This is indeed the final chapter. I love writing for this fandom, and I thank you all for reading despite the rather depressing nature of my subjects.
"Nothing is secure but life, transition, the energizing spirit." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Hotch has been lingering in the doorway to Reid's room for five minutes, standing just outside, his feet pressing forward and the rest of him leaning back, his body in a furious battle to determine whether or not it will enter the room. His indetermination comes from the fact that Reid is not asleep, as he had expected him to be. He is awake and staring at the ceiling, his eyes unmoving. Someone has cut away the mass of knots that was his hair leaving an uneven patchwork clinging dully to his head. He keeps himself still except occasionally to lift his heavily bandaged hands to tug feebly at the restraints holding them to the bed. The movement seems unconscious.
It shouldn't make such a difference, Reid being awake, except that when he had resolved to come upstairs and visit him Hotch had imagined Reid would be asleep. For some reason this small deviation from the expected has thrown him off balance, caused him to forget everything he was going to say when he finally got to speak to his old friend.
Just when Hotch is about to turn away, to go home, freshen up, and come back in the evening when both he and Reid are feeling more up to it, Reid speaks.
"You can come in, if you want."
He doesn't look away from the ceiling as he says this
Hotch steps into the room purposefully and without hesitation, as if Reid's voice has broken a spell he didn't know he was under. Once inside, he stops a few feet short of the bed.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I didn't think you had seen me."
"I could hear you breathing."
Still Reid does not look away from the ceiling. His voice is flat, devoid of any emotion. This is somehow more unnerving than if he had sounded terrified. Resignation is not something Hotch has ever wanted to hear in Reid's voice.
Hotch realizes he is not going to get an invitation to come closer, and so he does so on his own, taking the chair by Spencer's bed. It is made of the same material as the one in the hallway.
As he sits Reid's eyes finally slide over to him, his head turning along with them, and Hotch sees that they are bloodshot and red-rimmed. If he has been crying, though, he is not crying now. His gaunt face looks into Hotch's for a long moment, and Hotch does all he can not to look away.
"You don't look so good, Hotch."
"I had a strange night."
Reid continues to look into Hotch's face, taking another moment before replying.
"I'm sorry. This was never something you were supposed to have to deal with."
A reprimand swells in Hotch's throat, but he swallows it. Now is not the time to berate Reid for not telling them the truth. That will come later, though it will come. Now that he understands why he has not seen Reid in half a year, Hotch has no intention of letting the separation become extended. He chooses his next words carefully.
"I wouldn't have minded so much if I had known what I was heading into, Spencer."
Reid sniffs, but it's more like a tic than an expression of emotion.
"I put you on that contact list right when I moved in," he says. "I meant to change it, but I kept putting it off. I didn't forget—I just kept telling myself it didn't really matter. My psychiatrist would probably find a different significance. I probably would too, if I cared to think about it. But I'm really tired of thinking about my own psychology."
Reid speaks more slowly that Hotch remembers, and he wonders whether that can be attributed to the medication or exhaustion, or something else. He remembers Daniels mentioning that Reid has been working at a community college, and wonders if he's had to slow his prose down for his students.
"I don't blame you for that," he says.
"Do you blame me for leaving?"
It's a blunt question, no emotion to hint at the answer Reid expects or desires. Hotch has already picked up on the direction this conversation is heading—there will be nothing indirect, no skirting around the issues. He thinks Reid just doesn't have the energy. Then again, neither does he.
"I did, but only because I didn't know why. Your departure was somewhat abrupt, Dr. Reid."
"That was kind of the point, Hotch."
"You could have come to us."
Reid makes no attempt to elaborate, and so Hotch infers the rest of the reply from the silence. Of course Reid didn't want them to know; the abruptness of his departure was not malicious, it was calculated. Reid had wanted them to be angry, because he had known that anger was the best way to ensure distance. The reasons behind wanting that distance were undoubtedly more complex, but Reid does not seem eager to speak, and Hotch is willing to file it away for another day, another conversation. For Reid's sake, he changes the conversation.
"How are you feeling?"
Reid pauses again before answering, as if scrutinizing the question.
"Tired," he says at last, and he turns his gaze back to the ceiling. "They have me sedated, though, so that's to be expected. You came at a good time. The medications they have me on decrease the effects of my…episodes, but they only give me brief periods of lucidity, and the rest of the time is hazy. Hazy for me, anyway. It's extremely strange—like watching myself through someone else's eyes or…experiencing life in a dream."
This clinical assessment is more unnerving than the detached way in which Reid says it. He can't find a reply, but once again Reid intervenes.
"My hands hurt," he says. "Dr. Daniels says I might have nerve damage. I keep thinking of when I had to go through physical therapy for my knee. I don't think it will be as bad as that."
It's the first time Reid has mentioned being in pain from his knee injury—at least, the first time he's mentioned it to Hotch. It occurs to him that Reid probably wasn't on painkillers during that period, and almost feels angry at himself for not asking, but he is able to forgive himself many of the transgressions made during the Foyet era, and he feels Reid probably does too. Nevertheless, he asks, "Are they giving you anything for the pain?"
"No," says Reid. "Dr. Daniels told them not to and I reiterated it when I was able to. But to be honest, the more I think about it, the more I wonder what the point of it is. When it was affecting my job…but I don't have that job anymore."
"Reid," says Hotch sharply, "your life is not over."
Reid looks at him, a swift, cold look which is over so fast Hotch almost could have imagined it. Then Reid's eyes are back on the ceiling.
"They're going to institutionalize me, Hotch."
"Not permanently," says Hotch, and he hopes that his voice conveys all of the conviction he feels, that Reid will hear the words that go unsaid, that he will personally break Reid out if they refuse to let him go.
"Probably, though. I don't have anyone to keep me from doing this again"—he tugs at his restraints—"except maybe my father, and that's not going to happen. I haven't even told my mother about all of this. I don't want to think about what it would do to her." He smiles bitterly. "I've been keeping track of your cases, watching them on the news so I can still send her letters." The smile disappears. "I don't know what I'll do now."
Reid hesitates for a moment, then turns to look at Hotch once more.
"Hotch, please don't tell anyone else about this."
"I'm asking you, please don't tell them. I'd rather—"
He stops short, takes a sharp breath. It is the first indication of any strong emotion Reid has given since Hotch entered the room.
"I'd rather they keep on hating me than see me like this."
At this Hotch gets to his feet. He can't help himself. He doesn't want to appear anything more than Spencer's equal in this situation, but for some reason he can't stop himself from standing over Reid at this moment, staring down into the eyes which won't look into his.
"Reid," he says slowly, deliberately, "nobody hates you. They're confused, they're upset, but it's not hate. It's quite the opposite, in fact. I won't pretend to know all the reasons you wanted to keep us out of this, but if any part of it comes from a sense of shame, you should take me as an indication that no one is going to think any less of you because of this. I don't believe that you don't want us to be a part of your life any more than you believe it, and it should be up to all of us whether or not we want to participate in this. Be angry, Spencer—I am. But don't bury yourself in your anger or your fear out of some misplaced desire for self-denigration. There isn't a person at the office right now who wouldn't want to help you if they knew what was going on, and not a one of them would think less of you for asking for that help."
Hotch finishes, but he does not take his seat again. Reid still will not look at him, and as soon as Hotch is done speaking, his eyes close very slowly. There is a long, heavy silence.
"I think I'm going to sleep for a while," says Reid.
Hotch presses his lips together, biting back a protest. He knows he is not going to get anything more from Reid right now, but that doesn't mean he won't try again later. He nods sharply, though Reid can't see it, and turns for the door. He is almost out when Reid's voice from behind stops him.
Hotch turns around, finds that Reid is looking at him. There is a small crease in his brow, the beginnings of a grimace, though it isn't until he speaks again that Hotch can identify the emotion behind it.
"I'd really like if you'd come see me sometimes."
Hotch exhales through his nose, swallows hard.
"Of course, Reid. I'll see you soon."
Reid nods once and closes his eyes. Hotch lingers in the doorway a moment longer, then turns and heads toward home.
Hotch takes a taxi home, as his car is still parked outside of Spencer's apartment. On the ride home he is already making plans to go back and retrieve it over the weekend, and to clean up the mess in Reid's apartment while he is there. As soon as that plan is cemented he starts doing figures in his head, wondering how much Reid's rent is and whether he can afford to pay it for a couple of months, just to give Reid a tangible demonstration of his good faith that the current situation is not permanent.
It is nearly eight by the time he arrives home, and Jack and Jessica are well into their morning routine by the time Hotch enters his home. It's Monday, but Jack's school is having a teacher in-service day, meaning he'll be home for the remainder of the day. As much as Hotch wants to spend this time with Jack, however, exhaustion gets the better of him nearly the second he walks inside, and after a quick hug hello he excuses himself to the bedroom.
Hotch sleeps until that evening, gets up in time for dinner and a playful reprimand from Jack for "sleeping backwards." He puts Jack to bed that night, finding the familiar actions of setting out his son's pajamas out and reading his bedtime story soothing. After he has turned out the light he stands outside Jack's room, watching him through the partially opened door until his breathing evens, signaling that he has gone to sleep. He watches for another moment before turning reluctantly away and heading downstairs.
Jessica is waiting for him in the kitchen. She pushes a cup of coffee toward him and says, "I'm making cookies. Want to stay up?"
In reality, Hotch could probably spend another decade or so catching up on sleep, but he catches the hidden meaning behind Jessica's words and sits himself at the island, enjoying the scent of chocolate wafting from the oven. Jessica sits across from him and gives him look of concern which reminds him strongly of Haley.
"So," she says, "what happened?"
And Hotch tells her. He tells her because he has no one else to tell, and because he learned long ago that these kind of secrets will press you into the ground if you don't have someone to share the weight. He tells her because she is trustworthy and willing to listen, and because she takes care of his son without ever uttering a word of complaint, because she knows what it means to sacrifice parts of yourself for someone else and right now that is exactly the kind of person he needs to talk to. Jessica listens carefully, quietly, sipping a cup of tea and never taking her eyes off of him except to retrieve the cookies from the oven and pile them onto a plate, which she pushes toward him as he finishes by saying, "He doesn't want me to tell anyone."
Jessica is quiet for another moment. Then she gestures to the plate of cookies, indicating that Hotch should take one. After his long confession, he's not really in the mood for baked goods, but the taste is surprisingly good when he bites into one to appease her.
"I'm probably not the best person to ask," says Jessica, "but in my opinion, when someone is trying so hard not to ask for help is exactly the right time to give it to them."
That's all she says. After she's finished speaking, she grabs a cookie, pats his hand platonically, and heads upstairs to her bedroom.
Hotch stays awake a while longer, just long enough to finish his cookie. Then he stands, turns out the lights, goes around to check all of the doors. When this is finished, he heads upstairs and goes to bed.
The next day Hotch goes to the office. He greets his team, assures them, yes, Jack is fine, thank you for your concern. He goes into his office and does paperwork for most of the morning. Around noon Garcia pokes her head through his door and asks if he'd like to come out to lunch with them, her face glowing and friendly. Hotch politely declines and spends his lunch hour straightening his desk. At twelve fifty he hears laughter in the bull pen, signaling that lunch is over. He steps outside and asks everyone to meet him in the round table room.
They gather quietly, murmuring to one another with mild confusion, Garcia assuring the others that they do not have a case that she knows of, Rossi leaning back in his chair on the edge of it all with an expression suggesting that although he doesn't know what's coming next he's prepared for anything. Hotch takes his own seat at the table last, and surveys them all for a moment even after the chatter has died down. When the silence becomes prolonged, Morgan says, "What's up, Hotch? Have we got a case?"
Hotch looks hard at Morgan, takes a deep breath, and says, "I saw Reid yesterday."
Hotch sees the surprise on Emily's face, the eager desperation on Garcia's. He sees Rossi's eyebrows arch involuntarily, betraying his astonishment. He sees Seaver attempt to keep an expression of interest while not betraying her confusion and shock. He sees the anger which twists Morgan's mouth into a scowl and threatens to close him off. He sees all of these things and wishes he could see beyond them, that some comforting future would arise from the quiet of this familiar room and present itself to still his fears and his uncertainty. He wishes someone would wrap an arm around his shoulder and tell him yes, you're doing the right thing. He wishes Reid were here to tell them all himself—or better yet, that Reid was here because there was nothing to tell.
He wishes all of these things for just a moment, and then he lets them go. It doesn't matter what he wishes, now. No matter how uncertain the future, he has just sent them all plunging toward it, and they will not be turning back. What's more, he is certain none of them will want to.