"The worst guilt is to accept an unearned guilt." – Ayn Rand

Reid hadn't lied to Hotch...at least he hadn't realized he was lying at the time. Hotch did indeed kick like a nine-year-old girl, but the girl Reid had been referring to, Cindy Mathis, wasn't your typical nine-year-old. She'd lived down the street from him when he was in high school, and where his fellow students made fun of him for being too young for high school, she made fun of him for being too old for elementary school. Truth be told, she was probably a couple of grades too 'old' for elementary school herself, but didn't have anyone to take notice. She was an only child, and absent was an inadequate word to describe her parents. Spencer imagined the resulting loneliness was what caused her to associate with him outside of school.

Cindy was also a tomboy—which was no real surprise, as the other children in the neighborhood were all boys. She loved sports, especially soccer, and was always a first-pick since she'd hit her growth spurt early and easily outran everyone else on disproportionately long legs. With all those soccer games came strength, and with that strength a kick that would've made half of the freshman soccer team at Spencer's high school jealous. And Reid would know. He'd been bullied by a few of the soccer guys on occasion, and unfortunately had come into contact with the toe of Cindy Mathis' red Converse high-top more than once, too.

In her case, though, it was usually an accident, or a product of Reid's own stupidity. He'd let her try to teach him soccer. Twice. Another time, he'd tripped and his impeccable timing had landed him in front of a moving swing occupied by Cindy. Kinetic energy had done the rest.

So when Reid had responded to Hotch's inquiry, he hadn't meant to say that he wasn't hurt, just not hurt as severely as he could've been by a trained FBI agent. At that moment, it had been an accurate report of his condition, too. A couple of hours later on the plane home, however, post-conversation with Gideon, post-adrenaline, Reid realized that maybe he'd made a mistake.

He'd nodded off while staring out the small window next to his seat, and awoke with his head pressed against said window's cold frame. In his attempt to shift to a more upright position, a sharp pain lanced through his chest and he gasped, arms immediately wrapping protectively around his torso. The damage had already been done though. Eyes squeezed shut, breathing through clenched teeth, forehead pressed half against the window and half against the plastic frame, Reid reasoned that his ribs were likely broken. How many he had no idea, but at that extreme moment it felt like they all were.

He wanted to curl up, but the table was preventing him from doing so. Little by little, Spencer inched his body around until his back rested against the wall of the cabin. A moan escaped as he pulled his knees up, his abused abdominal muscles screaming their displeasure. He shifted once more out of necessity, firmly planting himself on the seat, and whimpered softly, unable to stop the tears of pain that leaked from the corners of his eyes.

Reid stayed that way for several minutes, and as the pain subsided a little it occurred to him that he should probably say something, get the attention of one of the others. They were all asleep though, and had been for awhile. Eyes still closed, he focused on the sounds of their breathing, while still trying to calm his own. Gideon was closest, and was snoring softly. Elle and JJ were in the next row of seats. Elle breathed almost silently, longer and deeper than JJ, who made small snuffling sounds now and then, which Spencer secretly found endearing. The row furthest from him was occupied by Morgan, who didn't so much snore as breathe loudly, each long inhale making one think the start of the chainsaw was inevitable, but yet it never came. Hotch was quiet like Elle, but still simple enough to distinguish. It was Hotch's easy breathing that Spencer ultimately fixed his attention on, trying to make his own inhales and exhales match, but it wasn't working. Shallow breaths were the only way to go.

Spencer then tried matching two of his breaths to one of Hotch's, which worked for awhile until he got too caught up in his little game and forced an inhale too soon. He let out a small yelp at the sudden streak of fire in his chest and stifled a moan, leaning his head on his knees. Something changed then, someone's breathing. Part of his mind ran down the list—Gideon, Elle, JJ, Hotch—while the rest of it ran through a mantra of 'ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!'.

"Hey, kid, you okay?"

"Mor-Morgan?" Reid heard the rustle of fabric, and by the time he'd lifted his head from his knees, Morgan was standing in front of him, looking worried.

"Reid, what's wrong?"

"I think...my ribs...I think they're br-broken," he managed.

"What? I thought the paramedics checked you out back there."

Reid slowly shook his head. "They asked me...if I was okay. I thought I...was. They had other people...to check on..."

Morgan frowned. The pale, sweaty kid in front of him was anything but okay. He thought back, trying to remember his first aid training. "Are you having trouble breathing?"

"Only if I go too...too fast."


Now Reid frowned. "I don't feel...good."

With a sigh, Derek clapped a hand gently on Reid's shoulder. "Not what I meant, kid." He took a quick glance around and realized that the sofa was unoccupied since everyone had fallen asleep in the regular seats this time around. "Hey, you think you can stand up?"

Reid's eyes widened in alarm. "Why?"

Under normal circumstances, Morgan might have chuckled at Reid's expression. As it was... "Because it's the only way to get you over there," he nodded to the sofa.

"I-I'm all right...here. Really."

"Bullshit, man. Come on, I've got you." Morgan reached out and began tugging Reid toward the edge of the aisle seat. The kid was shaking and seemed hesitant to stretch out his legs to the floor. Eventually he was forced to, though, and it must've hurt because his arms seemed to press tighter against his sides. "You ready?" Morgan asked after a few moments.

Reid nodded reluctantly, and allowed Morgan to loop one of his arms around his shoulders. Derek stood him up slowly, but it wasn't slowly enough. Pain tore through his chest and left side, his vision swam, and his knees buckled. He vaguely heard Morgan's curse, then Hotch's voice, and suddenly Hotch was on his other side, taking the rest of his weight. That solved the knees-buckling problem, but didn't help at all with the dizziness, especially when they started to move. Reid gulped as his stomach flipped. The few feet of space that lay between his seat and the sofa had never been wider. By the time Morgan and Hotch lowered him onto the couch, he was alternating between panting and frantic swallowing to avoid throwing up. He wasn't succeeding. "'m gonna be sick." With his eyes closed, he couldn't see the worried looks he was getting, and didn't even realize he'd spoken out loud until something was pressed into his hands. He opened his eyes, looking at the black plastic garbage bag in bewilderment until his stomach told him in no uncertain terms what to do with it.

Then Spencer blanked out, but didn't black out, not really. If he had, he knew he wouldn't have felt the daggers of pain shredding his chest, the massive ache in his abdomen as battered muscles were forced into use to expel bad coffee from an otherwise-empty stomach. He did feel it though—every last bit of the agony surging through him, and it whitewashed the rest of the world from existence. After a time, the wave of pain began to subside, leaving Reid merely extremely uncomfortable. He raised his head to look around and saw he was sitting in the middle of the plane's couch. What was strange was that Morgan was on one side of him, Hotch on the other, and they were both staring at him with intense concern. He could see both of Morgan's hands, which meant that Hotch was also the one gently rubbing his back. "What...happened?" he rasped, trying to straighten from his hunched-over position, but he stopped with a wince when that turned out to be a bad idea.

"You got sick," Morgan said. "Not the greatest idea with busted ribs."

"What?" Reid had meant the one-word question as a request for further details. Unfortunately, it just made him sound weary and confused, which was the truth if he was being honest with himself. His mind was certainly not clicking along at its normal pace.

"Just take it easy, Spencer. We're going to help you lie down, all right?"

Reid nodded, and let Hotch guide him onto his back while Morgan lifted his legs up onto the couch. They were careful, but straightening his body still hurt. He curled onto his right side as soon as they let go of him, squeezing his eyes shut once more. He was panting again, too. The couch dipped beside him, and Hotch resumed rubbing. Reid supposed he should've felt a little self-conscious that his boss was rubbing his back, but it was actually helping him to breathe easier and he couldn't really object to that. After a few more minutes, the pain was under control enough that his breathing was nearing normal. "Thanks," he said softly. When Hotch didn't respond, Spencer turned his head to look up at the other man, surprised by the troubled frown on his face. "What's wrong?"

"I did this."

"No. Hotch..."

Hotch continued with distaste, "I hurt you, and you're thanking me."

"It's really not...that bad." Reid caught Morgan rolling his eyes, but his attention was quickly drawn back when Hotch suddenly pushed his sweater vest and shirt up, revealing dark bruises mottling his torso.

"You call that not bad?" Hotch demanded, his voice quiet but as intense as the emotion behind his dark eyes. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Reid felt a blush creep into his face, and was unsure whether it was due to modesty or the fact that he'd been called out on downplaying the situation. He had to admit that the bruising looked a lot worse than even he'd expected. "I honestly didn't know...not until I woke up," Reid explained.

"The paramedics—"

"Were busy. Hotch...I'm sorry I didn't...say anything. But I don't...blame you for what happened."

At that, Hotch sighed heavily.

"Dowd is responsible," Reid went on. "And you really do kick like a nine-year-old girl, but Cindy Mathis played soc-soccer...and she...she..." Reid trailed off with a quiet groan, his face scrunching up again.

"Hey, hey, no more talking," Hotch ordered, and turned to Morgan who had been going through the plane's first aid kit.

Morgan looked displeased as he handed over a small container of pills and a water bottle. "Tylenol's all there is."

Hotch took the supplies and shook three tablets into his hand. "Do you think you can keep these down?" he asked Reid.

Spencer nodded and accepted the medication, managing to swallow the pills and a few small sips of water with Hotch's help. It was unnerving how weak and shaky he felt. He blinked heavily as he lay back down, eyes eventually coming to rest on Morgan, who patted his shoulder as he passed by to put away the first aid kit.

"Hang in there, kid. We'll get you something stronger when we land."


"Hey, I thought I said no talking," Hotch said, raising an eyebrow at Reid, who managed a small, droopy-eyed smile by way of apology. "And get some sleep already, you're making me tired."

Reid's breath hitched in a not-quite-chuckle, but he let his eyes close, oblivious to the fact that Hotch continued to watch over him until he was deeply asleep, and unaware that that was the best forgiveness he could've offered Hotch: the trust to allow him to.