miss another flight.
Ten minutes - that's nothing. Morgan's been late countless Paperwork-Mondays and that hasn't warranted a rebuke as of yet. Then again, that's Morgan. He's Reid. The baby of the BAU. He has to behave. He's got too many people watching over him; it'd be stupid not to.
"Take a seat." Hotch shuts the door behind him and turns down the blinds.
Okay, this is getting weird...
His features, infamously expressive, signal his discomfort as his muscles tense to flee.
"Look," the grim-faced man begins, "I'll cut right to the chase. You haven't been sleeping. Why?"
Wait, what? That's what this is about?
Taken aback by the blunt delivery, Reid scrambles for a reply. "I-I-" He shakes his head. "I don't-Who said-I never-"
Oh, no. Oh, God, no. I never wanted him to find out.
"Breathe," Hotch reminds him, exaggerating his own. So he does. In and out. Head spinning. Questions tugging all the while.
His boss frowns. "Frankly, I'm insulted by your bewilderment. We're profilers, son. Is it so difficult to imagine that I'd recognise sleep deprivation when I seen it?"
"Hang on," Reid blurts, "I'm not deprived of anything! I'm fine, Hotch. I mean, I'll admit, yes, I don't always get the recommended amount every single night, but you, out of everyone, understand, right? Our job.. it's demanding. The hours are as irregular as they come. Naturally, it's going to cut into your time somewhere. An odd all-nighter here and there isn't going to cause any harm. I'm no worse for the wear than anyone else on this team."
I'm not weak.
"Spencer, please. Spare me the defensiveness. I'm only here to help, okay? Just talk to me." His voice is pleasant, coaxing, soft in a way that bleeds all of the tension out of Reid's body until it's not just a superior and his subordinate seated here but a father, and maybe a son. "I won't think any less of you for having difficulties. It gets to us all. We keep busy and for a while, it works, until suddenly, everything grinds to a halt and you're faced with every gruesome little detail, every case, everyone you couldn't save. I'd be surprised if, every now and again, it doesn't become overwhelming. The thing is, though, is that you're forgetting that you don't have to suffer alone. Look around you. We care and we'd love for you to let us in."
Reid swallows hard. There's silence save for the younger man's restless squirming.
Aw, hell. Here goes nothing.
"I-I've been having nightmares," Spencer reveals, eyes flicking everywhere but towards Hotch. "They.. they've gotten pretty bad."
Suddenly, his lap is the most interesting thing in the world.
"I dunno," he shrugs stiffly, "Screaming in, uh, terror bad..I guess."
Hotch sighs. "I'd assumed as much." Bracing himself for the fight to come, he inwardly grimaces before saying, "Which is why I've come up with a less than ideal solution, but it should work for now."
Reid glances up at him sharply. "Solution? What are you talking ab-"
"Starting today, you will report to me at noon each day-"
Hotch goes on as if uninterrupted. "You may use this hour before lunch in order to catch up on whatever sleep you've missed out on throughout the night. It isn't much, but it's a start."
Spencer's jaw falls open as what his boss is suggesting sinks in.
"You're not serious!" he splutters. "Hotch, I'm not-I'm not going to take a-a nap in your office!"
"The couch should be comfortable enough. Garcia has kindly provided a blanket which you'll find is suitably warm and cozy." He reaches for something strategically placed under his desk.
Reid almost dies at the sight of this great, big ball of fluff - fluff everywhere. And are they-?
You've gotta be KIDDING ME.
"Never mind the cartoon animals," Hotch waves off neutrality - oblivious to (or ignoring. Scratch that. Definitely ignoring) the other man's horror. "You know what she's like about colour. Something about needing to be perfect for her sweet, junior G-man, which I gather means she thought you ought to have one which is aesthetically pleasing."
"Rossi has offered to let me work alongside him during that period. That way, it is unlikely you'll be disturbed. The team has already been informed of your... situation. Morgan's promised to keep the teasing to a minimum."
"This is ridiculous..."
"Likewise, JJ mentioned - privately, of course - that you might need a little prompting nodding off in the beginning until we've established a routine, which I've also taken into consideration-"
"I cannot believe what I'm hearing," the dazed agent murmurs, "I'm dreaming. Yeah. A strange, whacked-out dream where I'll wake up and go, Oh, maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something."
"Reid? Reid, are you listening?"
He blinks. "Yeah. What? Sure."
Hotch levels him with a stare that immediately has him straightening. "As I was saying, failure to comply will result in mandatory time off until I personally clear you, which I can assure you will be much, much more daunting."
"Hotch, it's bad enough that everyone calls me a kid in the field and ruffles my hair whenever the mood strikes them but this. This is too far. I'm a fully-fledged FBI agent. I don't need a nap!"
"Reid," And there it is. That subtle shift from a leader to a man who is anxious on his behalf and who is prepared to do whatever it takes to make this better. "In the time that you've been in here, you have knuckled your eyes on and off for the entire duration. Not only that, but I can tell you've restrained yourself from yawning on at least four separate occasions. You're exhausted. It isn't your credibility at stake here, it's whether or not you are well enough to do your job. Like it or not, I cannot allow you to continue running yourself into the ground."
Spencer bites his lip, feeling utterly defeated, as he asks in a tiny petulant tone, "But what about when we're away on cases?"
"Then I'll make suitable arrangements when the time comes. I believe you'll find, I can be quite easy-going, if need be."
Hotch raises a brow and watches as the barest hint of a smirk stretches into a cheeky grin.
"What?" He laughs. "You and easy-going in the same sentence? It's funny."
"Alright, I'll remember that the next time you wish to practise physics magic when you're supposed to be working."
"No! Wait! I take it back! I'm sorry!"
Hotch grins. "Apology accepted. Now," he swiftly checks his watch, "you have forty-five minutes today. But that should be fine since it's more about getting settled."
"Maybe believe or maybe don't care
Shit, maybe there is no God in the big, white clouds up there
Maybe live long or maybe die young
Maybe live every day like it's your last day under the sun"
As promised, the couch is reasonably comfortable.
Curled up under the blanket he hates on principle but would loathe to admit he sort of, kinda loves, Spencer yawns widely and listens to the words he's long-ago committed to memory spoken in a low, gentle voice.
"And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.."
Hotch continues even after Reid's eyes drift shut and his breaths even out. Even after his limp arm slides off his chest and dangles an inch above the floorboards.
Smiling, he closes the book twenty minutes in and readjusts the blanket around the young man's shoulders.
A few times, Reid awoke, trembling and panting, only to have Hotch ready and waiting with steady reassurances.
He'd pick up where they'd left off, and read until sleep crept up on the young genius and reclaimed him.
It was nearly four before he returned to his desk and was swamped by hugs from everyone bar Rossi, who clapped him on the back later on their way to the elevators. His support much less vocal or extravagant than the others, but no less appreciated.
"We go out on our own
It's a big, bad world outside
Carrying our dreams and all that they mean
Try to make it all feel right"
For all his genius, Reid had a tendency to become so absorbed in his own mind that the rest of the world faded out of existence. As was only to be expected, he often forgot about his midday appointments and so, sporadically, Hotch would be forced to drag the kid there himself. After a while, however, Morgan and Prentiss took this duty upon themselves. Ordinarily by giving him a quick heads-up five minutes in advance or on a day when they're particularly struck by boredom, through a message on a paper air-plane.
Usually, the same one that had crash landed a few moments prior into the side of his head.
Several weeks in, even this was no longer essential.
Reid had become so dependant on these little breaks (don't sweat, he was also attending weekly sessions with a psychiatrist to deal with his underlying issues, but that didn't exactly account for the problems in the mean time) that his eyes grew heavier and heavier the closer it came to twelve and that if pushed aside for one reason or another, he would soon fall asleep right there.
Spencer, understandably, despised this, but it couldn't be helped. Although, it certainly didn't grant him any favours when he attempted to ward off the use of 'kid' in everyday conversation. On crime scenes. In front of fellow officers.
Overall, he was in a much better place and felt stronger than ever.
As for Hotch's couch... Well, it had a few more additions.
A hand-knitted throw from Emily, who picked up the hobby for the jet home when she just needed something to keep her mind occupied and her hands steady.
A stuffed lion courtesy of Morgan because the last thing Reid needs in his life is another bully and he wanted to prove that it was okay to indulge your inner child; he wasn't going to mock his best friend for something he obviously needed, and he wasn't going to write it off as silly.
Then there is the pillow pet JJ swears to this day that Henry pleaded she buy two of so that he and his Uncle Spence could have the same and not because she thought it was adorable.
Not forgetting the small stack of books no-one ever bothers to move. Classics collected by Rossi and Hotch each.
Thank-you for reading. Hope you enjoyed this (hopefully) sweet one-shot. Please let me know what you think.
Lyrics are from a song called Big Bad World by an Irish band named Kodaline.
BTW, sorry if any language used offended anyone.
Disclaimer: neither the song, the quote, nor the characters of Criminal Minds belong to me, but hey, I'm pretty sure you already knew that :p