Chapter 39

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Thirst returned Reid to conscious thought.

A memory from childhood started to nibble along the edges of the soft, peaceful darkness Reid's brain had cradled around his tormented mind. It was a bad memory, one of the many Reid had buried deep down, along with all of the memories of his father.

This incident had occurred during one of his mother's more dangerous episodes, just after his father had abandoned the family. During the height of her delusions, Reid found himself lying under the family car, for the shade, in the middle of the Nevada desert, watching his mother kicking the dry sand, while shouting at the imaginary Bob Dylan she thought was taunting her. Reid had been absolutely terrified that she wouldn't get them back home before it was too late; he knew just how long the human body could survive without food and water, in the extreme Nevada heat. By the time he'd finally convinced her to sneak quietly into the car so 'Bob Dylan' wouldn't notice them leaving, his throat was painfully parched, his small stomach cramping from thirst, and fear.

Thirst and fear.

'You really need to get some water.'

The thought rose towards the surface of Reid's dark, penetrated the now ruffled edge, and popped into Reid's consciousness like one of the sparkling bubbles in a glass of champagne.

Blinking a few times, as if awaking from a deep sleep, Reid pulled his now shockingly white, withered thumb out of his mouth and stared at it for a few moments, as if trying to figure out what it was. His mind felt like it was awash with thick, lumpy oatmeal; he couldn't seem to form a thought beyond the original one that kept prodding him along, forcing his hand down from his mouth and his legs over the side of the cot.

Trying to stand, his body screaming in pain with every movement, Reid's brain slowly began to regain control. Sweat beaded across Reid's forehead from the strain, as he slowly unfolded himself and attempted to stand up. His back audibly cracking as he straightened himself to his full height, it only took a moment for his leg muscles to decide they'd had enough and revolt, causing Reid to flop back down onto his comforter.

Pulling a corner of the soft material over his eyes with a slight tremor in his hand, Reid's mind tried desperately to scramble back to peace and safety, but Reid's brain had begun to reenergize and refused to let him go again. 'You're thirsty, you need to stand up and get some water' was the message it conveyed with ever increasing intensity. But Reid's limbs refused to move.

So his brain decided to send out a new thought, 'You are determined to live.'….

Rossi had been dreading it all night. He knew each member of the team would have a negative reaction, but it was unavoidable. As he walked towards Garcia's office, he braced himself for her response. Remembering how hysterical she'd been yesterday when he'd had to inform her about Reid being gone, Rossi steeled himself, knowing this request would certainly be enough to cause the same intense emotional reaction.

A few minutes later Rossi left Garcia feeling overwhelmingly proud of the amazing young woman. Yes, the strong emotions had been there, as expected; but there had also been a tremendous strength which had surprised, and greatly impressed, him.

Almost apologetically Rossi had explained what he needed; almost immediately the tears began. Rossi moved to comfort Garcia, but Kevin, her rock during this ordeal, was instantly at her side, his arm protectively around her shoulders, quietly offering words of support. The outburst only lasted a few moments; then, to Rossi increasing admiration, Garcia blew her nose, patted Kevin's hand, and said, albeit in a watery, filled with tears voice, "Thanks Kevin, I'm okay now. This will just take a minute or two, Rossi."

Rossi watched her work, relieved she was handling his request so well. Tears still dribbled down her face, and she wiped them away impatiently as she typed at her keyboard. When Rossi had first entered the room, he'd noticed Garcia hadn't had any make up on, to be honest he hadn't recognized her for a moment, and now he knew why. Her eyes were violently red-rimmed; Rossi supposed the tears welled up pretty much constantly since the previous day. As she handed him the paper, Garcia took another moment to blow her nose again, before looking straight into Rossi's eyes and saying, "Rossi, my heart is broken, and I'll probably be crying all day, but…" she paused for a moment to take a deep breath, "… I'm ready to do anything I can to help the team find my sweet junior G-man and bring him back home to us!"

Even though another burst of violent sobbing followed this pronouncement, Rossi smiled at Garcia and said, "I always know I can count on you, Penelope." Giving her back a small pat of encouragement, Rossi turned to leave, hoping the rest of team would be in the same mindset.

As he walked slowly along the hall towards the conference room, where he knew the rest of the team was already gathered, Rossi looked down at the paper in his hand, and whispered, "Hang in there kid, we'll find you."

The lean face staring back at him, the most current photo Garcia could find in the system, seemed so still, so silent; completely opposite to the mobile face of the young genius Rossi knew. Rossi prayed the picture wasn't now the more accurate of the two versions…..

Robbie sat at his desk, gnawing on the edge of his thumbnail. The teacher was attempting to teach math to the group of totally uninterested 10 year olds, but Robbie barely heard the chaos around him. His mind was firmly on Mr. Reid's apartment; specifically what may have happened there.

This morning, his mother had informed him to come straight home from school today, as the FBI agents he had talked to yesterday in Mr. Reid's apartment would be there to take him upstairs to feed the fish. Unfortunately, she wouldn't provide any more details as to why he suddenly needed an escort to do this chore; so, inevitably, his overactive young brain had been devising likely scenarios ever since, each one getting ever more fantastic, and gory.

'Well, I never saw any blood' he reasoned to himself as his teacher droned on about equations, 'And if there was a dead body lying in the apartment rotting, the FBI wouldn't let me go in there.' Suddenly his stomach lurched as he realized if there WAS a dead body, it was probably his friend; and the thought of never seeing Mr. Reid again, never having the kind FBI agent to talk to or to discuss things with, unexpectedly produced unwanted tears.

Raising his hand to be excused, while keeping his head lowered so that his friends couldn't see his shame, Robbie raced to the washroom, not caring if he was reported for running in the halls. Detention for the rest of the year was infinitely preferable than the other boys seeing his damp eyes. Locking himself into a stall, Robbie began to try and logic it out just like he knew Mr. Reid would, just like he'd done with every problem Robbie had ever brought to him. Fluttering his hands around, widening his eyes as he talked to himself, cocking his head to one side every now and then, if any of the team could see Robbie pacing in the stall, they would've recognized Reid's mannerisms instantly….

Rossi stood staring at the closed door of the conference room. His stomach in painful knots, he felt a pang of sympathy for Hotch and the ache he'd been having in his gut for over a week. It was the not knowing that was causing Rossi to hesitate, the uncertainty as to what each team members' reaction would be to Reid's picture. 'His 'latest victim' picture' Rossi amended, letting out a sigh, wishing once again, like he'd been doing for the last 24 hours, that he'd never decided to come back to the BAU.

Feeling his own mind beginning to wobble, Rossi straightened his back, reset his face into neutral, opened the door, and swiftly crossed the room to put Reid's face up on the victim board. A deep, full, oppressive silence pressed against his back, refusing to allow him to turn around and gauge the reactions of the team. Rossi could feel four sets of eyes boring holes into his spine, after they'd first flicked over to see what he was doing. Waves of hate seemed to crash into the back of his neck; a younger, less experienced agent may have cringed away from four brains silently slinging curses against his ears; may have buckled under the weight of four souls silently pummelling him, and four hearts shattering on the floor at his feet.

But Rossi stood absolutely still, absorbing the team's anguish and helplessness. He'd known from the start that this was his role during the investigation, and Rossi would not abandon his team, his family. Minutes later, Rossi heard what he was waiting for; the signal that it was safe for him to turn around and take his place at the table; the verbal assurance which he'd been holding his breath waiting for, knowing if he didn't hear it, it was over.

"Okay, let's review…" Hotch said, his voice strong, steady, in control.