Disclaimer: I don't own Criminal Minds.
Summary: follow-up to 4.24. Because of the Hotch drama that immediately followed, I don't think we really got to see enough (/any) or Reid reacting to his brush with a powdery and unpleasant death. And what self-respecting fanficcer can sleep knowing that Reid missed such a perfect opportunity for angst?
"Death is a friend of ours; and he that is not ready to entertain him is not at home."- Sir Francis Bacon
The Jell-o was warm and the soup was cold, but Spencer Reid inhaled it greedily. All else, including the pain in his ravaged throat, was ignored. He was hungrier than a man who hadn't eaten in days; he was hungry like a man who had sincerely thought he might never live to eat again. Morgan said nothing as Reid worked through the food, for which the agent was grateful; he'd always valued that about Morgan, his ability to be quiet without becoming awkward or seeming angry. It was a quality that no one else on the team, Reid included, possessed. And now it was an incredible comfort to have Morgan in the room. Not that he'd ever tell him that.
Although, Reid admitted to himself, maybe he should. If he'd died-- as he rightfully should have-- the team would have found no provisional goodbyes left behind. Nothing to tell them what they meant to him. Nothing for anyone to remember him by but a vague, spontaneous message to his mother that he'd terminated at the first sting of tears. Thirty awkward seconds that made nothing clear save the fact that he hadn't planned for his own death….
Reid pushed the thoughts aside and forced the last of the Jell-o down his throat. He set his utensils on the table and waited.
"Want me to get you some more?" Morgan asked finally. Reid shook his head. "Are you waiting for me to yell at you?"
Again, Reid shook his head. "I'm waiting to react myself. I don't really feel like I have yet."
"Well, don't be in a rush to, kid," Morgan advised softly. "Even a mind like yours needs time for something this big. Take it slow."
"I should have had something recorded. Something to leave my mom and you guys. It makes sense, with what we do." His voice broke, but inside, oddly, Reid felt nothing. Nothing identifiable, anyway. Morgan was just looking on, his face twisted in pain. Reid looked away.
Out of the blue, for the first time in a while, Reid thought of Gideon. He wondered if they'd have been able to track him down for the funeral. Somehow he doubted it. And maybe, if Gideon didn't follow the news, he wouldn't have known. Maybe someday, for some reason, he might have thought of Reid. And Reid, as Gideon thought of him, would not have existed; would have been nothing more than a pile of slimy bones somewhere, skin scarred and rotted from the biblical plague, the curse of the black lesions ("where's your mind going, Reid?" he heard Morgan's voice ask, from a distance), and for the first time, he remembered the taste of blood in his mouth. He caught sight of his hands and saw them cold, stiff, stilled.
"Morgan," Reid groaned. He didn't wonder if there was a basin within Morgan's reach, or whether or not the older agent would be disgusted by what was about to happen. His mind-- all of its considerable girth-- was focused on keeping his mouth shut until Morgan handed him something to vomit into. It couldn't have taken more than a few seconds, but it felt like an hour before a trashcan was shoved into his lap. Reid gripped the rim with both hands and ducked his head down, already retching. There wasn't much in his stomach and vomiting felt all the more painful because of it. His throat burned and his lungs were spasming, but he fought the cough, knowing it would just make matters worse.
Finally he felt it was safe to lift his head and place the trashcan on the ground, on the side of his bed where Morgan wasn't. Then, unexpectedly, embarrassment washed over him, so intense that he couldn't look up from his lap.
"You okay, man?" he heard Morgan ask gently. A hand found his shoulder and he flinched without meaning to.
"I really need to brush my teeth," Reid said quietly.
Before Morgan could respond, the door opened and an unfamiliar nurse came in. "He's vomiting," Morgan reported immediately. "Is that normal with anthrax?"
The nurse was unfazed, even as she lifted the filthy trashcan from the floor. "Usually this is only associated with ingested anthrax, but there's not really a precedent for this strain. But I wouldn't worry. It's probably a reaction to the trauma in general, not the anthrax itself. How are you feeling now, Dr. Reid?"
"I really need to brush my teeth," Reid repeated, still looking down.
"Okay. I'll send some stuff in. I can give you something for the nausea if it's bothering you, too. Would you like that?"
For a moment, her words didn't process. If it was bothering him… was it bothering him? Was it bothering him that his stomach felt like he'd swallowed an army of cheese graters? Was it bothering him that he hadn't been able to keep down the only food he'd eaten for days? Or that he'd specifically failed to keep it down in front of Derek Morgan, infallible, unflappable GI Joe of the BAU team? Then Reid had to fight down a laugh. Honestly? No, it wasn't. He was alive. Alive when he shouldn't be. And he'd been right about the inhaler, right about everything else, too. Damnit, he'd figured it out, and he was alive, and it was okay.
"I'm fine, actually, thanks," Reid said gently. His voice felt a little choked and he didn't want to strain his throat.
"Alright. I'll send in a toothbrush for you." And she left, taking the trashcan with her. Reid sat quietly, watching the door swing shut, trying to think of nothing but his breathing.
"You okay, kid?" Morgan asked after a moment's pause. Reid blinked. "You wanna talk about it?"
"I'm okay," Reid murmured. His voice sounded awful.
"You don't seem it."
Reid laughed. Of course, not even he was oblivious enough to have missed the feeling of tears in his eyes. He'd just been hoping that Morgan hadn't noticed.
"I really am, Morgan. I'm just kind of surprised I actually walked out of that one."
Nothing. Then: "I don't even wanna think about it, kid."
At the telltale huskiness of Morgan's voice, Reid couldn't hold in the tears any longer. They slipped down his cheeks far too easily, the same tears he'd been holding back since recording his goodbye message to his mother. "I'm okay," he whispered, and by that point it had stopped referring to his emotional state, had become a declaration of his survival. He ducked his head down again and bit his lip.
Again, he felt a warm weight through the fabric of the hospital gown as Morgan's hand found his back. "It scared me too," Morgan said gruffly. Reid lifted his head, not bothering to wipe his tears, and caught Morgan's eye.
"Yesterday," he admitted slowly, "was the first time that I really, really thought I was gonna die."
"Aw, c'mon. You thought we'd let that happen to ya?"
Reid didn't answer that directly. "I can't remember it all. But I remember, in the ambulance… I became aphasic. I forgot my words," he clarified, and Morgan frowned.
"I know what it means."
"And I… I said goodbye. Right then. I really did." His voice cracked. Morgan bit his lip and crossed his arms over his chest. Reid wished almost desperately that the older agent would touch him again, would ground him. He felt liable to explode; he felt so many things at once. His body was wrecked, sore and weak, but a feeling of energy was racing through his bloodstream. He couldn't sit still. He was alive and so grateful and tired and so, so terrified. The fear that he hadn't let himself feel inside the lab was washing over him now. What would his mother have done without him? Would she have survived? Would she have noticed?
He'd lost control of the tears by now; he had no say in how fast they fell. He watched with dull interest as Morgan dragged his chair up right next to the cot and sat, resting a hand on Reid's arm. Despite his embarrassment, Reid couldn't look away. Was there anything, he wondered distantly, that he was not going to do in front of Derek Morgan today?
"It's okay," Morgan said quietly. "I'm not going anywhere. Let it go, Reid. It's okay."
Reid didn't respond, just dropped his gaze down again, staring at the hand on his arm. He'd maxed out on humiliation for the day. Now there was no reaction to Morgan's presence but the constant, quiet hum of gratitude. He closed his eyes and let the tears do what they wanted with him. His body was shaking.
"Do you need anything?" Morgan asked quietly.
Reid sniffed. It came out sounding awfully like a snort. "You don't think they'll let me have coffee, do you?" Something about hearing his own voice brought him back under some measure of control. He raised his head.
"After the way you handled soup and Jell-o? Not so much, no."
Reid sighed. "I really need coffee." Though the tears had come on slowly, insidiously, they stopped over the span of a few seconds. Suddenly, Reid was too tired to cry anymore. He lay back.
"You can sleep instead of coffee; did you ever think of trying that?" Morgan asked. Reid smiled.
The door opened and the nurse returned with a cup of water and a basin that held the promised toothbrush and toothpaste. Reid thanked her quietly as she handed them over. "Um, turn around," Reid told Morgan. "I can't brush my teeth in front of people."
For a moment, Morgan just stared. "Really?" he laughed. But then, still chuckling, he turned around. Reid brushed his teeth, rinsed with water from the cup, and spit into the basin before placing it all on the little table next to him.
"Okay," he murmured, and Morgan turned around; Reid was already lying back against his pillows.
"You want me to stay?" Morgan asked quietly, and Reid shrugged.
"You don't have to." Morgan shook his head.
"Well I'm going to, unless you mind." Now Reid shook his head.
"I don't." Suddenly the sleepiness was almost overwhelming. Reid closed his eyes. "Hey Morgan?"
"Tell Garcia to delete it."
"Delete it. She'll know. Please."
"Okay. I'll call her later." Morgan still sounded confused, but didn't press the issue.
If he'd had the energy, Reid would have smiled. Finally this nightmare felt over, and he had made it out alive.