Hotch was sitting with Garcia and Rossi when Emily made her way back into the waiting room. She was looking at the floor, her expression a mingling of shock and exhaustion. Hotch realized for the first time since Reid had collapsed that none of them had slept in three days, but none of them were going to go to sleep now; they were running on borrowed energy, strung-out on worry and fear, those drugs the body produced on its own but which felt unnatural and uncomfortable, like something to be expelled. Hotch's mind and body were both trying to banish the crippling guilt and fear that were suffocating him, but they had taken up residence and were not leaving without a fight.
"I just called JJ," said Emily, taking a seat next to Garcia. "She's on her way."
"Good," said Hotch. "I just talked to the nurse, she said they've got him stable. Hopefully by the time JJ gets here we'll be able to see him."
Emily nodded, looked away for a moment, and then said, "She said that Reid sent Henry a birthday present last week."
"Isn't Henry's birthday in two months?" said Garcia, screwing up her face as she tried to remember.
"Yeah," said Emily, "it is."
"So why would…oh." Garcia's face fell as she realized the implication, and Hotch looked at his hands to avoid the look of horror which overtook Garcia's features. How bad was it, if Reid didn't think he'd be around in two months?
"Where did Morgan go?" said Rossi.
"He said he needed some air. He asked us to call when we knew something."
No one had anything to say to this, and so they all resumed staring at their feet.
After what seemed like hours, the sound of footsteps on the cold linoleum made everyone look up. The doctor? But no, that pin-straight blonde hair belonged to JJ, though at the moment it was almost as disheveled as Hotch had ever seen it, and her face looked as worried and drawn as they all felt. He had never thought he could be this unhappy to see her—not because he didn't want to have everyone there, even those who were no longer official members of the team, but because of the circumstances under which they were gathering.
"What happened?" JJ sounded out of breath. "Is he—?"
"He's out of surgery," said Hotch, standing up. "But beyond that we don't know."
"What kind of surgery?" said JJ. "What happened? Is he sick? Was he hurt?"
Everyone looked at one another, no one quite sure what to say. For the first time Hotch understood—at least in part—why Reid had had such a hard time telling them what was going on. It was not easy to hear that someone you loved had cancer, but it was even harder to say, as if by speaking it aloud you somehow cemented it in reality. Everyone was looking to him.
"He has a brain tumor," said Hotch. Simple. Harsh. JJ pressed a hand to her chest and sank into a seat.
"Why didn't anyone call me?" she said. "Why didn't he tell me? He came over for dinner last month, he didn't say anything!"
"He didn't tell us either," said Emily. "We just found out an hour ago when he collapsed in the office."
"He had a seizure."
JJ put her head down and ran her hands through her hair.
"Doesn't that mean it's bad?" she said when she looked back up. "I mean, if he's having seizures it can't be good. How long has he known about this? It can't have just popped up overnight; didn't anyone notice something was wrong?"
Once again, everyone's eyes found the ground. JJ's voice was imploring, not accusatory, but Hotch could tell that each of them was thinking, Yes, we did notice, but we read the signs wrong, we didn't offer our help, let him deal with it on his own…
No one replied.
As if sent for the specific purpose of smashing through the heavy silence, the sound of muffled footsteps down the hall made everyone raise their heads. A woman in blue scrubs and surgical slippers was walking down the hall toward them. It only took a moment for everyone to recognize her as Dr. Hansen, the neurosurgeon who had helped them on the case where the UnSub had been lobotomizing his victims. Everyone jumped to their feet.
Dr. Hansen stopped in front of the group and looked them over quickly. They must have looked somewhat ridiculous, a strange conglomeration of suits and sweatpants, with Garcia's flamboyantly bright outfit stuck right in the middle. Dr. Hansen's eyes slid over the suits and found Garcia, towards whom she stepped.
"Penelope?" she said. "Dr. Hansen." She reached out a hand to shake Garcia's, and Garcia took it tentatively. "Can I talk to you alone for a moment?"
"Oh, they're all with me," she said.
"I know that," said Dr. Hansen, "but last time I spoke to Spencer he told me he still hadn't told anyone else about the particulars of his condition. Technically I would be in violation of doctor-patient confidentiality."
Garcia drew herself up to her full, though not altogether considerable, height.
"Anything you tell me I'm just going to tell them when I get back."
Dr. Hansen spent a brief moment examining the look of determination on Garcia's face, threatened only by her trembling lips, then took a step back and addressed the whole group.
"Spencer's seizures were caused by increased intracranial pressure. We managed to stop the seizures by performing a decompressive craniectomy—the burr holes. There's a lot of technical stuff involved in why the buildup occurred, but to make a long story short, the tumor has grown since his last CT scan and it's going to make a lot of things go haywire. I'm also going to put him on an anticonvulsant, which should prevent any further seizures, but most of what Spencer's been doing so far has been treating the symptoms and not the disease. He needs to start rounds of targeted radiation as soon as possible, and though I want to review the latest scans a few more times, we may want to start thinking about attempting a removal."
"Wait," said Garcia. "Isn't that a surgery? I thought—but Reid said that his was inoperable. If it's gotten bigger, doesn't that mean it's more inoperable?"
"Technically it was only extremely inadvisable to operate. But unfortunately we're running out of options. I don't want to speak ill of Dr. Reid, but he hasn't been taking care of himself the way he ought to have been. This new symptom is generally a marker in these types of tumors that the patient has only got a few months left. If we want to give him a chance at being in the ten percent that make it to five years, we need to start thinking radically."
Hotch's head was buzzing with this new information, the statistics he had just been given bouncing off the inside of his skull, but these bits weren't what rose to the forefront of his mind. Dr. Reid hasn't been taking care of himself the way he ought to have been.
Because I haven't been letting him.
Garcia, meanwhile, was speaking to the doctor, sounding like she was holding back tears.
"What am I supposed to do?" she asked.
"Nothing right now. We don't anticipate any permanent brain damage from the seizures, and Dr. Reid will be awake soon enough. He's going to have to make these decisions for himself. For now you just need to be there for him. Make sure he follows through with whatever treatments he elects."
"Can we see him?"
"He should be waking up soon, but he'll be groggy, in and out of consciousness. You can sit with him, let him know you're there, but go in one at a time. I don't want him overwhelmed. Also, he had to be intubated in the ambulance. He's breathing on his own now, but we have him on oxygen and he's going to be hoarse for a while. Not to mention the fact that seizures are physically exhausting. He'd going to be sore as hell and he's going to need a lot of sleep, so keep it brief. I'll take you to his room, if you want."
Garcia started forward with a nod, but before she could go more than one step, Hotch stepped in front of her.
"Garcia," he said, "would it be all right if I spoke with him first?"
Garcia nodded mutely but in truth she looked relieved. She stepped aside, said, "I think I'm going to go find Morgan," and hurried off down the hall. Hotch looked back at the remaining members of the team—and JJ—and gave them a small, stiff nod. They'd be waiting when he got back, but he knew that this was the most important moment, that whatever Hotch did when he was in that room would determine how the rest of them would react when they got their turns, how they would act around Reid now that they knew his secret.
Dr. Hansen had already turned and was walking down the hall. Hotch followed her briskly, suddenly acutely aware of the squeak of his shoes against the tile. She didn't say a word as she led him into the ICU. Hotch was pleased to see that Spencer had gotten one of the rare private rooms and he suspected that Dr. Hansen had had something to do with that. He remembered that she had liked Spencer while they were working the lobotomy case; he was glad Reid had gone to her, at the very least.
Dr. Hansen paused only briefly outside the door before letting Hotch in.
"Just let him rest when he needs to. Like I said, he's going to be pretty out of it. I know you might be feeling angry or hurt, but now is not the time to express those feelings. He's vulnerable, he can barely communicate as it is. Just…try to keep it simple. I'll be back to check on him in an hour."
An hour was generous, Hotch knew. These weren't even regular visiting hours. But he had the feeling that Dr. Hansen was glad for his presence. She seemed happy that Reid wasn't alone. Hotch nodded, not really trusting himself to speak, and she returned the gesture before walking off down the hall. Hotch took a deep breath and walked into the room.
Reid looked…awful. He was hooked up to innumerable machines, all beeping and hissing and whirring; his face covered in an oxygen mask, his arm tethered to a clear IV which was slowly dripping nutrients into his veins, a clip on his finger feeding numbers into a machine…but none of this was what made Hotch pause at the door. What made Hotch pause was the fact that Reid was bald—they had shaved his head for the procedure, and though the burr holes had been packed and covered with a bandage, the shiny crown of Reid's head was still visible above his deeply shadowed, closed eyes.
Hotch pursed his lips, approached the bed, and sat down. Trying to look only in Reid's face and not at his head, he placed his hand over Reid's.
"Reid," he said softly. "Spencer."
Reid stirred, his face scrunched into a look of pain for just a moment before he looked around blearily until his eyes found Hotch.
"Hey," said Hotch.
Reid reached up, as if to remove the mask, but Hotch grabbed his hand gently and placed it back on the blanket.
"It's all right, you don't have to talk right now," he said. "I just want to sit with you for a while, if that's okay."
Reid blinked, groggy, but his eyes had no trouble finding Hotch and staying on him, unlike in the office when he hadn't seemed able to focus on anything…unlike the past few days, in fact. With Hotch firmly in his sight, Reid once again reached up and this time removed his mask. Hotch steeled himself for whatever Reid might say, ready for the same icy words he had heard in the office, but when Reid opened his mouth, only two words, dry and raspy and painful, came out.
Hotch leaned forward.
"Not telling you. I shouldn't have been working. I messed up. Again."
Hotch couldn't think what to say. He had never seen Reid like this, had really never seen anyone like this, looking so frail and weak and…defeated. But Reid was looking at him imploringly, his eyes begging for the absolution which Hotch didn't know how to give.
"Reid, I'm not going to tell you that I'm not upset that you didn't come to me with this," he said finally, "but you don't have to apologize. I don't know how I would have reacted if I had been the one to receive this sort of news, and if what Garcia said was true, it sounded like you were just trying to protect us from the fallout. It was noble, Reid, but I think I told you once that there would be consequences if you ever put your life or others' in deliberate danger again."
Reid cracked a weak smile.
"Are you firing me?"
Hotch tried to muster a smile, but couldn't manage it.
"No," he said, "but I think I might give you that leave."
Reid nodded so slightly it was almost imperceptible, and his eyes fluttered shut. Remembering what the doctor had said about letting him sleep, Hotch didn't press him, preparing to get up in case the others wanted to come see him, but before he could raise himself out of his seat Reid's eyes slid open again.
"Have the others…?" He trailed off as his voice failed him, and swallowed hard, letting his eyes complete the question.
"No, I'm the only one who's been in."
"I must look pretty bad."
"You look fine," Hotch lied.
"Is Morgan really mad?" Reid grimaced, partly out of the pain of speaking, partly, Hotch thought, because the question sounded so small and childish. "The things I said…I need to tell him…sorry."
"Morgan understands you weren't yourself when you were saying those things."
"Not a good…excuse."
Hotch raised an eyebrow. "A tumor isn't a good excuse? Reid, even if you had been saying those things voluntarily I doubt any of us would have the right to be angry at you for saying them. We were accusing you of something terrible, we weren't taking care of you like we should have. You had every right to be mad."
"No," Reid mumbled, closing his eyes again.
There was another pause wherein Hotch wondered whether Reid had fallen asleep. The next time Reid spoke, he did so without opening his eyes.
"I'm still here."
"Please don't tell my mom about this. Or—or my dad. I don't…"
He trailed off. Hotch's stomach sank. It was terribly unfair that Spencer did not even have the comfort of his mother to turn to in a time like this, but it was understandable, given his mother's condition. He wasn't sure what her reaction would be if she heard the news that her son had a deadly disease, but he was sure it would do Reid no good. As for his father…Hotch had hoped that there had been some reconciliation after the Riley Jenkins case, but it seemed that whatever contact Reid had maintained with his father was not nearly intimate enough to trust him with this sort of information or responsibility. Again, Hotch found this terribly unfair, but understandable. If he had been in Reid's place…
"I won't say anything to them, Reid."
Reid sighed and nodded again.
"Hotch," he said. "I'm probably going to die."
"No," he said. "You're not."
Reid smiled wanly, almost as if to himself.
"Do you want…the statistics?"
"I've heard them. I don't care. You might be feeling weak now, Reid, but you just got out of surgery, you haven't rested properly in weeks…and I'm sorry for that, that was my fault. But you have us now, and we're all going to take care of you. You're going to get better."
The smile went from Reid's face in an instant, folding in on itself into an expression which was simultaneously a look of pain and sorrow. A tear oozed from his eye and he reached up to wipe it away but got caught on his IV. Hotch grabbed his hand and placed it back on the blanket again, but this time he held it.
"It's okay," he said in the soothing voice he used when Jack was sick. "It's okay."
Once again, Hotch was lying.
So that…might…be it. That is all I have written, anyway, and though it's not exactly a satisfying ending, it may be appropriate in a metaphorical sense. Anyway, don't be too upset if this is the last of it, and don't be too surprised if I write more. Thank you so much for reading!