Hi everyone - it's been a long time! I was revisiting some old files on my computer and I realized that the below post-Amplification chapter from my completed fanfic "Far From Georgia" could also, with a few edits, be a one-shot and stand alone as a separate piece. I decided to edit it and post it. If you've already read the chapter in FFG, thank you! If you haven't, enjoy.
A few notes: the Latin translation of the Lord's Prayer is from a website and from my very rusty memory of high school Latin class. Anything religious is used stylistically and isn't meant, on my part, to be preachy or religious in theme or nature. Honestly, it's more a poetic choice than anything. Additionally, skin cancer facts and statistics are from the skin cancer foundation's website. Wendell Berry's two poems "The Peace of Wild Things" and "A Spiritual Journey" are both used and italicized when used. Lastly, let's pretend I have some medical awareness of what Anthrax would do to an infected individual.
Happy reading! :)
"This is just another night, and we've had many of them. To the morning we're cast out, but I know I'll land here again." – Bastille, "Get Home."
The world separated into fragments, morphing together at a maddening trickle. Adjacent, rhythmic beeps became the tempo that the sterile room pulsated to, and Reid blinked to align the warped view. His throat burned with dryness, his body ached with overwhelming shocks of pain that caused tears to immediately collect in his eyes, but, as more and more of the surroundings evenly lined with one another, Spencer Reid became aware that he was alive. And, damn. It hurt to be alive.
A hunched figure that was darker than the intrusive fluorescent lighting and brilliantly white, scratchy hospital sheets hadn't noticed he was awake. Reid flicked a parched tongue over his cracked lips. Of course it was Morgan sitting by his deflated body in, yet another, hospital room. Of course it was Morgan who never left has side. Of course it was Morgan who would stay until he was sure Reid was back to some altered, jaded form of okay. Reid wasn't sure if it was the residual effects of the Anthrax or his own issues with abandonment that made him surprised by Morgan's loyalty, but he was too damned tired and in way too much pain to contemplate the thought. With a twinge of jealousy, Reid watched Morgan shovel a red, wobbly substance into his mouth. Jell-O, he recognized after what felt like an agonizingly slow moment, I love Jell-O. I wonder if there's more...
"Is there more Jell-O?"
Morgan jumped, suddenly electrified with life, declaring Reid's newfound level of consciousness. Between Dr. Kimura and his coworker's attention, Reid soon felt drained. He had been right about the antidote, as everyone had hoped, and he, and the remaining victims, had survived. The information felt too surreal, too oppressive, and, after this realization, Reid closed his eyes once more, falling asleep to Morgan's deep baritones as he spoke quietly into his cell phone.
A thick fog haunted and covered his dreams: Morgan was there, following him everywhere. He was pushing him away from kids with guns in the relentless Texas sun, untying him from a cold goalpost at a Las Vegas high school, and his terrified looks reached through glass. I'm so sorry, Reid heard his own voice say. But, in this altered reality, he wasn't sure what he was sorry for or if this meant anything at all. He had saved the victims, although his own health had been sacrificed once again. Maybe, perhaps in another life, he'd look back at all of this and laugh. Only Reid would get infected with Anthrax. Only Reid would get kidnapped and threatened by religious fanatics. Only Reid would have a drug problem...
At the memory of blissful narcotics surging through his system, Reid bolted awake, prepared to tell anyone with the ability to put a syringe near his IV that there was no way in hell he would let that happen. The heart monitor spiked and surged in alarm, but returned to its monotonous beeps once the room came into focus. Underneath his nose, the oxygen mask felt weighted, but it already hurt to breathe, so removing it, Reid understood, was out of the question.
At his side, Morgan had fallen asleep with his legs propped on the bed's end and arms crossed across his chest. Reid watched his even breathing, wondering what day it was, what time, and, after a quick blurry observation at the windows, he concluded it was early morning. When the pain returned in waves of unforgiving taunts, he closed his eyes once more. One day, he'd find the strength and the courage to tell Morgan how grateful he was for the man's unwavering support; however, right now, he needed sleep.
It was morning when Reid woke again. Groaning, he struggled to sit upright. His body throbbed so badly he could feel each and every individual blood vessel path through his veins. His surroundings were slow to materialize, his lips caked and cracked, and his throat was lined with sandpaper. The room was oppressively white, and he whimpered again. In an instance that felt like years, someone moved to draw the shades, blocking the light with one motion.
"Thanks." His voice was barely audible and it sounded both foreign and disjointed.
Reid blinked away the blurriness, managing to concentrate on the figure sitting next to him. The gears in his mushy, slow brain turned in an attempt to place the face, and he scrunched his eyes shut once more.
"Reid, do you need something?"
It wasn't Morgan, that much he could tell, but, for the life of him, Spencer could not understand who was speaking. The voice was too light to be Hotch's, Morgan's, or Rossi's, but it was too weighted with the past to be anyone from outside the team. He inhaled deeply, feeling bile surge upwards in a large wave.
"I think I'm - "
But he couldn't finish the sentence, although the visitor, whoever it was, reacted with remarkable reflexes. Somehow, a pink, u-shaped plastic container was underneath his mouth and Reid vaguely registered that a soft, comforting hand traced small patterns on his back. The touch made the thin, abrasive fabric of the hospital gown assault his flushed skin, and he fought the urge to scream as the prickles turned into microcosms of pain once more.
He retched until he spotted blood before finally flopping into a mound of pillows when exhaustion prevented any other movement or vomitting. Behind closed lids, he heard the mystery visitor clean the basin with steps that told him that whoever it was had practice caring for others. He didn't open his eyes until the metal taste in his mouth had somewhat disappeared.
"Hey, Spence. How are you feeling?"
It was JJ, as he had suspected deep down, but Reid couldn't help but notice how worried and pinched her expression was. Her lips were set in a fine line usually only reserved for Hotch when things were going catastrophically wrong. Her eyes, although etched with something he could not decipher, were canvassed with more anxiety than warmth, and he noticed how her fingers shock when she grabbed for his hand, which felt wonderfully cool in his own.
"I've been better."
He attempted to smile, but it turned into a racking cough that made him hunch forward, unable to grab for all the mucles and bones that protested and ached. JJ jumped to action once more, helping Reid lean forward until the fit subsided, easing him back onto pillows that now felt remarkably comforting.
"Do you want some water?"
He nodded, too tired to respond, and watched as JJ took the pitcher into her hands, pouring the glorious liquid into a small paper cup.
"Drink slowly," she instructed.
Hell, he could drink a whole ocean right now, as long as something eased the torment ripping his throat into shards. Yet, he did as he was told, handing the cup back to JJ when a tremor sloshed half the water onto the tangled bed sheets. He watched again as JJ tidied the small beside table, refocusing her concentration onto his mangled bedding once that task was through. Her touch was remarkably gentle, and Reid felt his tense muscle unfurl substantially once she had separated thin, abrasive cotton from his sweat-soaked skin.
"You don't have to do that, you know." He tried to tell her in a tone of gratitude, but, instead, his voice sounded unusually harsh and unused.
She nodded, slipping fingers through her hair before leaning back into the hard plastic chair.
"You're going to be here for a while," she shot him a look that made his rebuttals stop before being voiced, "so you might as well be comfortable."
He nodded, blinking slowly, trying to align the events of the last few hours.
"Will… Henry - "
"I saw them last night and earlier this morning, Reid. They understand why I'm here, and, besides, someone had to make Morgan go home and shower. He was starting to smell." JJ joked and smiled, but the warmth did not reach her still pinched expression.
"Is it morning?" He asked, suddenly terrified that all sense of time had evaporated. It could be twenty years later, and he wouldn't know at all.
JJ nodded again before reaching for his hand once more.
"Reid," she began, biting her trembling lip. The blockade did nothing to stop its wobbling and soon, much sooner than he could stand, fat tears dribbled down JJ's paling cheeks.
"Don't you ever do that again."
He opened his mouth, but closed it almost instantly when JJ shook her head in silent protest. Her flax colored hair shifted from side to side.
"I thought…we thought..."
She turned her gaze away from him for a moment, staring anywhere but his sickly frame. Reid was sure he looked close to death because that was how he felt. He coughed again, albeit less violently than before, gripping JJ's hand until he could manage sharp, small inhalations of air.
"I can't lose you, Spence."
He nodded, tears pooling at his own lenses. It wasn't a statement; it was a plea, and Reid felt the epiphany hit at the very center of his chest. For all his past reckless actions and behaviors, the end had been close this time. Too close.
"I'm sorry, JJ."
She nodded, giving his hand a reassuring squeeze.
"Don't apologize, but you better be prepared for Garcia. If you think I'm a wreck, I've got nothing on her."
He laughed again, coughed even more, and allowed JJ to press a cool washcloth over his eyes. Reid wasn't sure how long she wiped the damp, cold relief to his forehead, but, with each stroke, he felt himself relax. The tightness in his chest lightened, and his eyelids became weighted with his recent exertions.
"I promise I'll always be here." He told her, unsure if the words actually left his lips or only swirled inside his mind.
JJ peered at him through golden waves. The last thing he saw before the room faded from view was JJ's tears falling to meet his cheeks.
"Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adv ...Wait, shit. That's not right. Is it? Pater noster. Ughhhh!"
"I'm pretty sure that the Lord's Prayer doesn't have the word shit in it."
Emily jumped at Reid's cracking tone, meeting the snow-white face accentuated by remarkably clear eyes staring into her dark ones. For a moment, Reid struggled to garner enough strength to pull himself upright. Emily placed gentle hands under his armpits, hoisting his remarkably light, frail body upwards with one fluid motion. Reid looked embarrassed, but the expression morphed into gratitude when this position relieved some of the clogging pressure weighing onto his lungs.
"I forgot the words." She explained to his earlier statement.
He nodded, shaking hands reaching for the cup she passed him. The small sips of water felt like ecstasy to his burning throat. Now, if he could only find a way to spread this relief to every single muscle in his aching body.
"Since when do you pray?" He asked from behind closed lids.
Emily shifted in the uncomfortable chair, ass far past the point of numb. Behind her, the muted television showcased a daytime talk show she had only been half-pretending to watch.
"Since when do you sequester yourself in a room filled with Anthrax spores?"
Reid opened his eyes and grinned at her sarcasm. "Touché."
She snorted at his remark, pressing her lips into a thin, white line. Whether it was to suppress laughter or tears, Reid couldn't tell.
"How do you feel?"
Reid considered the question for a long pause as he allowed more droplets of water to ease the patches of dryness lining his esophagus.
"Do you remember during our training when we had to run the timed two mile and then complete the obstacle course?"
Emily nodded, brows furrowing in confusion.
"It feels like that, although I was exempt so I guess what I imagine that to feel like..."
His skin felt like he was on fire and, weakness and breathing issues aside, all he wanted to do was bolt out of bed and the nauseatingly sterile hospital. What recovering from an Anthrax infection felt like was a very heightened set of withdrawals, but Reid wasn't about to detail another painful past experience, especially given the awful circumstances of the last day.
"Take the worst hangover you've ever had, add in a pretty bad beating, and then repeatedly run yourself over with a bus." He joked, attempting to smile while handing Emily the paper cup.
She managed a weak laugh, helping Reid situate himself against pillows once more. Conversation and slight movement, no matter how little, made sleep wash over him with the blinding force of a freak winter snowstorm. Noticing Reid's drooping eyelids, Emily busied herself with his blankets and pillows, ignoring his fever shivers and pools of cold sweat.
"Hey, Em?" He managed to ask once she leaned into the stiff chair back.
"Yeah?" The softness in her voice enveloped him in a rich velvet cover of comfort.
"Can you stay awhile?"
A slight breeze of air tickled his burning, exposed skin when Emily nodded yes. The room quickly turned quiet and the lull of machines and monitors dulled against the backdrop to the bustling hospital outside the door leading to his private room.
"I only pray," he heard Emily speak so softly he wasn't sure if she really was or he was imaging things again, "when I'm afraid I'll lose a friend. I pray when I'm afraid I'm losing an important part of my world. I only really pray when I'm petrified."
He wanted to respond, but Reid wasn't sure he had the right words anymore.
"Don't do that again, Reid. I don't know if we, if I, can handle that type of scare again..."
There was a brief suspended moment when Emily leaned forward, imprinting a light set of soft lips onto his forehead. Reid couldn't help but feel simultaneously grateful for and reassured by her physical presence and rare outward display of affection.
"I'm not going anywhere." He spoke, although, again, Reid was entirely positive he was.
He heard a sniffle.
"You almost did, Reid."
By now, this conversation had to be real, but it felt too strange. Emily was not an emotionally open person. Feelings, prayers, and tears were not her usual coping mechanisms, but her words, her admissions, were real, weren't they? Reid shifted slightly, trying to stay focused, but the room was melting into a congealed mold of whitewashed walls and prickled ceilings.
"Why Latin?" He heard himself ask as the eerie sound of his dry voice dripped from the walls.
"Habit I guess."
"You were right before, you know. The words were correct."
Someone was speaking for him, Reid was sure of it, but he blinked again, and Emily's dark, swirling eyes momentarily came into view.
"I guess it's been too long since I last prayed, though. I don't remember the whole thing."
"Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra..." He offered, not understanding how he could remember anything, never mind an ancient Latin prayer while he was in so much pain and his body was so laden with sleep. Somehow, the words had left his lips without a thought, as casual and as free as dandelion wisps floating in the spring breeze.
"Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris ..." Emily's voice shook, and he felt her cool fingers wrap around his scalding ones.
He wanted to talk more, to tell her how afraid he had been too, especially when the aphasia had caught him off-guard, but her voice felt more reassuring than any he had heard before. It worked as a lullaby, leading him to sleep and a pulling him deeper into a subconscious suspension of ease. Here, pain couldn't reach him. Here, destruction was not real. Here, his friends weren't afraid he might die. Here, he wasn't fighting against Anthrax, unsubs, or his inner demons. Here, he didn't want the painless oblivion of narcotics. Here, Reid heard Emily's soft chanting fill the empty spaces he had once thought were shattered forever.
"Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo. Amen."
The next time Reid woke, the windows showcased the fading, disjointed light of approaching evening. He waited for his muddled vision to straighten, watching a weak, quickly diminishing, ray extend through the half-parted curtain. At the side not occupied by monitors, a faint, rhythmic, and metal tapping told him who was visiting before he turned toward the woman wearing a light yellow top accentuated by dangling sunflower earrings and a mop of blond hair decorated with snazzy barrettes.
He smiled at the way her knitting almost immediately dropped into her lap.
"Hey Junior G Man," her lips shook, but she leaned into kiss his head nonetheless. Reid had a vague, odd, memory of Prentiss doing the same thing.
"What are you making?" He asked, referring to her knitting projecting while slowly hoisting himself upward.
Still, the world spun, and he closed his eyes when waves of nausea threatened his uneasy stomach. Noticing Reid's discomfort, Penelope reached for his hand, tracing small, even circles by his knuckles. Surprisingly, Spencer felt the motion reel him away from the threat of vomiting in front of, yet another, coworker.
"Sorry." He apologized when he finally felt it was safe to open his eyes once more.
Garcia gave his hand a small squeeze, glancing at her lap before leaning back in her chair.
"I'm making Henry a winter sweater."
She answered his earlier question, holding up the project for Reid to see. For a moment, he feared that his godson would be donning some rainbow, wool concoction, but Garcia's knitting was well done and, surprisingly, tame. The light blue sweater had a small train picture beginning to take shape on its front.
"That's really good, Garcia." He said between coughs, noticing they hurt a bit less than last time. "I'm sure it will keep him warm."
Garcia nodded, grabbing an over-sized handbag by her feet and stuffing the knitting tools into its depths. JJ's warning about Garcia's reaction came to mind, and Reid cringed. Behind scrunched eyes, he prepared himself for the fretted, worried tirade. When it did not come, he peered cautiously at Garcia, expecting to see tears. Instead, he saw a profoundly confused, yet somewhat admirable, look.
"You're expecting me to yell and rant at you?"
She said this statement like a question and, even through the zenith of pain pulsating through his veins, Reid nodded, dumbfounded. Sometimes, he thought Garcia could easily be a profiler if it wasn't for her insane, almost otherworldly, computer hacking skills.
"Believe me, I thought about it." Garcia admitted with a slight bemused headshake, "but, even though I'm upset by your blatant disregard for you own well-being, I'm more proud of you than anything."
Reid blinked, the world became unfocused, and he blinked again.
Apparently, Anthrax had made everyone act uncharacteristically. Between JJ's breakdown, Emily's praying, and Garcia's calm acceptance, he was starting to wonder about the male counterparts of his team. If Morgan came into his room later on tap dancing and talking about the wonders of glitter and the color pink, Reid figured he wouldn't even flinch in surprise.
"Reid," Garcia began, grabbing his hand once more. Anthrax, apparently, also made everyone want to touch him, "you saved all those people; you put your life on the line, yet you managed to work through a situation that would have crumbled most ordinary people, even Morgan."
In spite of his increasingly rising temperature, dry throat, throbbing muscles, and aching bones, Reid grinned.
"Just don't tell him I said that." Garcia joked, garnishing a genuine small in his direction.
Without asking, she poured a small cup of water, delivering the cool comfort to his shaking fingertips.
"I need to thank you too, Garcia." He managed to say when fragments came back in a rush: the catch of the rose bushes, the dead body sprawled on the lab floor, the broken vial, and Morgan's large, pleading, and downright petrified eyes. Garcia's eyebrows bolted upward at the statement.
"For what, sweet cheeks?"
Sweet cheeks was one of the many pet names she called Morgan and Reid almost groaned audibly if it wasn't for the endearing look plastered on Garcia's expression.
"The recording..." He trailed off suddenly embarrassed.
Unlike other parts of his day, he remembered every painstaking word Garcia had willingly recorded for his mother. Death, at that point, had felt so impending that panic had taken hold. She had to know how much she meant to him. He had to tell her. If not, he wasn't sure anything, even his then fucked up situation, would have been worth it at all.
Garcia's eyes filled with tears that quickly escaped. She remembered his loving address, his wide, frightened, eyes, and Garcia could vividly recall how her heart had dropped to the floor. It had hurt to breathe, but she did what she was asked, sequestering the recording to a private folder on her computer. If the time came, Garcia promised herself, she would personally deliver the recording. Yet, as she wiped the then tears off her cheeks, she hoped, God, she prayed even, that Reid's death would be pushed on some cosmic back burner.
He trailed off once more, placing the cup on his bedsides table. Without any real warning, he was exhausted. Garcia swatted at her eyes with fluorescent-colored nails before scooping Reid's bed sheets toward his collar bone. Spencer was aware that Garcia was tucking him in, like she would a small child, but the act felt more comforting than he'd ever admit.
"Can I what, Reid?" Garcia asked softly as the knitting needles began their low, even clinking once more.
What he wanted to say was she should delete the recording, should banish it completely from ever being heard again because, if she did, this situation, his Anthrax infection, would not be real. What felt like his imminent demise would not be on some garbled and repeated loop, playing over and over.
"Make sure that recording's hidden really well." He murmured.
Garcia smiled, brushing Reid's damp hair away from his forehead.
"Of course, but don't worry. You're not going anywhere soon."
She soothed his unspoken fears and, once more, he drifted off into a nameless oblivion.
"I come into peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water..."
Water, Reid thought at the low, hushed tones, Water would be amazing. He stirred among his tangled sheets, blinking through the faint light in the hospital room. The tired, yet soft, voice was still reading a poem he recognized, but could not place. Reid opened his eyes until the slow motion world and the hunched image came into view.
"And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting for their light."
The deep baritone and rich words made sitting an easier task than it had been just mere hours earlier. The older agent noticed he was awake, flicking a quick, but observing, glance over his thin, pale colleague. Reid's eyes were bloodshot, his skin damp and slick with sweat, but his look was attentive, his expression calm. The reader cleared his throat, turning back to the worn page and its faded ink to recite the last line.
"For a time I rest in the grace of the world - "
"And I am free." Reid finished, voice straining under the dryness lining his throat.
A set of dark eyebrows moved toward the ceiling.
"I shouldn't be surprised that you know Wendell Berry, but, given that you were infected with Anthrax, I am surprised you can recall and recite it."
Reid grinned at Rossi's admission, carefully reaching for the water cup in his Dave's outstretched hand.
"That's nothing," he joked, "I translated Latin with Prentiss earlier."
A bemused, baffled, look met his own.
"How are you feeling?"
Reid shrugged. What he wanted to say, but could not articulate, was how badly he wanted something, anything, to relieve the pain coursing through his entire body, burning holes into calcified bones.
"Alright. How's the team?"
Rossi gave him a long look once more, dropping his gaze to the open book still situated in his lap.
"We're fine, Reid."
Rossi's voice, although as firm as Reid had always remembered it being, was softer, and more fragile, than he had heard before. The man's expression was guarded, yet lined with exhaustion, concern, and something else Reid could not decipher. Rossi had always been a bit of a mystery to him, as he was to the older man. Spencer swallowed water, enjoying the cool path it created as it trickled to his stomach.
"You know, Reid." Rossi began, dark eyes finding a connection with Reid's, "you and I didn't exactly have the best start."
Reid grimaced, remembering his eager reciting of Rossi's books and, worse, his questioning of cases that Rossi, clearly, did not want to discuss. He recalled, with a certain trace of shame, Rossi's dark looks, his annoyed eye rolls, and his silent rebuttals to Reid's many inquiries.
"I'm sorry," he stammered, only to be stopped by Rossi's open palm. Reid busied himself with his small portion of water while the older man collected his thoughts.
"I think I owe you an apology, Reid."
Rossi's voice was so gentle that Reid could not stand to meet the remorseful look he knew was showing in the man's eyes. Is this what he had been ruminating over while sitting in Reid's dim hospital room?
"I assumed you were just a brain, just another eager student, and, to an extent you were and are," Rossi chuckled, and then, only then, did Reid meet his lightened gaze, "but, Reid, you're strong, much stronger, than I, or anyone else, gives, gave, you credit for..."
"I - "
"I think about all these situations, all these convoluted, chaotic messes you've been able to withstand and understand and it makes me see you differently, kid."
Apparently, being infected with Anthrax also meant his teammates could interchange nicknames so fluently.
Unsure why the tears burned in his eyes, Reid peered at his long fingertips that matched the same white color of the hospital blankets. A thick silence hung in the air, and, when he took a deep breath to control his emotions, Reid began to choke. It wasn't until his coughing fit subsided, did Reid realize it was Rossi's hands leading him back to soft pillows. He was glad the older agent was there to help.
"What time is it?" Reid asked, spying a covered tray next to his bed.
Rossi stood without needing an explanation, placing the wheeled table over the young man. Underneath the plastic barrier, a plate filled with food made Reid's taste buds water and his stomach lurch.
"Around eight. You were asleep for dinner, but the nurses told me and Morgan that you'd probably want to try and eat later."
Reid eyed the mashed bananas, taking a minuscule bite as his hand shook around the plastic fork.
"Morgan came back?"
He seemed to have some weird, disembodied memory of Derek perched and sleeping at his bedside.
Rossi nodded, pretending not to notice Reid's difficulty eating. A twinge of anxiety prickled and lined his spine. The kid had an IQ of 187, an eidetic memory, the brains to find an antidote while infected with a deadly biochemical agent, but he couldn't feed himself?
"Emily convinced him to go get some fresh air and some food. If not, I'm not sure he would have ever left."
Reid swallowed, eyes brimming once more, and he stared at the mashed bananas, jello, and bowl of soup broth that were swimming in washed-out blobs under his gaze.
"Still neck deep in paperwork." Rossi explained, and Reid nodded, knowing his reckless behavior had caused an extra forty pages at the very least.
"You guys don't have to keep watch, you know."
He tried to keep his gaze away from the older agent, but Reid was sure his embarrassed, flushed cheeks gave away his emotions. He stabbed a half-unmashed piece of banana too hard and it flopped off the edge of the food tray before sliding to the floor.
"It's not a watch, Reid."
Spencer snorted in disbelief.
"Consider it masochistic on our part." Rossi joked. "These plastic chairs are pretty painful after about ten minutes."
Reid nodded again, wobbling a small smile at Rossi. The man did not return the gesture, but his look narrowed in Reid's direction. Reid tried to eat more mashed bananas that had the consistency of baby food. The jello looked decent, but attempting to get some on a plastic fork require too much fine motor dexterity and far more energy than he currently had. Asking Rossi to feed him would extend far beyond the realm of embarrassment.
"I know you guys probably have stuff to do, though." He feebly protested, feeling his stomach churn.
Placing down the plastic fork , Reid put a shaking hand over the utensil. He blinked slowly in a futile attempt to stop what he knew was rocketing upward.
"Really, I wouldn't mind if you guys had to leave..."
Reid knew the argument was pointless as much as Rossi did, but what he wasn't expecting was Rossi's frank admission. The familiar, faded scent of cologne wafted toward his nostrils when Rossi spoke softly, and closely, at his side.
"I don't think anyone wants to go anywhere, Reid. You almost died."
And the words, the realization, the one everyone had been tiptoeing around for some time now, exploded around him. Spencer saw his arms reach out, pushing the tray of lukewarm food outwards. Rossi moved, Reid was sure of it, and caught the tray's end, wheeling it to Reid's side. Spencer didn't know how or why, but he felt himself unfurling, wavering, and deteriorating. Unbelievably, his stomach protested at the smallest pieces of food he had managed to ingest, and he gagged into the pink u-shaped container that JJ had placed under his mouth hours, or lifetimes, ago.
When he was done releasing the contents of his stomach, Reid leaned into the pillows, listening to the muffled sounds of Rossi's cleaning. He was too far beyond ashamed to even muster an apology.
"Well," Rossi said once the bedside chair groaned with his weight, "I didn't think anyone could puke that much, but, once again, Dr. Reid, you've surprised me."
Reid grinned at Rossi's lame joke, but felt his tense muscles ease nonetheless.
"Sorry." He winced when he turned toward Dave.
It felt like his muscles were on fire and his skin singed to the bone. Rossi studied him with curious eyes before speaking in a quiet, composed, tone.
"Reid, Morgan repeatedly told the doctors you don't want any drugs for the pain. He was very explicit with that request..."
Reid fought the desire to break eye contact. So it was time for this conversation. When Reid's lips parted, no explanation came out.
"I don't know why you're rejecting medication, but no one would look at you any differently if you did relent. I'm sure you're in a lot of pain."
Rossi's voice was still calm, so utterly unwavering, that Reid felt himself nod in agreement. He knew that was the truth, but he couldn't bring himself to detail Tobias, his addiction, and his sudden, intense, yet familiar, craving for Dilaudid. Dave simply peered at him as if he was seeing the young man for the first time. Reid met Rossi's eyes when he spoke, hoping a simple insinuation was all he needed for now.
"I know they team won't judge me and I know I could ask for something to make me feel better." He hesitated, running a trembling hand through his matted, sopping locks.
Rossi tilted his head to the side. Reid sighed, bit his lip, looking at the adjacent wall before meeting Rossi's stare once more.
"You look miserable, Reid."
For a moment, Reid thought of how much better he would feel if he allowed just one dose of bliss. One plunge of a syringe, and he'd be floating through earthquakes of aching and throbbing. Yet, he knew, somewhere he understood, that after the initial dose wore off, there would be another, and another, and then his carefully pointed years of sobriety would mean nothing. It wouldn't stop in the hospital either. There'd be an excuse, a case, a nightmare, an unsub, and he'd be spiraling downwards once more. Reid knew physical pain would not last, but mental pain was different. All he'd need was one dose of narctorics. Then, all the cases and unsubs and the horrific images he'd seen and had stored away for years would become unleashed when his addiction clawed its way out after he'd lost, yet another, battle with black.
"It's just physical, Rossi. Your body doesn't remember physical pain."
He tried to think of a fact, of a neat statistic, but the information would not come. Apparently, ancient languages and modern poetry were easier to recall than medical tangents.
"If this is about proving yourself, Reid, there's no need. You've already gone above and beyond the definition of strength."
Rossi's voice, although straight, was very gentle. Too gentle. It was an infliction that told Reid the man knew, in every sense of the matter, what would soon be half-revealed.
"It's not about proving myself. It never has been, Rossi. I can't take anything. No narcotics. Not now. Not ever."
He supposed he could have said he was allergic, but that would be a lie, and Rossi would have seen through that in a fraction of a second. He trusted the team; he trusted Rossi, and that had to be enough.
When he saw the familiar spark of understanding, Reid sighed again while closing his eyes. He hoped that Dave could still see him as strong. Right now, he felt anything but. There was a long stretch of silence, an impending moment where Reid knew Rossi was toying with his confession, and he kept his eyes closed. He couldn't face the man - a man he admired and respected - with the weight of his admission settling on every bare space of the room.
"Do you want to hear another poem? I have a whole anthology here."
Surprised, Reid opened his eyes to meet a pair of accepting ones. Unable to speak past the lump of gratitude in his throat, he nodded yes, watching Rossi's thick, weathered, hands paw through the crinkling, loved, pages. The reassuring sound of turning pages flicked a switch somewhere inside of him, and Reid felt his alertness begin to slip.
"I think this one's appropriate." Dave smiled at the younger man, who was fighting a losing battle with sleep once more.
Reid heard the words and the deep tone, fluttering his eyelids against the oncoming unconsciousness. Rossi's voice faded from view, but the acceptance he felt melted into his core, seeping to every aching joint.
"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home. "
The staccato beeps echoed lonely blips that pinged off of the white walls in the dim hospital room, and the consistent lull made Aaron Hotchner's body sag and bend with the weight of the past hours. He had been running for almost two days, a city had been saved by an impending terrorist attack, and his youngest, most intelligent, agent was sequestered in an all too familiar hospital bed.
Aaron sighed, stretching his sore arms toward the ceiling. His suit jacket and red tie hung from a discarded chair. A pile of case files tilted as they rose upward from the floor, and Hotch pushed his rolled shirt sleeves to his elbows. How long he had been sleeping next to Reid's bedside, Hotch wasn't sure, but, from the inconsistent level of activity filtering inside from the hallway, he figured it was early morning.
A hospital food tray was still covered next to Reid's bed, but a crinkled brown paper bag sat on the top. Curious, Hotch carefully opened the paper and was immediately attacked by the mouth-watering smells of a fast food egg-and-ceese sandwich. Without another thought, Hotch shoved the wrapping aside and bit into the still-warm treat. No doubt, Morgan, who he had relieved from bedside duty, bought the breakfast sandwich while he was dozing. Hotch made a mental note to thank Derek when he woke from the spare bed the nurses had provided. By now, Hotch understood, they had accepted Morgan would be making himself at home until Reid was deemed medically fit to leave. Instead of watching him attempt to sleep on hard plastic, the nurses had offered the younger agent an unused bed, which he gratefully retreated to when Hotch showed up a few hours earlier.
Now, awake and less hungry than he had been, Hotch turned his attention to Spencer. He was sleeping with one arm draped protectively across his stomach. Reid's head was tucked to Hotch's side, dipping downward toward his jutting shoulder. The angle made a stray bit of his hair curl toward his eyelashes, and Hotch watched them flutter. Dr. Kimura said it was a miracle Reid could sleep at all given the amount of pain he had to be experiencing, but Hotch had kept quiet. In all his time knowing Reid, he had come to the conclusion that the kid's pain tolerance was higher, much higher, than most.
Aaron leaned forward against the bed's rail. It still felt unnatural to see Reid hooked to so much machinery, but at least the ventilator had been removed fairly quickly. That was a sight, according to Morgan, that he didn't need burned into his brain for all eternity. Before he could stop the memory, a familiar sentence filled with terror and consequence bled through Hotch's usually stoic facade:
Hotch, I really screwed up this time.
He had never heard Reid so open before, never so scared, and never so desperate for his unwavering support. He had done everything he could, been the rock-solid leader, and, now, in a moment of rest, Hotch felt older than he had in years.
"Well, Reid," He said to the sleeping agent, "you really managed to royally mess up this time."
Hotch chuckled and the sound was void of any lightness. Reid's eyelids trembled, but the young man did not move or wake.
"But you managed to figure everything out," Hotch shook his head in bitter disbelief, "so I guess I'll let this one slide."
Staring at the monitors and back to Reid, Hotch sighed, exhausted. Once, he had told Reid that, if he acted like the only person in the room again, he'd fire him. Now, he felt grateful Reid had been the only one in the room.
Hotch bent his head downward, eyes filled with a burning, staring at the floor while his tense neck muscles ached under the strain of his head's weight. It was one thing for Hotch to kick Reid in order to trick an unsub. It was another to interrogate and instigate another in a prison cell, and it was entirely different for Reid to be taken by a mentally unstable unsub in Georgia and to be trapped in a Colorado compound by a religious cult leader. But Anthrax? That was not okay. It was not right. It was too surreal, too imminent, and Agent Hotchner sighed again, pushing all the air in his lungs outward.
"I think you've actually left me speechless, Reid." Hotch admitted, shoulders shaking with the thought. Reid stirred again, grimaced at the movement, but still stayed asleep.
"Not many agents would have stayed in that lab, but I guess you're not comparable to everyone else..."
It came down to that observation, as it always had with Reid, and Hotch didn't know if it was the pressing exhaustion or the past string of events that lined fiery tears at the outermost layer of his eyes.
"I've never been that scared in my entire life." Hotch confessed to the quiet room and the thin, shivering man.
Untangling the mangled blankets around Reid, Hotch covered Spencer and watched as the young man's tremors subsided. Gently, as if Reid were Jack, he pushed a few strands of Reid's hair away from his long, fluttering eyelashes. He had no idea if Reid was dreaming or if he was experiencing waves of pain, but, suddenly, much sooner that he would have liked, a thought surfaced: How was any of this fair?
Yes, Reid had sacrificed himself to save Morgan from infection. He had willingly placed his life in a grave situation and had continued to search for a cure to help the other victims. How could someone who had experienced so much past suffering act so altruistically? How could he have been correct about everything, even with the deadly particles surging through his veins - the very same veins that once pulsated with a much stronger, yet willingly injected, dosage of drugs? How could he withstand the pain now when all Hotch could see was a set of bright eyes, a mop of curls, and a fidgeting jerk of hands as they weaved through the air to accompany some statistical tangent? It wasn't fair, as the world often proved, but, at this moment, Aaron Hotchner understood what had come dangerously close to unraveling.
Leaning closer to the sleeping agent, Hotch grabbed Reid's burning hand, wrapping his fingers around Reid's and giving his bony hand a small, reassuring squeeze. Reid's lips parted, but his eyes did not open. Hotch moved closer still, waiting to whisper until he could feel Reid's still too-high temperature radiating warmth off his skin.
"In all my years in the FBI, Reid, I've seen a lot of cases. I've been hurt a few times. I've laughed. I've cried, and I've been petrified. There were cases that ended easily, and many more that haven't ended at all. I've felt depressed, alone, and, at some times, dejected. I've called a lot of people coworkers and I've called even fewer friends. Some have gone, some have lost their way, and others are heading to that conclusion..."
Hotch sighed when Reid's fingers curled around his own. He understood Reid knew he was there by the sound of voice, but his unconscious state did not change.
"I guess what I'm trying to explain, Reid, is that being the leader isn't easy. It may look like I'm always calm, always ready to know what to do and how to do it, but, more often than not, I don't know. I go off my training, my instincts, my past, and what the case and team calls for, but, during certain times, like the past few days, I have to dig down to keep myself together..."
A few tears escaped Hotch's eyes and he paused to regain some composure.
"Thank you for trusting my decisions today. Thank you for staying in that lab. Thank you for being you, Reid."
Hotch paused again, eyes scanning the outline of Reid' frail body under hospital sheets.
"Thank you for rejecting narcotics, even though all these doctors think you're crazy."
Hotch chuckled bitterly, pressing Reid's hand against his once more. His voice cracked when he spoke, but the tone was grateful. It was reassuring. It was filled with fear and love.
"I've worked with a lot of people, Reid. All good people, all strong, all brave, but I've never been as proud of myself, or anyone else, as I am of you today."
The heaviness in the room suddenly shifted, and Agent Hotchner gave the team's youngest member a rare grin before leaning back in his chair. Hand still in Reid's, he continued murmuring in a low, even tone. He told Reid about his prosecuting days. He explained the court system and its waxing and waning toward some skewed for of justice. He detailed how he met Hayley, how they fell apart, but how much he loved Jack. He told Reid about the younger Rossi, the earlier cases and times, and how the BAU, despite all the blackness, was one of the best things that had ever happened to him. He told Reid about situations, places, and people that had shaped, shattered, and shifted his life. He told the younger agent about how he feared that his son would one day despise his late, irregular hours and inconsistent presence. He explained his initial reactions, and there were many, when he first met Reid. He outlined the past, the present, and the uncertain future. He spoke until his throat was hoarse and his body weighted. He spoke until he drifted to sleep once more.
"Can we stop here, Morgan?" Reid asked, motioning toward a park bench directly in the sunlight.
Morgan nodded in agreement, anticipating the sun's comforting warmth as he sunk into the wooden seat with Reid at his side. Tackling his dripping ice cream cone, Morgan savored how the cool food soothed his parched throat. Reid scooped minuscule bites of his chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream onto a plastic spoon.
Morgan could tell that Reid, for his sake, was eating, even though his full appetite still hadn't returned. It had been a about two weeks since his infection, but the effects lingered: Reid was pale, his energy low, his appetite lacking, and he had such a booming cough that it caused anyone in the vicinity of the sound to bolt upright in surprise. The whole team had wanted Reid to stay in the hospital much longer, but the young man had protested by agreeing to take time off from work if he could recuperate in his own home. Dr. Kimura had agreed, and Reid checked in with her via daily visits to her office and nightly phone calls or email exchanges. Reid insisted he felt better with each passing day, and Morgan, being protective of him, had made sure to stop by after work each day. Seeing as it was a beautiful Saturday and the team had the day off, Morgan drove to Reid's apartment, lured him outside with the promise of ice cream, and the two men now sat with their cool treats in a park filled with the happy, playful shrieks of children, indistinguishable sounds of distant stereos, and faded yells from pickup sports games.
"This feels good." Reid murmured, eyes closed and head pointed toward the sky. Internally, he was grateful Morgan had agreed to sit. They had been walking for a while and he was exhausted.
Derek shot a quick look at Reid, noticing how the sunlight illuminated the dark ringlets under his eyes and his near-translucent skin. Fear struck somewhere deep inside him core, and Morgan turned his attention back to his ice cream cone.
"Maybe we should have brought some suntan lotion, Reid. You're probably gonna get burned."
Reid smiled, opened his eyes, and studied the Styrofoam cup in his lap. The chocolate blobs looked like mini islands among the melted white ice cream.
"Hey, Morgan, did you know that contracting one or more sunburn increases the risk of acquiring skin cancer, particularly Melanoma?"
Morgan chuckled for a moment, and Reid crinkled his forehead in confusion.
"Actually, one in five people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime." He rattled.
Oddly enough, Morgan's laughter increased intensity. For the life of him, Reid could not understand what was so amusing. Skin cancer was a dangerous illness. Frowning, he turned toward the older agent.
"What's so funny? Skin cancer is really serious, Morgan! One person dies every hour from Melanoma!"
Morgan howled, clutching his aching sides. When he finally composed himself, he looked at Reid with traces of laughter still lining his expression.
Morgan sucked in giant gulps of air while swatting at errant traces of tears collecting at the lining of his eyes. Reid's scowl wasn't making this situation any less amusing, although, deep down, Morgan knew that his laughter was just a cover up for the emotions that were mounting inside.
"It just sounds so good to hear you rambling about something." Morgan smiled.
"And you find skin cancer hysterical?" Reid asked, his voice rising to a shrill octave.
Morgan shrugged, composing himself by staring at the green blades of grass.
"I was kind of afraid I'd never hear your voice again."
Reid swallowed deeply at the admission, staring at his sneakers. Of course, it came down to his brush with death; however, what he hadn't really accepted yet was the relief everyone expressed. On some days, when the slightest movement exhausted him, his thoughts were still slow to formulate, and he became annoyed by the lack of normalcy, he still felt close to the edge of some inevitable demise.
Noticing his colleague's far-off gaze, Morgan sighed quietly. It was clear that Reid was still struggling with what had happened. Hell, Reid's rushed "I'm sorry" from behind a glass lab door had haunted Derek every night for weeks.
"I'm sorry." Reid said, avoiding Morgan's introspective gaze. He bit his lip, focusing on children playing on a jungle gym a few feet away. The blurred images moved with an agility he never possessed.
"It's alright, kid." Morgan paused for a moment, unsure of how to continue.
Morgan rubbed the tense muscles at the base of his neck. What could he possibly say to ease the reality of the situation? Was there anything to say when your colleague, the one you consider to be and protect like a little brother, was infected with a deadly biochemical agent, yet ensured that you, and a score of others, were protected? There definitely was no protocol on how to deal with the emotional aftermath of the situation.
"I made Garcia record a message for my mother, Morgan. You know, just in case..."
Reid flopped backward onto the bench, closing his eyes to the blinding, intrusive sun.
Morgan pursed his lips together, keeping any comments inside. Reid didn't seem to want or desire his input. In fact, if his assumptions were correct, Morgan figured what Reid really needed was to talk things through. Near death events were never easy to grapple with, and Reid's mind, however brilliant, usually worked on hyper-drive with these types of things. It was best to stay quiet and let Reid work through everything.
"I updated my will too. I don't know if that makes me paranoid, but, up until a few weeks ago, I never really thought this job could kill me..."
Reid opened his eyes, sending an appraising glance at Derek, who was nodding in agreement.
"Who wants to think about that all the time, kid?" Morgan asked. "I don't think we'd be very good at our job if we always were thinking about all the ways it could kill us."
Reid's eyes lit in understanding. "It can, though. They should definitely emphasized that more on the job application."
Morgan snorted at Reid's words.
"I don't really think of how close we come to dying sometimes either, Reid, but you're right. I guess we're just used to it by now."
Reid gave a hardened chuckle. "That doesn't sound healthy, Morgan. We're desensitized."
Across the park, Morgan watched a few hungry birds inch closer and closer to a picnicking couple.
"I dunno, Reid. I mean, all things considered, it actually makes me feel kind of grateful every time we make it out alive. Every close call is a reminder to enjoy life."
Reid nodded slowly, as if the movement took all his stored energy.
"I don't think I realized how close I came until I got home..." He confessed, feeling the weight of Morgan's stare.
The older agent didn't respond, and Reid knew it was out of respect. He wasn't prying, even though Reid could tell Morgan wanted to. Derek was waiting for Reid to turn the conversation at his own pace. He coughed, taking a few agonizing minutes to catch his breath before continuing.
"After I was released from the hospital, I went back to my apartment and everything was the same as always. I mean, my books were on their shelves, my clothes in the closest, and no food was in the fridge."
Morgan gave a sad smile, and Reid returned the gesture.
"But I don't know, Morgan. It felt different. I guess I felt different."
Morgan nodded. Reid's words made sense. Too much sense.
"I understand." Morgan admitted. "When JJ finally made me go home while you were in the hospital, I felt like a stranger in my own apartment."
"Why is that?" Reid asked, eyebrows raising.
Morgan shrugged, extending both arms on the bench's top. It was the closest he would get to physically comforting Reid. If Spencer noticed this gesture, he ignored it.
"Not sure, kid. Maybe it's life's way of giving you a kick in the ass. One really messed up dose of reality."
Reid smiled genuinely, titling his face to the sun once more. A slight breeze floated through the trees, creating a soft hum of fluttering leaves. Reid watched a game of touch football, following the athletes with darting eyes. What he wanted to say was working its way to the surface, but he wasn't sure he was brave enough to voice the silent, albeit loud, thought. Next to him, Morgan looked calm and content. Reid flicked a nervous tongue over his lips. If he didn't say something –- anything - there'd be hell to pay later.
"I've been having cravings."
Reid's words were so soft, so unexpected, that Derek nearly jumped in surprise.
"That makes sense, Pretty Boy." He began, choosing his words carefully, "I can't imagine Anthrax infection makes you feel good."
Reid laughed bitterly, and the sound branched outwards, pinging off tree trunks and green leaves.
"There were a few moments directly following my infection where I almost asked for medication..." Reid trailed off with red shame burning his cheeks.
Morgan leaned forward on the bench, resting his forearms on his knees while turning his head toward Reid.
"Reid, listen to me."
The soft, familiar, intense tone caught Reid's attention. Immediately, his cheeks returned to their pale pallor as he met the older agent's dark, swirling look.
"No one - and I mean no one - would judge you for wanting pain medication. To be honest, you're much stronger than all of us. Hell, I'd be screaming like a baby if the roles were reversed."
Reid nodded, looking at the ground before returning his gaze to Morgan's.
"Rossi told me you repeatedly told the nurses and doctors I didn't want any narcotics..."
It was Derek's turn to be embarrassed, and he turned his head away from Spencer. The request had felt honorable enough at the time, but, now, Morgan doubted the decision.
"Reid, I'm sorry."
"Why?" Reid's incredulous tone made Morgan straighten his hunched posture.
"I didn't think of how much pain you'd be in..." He explained softly.
Reid shook his head in protest.
"Are you kidding, Morgan?" He asked, somewhat amused and shocked, "I'm glad you did that. Pain, however bad, is just physical. I can deal with that, but, I know if I had just one dose in the hospital, I'd want more and more and I wouldn't be able to stop..." He trailed off, arms rising and dropping in some half-attempt at a gesture.
"Well," Morgan's husky tone surprised Reid, "I guess I did the right thing then..."
The two agents sat silently on the park bench. The sun felt warm, but not oppressively so, and Morgan sent a sideways glance at the younger agent. For his weak, sickly, appearance, Derek couldn't help but think that Spencer was the strongest person he knew. Reid, feeling his coworker's gaze, turned his head so he and Morgan were locked into a stare.
"Thank you, Morgan."
Moments and memories rushed around Morgan: A younger, unsure Reid was admitting to having nightmares because of cases. Reid was dying at the hands of Tobias Hankel, and, yet, somehow, he was sending muffled apologies through glass lab slider doors. It was Reid's voice he heard in the cult church in Colorado, and Reid's long fingers he saw placing worn cards down on the plane's plastic table.
"You want to keep walking?" Morgan asked, understanding that, if he spoke further, too much would rush outward.
Reid seemed to understand Morgan's emotional conflict and he nodded, standing slowly. The two agents paused for a moment and sent one another knowing looks as they fell in-step toward the park's worn path that was bathed in the cover of the spring sun.