A/N: Setting is directly after "A Real Rain." Contains well-known spoilers for Reid's background and family, but thought I should warn you anyway.
There is no reward so sweet as that which is hard earnt.
Reid was exhausted by the time they got on the plane back to Quantico. JJ and Elle had decided that they should cram as many sights as humanly possible into their last two hours in New York, to help him make up for lost time. It was probably going to take days for his feet to recover. How JJ had managed to take twenty minutes to choose a pair of boots in the Barney's sale, he had no idea. Either they fitted or they didn't; it wasn't multiple choice.
He'd long since mastered the art of sleeping through take-off and landing, and was sitting back with his eyes closed when he heard something being dropped onto the table in front of him. Knowing that it was only going to be more files, for the next case, or the last one, he settled further into the seat, deciding that they could wait until he was back at his desk. Possibly with a cup of coffee.
There was a rustling sound, then the cabin filled with a familiar, sweet smell. He sniffed.
"Smells like…" He opened his eyes. "Milk Duds?"
"And Skittles and Smarties and Whoppers, to name just a few." Elle grinned as JJ tipped one of the packets into a bowl. Their expressions made Reid nervous.
"What's this for?"
JJ returned Elle's grin with an added wink, raising Reid's suspicions even higher. "Well, we decided that you needed some help."
"That's nice," he said slowly. "With what?"
"These." JJ reached under the table and pulled out a long, slim, ominously familiar packet. Reid grimaced.
"Really, guys. Forks are good."
Elle shook her head. "You need to embrace the world, Reid. International cuisine."
"I do not have a problem with international cuisine, just international ideas of cutlery." But he took the chopsticks anyway, sitting up and peering into the bowls of candy.
"This is your chance to practice, with plenty of incentive." Opening her own packet, JJ tapped the chopsticks together. "The idea is, if you can pick up the candy, you can eat it." Demonstrating, she trapped a Junior Mint and popped it into her mouth.
Torn between groaning and grinning, Reid tried to mimic her hand position, only to find that the shiny wood slipped out of his fingers.
"Don't suppose you've got any elastic bands on you?" he asked, after his third attempt to grab a Candy Corn.
They had to hold onto the bowls during take-off, but forty minutes into the flight, Reid felt confident enough to take the band off the end of the chopsticks. The Junior Mints were still a bit ambitious though, he decided, after rescuing the third one from under his seat.
"Careful, or they'll send you the cleaning bill." Morgan reached for a Milk Dud, only to have his knuckles rapped by Elle's chopsticks.
"No sticks, no candy," she said, offering him a pair.
"Armed and dangerous, eh?" Morgan speared a Circus Peanut with the end of one chopstick. "You getting the hang of it, kid?"
"I thought I was." Reid retrieved a dropped Smartie, frowning and blowing some dust off it before popping it into his mouth.
Morgan grinned as he carefully picked up an M&M. "You're learning from experts here."
"My friends and I used to do this in high school," JJ said, turning a Candy Corn in her chopsticks. "If you dropped one, you had to do a forfeit."
Reid looked up quickly from his latest fallen Milk Dud. "If we're going to do that-"
"Relax," Elle told him, "we're not in high school now."
"Well, my high school experience wasn't exactly the same as everyone else's," Reid said, carefully taking a Jelly Bean.
"That's for sure." Morgan helped himself to a Skittle, chewing thoughtfully. "Not much Spin the Bottle when you were in Tenth grade, I'd guess."
"Not when you're not even a teenager. It's considered creepy." Reid smiled as he managed to get a Milk Dud all the way from the bowl to his mouth in one go.
"What about the Prom?" JJ asked.
"It's hard to get a date when everyone's at least six years older than you."
"Whereas now, you're a regular stud." Morgan laughed, ignoring the sour look Reid gave him. "No Seven minutes in heaven?, no I Never?" Catching Elle's eye, he shrugged. "We played with Root Beer."
Reid shook his head. "Sorry. Deprived childhood."
Putting her chopsticks down, Elle shook her head. "With my girlfriends, it was always 'Truth or Dare.'"
"I'll bet you were the queen of dares," Morgan said, taking the last Junior Mint before Reid could get to it.
The corners of Elle's mouth twitched. "I had my moments."
"I've got a dare for you," Morgan added, putting his own chopsticks next to hers. "I dare you to come finish our reports. Hotch wants them asap."
Elle groaned, but she got out of her seat, following Morgan to the paper-strewn table at the back of the plane, where Hotch was already hard at work. Deciding that the M&Ms were probably still a bit beyond his fledgling chopstick skills, Reid picked one up between his fingers. JJ laughed softly.
"Don't worry, I won't tell," she said, glancing over her shoulder at the others. "You really didn't get to do this stuff, huh?"
Her look told him how impressed she was with the evasion. "Teenage stuff. Spin the Bottle, Proms, Truth or Dare."
Reid shrugged. "I never learned to use chopsticks either, yet somehow I manage to feed myself."
She smiled, an expression tinged with sympathy. Then she stretched, getting to her feet and sliding out into the aisle.
"I'm going to catch up on some paperwork too. Not all of us can read twenty thousand words a minute."
"Since I can, I'm going to catch up on some sleep instead."
"We've only got about fifteen minutes til we land."
Reid settled back in his seat, closing his eyes. "I sleep fast, too."
He woke up to the sound of something being dropped onto the table in front of him again. Opening his eyes a crack, he saw Gideon in the seat opposite, moving the bowls and packets of candy aside so that he could put his notepad on the table. A glance at his watch told Reid he'd only been asleep for five minutes. Yawning a little, he sat up, working the kinks out of his neck.
"Everything alright?" he asked Gideon.
"Fine." Gideon smiled, looking from the table to Reid and back again. "I was just wondering what happened when you played Truth or Dare."
"What?" Completely thrown, Reid opened and closed his mouth a few times. "You were listening to that?"
"It's not that big a plane." Turning his pen over in his hands, Gideon tilted his head. "You said you didn't go to the Prom, play Spin the Bottle, but when JJ gave you the list with Truth or Dare in it, you dodged the question. You're always very precise about what you say, so I was curious."
Reid closed his eyes, the memory rising up clear and strong and so vivid.
He knocks on the door, banging hard in the hope that someone will hear. The music – he supposes it's music – is making the wood under his hand vibrate. Since the chance of anyone hearing him seems minimal, he tries the handle and the rise in volume as the door swings open makes him wince. In the half-darkness beyond, he can see shapes moving, bodies swaying to the beat or writhing as though unaware of it.
"It was a party," he said, his eyes still closed. "Our neighbours were away and their daughter decided to hold an impromptu rave."
"Not unusual," Gideon observed dryly.
"True, but it was just so loud." Opening his eyes, Reid looked at Gideon. Now was not the time to start talking about his mother. How the thumping beat drove her to distraction, making her jittery and more difficult than usual. Instead, he said, "I knew the daughter a little."
Gideon nodded, as much to himself as Reid. "And you didn't want to get her into trouble, so you didn't call the cops."
Smiling ruefully, Reid shook his head. "The cops in Vegas have got more to worry about than an over-loud rave in a suburban street. I thought I could get her to turn it down a bit."
Sarah is in the middle of a laughing crowd, all holding beer bottles. She nearly chokes when she sees Reid peering through the gloom.
"Spencer?" Stumbling a little, she comes over, grabbing his arm to hold herself upright. "What are you doing here?"
"The music!" he yells, gesturing vaguely. "It's kind of loud."
"It's meant to be," she shouts back. "It's a party!"
"Could you just turn it down a bit? You're keeping the whole street awake, and someone's going to call the cops soon." He's already seen some guys in the front room, passing a joint backwards and forwards, and guesses that the threat of the cops might be his best chance.
Mumbling to herself, Sarah staggers across the room, turning the dial on the sound system so that the noise is simply loud rather than unbearable. There are cries of protest, and she turns back to him with an 'I told you so' look on her face.
"Yes. But she made me stay for a beer."
"How old were you?"
"Fifteen." Seeing Gideon frown, Reid half-smiled. "Do you know what the rate for underage drinking is in the United States?"
"Not precisely, but I'm sure you do." Gideon shook his head. "I was actually trying to work out how far through college you'd gotten."
"Almost finished. I knew some of the kids from around the neighbourhood, but I hadn't been at school with any of them since I was four."
"So you stayed for a beer, then someone suggested playing Truth or Dare?"
"Something like that." Reid looked back towards the window. "At first, they just kept asking me questions, about what college was like, what I was doing there. Then they were asking about what I knew, what I could do." He paused, swallowing and Gideon picked up the thread.
"Memorize a deck of cards, recite the dictionary, that kind of thing?"
"Party tricks, I guess. It wasn't too bad."
"And that was when the game began." Gideon leaned forwards, lowering his voice even further. "What did they ask you?"
Everyone's sitting in a circle, laughing and drinking. Someone's handed Reid another bottle, and although he knows he should get back to his mom, somehow he can't quite manage it. The game starts, and admissions start flying around the room. Who's kissed who, who's done what, for how long. There are a few dares too, but there's a definite sense that things are just getting going. No need to rush.
When the turn comes round to Reid, he feels himself going red, and takes another mouthful of beer as he tries not to panic. The drink tastes strange, like musty water that burns the back of his throat as he swallows.
"Truth," he says at last, knowing that a dare would be worse.
The boy who's doing the asking leans back, looking round the circle with a smug smirk on his face. After a moment's thought, he points at Reid with his beer bottle.
"On a scale of one to ten, how crazy is your mom?"
Reid felt the blood rush to his face all over again. The sideways looks and whispered gossip had been bad enough. To sit there, surrounded by those cruel, sniggering faces had been almost too much to bear. Knowing that he still hadn't answered the question, he forced himself to meet Gideon's eye.
"They asked me something I thought no-one would ever ask," he said, trying to find the right words without having to tell the whole story. "Something I really didn't want to talk about."
"These games are only designed to embarrass or humiliate, and bullies always know which buttons to press." Sitting back again, apparently content not to press the subject, Gideon gestured for Reid to go on. "So what did you do?"
"I did what I always do," Reid said simply. "I gave them all the facts I could think of."
At first, all he can do is stare open-mouthed, unable to believe that anyone would ask him something like that. The others are barely containing their laughter now, pressing hands to mouths and hiding behind each other's shoulders. Sarah meets his eye, then looks away, giggling with the girl sitting next to her.
"Well, Spencer," the boy says, drawing out the syllables of his name, "we're waiting."
Ignoring all the others and just fixing his gaze on the boy in front of him, Reid begins to speak, slowly at first, then with growing emotion.
"Actually, her schizophrenia goes through phases of severity." He clears his throat a little, hyper-aware of the attention the others are giving him. "And she's just one of thousands of people who suffer from it. One in a hundred people will have a schizophrenic episode at some point in their lives. There are about sixty people in this house right now, which means it's entirely possible that one of you will have some kind of breakdown at some point in the next twenty years.
"It could creep up on you gradually, so that you don't even realise that the reality you perceive doesn't exist. You won't know if the voices you can hear – and you'll actually hear them – are real or not. You might think you're the President of the United States or the new Messiah. You could be paranoid, unable to function or interact with people on any kind of normal level. You'll need someone to look after you, to remind you to eat, take your pills, change your clothes."
The room is silent now, all eyes on him and no-one is laughing. He takes a deep breath. "I just hope there's someone there to do that for you."
"Did it work?" Gideon asked softly and Reid nodded.
"I guess. They were pretty embarrassed, but not nearly as much as I was. There were no more raves when Sarah's parents were out of town, and the other kids started avoiding me in the street even more. It was peaceful, at least."
Smiling just a little, Gideon gave him a respectful nod. "You put up with a lot of that, didn't you?"
Reid shrugged. "It didn't matter." Seeing Gideon stirring in his seat, he held up a hand to forestall him. "I'm not saying it didn't get to me, or affect me. I'm just saying that, in the big scheme of things, it doesn't seem so important now. I survived. I'm here, using what I can do to help people. Seeing what we see, doing what we do; it helps get things into perspective."
"It helps get a lot of things into perspective," Gideon agreed, pulling the notepad towards him and unfolding his glasses. "We'll be landing soon."
"I know." Leaning back in his seat, Reid pushed the memory firmly back to where it belonged. There were other things to think about – the latest case, the next one, all the catching-up that there would be when he got to his desk at Quantico – and he let them fill his mind as he closed his eyes. He was asleep before the pilot announced that they were getting ready to land.
What remains of your past if you didn't allow yourself to feel it when it happened? If you don't have your experiences in the moment, if you gloss them over with jokes or zoom past them, you end up with curiously dispassionate memories.
David Rakoff, Fraud