Fair warning, I'm putting this one to bed with just a little... sap. (facepalm) Guh.


Epilog


The tarmac is patchy wet in places, drying in the cool evening breeze that's taken over. The storm that had raged through the night, now vanished, leaving a ubiquitous film of pale cloud cover and a sliver of wind that catches uncomfortably in Reid's collar.

Gideon is waiting outside his own vehicle as the team pulls go-bags from their government-issue SUV. Reid's is too heavy in his hand. Weighing the sensation, he drops it down on the asphalt, and stands, running fingers up to his forehead. His muscles feel like tangled thread, unspooling and catching with the smallest provocation. Reaching over, Morgan takes his messenger bag from him, slinging it onto his own shoulder. He nudges Ried's go-bag to the side with his toe, then claps him softly on the back, and nods in Gideon's direction.

Reid turns, feeling the air against his face, approaching Gideon slowly. Gideon looks different in the outside light. Older.

The wind dies down as he gets closer, matching his hesitation, leaving a stillness on his skin. Hotch walks behind him and, after a beat of silence, steps forward first. He shakes Gideon's hand firmly, the crease in his suit taking on a smoother line, easing the intensity in his shoulders. "Take care of yourself, Jason," he says seriously.

Reid rubs his thumb under his ear as Gideon nods, and Hotch steps back.

JJ slips forward next, following with a brief hug. Prentiss settles for a light grip to Gideon's arm and a compassionate smile. Morgan steps to Reid's left and like Hotch, shakes Gideon's hand, a long silence in the grip. Gideon dips his head and Morgan pats Reid's back again before moving after the others.

Reid finds himself standing alone. Rossi is somewhere distant in his peripheral and the fluttery beat of the plane's engine is whirling to life in background. Reid feels uncertainty in all of it. Then, Gideon steps forward, setting a hand on his shoulder, gripping it tight, then pulling him forward. His sweater is rough beneath Reid's chin. His grip solid. The contact is expected and not expected. It stops the motion in Reid's chest, grabbing at the weight of the last few weeks, the last few days. Drawing up the weight of years in a moment. Reid opens his mouth and feels his lungs surge in response. Closing it quickly, he swallows before he can breathe out anymore of what's in him. Gideon's hand is warm and stable on his neck, but it's the allure of a moment, not of a future. It's tangled in history. Comforting, but not closure.

He bends his chin down against the sweater, holding his breath until he feels the hitch die down and feels the balance from his own feet, steady from his own center. When it settles, he leans back, holding one hand tightly against Gideon's shirt before carefully letting go.

He doesn't want to be frightened anymore. And he doesn't want to be like Hanks, seeing illusions as truth, waiting for things that shouldn't be.

Opening his eyes to Gideon's face, Reid nods with a swallow and turns, reaching down for his go-bag, starting to walk away.

A few yards in he stops, looking back one last time. "Gideon," he says, surprised at the steadiness in his own voice. "You should go and see your son."

Gideon holds his gaze for a long moment before pressing his hands into his pockets. "Maybe I will."

\

Reid doesn't look back again. Watching him walk away, Gideon sees a different tilt to his shoulders than he remembers. He's taller. His steps less diffident. Movements less tentative. Not breaking stride, not stopping movement, even when Morgan takes the go-bag from his hand, and grips his elbow to usher him up the stairs of the plane.

From this angle, Gideon sees more clearly the evidence of all that must have changed since his departure. Stronger but more weighed down, Reid is a different man. Gideon doesn't see as much of himself in him as he used to. The parts about him that are still growing and learning are now covered with Hotch, and Morgan. Prentiss. JJ. David Rossi, and the million things Gideon hasn't been there for. A million things that had happened while he'd been here, alive in the gloaming, mere miles from a killer he hadn't wanted to see.

Breathing out, he pulls his hands from his pockets, a sudden stiffness in his joints. Looking over, he sees Rossi watching him, waiting. "Will they ever stop seeing it as a game?" asks Gideon.

"Who?"

"The unsubs."

"No," says Rossi. "I don't suppose they will." He steps closer, and with a grip to Gideon's shoulder, he lifts his own bag off the ground, and turns to follow after.

Pressed against the door of his vehicle, Gideon flips the pictures in his wallet open. Open. Closed. Open again.

He stands watch until the plane has taken off and is completely out of sight.

\

It's kind of amazing how fast everyone falls asleep.

Though it wasn't by choice, Reid's slept more than any of them the last few days, and his mind is now awake, and spinning. He's holding the picture Gideon had given him after his first round of nightmares, rolling it gingerly between his fingertips in the dim glow of the reading light, watching the glossy surface catch the shadows. It flashes darker in the shade of his left eye, lighter when angled towards his right. Plato had formed a theory about that emission of light, believing in the possibility that the light that allowed objects to be seen might have originated from the eye instead of some external source.

It didn't always seem so off the mark to Reid.

When dark inside, all you see is dark. When light… light.

Above him, the angles of motion bend in his peripheral and he tilts his chin up to see Hotch making his way towards him. The rough wrinkles in his demeanor are barely visible through the solidness of his steps. Reid draws his legs back, allowing Hotch to sit. He rolls the picture face down in his fingers, then tips his eyes up and waits.

Hotch leans forward, not hiding the appraisal in his look. "How are you doing?" he asks. Never a casual question, coming from Hotch.

Reid licks his lips, feeling the pulse of uncertainty below his jawbone. He sets the photo down beside his knee and loosens his mouth. Maybe Hotch is afraid he's going to have another seizure. Maybe he wants to know if this encounter is going to spark another round of cravings, or the want to forget. Maybe he's going to reprimand him for circumventing orders, or for putting his life in jeopardy, like he did after Owen Savage.

"Better," Reid finally answers, voice softer than he means it to be, like his lips formed the word before it was ready to emerge. His brain is still heavy, but quiet, no buzzing or tripping. No whispering.

Hotch's gaze hasn't faltered, but he nods, and the line of his mouth softens. "Reid," he says.

Reid swallows.

Hotch looks away briefly then holds steady. "I want you to know… you have us. I know it hurt you when Gideon left. I know you were still… struggling. You've handled things remarkably well, better than I expected, but if any of this…" he trails off, bending his head down towards his hands. "Maybe it's not enough… We make mistakes. We miss things. But you still have us."

The plane hums quietly. The scent of the coffee Morgan made earlier hangs in the air. The purple bruise on Hotch's head is nearly invisible in the dim angles of light. Reid sits numbly, watching his face, thinking suddenly of the time he'd told Gideon he'd never miss a plane again. Thinking of why. Trying to remember when it'd no longer been a question.

After a moment, Hotch breathes out, leaning forward to tap Reid's knee as he stands.

"Hotch," Reid says.

Hotch stops, waiting. Beyond him, Reid sees Morgan with his head phones on and JJ with a blanket pulled halfway over her face. Prentiss asleep with a book under her hand.

"It's enough." He swallows again, looking up to Hotch's eyes. "Thank you."

Hotch sets his hand over Reid's shoulder, gripping solidly for a small moment, before moving on to the last of the seats.

\

The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.

David Russell


The End