Disclaimer- see first chapter or profile.

Author's Note- see profile.

Previously- The team was called to Vegas for a case involving both men and women being killed over a period of years- usually but not always couples. Reid's mom was one of the victims. It was later discovered that the victims were being killed because they'd been deemed unfit parents by the UnSub, either because of mental defect, addiction, or molestation of their children. It was also discovered that Reid has a tragic history with the FBI academy in which he was brutalized and then expelled, thus explaining why he isn't a member of the BAU, and that those responsible are all now dead. When his dad was identified as the first victim, Reid was arrested, but he soon escaped. The team went in pursuit of him, only to be captured by the real UnSub, Jeremiah Heart, revealed to be Reid's half-brother who is obsessed with him. Deducing who and where the UnSub was and that the team was in trouble, Reid left the address for the police to find and went to save the team, who were being held at a lake house. Upon arriving, Reid helped the team to escape their bonds and led Jeremiah out to the beach, where he attempted and finally suceeded in talking him into giving himself up to the authorities when they arrived, rather than go down in a hail of bullets. Jeremiah was arrested and Reid watched on as he was taken away. And now- finally- the conclusion...

Chapter 13- Mobius

The station was loud, banging with the ruckus of detectives, reporters, and the family members of victims, the shouting and ringing phones reverberating in the artificially cooled air and vying for dominance in a never-ending battle. Sweat, coffee, and ink clogged every breath while the floor and walls drummed with footsteps and the clattering of people racing about the station, trying to tame the chaos.

Spencer was oblivious to it all as he sat in a hard plastic chair in a small corner office, seemingly forgotten as his brother was processed and questioned while hungry news reporters- forced outside- anxiously tried to get a piece of the action. The headlines would be bold, the clips of Jeremiah being led into the station replayed on the news for days and nights to come until the excitement wore down; the Piker Woods killer had been brought in, and it wasn't the original suspect that had escaped police custody only hours ago. There had been a kidnapping, there had been a confession, and- added to this- there was also a connection between the killer and the original suspect.

No doubt, the media was swarming and salivating at the prospect of such a story and Spencer had been mobbed upon his arrival at the station and bombarded with questions as microphones were shoved in his face. He'd refused to comment and had plowed through the crowd with the aid of Gideon, Jeremiah being escorted behind by Hotch and Morgan. Spencer had been taken into an interrogation room where he'd then given his statement, recounting the events following his escape with precise detail and answering the questions asked with honesty and accuracy, though it pained and confused him to think of it. With determination- and more than an ounce of practice- he'd fought against the grief pressing in on him from all sides until the procedure was mercifully finished. Officially, he was no longer a suspect and the charges against him had been dropped but Spencer was too shell-shocked to be relieved or grateful or to feel anything at the news other than a deep pang at what had passed.

With the FBI agents busy at various tasks and the detectives finished with him, Hotch had been able to spare only enough time to see to it that he was put into an office as far away from the hub of the mayhem as possible, although that still meant a room flushed against the far end of the bullpen. Spencer didn't care; the noise was inconsequential, the activities of everyone beyond futile and as painful as a papercut amongst fatal wounds with the awareness that they were unable to make any major impact on his life or future at this point. It would take months to determine Jeremiah's sentence, whether or not an insanity plea would be accepted or if his abuse would be factored in, if he'd be charged with the deaths of Markus Ford and the other murdered agents, or if Spencer's testimony would move whatever judge ended up on the case to have leniancy... His heart ached to think that Jeremiah might get the death penalty when Spencer had promised to protect him and that promise was the reason Jeremiah had given himself up. Even after everything he'd done, Spencer didn't want to have Jeremiah's blood on his hands as well.

So much death, so much suffering... Spencer closed his eyes tightly, thinking of the hidden history of violence and destruction that had followed him all along that he'd never known about. He should have known! He could have stopped it; he could have saved his mother... how could he have not seen?

The guilty thoughts assaulted him, even while dimly aware of their faultiness in a rational but ignored part of his brain and his chest constricted with agony and outrage that was compounded with incomprehension of how this could be real. While his mind could put the pieces together of how it had happened with stabbing ease, his heart couldn't make sense of it no matter how hard he tried. Some days being a genius didn't matter and all the facts and statistics and knowledge he possessed couldn't help. Not enough, least of ways, to provide anything but a weak clinical numbness at the edge of his consciousness as reality was automatically broken down into its categories- how many serial killers had siblings, had been sexually abused, had justified killing as a vigilante, had a fixation on another person- and just as quickly the facts were viciously bludgeoned by his tumultuous emotions. It didn't matter. He wanted it to, wanted it to bring comfort and order and a reason for his suffering and his mother's death and the tragedy of Piker Woods, but it was inadequate as his mind continued to race with facts and his heart stormed with anger and agony.

His hands clenched around a now-cold cup of coffee, his knuckles white and nails digging into his flesh as he silently contained the storm...

"Hey," a voice spoke softly above him and a hand was placed on his shoulder. Spencer jumped in alarm, eyes shooting open to look up at Morgan for a panicked moment before his heart slowed, registering the gentleness on the now somewhat familiar face and that there was no danger present. The hand was removed and Morgan shifted, studying the other man carefully. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you." he apologized.

Spencer shook his head in refusal but swallowed hard nonetheless before he replied. "No, it's alright." he assured, feeling a fresh wave of guilt for being at the root of everything Morgan and his team had been through in Vegas; he'd made them chase him and they'd almost been killed.

Morgan pulled out a chair and sat down next to him. "I thought you might be hungry- your last meal wasn't so great." he said, offering a sandwich from a vender to him.

Spencer took it but made no move to open it. "Thanks. At least I had a meal; are you sure you don't want it?" he asked, although the question was mostly polite and- subconsciously- a means to delay meaningful conversation.

"I had something." Morgan replied, dismissing the subject. His eyes, however, were piercing as he scrutinized Spencer with undisguised concern.

Uncomfortable, Spencer averted his gaze to the sandwich he held, picking at the plastic wrapping nervously, and he struggled for something to say that would divert Morgan from the case, but all his thoughts were tangled with recent events.

"How are you doing?" Morgan asked softly, a demand for only the truth laced in his tone.

But Spencer didn't know how to answer, the automatic response that he was okay pathetic even in his own mind and anything else that would be honest was too complicated to communicate. Instead, he shrugged, his gaze unsettled as tears pricked his eyes with pain that was only now beginning to surface through the shock, but he refused to give into it. He knew, after all... "I'll get there." he stated, turning to Morgan and smiling half-heartedly as he met the other man's gaze resolutely.

It was the best Morgan could hope for and he was glad for the strength he heard from the other man.

"Thank you for everything you've done." Spencer added, genuine appreciation and the feeling of being in debt reflected on his features.

Morgan smiled slightly. "We couldn't have done it without you." he reminded encouragingly.

But apparently, it wasn't the right thing to say as Spencer's face fell. "Without me... none of this would have happened." he accused himself bitterly.

Flashing with surprise and anger that the kid- who had been through so much and asked for none of it- could blame himself, Morgan's expression became stern. "This is not your fault." he countered vehemently. "Anything Jeremiah did, he chose to do himself- not you. Don't go putting this on yourself!"

Spencer shook his head, swallowing hard against tears and guilt as he looked at anywhere but the profiler. "He killed for me. He was there the entire time," sitting across from him in the support group, "and he took my mom. I put her away..." Anguish stopped him from going on, but his thoughts didn't quit, recounting the way his mom had begged him not to put her in Bennington that day, the letters from his secret admirer he'd received throughout the years that he'd brushed off, meeting Jeremiah as a little boy on a football field but never connecting the dots...

"You gave your mother the help she needed," Morgan reminded, "and Jeremiah killed for himself, to satisfy his own needs and delusions and to make himself important to you in his mind. There is no way you could have known what he was or planned for what he did; you are not responsible."

Spencer wanted to believe him, to have the guilt lift, and he searched Morgan for a lie- that he was just telling him what he wanted to hear- but found none. All the same, he knew he'd had a part in the deaths of over twenty people and couldn't be absolved so easily and he kept searching for a way he could have prevented it in his mind.

"Hey, listen to me," Morgan ordered when Spencer's gaze drifted away again, continuing only when he had the younger man's hazel eyes fixed on his, "you saved my life today... and the lives of some of the people I care about most in the world. I've seen a lot of bad guys and a lot of not-so-bad guys that do terrible things because life gets to be too much, but you are not one of those people- and you are not your brother. You and Jeremiah may have a lot in common- tragedy and suffering and disappointment and an absence of love where it should always be- but Jeremiah is the one who broke and started killing. Not you. He made justifications and decisions based on those justifications. But today on that beach, you had every reason to hate and try to take vengeance on him- you were armed and he was vulnerable- and instead you talked him down and saved a life some would say didn't deserve saving." His voice rose with admiration and compassion, trying to breach the walls of Spencer's guilt as he studied the young doctor with a pang for all he'd been through and was still putting himself through. "Whatever commonalities there are between you and Jeremiah, they end at that decision; to take a life or not to."

Spencer's chest constricted as he listened and his self-berating and hateful thoughts were tempered by reason, however temporarily, and only the grief of being so powerless remained; if it wasn't his fault- if none of the terrible things that had happened to him had been because of some error or oversight on his part- then how was he to combat it, to prevent further injury in the future? Or would he always be subject to the hand of chance? Would the only thing he'd be able to do be to overcome it afterward, to rise up again every time he was knocked down and soldier on with his wounds and emotional handicaps? He wouldn't let himself be crushed- not this time, even though he had no idea how he was going to make it through- but he didn't want to live that way, only surviving. He wanted more; he wanted to fight back...

There had to be a way.

Watching Spencer carefully and reading the emotions that played across his face, Morgan allowed the silence for a minute before pressing the younger man- a little hopefully, a little desperately, and determined not to leave here until Spencer knew that it wasn't his fault. "Tell me you understand that." he demanded gently.

Slowly and almost indiscernibly, Spencer nodded after a brief hesitation, his eyes watery but a faint smile showing acceptance and gratitude for Morgan's support.

The agent's posture relaxed slightly, even though he was aware it would be a long road back for Spencer and permanent damage would remain for him in the scar tissue of his heart and mind. But scars could teach, Morgan well knew, thinking briefly of his own past with Carl Buford. The youth mentor had wrought unmentionable devastation on an already maligned existence only a few years after Morgan had seen his father gunned down, the one tragedy inadvertently paving the way for the other as he'd become the man of the house at a tender age and felt all the responsibilities over his mother and sisters. However, Morgan had survived and pulled himself out of the mire, dedicating himself to standing up for others like the little boy he'd been even while knowing how easily it could have gone the other way, giving in to the easier road of violence and despair. It was a matter of choice and character- two things that neither Carl Buford nor anyone else had ever been able to rob him of- and he was all but certain that Spencer had what it took to make the best of things.

The psychologist shifted nervously beside Morgan as something visibly weighed on his mind, swallowing dryly and licking his lips as he gathered himself for some purpose. "Can- can I ask you something?" Spencer queried hesitantly.

Observing his nervousness, Morgan casualy shrugged in an effort to put the other man at ease. "Shoot."

"Your job… it's pretty bad, isn't it? The things you see?" Spencer tentatively prompted.

The black agent's brow furrowed but he nodded. "Yeah. It can be."

"Then-" Spencer's flow hitched and he took a breath, quickly reorganizing his thoughts, "then how do you get through it? How do you face all the things you have to face- the atrocities man commits against itself and the suffering and the, the darkness- and push through it every day when you know tomorrow you'll have to face it again?"

Hearing the question for what it really was, Morgan straightened slightly with authority and firmly held the younger man's eyes. "Because my life isn't about the darkness," he countered, "it's about the light. Facing the darkness means it doesn't win and, when you challenge it, you can see the light;" he told Spencer sagely, compassion and understanding coloring his words, "I see it in knowing Jeremiah Heart will never kill again, I see it in the closure twenty-one families are getting… and I see it in you."

Spencer smiled at that but it vanished quickly, his worries fixed. "What about the days when you can't see the light? What do you do then?" he pressed.

Morgan sighed, seeing those future days for Spencer in his mind and recalling his own and the many still to come. "Then I look harder." he answered. "If all else fails, I remember other places I've seen the light, I count my blessings, and I trust that tomorrow will be a better day."

It was honest and without a sugar-coating or false assurances, but it was what Spencer needed to hear and he was grateful for it. All the same, the weight of what was to come didn't leave him- no one could lift that burden no matter how hard they tried or what they did- and Spencer floundered for some kind of response as he contempated the advice. But, before he could speak, he was cut off by a light knock on the door and it was abruptly opened.

Hotch appeared on the other side.

"Sorry if I'm interrupting." he appologised as he stepped in. "I need to talk to Dr. Reid about something."

As his supervisor's eyes met his, Morgan got the silent message that Hotch wanted to talk to Dr. Reid in private and he drew a deep breath as he stood up. "I'll get you some fresh coffee." he told Spencer, gently excusing himself as he took the cold up of coffee from its owner's hands. Spencer smiled at him appreciatively- not fooled but not insulted either- and Morgan turned and left, trading a glance with Hotch as he passed.

Hotch closed the door as soon as he was gone but didn't move immediately from his spot, studying the young doctor for a minute before slowly crossing over to him and sitting down in the chair Morgan had just vacated.

"How's Jeremiah?" Spencer quickly asked before the unit chief could begin.

Thrown, Hotch's reply was short and just shy of neutral, not completely sure what Spencer's feelings towards his brother were at the moment. "He's gotten a lawyer, so his rights are protected." he answered carefully.

If he was comforted by the information, Spencer didn't show it as his gaze turned distant and to the floor. "He's never going to be free again." he stated flatly.

Realizing the younger man needed some kind of reassurance that he'd done the right thing, Hotch decided to tell him what he knew even though it wasn't yet a certainty. "I think the DA's going to be willing to play ball in order to avoid an insanity plea and a drawn-out trial that'll expose Jeremiah's sympathetic history and the less-than flattering characters of most of his victims." he related professionally but with notable optomism and compassion. "There are psychiatric programs in some prisons; his lawyer will make sure he gets into one as part of the plea bargain. He'll spend the rest of his life behind bars but he'll avoid the death penalty and, if he gets the help he needs, he may eventually find freedom from his past he'd know otherwise." he informed warmly, offering hope.

Comforted by this, Spencer looked with gratitude at the agent, aware as only someone unused to acts of kindness would be that it wasn't part of Hotch's job to cater to the emotions of the UnSub's relatives. "Thanks." he said softly, smiling at Hotch, then added; "I'm sorry for breaking out. I-" he sighed heavily as remorse and shame slammed into him again, "I could have gotten you all killed."

Hotch hesitated, unable and unwilling to argue the point but not believing it was the right time to lecture him. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't understand why you did it. That error aside, you did good out there today, and what I wanted to talk to you about was your career with the FBI." he revealed, putting the conversation back on track.

Spencer straightened, confused. "My career?"

The response was not unexpected but Hotch didn't address the question in the other man's eyes right away. "An agent that can normally handle things very well under pressure can become unpredictable if the situation gets personal, but you kept a cool head and remained in control on the beach. You obviously have accademic skills suited to profiling and you've demonstrated you can apply them in the field; we could use someone like you." he replied, showing the logic behind such a decision.

Spencer still didn't understand; "I was expelled." he pointed out.

"I put in a call." Hotch readily informed him. He paused as he watched Spencer's reaction to this, the young doctor straightening further and his eyes widening slightly in disbelief. "I talked to a few people, including Agent Lopez. Your case is going under review and I'm confident that your expulsion is going to be overturned." he stated, giving the impression that it was already a done deal. "You'll have to do a refresher course and finish up the week you missed," he continued, "but there shouldn't be any problems."

Stunned at the unexpected offer, Spencer didn't know how to reply and sat silently, reeling as he tried to figure out if he even still wanted to join the BAU after everything that had happened. "Thanks." he finally managed. "You didn't have to do that." And Spencer certainly didn't understand why the profiler had done that. Pity, perhaps?

Reading Spencer's hesitation, Hotch felt the need to make it clear he wasn't trying to pressure the young man or atone for the bureau's past errors, although the latter was- in part- somewhat true. "Considering your history with the academy, it's understandable if it's not something you're interested in anymore-" he began.

"No!" Spencer cut him off, surprising himself at the force of the reaction. He hesitated. "It's just... I didn't think it was possible anymore." he explained. His gaze became far off as he looked away. "And the timing of it..."

The timing couldn't have been worse, Hotch silently acknowledged. "It wouldn't have to be immediate." he clarified sympathetically. "Obviously you have a lot to deal with right now, but the door's open whenever you're ready... If it's something you still want."

Spencer was silent for a long minute as he considered it, shoulders heavy and head bowed with a thousand colliding thoughts, before sighing softly. "It was my dream to join the BAU..." he nostalgically admitted with a faint hint of a smile, his eyes turning to Hotch.

Reassured he wasn't opposed outright to the proposition, Hotch decided to drive home the invitation. "I want you on my team." He stated firmly.

Spencer looked at him with renewed shock at the declaration but didn't say anything and Hotch continued.

"You were supposed to be on my team 5 years ago; I think it's still the right place for you to be."

Spencer's brow knitted with uncertainty "Even with everything that's happened?" he questioned. When he saw that the agent didn't understand what he meant and was taking it a different way, he hesitated briefly before trying to explain. "I'm not used to people knowing so much about my personal life... and history."

Of course, Hotch realized silently, the younger man was private by nature- and with good reason- but he also knew that his reserve was flawed. "Not to sound callous, but I'm afraid your history is going to become a public matter rather quickly, given the situation." He pointed out. "And my team and I don't look down on you for what you've been through; we respect the strength it takes to survive the ordeals you've faced. Being exposed isn't always a bad thing," he counseled gently and earnestly, if nothing else not wanting Spencer to keep things bottled up inside of him. "Especially if it helps other people to get close and shoulder some of your burdens; whether or not you join the team, you should know that."

Spencer smiled appreciatively, although there was sorrow in it. His gaze drifted away as he reflected on events that would take months- maybe years- to sort out and make himself right with and considered the job he was being offered, whether he'd be able to handle it anymore or how difficult even getting out of bed might be in the coming days. It was exhausting and troubling to think of what lay ahead, yet the dream he'd harbored of being a profiler- what now seemed like a liftetime ago- was still nestled in the recesses of his heart, relinquished but not forgotten, and the tiniest hope stirred within him despite the daunting circumstances. In the very least, the prospect was more than he ever would have dared hope for and, the appreciative smile still in place, he regarded Hotch.

"Well, it won't be right away..." he began uncertainly, far from certain what the makeup of his future would be like or what he would ultimately choose, "but I'll let you know."

It was enough for Hotch, who smiled back; if he was worth his salt as a profiler, then he was sure that, in time, Spencer would make his way back to where he was supposed to be all along... With a final, comforting squeeze to the young man's shoulder, he stood.

"I have some work to do," he told him, "but someone will be along in a while to take you home."

Spencer nodded mutely, gazing up at Hotch with expressive eyes. With a pang that there wasn't more he could do for the young man, the agent turned and left Spencer to chase his answers and absolutions; it would be a long and difficult hunt.

The door closed behind Hotch and Spencer stared blankly at it for a moment before swallowing dryly, his gaze briefly sweeping the room looking for something to hold on to- but there was nothing- and he slowly drew a deep breath, leaning back against the wall and closing his eyes, trying to center himself and bring the world to order. The images of his life played out in his mind like a broken projecter, in no particular order- most of it real, some of it imagined. As his chest tightened, he told himself he could handle it, he could get through the pain and guilt and figure out some way to deal with all the terrible things that had happened. If there was any consolation to be found in the cripling revelations, it was that at least he knew now what had happened to his mom, knew for sure now that she was gone, that her death had been quick and painless and that she hadn't suffered long in her fear. The closure came at a devestating cost and it was a painful and horrifying reality he now faced, full of obsticles and terrible truths, but his mom had shown him how much was possible and had taught him true strength by her example, by the courage she'd demonstrated in her turbulent life that was, in so many respects, beyond her control. For that, he'd always be grateful.

A small smile touched his lips at the thought of her, the agony of her loss acute but not destroying the love and warmth that had been given. The smile faded quickly and was replaced by tears the pricked the corners of his closed eyes, encountering a promise left in the wake of the devestation, as lamentful as it was reassuring; he'd survive.

Breathing slowly and deeply, time passed without notice in a haze, his mind clouded by events that made seconds seem like hours and hours like seconds, lost in the thicket of the place the eye does not see and caught between conflicting perceptions of reality. In the back of his mind floated Hotch's offer, but he was beyond considering it right now, all his willpower and concentration wrapped up in keeping it together and not losing his grasp on the surreal truth while mustering himself for the coming days. There was no avoiding it, no escaping it; only enduring it. The mere thought was exhausting and he leaned back further against the wall, his eyes ever closed to the harsh light of the invading world as he tried to find some peace in an hour that hurt far too much.

Eventually, Morgan came back in with the coffee; eventually he opened his eyes.

...

The rest of the night passed in a blur; cameras, questions, and lights flashing as Jeremiah was led from the small station to the state prison; Matthew Faraway coming home to his frantic sister, who embraced him as she proclaimed that they'd caught the killer. The following morning, Spencer traded farewells with the team as they boarded the plane, gratitude and a strange sense of familiarity compelling him to be there for the departure. The bonds that had been formed over the last several days were fledgling but lent hope and ideas of the future, and he stepped back as the jet climbed into the sky, watching it until it disappeared in the clouds.

In a single instant, Spencer saw the end and the beginning of what would never end altogether and what had truly begun long ago...

5 Months Later

Two black sedans rolled to a stop, tires crunching on the littered pavement. Heat rose up in waves from the road as the feet of the agents touched down on its surface, climbing out of the vehicles. They were in Philadelphia, fresh on a new case.

Morgan took off his glasses as they approached the crime scene, squinting in the sunlight. Three young females had been found hung in the past three months, all in semi-public places. Victim number four was waiting for them in the alley between a laundry mat and a movie-rental store, police cruisers and yellow tape cordoning off the area as onlookers gawked from the bounderies.

Next to him, Spencer pushed a lock of chestnut hair back, inconspicously studying his surroundings and comparing the location to those of the previous murders as he walked. Detective Shore, who had been leading the investigation up till now, greeted them.

"You must be the BAU team." he surmised, a touch of relief in his voice.

Hotch nodded and began the introductions. "I'm Survisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner. These are SSA's Jason Gideon, Emily Prentiss..."

Spencer's eyes fell on the young woman hanging from a drainpipe on the outside of the laundry mat wall, her blond hair loose and covering her face but her hands- small with well-manacured nails- were swollen and purple with the collection of blood. His stomach tightened for a moment but he held control over himself and dug past the revulsion, reminding himself to focus on what he'd come there to do, and he began analyizing the crime scene again.

"...our media leison, Jennifer Jereau, and our newest agent, Dr. Spencer Reid." Hotch finished with the faintest hint of pride.

Spencer shook the detective's hand, noting his anxious energy and the lines of worry around his eyes that indicated that he was taking the case personally and that another murder- occuring on the cusp of the BAU's arrival no less- upset him. It was suspicious timing and Spencer had to wonder if it was mere coincidence or if the UnSub knew they were coming and killing this last girl was his way of taunting them. But, since no one outside of Shore's department knew that the FBI were joining in on the investigation, that would mean that the UnSub was a cop. Whether or not Shore had considered the possibility himself was uncertain, but Spencer would have to discuss it with the team later on privately.

"I'm glad you're here." the detective told them readily. "My department's been doing double-duty trying to catch this sicko but, so far, we haven't had a single significant lead. I'll take all the help I can get."

With that, he led the team into the darkened and dirty ally, Spencer following deliberately behind, deep in thought. "It's not easy to hang someone, especially post-mortem. Your ME said that all of the victims were strangled manually before being hanged?" he prompted.

Shore nodded and began to extrapolate in more detail on the murders, the team listening intently and already hard at work- forming theories, creating a profile, catching a killer...

What would life be like
but for one small change?
Someone born a moment later,
someone dies another day?
Would it seize all your happiness
or swallow all your pain?

And if you could line up all your tomorrows
against those of someone else,
would you be envious or grateful
for the hand that you've been dealt?

(Note- the "for" is meant as "because of" just so no one's confused or thinking I'm in idiot for saying "envious for the hand that you've been dealt" which is a kind of dumb statement, and the last line of the poem isn't meant to infer a belief in fate. :P)

I'm really, really sorry for how long this last chapter has taken- obviously I haven't been working on it for a long time and I have horrible self-discipline. I hope it was worth the wait. Thank you all so much for all of your reviews and support- you rock!

Please, please review one last time!