When the paramedics finally came it took the strength of both Gideon and Morgan to drag Hotchner away from Reid to give them room to work.
One of them expertly forced an intubation tube down Reid's throat with more force than Gideon thought was necessary, but Reid's throat was swollen from the near-strangulation and difficult to intubate. The paramedic was just glad he didn't have to do a tracheotomy. He connected the tube to an airbag which he rhythmically squeezed, feeding oxygen into Reid's uncooperative lungs.
The other paramedic placed two orange conductors on strategic places on Reid's chest and turned the defibrillator on, doing manual compressions as he waited for it to charge.
The team flinched in sympathy with every shock that disturbed Reid's still body, but at the same time they hoped and prayed that they would have an effect. The fifth shock finally did, and the paramedic triumphantly shouted out, "I've got a pulse!"
Hotchner's rigid body posture sagged in relief and JJ couldn't hide her sobbing breaths. They carefully moved Reid onto a stretcher. He was still unconscious, his eyes closed to the outer world.
Another team of paramedics were working on Veld and as much as they didn't want to care, Morgan and Elle took on the responsibility for him, Morgan riding in the ambulance and Elle driving herself and JJ to the hospital, fetching Garcia on their way to the car.
Hotchner desperately wanted to ride with Reid, but the paramedics turned him away, wanting more room to work. They desperately needed to stop or at least slow the bleeding down, and they wanted to spare him the sight, should they not be able to.
Agent Fisher threw her car keys to Gideon, who steered Hotchner to her car. Turning on the red and blue lights he skillfully shadowed the ambulance as it sped through the early New Years Eve morning.
Hotchner was looking down at his bloody hands and his bloody shirt. He could feel it dry against his skin, a crust already covered his cuticles.
"He's going to quit now, isn't he?" Hotchner didn't look at Gideon as he spoke, and Gideon kept his eyes on the road.
"I thought he would be a goner after Fairmount, but he came back. And now this? He's only been back at work for three weeks. How can he get over this? He shouldn't have to expose himself to danger like this. Maybe it's better if he quits." Hotchner wasn't sure anymore who he was talking to, or who he was trying to convince.
"He won't quit," Gideon said.
"How do you know that?"
"Because I know Reid, and so do you. There was a time when this job wasn't for him, but that time is long gone. He has seen what is out there, he has seen what evil can do to his fellow human beings. And now he can't walk away. He can't forget or pretend that it doesn't exist, and it would drive him crazy to know that it was out there and he wasn't doing anything about it. He'll never quit."
They were silent for awhile, before Hotchner suddenly spoke again,
"I shot him."
"You did what you had to do."
"I killed him."
"He isn't dead, Hotch."
"He was… and who knows how he's doing now." He stared at the back of the ambulance, wishing he could see, or rather be, inside.
"I never got to apologize."
"There will be time."
"I never figured out why he was so troubled."
"Hotch, there will be time," Gideon said firmly.
One by one the team gathered in the private waiting room they had been shown. They clutched Styrofoam mugs from vending machines and stuffed themselves with chocolate bars. They read articles they weren't remotely interested in. They paced and sat still and paced and sat still. They talked to each other and were quiet. They hunted down nurses who all told them that someone would be out to talk to them soon, but no one ever came. They cried and bit their nails and prayed and hugged. They slept and paced some more. Morning turned to afternoon and afternoon became night. It was 11.25 p.m. before a doctor in bloody scrubs with tired eyes came to see them.
"Hello," he said. "I'm here to tell you about Spencer."
Waking up was never Reid's favorite part of the day, and today was no different. He hurt. His head was pounding, and he dreaded having to open his eyes. To put off the moment he tried to take inventory of his body; what hurt, and what didn't? The didn't proved fairly easy. His left big toe felt normal, as did one of his left molars, everything else hurt.
Even though he felt like it would be easier to track down a live Sasquatch than to open his eyes, he still managed to pry them open. There was no mistaking, he was most definitely in a hospital. Good. That meant the good guys had won. It appeared to be night, because the only light came from an overhead lamp and the monitors' greenish glow, and there was little sound from outside. On his left stood a pretty, blond nurse in her mid-thirties, looking at the monitors, recording vitals in his chart. He spoke to her, his voice rough.
"Don't you have any good drugs in this hospital?"
Later he would feel sorry for making the nurse shriek, but in the present it was a little funny to see her standing with her hand on her heart, frightened by him, in this condition.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "I'm not usually this jumpy. I'm Leonora. How are you feeling?"
Reid grimaced. "Like a psychopath beat the crap out of me."
"That would be rather accurate, or so I've been told. I'm glad to see that there's nothing wrong with your memory, or your sense of humor for that matter."
Reid swallowed and grimaced at the grating feeling. Leonora caught his reaction.
"You're pretty sore, I'll bet. We only extubated you a half-hour ago. Let me get you some water."
Reid looked around while she poured the water. Besides Leonora, the room was empty, and the fear and loneliness he had lived with the last week flared up. Leonora caught his eyes.
"Your team is still in the waiting room. You were brought down from recovery only a few minutes ago. The doctor is still briefing them. Personally, I can't wait to get them out of there. I mean, I know they are worried and all, but still! That boss of yours, Agent Hotchner, he has been terrorizing the nurses so bad that two of them have sworn that they'll call in sick until you are discharged, just so they won't run the risk of meeting him again."
Reid blinked, completely stunned and took a sip from the straw that now rested against his lips.
"But don't worry," Leonora continued, "They will be here soon. We just didn't expect to see those pretty eyes of yours for quite some time yet, not until well into next year anyway."
The water hit his stomach, which made a roll, saying 'Hello and welcome to nauseas-'r-us.' When Leonora's words penetrated Reid's tired brain, he gave the fuzz presiding there a mental push. "Next year?… It's New Years Eve then?"
"For another 15 minutes or so! I'll go tell your team you're awake, and to see if I can't hook you up with some of 'the good drugs'." She air quoted the last words and smiled at Reid, walking towards the door.
"Wait," Reid called. "Can you help me sit up?" He hated lying down while talking to people who were standing. It made him feel so vulnerable.
Leonora slowly raised the head of the bed, giving Reid time to get used to the new position, but it didn't stop him from grimacing and sweat broke out on his forehead. Leonora carefully wiped it away and offered him another sip of water.
"Your friends will be here soon, hang in there," she said softly, patting his leg comfortingly.
She turned on the room's lights as she went, leaving Reid alone and hurting.
He looked at himself. He was in a single room with an IV pole by the foot of the bed. IV lines snaked in under his blanket and he could feel a pinch in his ankle where it entered his body. He squinted, trying to read the labels. Antibiotics and saline. There was also a port on the line through which he hoped they would administer painkillers soon. Another IV pole by the head of his bed supplied him with blood through a catheter in the crook of his left arm. A nasal cannula was hooked around his ears. His right arm was strapped tightly to his chest in an uncomfortable sling. His torso was bare, but the massive bandages around both shoulders covered most of it anyway. There were electrodes taped to his chest, but they were half hidden under the bandages. His chest felt like an elephant had taken tap lessons on it. What had happened?
It didn't take long before the door was again carefully opened and Morgan stuck his head in, grinning like a madman.
"Hey buddy, how're you doing?" He came into the room, staying by the door to keep it open as the rest of team came through. The whole time he kept one hand hidden behind his back, and Reid was immediately suspicious.
They gathered around the bed. Elle approached him carefully. "I'd hug you," she said. "But I don't know how." She settled for squeezing his hand and pecking his cheek and JJ followed suit.
Gideon and Hotchner stood by the foot of the bed. Reid noticed that Hotchner was wearing a hospital scrub top.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
He didn't really sound fine, but he was standing upright and while the bruised jawbone looked painful, it didn't look like it had done much damage. Reid looked at Gideon, who nodded in confirmation, and Reid relaxed a little, a weight off his chest.
Garcia stood on his other side, her arm linked though Morgan's, who was still grinning. When he got Reid's attention he pulled his hand out from behind his back and showed what he was hiding. A teddy bear. A fluffy white thing with a red bow around its neck.
"For you, buddy!"
Reid raised his eyebrows. "Thanks, I guess… Why?"
"Because, a wise young man once told me you have to have a teddy bear to keep you company when you're in the hospital and you don't seem to be traveling with Einstein. You really should, though. For my sake, if nothing else. Hospital gift shops are not cheep."
He held the bear out to Reid. "His name is Posh Tail. That's an anagram for hospital." He looked ridiculously proud telling him that, which was the only thing that kept Reid from laughing. Morgan turned the toy around. "See, he even has a little tail." And sure enough, there was a small bump on its rear end, which could be mistaken for a tail.
Reid made a reach for the bear, and realized too late that neither of his arms were in working condition. Cold sweat broke out all over his body and he had to take several deep breaths to keep the nausea down. When the pain finally subsided enough for him to be aware of his surroundings again, Hotchner was at the door, yelling for help, and Morgan was clutching the bear so hard to his chest, Reid thought the poor toy's head would pop off.
Leonora came in briskly, a syringe and a vial in her hands. "Hi Spencer, I scoured you some goodies. I'm sorry, but you are all going to have to leave now, this will make him sleepy and he needs to rest."
"No, wait," Reid begged. "Let us have some more time, please. I'm feeling much better, really."
Leonora looked hesitant, but relented as seven sets of puppy dog-eyes turned on her.
"Fine, but just a few more minutes. I'm going to have a New Year's toast with my colleagues, then I'll be back."
She left the medicine on the bedside table and exited.
"Speaking of New Year…" Elle said, finding the remote control for the TV and turned it on. The ball at Times Square was still a few minutes from dropping.
"So," Reid said, addressing the group, "How am I doing?"
"Aren't we supposed to ask you that?" JJ asked, looking to the others for support in her claim, a nervous smile playing on her lips.
"Leonora said the doctor has talked to you, but no one has told me anything. I want to know what's going on."
"Well," Gideon said, "Your biggest problems are blood loss and the subsequent dehydration. They have given you a lot of blood already and they will keep doing so over the next few days. Also, your first gunshot wound got infected. You are running a pretty high fever and you'll probably feel rather washed out by it for a while, but they are giving you some pretty strong, broad-spectrum antibiotics and are rather confident that they'll conquer it soon enough. The second gunshot wound broke your right clavicle pretty badly. They had you in the OR for several hours, repairing it with pins."
"So now you'll beep every time you go through the security control at Quantico," Morgan chimed in.
Reid smiled weakly at him, appreciating his friend's positive attitude. It made life less scary. He turned back to Gideon.
"Loss of mobility?" he asked.
"Maybe," Gideon said. "But if so, no more than 20 percent… But let's cross that bridge when we come to it, okay?"
Reid nodded, and Gideon continued.
"Other than that, the gunshot wounds only caused tissue damage. They spent all afternoon repairing blood vessels. You'll be without the use of your arms for quite some time and you're going to need a lot of help the next couple of weeks. Sorry about that." Gideon knew how fiercely private and independent the young man could be. "You were hit over the head a couple of times, but that's nothing to worry about."
"No concussion?" Reid asked, evaluating his sore head.
"No, you dodged that bullet," Morgan said, biting his lip at the inappropriate wording.
Gideon glared at him, before saying, "Your jaw is rather bruised, but nothing's broken. You've got a cracked tooth and knocked out a filling, so a trip to the dentist is in order once you're out of the hospital. You'll probably not be interested in solid foods anytime soon anyway. Because Veld tried to strangle you, your throat is swollen, but at least you're breathing on your own now. They had to intubate you at the scene, which is bound to have made your throat even sorer."
"I stopped breathing?" Reid sounded surprised.
"And you went into cardiac arrest," Gideon confirmed seriously.
"I went into cardiac arrest? You mean I died? Why?" That felt so surrealistic. Being unconscious was one thing, being dead was extremely different.
"Well," Gideon said, "Massive blood loss and shock will do that. Your systems failed. Your body just gave up."
"But you didn't," Reid said, seeing the residue anguish in his teammates' eyes.
"No," Hotchner said, thinking of their combined efforts to revive him. "We didn't."
"You'll be okay, though," Elle smiled at him.
"I just need more sick leave and more physical therapy," Reid sighed. "It's getting really old, you know… What about Veld?"
"He's here too, but at the other end of the hospital, and he is heavily guarded. Don't worry," JJ said.
"I don't. He was really out of it, wasn't he?"
"Yeah," Hotchner agreed. "Much more than we had expected. He took us all by surprise."
"It's because of the way he chose his victims," Gideon said. "He had to wait for them, there were few of them and he was tied down by their names. Normally when a serial killer escalates, he projects traits on his victims to make them fit his profile. Veld couldn't do that, so he couldn't escalate, even though he felt the need for it, so he couldn't leave the signs for us to see."
"But still," Morgan said, "What an ego! I know most of our unsubs are really full of themselves, but this guy really takes the prize."
"Yeah, well," Reid said sarcastically, "What's the point of being a genius, if you can't rub it in people's faces?" Realizing what he just said he stuttered, "I… I mean…"
"It's okay, Reid," Elle reassured him. "We know the difference between the two of you."
"Do you think he'll go to trial or get off with an insanity plea?" Morgan asked.
"Depends on what kind of lawyer he gets," JJ said.
"He'll get a top-notch attorney," Hotchner said darkly. "This is a high-profile case. They'll be fighting each other to get it."
"I don't know," Garcia said. "When I did his back-ground check, I noticed that he had a law degree. Who here thinks he's going to try and defend himself?" She raised her own hand.
"Hey, look," Elle pointed to the TV. "It's started."
She and Garcia started counting down with the TV, Morgan joining them around four.
"Three, two, one… Happy New Year!"
JJ and Morgan pulled streamers from their pockets, blowing them out over the bed, and Elle pulled up a handful of confetti from her pocket, dropping it over Reid's head. He smiled widely as the paper snowed down on him. Looking at the torn-up paper, he saw that it seemed to be torn out of a magazine.
"Where did you get all this?" he asked.
"We raided the nurse's lounge," Elle told him.
"No wonder the nurses don't like you."
Garcia had a noisemaker and even a party hat, but knowing her, she probably traveled with such items on a regular basis. And while Gideon looked mildly amused, Hotchner still looked very serious.
Not long after Leonora came back.
"Okay, time's up. Go home and get some sleep. You can come back tomorrow."
"I'll just put Posh Tail over here," Morgan said, putting the bear down at the foot of the bed. The team gathered their coats, except for Hotchner.
"You go ahead, I'll stay awhile longer."
Leonora narrowed her eyes but didn't say anything. Gideon nodded approvingly and ushered the others out, with promises that they would be back the next day.
Hotchner and Reid watched silently as Leonora filled the syringe and then emptied it into the IV line. "It'll take about five minutes to work, then you won't feel a thing," she promised.
Five minutes wasn't a very long time, so Hotchner decided to just jump in and get it over with, but Reid beat him to it.
"I heard you on the plane. I didn't mean to eavesdrop or anything. I just overheard."
"You heard us?" Hotchner looked confused. "When? What did we say?"
"On the way back home from Vegas. You told Gideon that you weren't sure if I belonged on the team, that I had changed too much." Reid kept his eyes stubbornly on his blanket, so he missed Hotchner's dumbstruck expression.
"Not belong…" Hotchner whispered. "Oh, god. No wonder you've been acting so strangely." He took a deep breath, trying to figure out how to phrase himself now, to avoid further misunderstandings.
"Reid, please look at me," he said. When Reid looked up he looked straight into his eyes, hoping to convey his sincerity.
"That conversation was about me wondering whether being on the team was keeping you from bigger and better things. If anything, I thought you were too good for us. But much of it was also my desire to keep you safe. You rarely get shot working in a lab or at a university. But… and this is important, so listen and remember… if I ever, for whatever reason, wanted you off the team, I would come to you first and talk about it. I have that much decency. And no mistake you'll ever do will be so bad that you won't deserve a second chance." He smiled at him.
Reid felt a wave of shame wash over him as he remembered the distrust he had felt against this man, who had never been anything but fair and patient with him.
But Hotchner caught the look in his eyes. "No, Reid. This isn't your fault. It was a misunderstanding that spiraled out of proportion. And I'm just as much to blame. I should have been more observant of your feelings, and I should've dealt better with mine."
"So we both screwed up…?" Reid said.
"Big time." Hotchner sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. "Is that why you were so gung-ho at the Heller-raid?"
Reid nodded. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to prove to you that I was as good an agent as any of you. But I shouldn't have run off like that. I don't have the experience you have with raids, and I've never led one."
"Which is partly our fault," Hotchner confessed. "You don't have any experience, because we haven't given you a chance to try. We'll talk about it as a team when you come back."
"When I come back…"
Hotchner felt a stab of panic. "You do want to come back, right?"
"Of course I do. I just wanted to hear it said out loud. And I'm really, really sorry about the things I said to you. I had no right."
"Neither did I. The things I said were vicious and… You were right about one thing. There was a part of me that didn't trust you."
Reid looked down again, not sure if he wanted to hear this.
"I always trusted you as an agent. I always knew you would do your job under any circumstances, I trusted you with my life. I just didn't trust you with yours. You were too important to be trusted to anyone else than me. Something happened that made me believe that you needed to be looked after and protected, and I am sorry."
He sighed, knowing that what he had to say next could turn into a catastrophe, but it needed to be said.
"This is going to sound really weird, but there's a part of me that's resentful at you for rescuing yourself in Fairmount."
Reid's eyebrows shot up. He had not expected to hear anything of the kind.
"I know, it's completely irrational but… You don't know what it was like. You disappeared, you were gone and we couldn't do anything. Our leads were slim, our chances even slimmer. It was heart-rending and despairing work, and it got us nowhere. Then, suddenly, we had a breakthrough and we were all ready to run to your rescue when you showed up. You looked horrible, bloody and pale, but you were such a beautiful sight. At first I was overjoyed, but then it crept up on me, from nowhere. I had done nothing to help you, and you came back so… broken. I wondered what I could have done differently, how I could have spared you your ordeal and I wished so hard that I could have saved you. But since I couldn't, I guess I have been trying to save you from everything else since. Only, I wasn't so good at it was I?"
Reid smiled at him. "You did just fine. I'm here, aren't I? A little worse for the wear, maybe, but I'm here."
Taking the absolution to heart, Hotchner sank down in the visitor's chair on Reid's left.
"How did things get so messed up?" he asked rhetorically, but Reid felt compelled to answer him anyway.
"After I had gotten my first two PhD's, I quit school to start working, but just like Veld I never stayed long anywhere. I never really fit in. I was too young, or too smart, or too shy. My social skills were underdeveloped and my co-workers didn't get me. After several months I went back to the university and went for my third PhD. And the whole time I was sad and angry and scared. Scared that that was all life would have in store for me. That I would stay at school forever, doing research and writing papers. I could have easily gotten tenure at many different universities and become the quirky old professor who lived alone and talked to himself. No one would have thought it strange, isn't that what geniuses do? Write books and give obscure lectures? I was angry, because I didn't want that. I didn't want to settle in a niche that had been chosen for me and not by me. And I was sad because the world outside was closed to me. I didn't fit in and only looked foolish trying to.
"That's when I went to one of Gideon's lectures and I found something I'd never known existed. And I talked to him afterwards and he promised he'd help me if I wanted to become a profiler. Suddenly I had a proper goal to work for and someone to look up to. When I started at the BAU I finally found a place where I fit in and could make a difference and help others. I learned the awesome powers of compassion and righteousness, and I learned that responsibility goes way outside your own person. And I had great role models that helped me, help me, become a better me, while I get to help others. And when I thought you didn't want me anymore, I was both furious and heartbroken, because I felt that I had given everything in my power to do the best I could do in every single situation.
"I don't have friends, Hotch, and with my mom being where she is, I don't really have a family either, to go to for the holidays and weekends. I don't have a family to vacation with. I don't have a family that I go home to at night. But I do have a family that I go to in the morning. And you tease me and chastise me and encourage me. You let me be myself and accept me and I don't want to lose that."
Hotchner blinked hard to stave off the tears that were threatening to fall, and in a moment of tenderness he leaned over and grabbed Reid's hand. Reid twisted his hand so that it lay palm up and Hotchner was left with his thumb resting on the protruding scar on Reid's wrist and he let his thumb tenderly ghost over its length.
"I like that scar, Hotch. Do you know why?"
Hotchner didn't trust his voice, so he just shook his head.
"It proves to me everyday that I have become the man that I always wanted to be. That I am strong and have the ability to protect those who need it. That I can accomplish whatever the situation demands of me. That I'm like you. And like Gideon and Morgan and Elle and JJ and even Garcia. You guys are my heroes, and I fit in with you."
Reid yawned, and his eyes blinked a few times as the medicines took a hold of his body.
"I don't want to lose that," he whispered.
"You won't. I promise, you won't." Hotchner reassured him as Reid slowly lost the battle with sleep.
He waited until he was sure Reid was sound asleep before letting go of his hand. He stood up and carefully lowered the head of the bed until Reid was lying flat. He then pulled the blanket up higher, tucking his arm under it. He sighed as he looked down at the young man, the words he had just spoken still ringing in his head and in his heart. He pushed an errant strand of hair away from Reid's eyes before once again squeezing his hand comfortingly.
He then turned off the lights and made himself comfortable in the chair, vowing to himself to keep watch over this special young man, tonight and forever.
"Live your own life, for you will die your own death."
Author's Notes: Hmm…I seem to have a tendency to end my stories with Reid asleep in a hospital bed. Maybe I should be nicer to him. Although two are really a pair and not a pattern.
August 2007: I'm not from the US, so I usually don't get to see episodes until long after they originally aired. Last fall when I wrote this story Channel Five over here had only aired the first ten episodes of season 1. I had therefore not seen 'Fisher King', but many of my reviewers did comment about it, which naturally made me very curious. Fast forward six months until April 2007 and I finally got to see it… boy, did I feel like a plagiarist! That only goes to show you, original ideas are hard to come by. I also realize a lot of what I wrote about Reid's childhood has in later episodes been contradicted, but I'm just too lazy to make the proper re-write. I still like my own story, though, and I hope you did too.
Thank you ever so much for all the reviews. I love and appreciate every one of them and every one of you who took the time and effort to read this story.