Chapter 14

Anna Hughes greeted Reid with a smile.

"You look a little more energized than you did last week."

"Do I? I guess I finally managed to sleep, for a couple of nights in a row."

"No nightmares?" Taking her seat, as she waved him into his.

"I didn't say that."

She nodded. It would have been more remarkable for him not to have had them.

Consulting her prep notes, she asked, "Did you remember your homework?"

"I remembered it. It was to answer the questions: Do bad things happen to good people? Or does what happens to us define the type of person we are?"


"I remembered it. But I don't know that I made much progress with it. I mean, it's obvious what you want me to conclude, isn't it? That, yes, bad things do happen to good people, and no, we shouldn't be defined by what happens to us."

She'd caught the 'shouldn't', but that would have to wait. There was a more pressing issue in what he'd just said, one that she would have to address before they could move forward with anything.

"Spencer, there is no expected answer. No 'right' answer. So, no, there wasn't anything I wanted you to conclude. This isn't about that."

He wore his disbelief on his face.

"It's not? We're not here so you can get me to a point where I'll see things the 'right' way?"

Anna Hughes was too experienced, and too good at what she did, to parry with a patient. So she simply reflected his attitude back to him.

"I sense some antagonism, Spencer. Are you not here willingly? Would you prefer if we didn't pursue this?"

In fact, he'd been ordered to enter therapy. So, technically, it hadn't been his idea. But he had personally chosen to do his therapy with the woman who'd helped him get past his guilt and grief about the loss of Maeve. That time hadn't been his idea, either. It had been 'strongly recommended' that he get some help, and Hotch had personally selected the helper. Reid had wondered, afterward, if Hotch had spoken as the voice of experience. Maybe he'd seen Anna Hughes in the time after he'd lost Haley.

Regardless of how it had come about, Reid was aware of the necessity of dealing with his trauma. He just hadn't quite reached the point of being able to label any part of it, not even by calling it a trauma. It was still too close, and too big, for him to take in the whole of it. Too imposing to separate himself from it. There was no place where it merely touched him. It consumed him in every place, in every part of his being. The human figure of Spencer Reid still walked the earth, and went about his daily business. But everything that made him Spencer was still subsumed in the experience of prison.

"I don't think I'm ready."

"Not ready? For therapy?"

He leaned forward, elbows on knees. "Maybe. I don't know. I ….. I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be back on the team right now."

Anna studied him. He'd come to her before, wounded, stunned, but articulate. He'd understood the grief, even when he hadn't been able to find a way beyond it. She sensed that this situation was different. This time, he didn't have the vocabulary. He didn't know how to even begin, how to start to break down all that had happened to him. He'd told her the facts of it last week. But he hadn't even touched on the experience of it.

"Spencer, if you need more time off, I can give you a letter. To be honest, I'm surprised you are back working already. You've barely had any time to recover."

"My friends are in danger. I have to work."

That didn't sit well with Anna. "You have to work. And yet, you just told me you thought you shouldn't be back on the team."

Reid rubbed at his eyes. From her prior notes, the psychologist recognized it as his means of giving himself time to gather his thoughts. And his gesture of frustration.

"I know it doesn't make any sense. That….that's what my mind is like right now. Just a jumble of thoughts, and occasionally one rises to the surface. I guess what I mean is that I'm not sure I'm ready for a case. But I'm damn sure I'm ready to be able to stop worrying about the people I care about being the targets of a madman."

Anna twiddled her pen for a few seconds, as the considered what he'd said.

"All right. So, you're not ready, for either your usual casework, nor for therapy. So, how do we get you ready? Assuming that's your goal, of course."

He was quick to respond to that one, surprising even himself.

"It is! I can't stay like this. I can't stay….."

When he seemed to be struggling for the word, she offered one. "In limbo?"

Not really, but he would take it. So he nodded. But internally, he corrected her.

Not limbo. Purgatory.

In the end, they'd decided to continue. Reid might not have been emotionally ready for therapy, but he was still too grounded in logic not to realize the necessity of trying. So he'd agreed to continue with twice weekly sessions. And he'd agreed to more homework.

Anna had assigned him to journal. His dreams, his nightmares, his activities, his insights, should they begin to come. If Reid couldn't find the words to describe his feelings, perhaps Anna could, between the lines of his journal.

It was a tool that was pretty basic, and widely used among therapists. Reid had even journaled while in prison. When he'd shared that fact with Anna, she'd pounced upon it.

"Would you mind letting me read it? If you journaled as things were happening, maybe we'll both find something we can work with there."

Because, as things were happening, they were absorbed in small doses. Describable doses, unlike the mammoth, unspeakable entirety of the experience, taken all at once.

But Reid didn't know what had become of his journal. Despite it having been assigned by the prison psychologist, it had been confiscated as contraband. As he took the Metro back to his apartment, he tried to call up the contents of his journal eidetically, but the only thing that would come was the image of Henry's picture. Reid had recreated it while it was fresh in his mind, adding his best friend into the scene as well, so he could hold on to the memory of that day as it had occurred. Just yesterday, when he'd first sat at his desk, he'd found Henry's picture, placed there to welcome him home.

He'd started the prison journal just after the death of his friend, Luis Delgado. Like so many of the deaths he'd witnessed as a member of the BAU, Luis' death had been incidental. There hadn't been a grudge against him, there hadn't been a familial component. Luis had been killed to send a message to Reid. Luis had been viewed by his killers as a means to an end, an object, and not a person. Reid had seen it too many times. But he'd never seen it happen to a friend. Even Maeve's death had not been so impersonal.

The thought of Luis brought him back to his meeting with MC Ryan. Luis had claimed innocence, just as Reid had. Of course, many blatantly guilty people did so. But Reid was curious about Luis, and still felt guilty about his inadvertent part in the young man's death. He wondered if MC could help him look into it. If nothing else, exoneration after the fact might bring some small measure of comfort to the young man's family…if he even had one.

As soon as he arrived home, Reid went to his closet, looking for the bag given to him as he'd left prison. JJ had brought his phone and wallet to Milburn with her, when she'd come to get him released. Since then, there hadn't been anything else he'd needed from the bag. He hadn't even looked inside. Had actually thought about just tossing it, and all it reminded him of. But now he opened it, hoping that, somehow, he would find the journal inside.

The smell of it hit him at once, that scent of too many male bodies crowded together, and fear, and anger, and harsh soap, and even harsher detergent. The coarseness of the clothing, and the sheets. The barely-there, mildewed towels. And, once again, the scent of that detergent….the scent…..and it brought him back, immediately, into the laundry room. His heart pounded, and he broke out into a sweat, and he fell to the floor, and all he could see was the confused look on Luis' face, and the grim smile of blood just beneath his chin.

He might have passed out, or maybe he'd just fallen asleep in the exhaustion following his adrenalin rush. All Reid knew was that he was lying on the floor of his bedroom, drenched. It came back to him, when he saw the bag next to him, the odor now dissipated. Gathering whatever remained of his strength, he reached into the bag. Maybe if he just touched the contents, and didn't look at them….

The journal wasn't there. Maybe it had been thrown away by the guard who'd confiscated it. Or maybe it had been put into some bin of collected contraband materials. Maybe it was still retrievable. He could ask. Or maybe he could ask JJ to ask. He didn't trust himself to be on the phone with the prison. Not after what had just happened.

He was completely shaken. He'd had nightmares before, but not flashbacks. Not something he couldn't control in the middle of his waking hours. Not since that time after Hankel. Not since he'd been driven to seek solace in a vial of opiates. The memory of it reminded him, and he made a mental note. He would have to get to a meeting, soon. He no longer craved, not even now. But he knew enough not to wait for that to happen.

Slowly, he rose from the floor, and picked up the bag. Holding it at arms' length, he brought it to the kitchen, found a plastic garbage bag, and dropped it inside. He knew he could….and maybe should….just throw it away. But its clear association with the prison, and the fact of what it had just done to him, had turned it into an icon of sorts. A symbol, a marker. If the day should come when he could handle the bag, maybe it would mean that he could handle his life.

I have to be able to face it. I can't be in the middle of a case, and become nonfunctional. I can't put my friends at risk like that. I can't put victims at risk. And I can't live like this. I can't lose my life to prison…unless I already have.

Please, God, if You're even out there. Please. Help me.