Disclaimer: I don't own Criminal Minds.
- O -
Hotch watched Reid from across the conference room. The boy stared intently at the whiteboard, studying the evidence. Soon he would deduce a brilliant insight—uncover a new suspect, link two pieces of evidence together, or discover something new about one of the victims. Spencer's ability to focus on a case was legendary.
The rest of the team was out interviewing witnesses, managing the press, or walking crime scenes. Only Hotch and Reid were left at the police station.
Hotch glanced over his shoulder, making sure the officers on the other side of the window were concentrating on their own work. When he was sure no one was paying them any attention, Hotch moved to Spencer's side. He didn't touch the doctor. He hovered there until Reid looked at him.
"I think the unsub lives outside his comfort zone. It's inconsistent to what we normally profile, but in this case, I don't think he hunts near where he lives."
"Spencer, the others will be back soon."
Reid sighed. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked at his shoes making invisible scuff marks on the floor.
"Already?" he asked.
"I'm afraid so," Hotch said.
Reid nodded and turned back to the board. He looked longingly at the case files taped to the surface, then turned away.
Hotch felt his heart constrict. The boy looked so depressed, even his color seemed grayer. Without thinking, Hotch reached out. He meant to pat Reid on the shoulder, but instead his hand sunk right through the young man's frame.
Hotch immediately pulled his hand back and glanced around nervously. Had anyone seen? No one appeared to be watching them.
"Sorry," Hotch said.
Reid shrugged. "Can't be helped. I'm starting to get used to the idea that solid matter is no longer a part of my life…or, um, death."
Hotch winced at the word and guilt boiled in his chest. Spencer was dead. Spencer Reid, brilliant genius, FBI special agent, was a ghost. Hotch was the only one who knew the truth. The rest of the team thought Spencer had been injured by an unsub on a previous case. They thought that by some miracle he had survived the bullet wound. Hotch went to great lengths to make sure they didn't realize that Spencer had been killed by the unsub and that the agent with them now was only a shadow of their teammate. As far as any of them believed, Reid's hesitance to be touched came from his OCD and germaphobia. For the last several months, they'd commented on how his quirks were more noticeable. They'd wondered over his frequent absences. It was easy to excuse the changes, though. After all, anyone who had suffered the type of injuries Spencer had could be forgiven for changes that followed after.
For another painful moment, a cold hand clamped around Hotch's heart. He stared at his young teammate until he was pulled out of his despondent reverie by the sound of the team returning from the field.
Spencer slunk to a dark corner, away from the whiteboards, away from the bright lights. Secluded in the shadows, Spencer watched as the rest of the BAU filed into the room. Hotch saw each team member take note of the boy's distance. He saw Morgan's eyes narrow in suspicion, Emily's eyes squint with concern, JJ's eyes widen with motherly worry, and Rossi's eyes slide passed Reid with little acknowledgment.
They began discussing the case, proposing different theories and dissecting evidence. Spencer's participation at this point was minimal. Hotch told the team about the unsub's comfort zone. He saw the hint of a smile on Spencer's face as the team agreed that the unsub was hunting in a different zone from where he lived.
"Good work today, everyone," Hotch said after the conversation began to die down. "Head to the hotel and get some sleep. Tomorrow I want Morgan and Rossi to check out the surrounding neighborhoods. JJ, I want the profile sent to the press. Prentiss, work with officers on going through old case files. Our unsub is likely in the system. I'll stay here and keep working victimology." He paused for the briefest moment and added, "Reid will help me."
Hotch noticed the wary looks that passed between the agents at the mention of keeping Reid by his side. He ignored them and began packing up casefiles. Soon the rest of the team did the same; all except Spencer. The young man stayed in his corner and watched.
Hotch's eyes narrowed as Morgan made his way over to Spencer and tried to engage him in conversation. The unit chief saw Spencer shrug and shake his head. He stayed turned away from Morgan, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. Eventually, Morgan gave up and walked away, a new crease appearing between the agent's eyes.
"Ready, Aaron?" Rossi asked from the doorway.
Hotch waved him on. "I'll be another minute," he said, pretending to go through another file.
The team left together, leaving Hotch and Spencer behind.
Hotch sighed. He'd hoped that Spencer's lingering presence would be a comfort to the team. Instead, it created secrets and tension. They couldn't know the truth. They could never know that they had lost a teammate all those months ago.
"Hotch?" Spencer asked, stepping out of the corner. In the brighter light, the bloodstains were clearer. Hotch flinched at the splatter of red that covered a quarter of Reid's body. Then Hotch noticed the feathered edge of Reid's frame. His silhouette flickered and the color faded in a gradient of grays before becoming translucent.
"You okay?" Hotch said.
Spencer nodded. "You?"
Hotch's hesitance to answer was all Reid needed to know the truth. The situation wasn't working. Spencer's presence was doing more harm to the team than good.
"What are we going to do?" Spencer asked.
Hotch was too tired to come up with an answer tonight. "We're going to go back to the hotel and get some rest."
Spencer smiled grimly. "Rest in peace?"
Hotch's eyes moved once again to Reid's fatal wound. He knew he should ask. He'd been putting off the question for months. He was afraid of the answer, afraid he wouldn't like the answer. Perhaps now was the right time to put aside his selfishness.
"Spencer, are you unhappy still being here?" As soon as the words left his mouth, Hotch held his breath and waited for the answer.
"It's getting harder," Reid said. "I thought if I stayed, things could stay the same. But everything is different. Despite that, I still don't want to go."
Hotch nodded. "I don't want you to go."
Spencer smiled. "Then I'll stay here. As long as you need me here."
The two agents moved toward the conference room exit. Hotch flicked the light switch on his way out, noticing how in the darkness, Spencer appeared more solid, more alive. He thought about how in life, Spencer was scared of the dark. In death, Spencer became more whole in the dark.
"Eventually you're going to have to tell the others," Reid said.
Hotch didn't say anything. Eventually, he would. But not yet. For now, Reid was still with the team. And that was enough.
- O -
AN: This idea has been floating around my head for some time. I've been playing with the idea of Reid's dislike for human contact as being more than it seems. This story is the result. I haven't decided if I'll expand it into a longer story or keep it as a one-shot. Perhaps I'll leave that decision up to the readers. Let me know if I should keep going.