A Gossamer Cage

By Spense

Okay, we're going to try this again, mainly because of all the private emails I've gotten. Thanks for all the love.

PROLOGUE - GHOSTS

"I knew you'd be the one to find this. You must be frightened. I'm sorry."

Read and reread, the letter from Jason Gideon on his precipitous exit from the BAU, addressed to one Dr. Spencer Reid, fell to the kitchen table. Soft and worn, the paper didn't crinkly, rather landed noiselessly on the table surface. The numb fingers that dropped it, followed to nervously tap unconsciously on the surface.

Reid gazed at it sightlessly. It had been 3 months now, since Gideon had left. No, walked away from everything. From the BAU. From his career. From him. That thought cut the most, although he tried to hide it. Left, just like his father, without so much as a by-your-leave.

The one time he had talked about it (to Prentiss of all people) she was gentle, and had made sense.

"You only remember that your father left. But he gave you 10 years. Remember that.. . . And remember that out of all of us, Gideon wrote only to you."

But Reid knew it wasn't enough. Prentiss wouldn't have put up with that from her mother, nor Morgan from his parents. So why should that be okay for him? But the team seemed to think that it was.

However, when his father had left, he had said it all in the doing. Reid had heard the words loud enough, the words that the team had never heard in all their lives. The 'you aren't good enough' from William Reid could have been screamed, they echoed so loudly in his head. "I'm out of ideas, Diana," His father had said. And Gideon clearly had been too. Although not spoken by Gideon, Reid had heard them clearly regardless. Between the lines of the letter and in the man's actions. Spencer heard them, and he worked with the smartest people on earth; no way they hadn't heard them either. And just like before, although unsaid, Spenser hadn't been good enough to stop the leaving. Not good enough to fill the void.

Though, this time Reid had been people-smart for a change. He hadn't said anything more to anybody about Gideon's leaving after his talk with Prentiss. Really, there wasn't anything more to say. Oh, he knew that they were watching, making sure he was okay. He wished that they would give him some credit. He wouldn't break. He was stronger than that. He'd lived through worse.

Only . . . prior to Gideon's leaving, he had made the mistake of seeing the BAU as the family he'd never had. Someplace to belong. To not be a freak. But he'd been wrong. First was Elle's departure.

He and Elle had gotten to be pretty close. The time on the train in Texas? They'd worked well together. He felt like she'd become his big sister. He was comfortable with her. Then she'd

shot that man in cold blood. No question. And then she'd left without saying anything to any of them except Hotch. That had hurt, although he'd hidden it. He'd thought they'd been friends. Pretty good friends actually.

But Jason Gideon. That one had been the worst betrayal in a long, long time. He'd thought he was immune after all these years of being used for knowledge but rejected as a person, but well, there it was. He hadn't been good enough for that man either.

Now Dave Rossi was here. At first, Reid had been excited. He could learn so much from him. And he could. The man was brilliant, and everything he'd seen and experienced? But he wasn't Gideon, and already he was shutting Reid down. Reid knew that reaction too. Most people thought he was oblivious to their reactions to his ramblings, but he knew. He'd seen it many times, and he was used to it. He knew how to hide the hurt. And it didn't hurt all that much anymore, really. Only, he wasn't used to seeing it at the BAU.

Sighing, Reid stood up, folding the soft paper carefully once again, and carrying it to the drawer where he kept his letters from his mother. There weren't many others besides those. Just one or two that mattered. People didn't tend to keep in contact with him long unless they wanted something.

He didn't know why he bothered to keep Gideon's letter. He knew it word for word. But it was something tangible to touch, to look at the handwriting, a link of sorts.

The BAU was beginning to seem like it wasn't any different from any of the other places he'd tried to fit in. And Spencer had to admit that this time the thought was heartbreaking. He had spent all of his life not 'fitting'. He'd really thought that the BAU was different, that they were a family of sorts, bonded by the horrible things that they saw on a daily basis, and their appreciation for each other. They took care of each other with apparently honest compassion. Only, now it appeared that they were just better actors that the rest of the world. Or that at least they did actually care enough to hide when they were irritated when he didn't get the social niceties of things, or his ramblings, or, well, just him.

The only difference was that he was useful, and for once was truly appreciated for that usefulness here. He just was tired of people looking for the 'off-switch' when his usefulness was done for the day. It was just turning out that it was less blatant at the BAU. After all they were profilers, so better at hiding their feelings than anybody else.

Spencer had never trusted easily. He knew people used him, and he was honestly happy to be of help. But he had really thought this team was different, that they were a family. Only, he was finally concluding that he'd clearly been mistaken. Jason Gideon had been mentor, friend, father. colleague. Apparently only the mentor and colleague part had been correct.

Spencer was tired. Tired of trying to fit in. Tried of pretending not to notices the looks, the rolled eyes, the irritation. Tired of trying to be something to others that he just couldn't manage. Tired of not liking himself. Tired of wanting more.

And the protective shell he'd perfected over the many years of being an outsider that had slowly begun to thin under Jason Gideon's influence and skillful guidance, hardened to full strength once again in less than a heartbeat.

NOTE: This begins immediately following the episode 'Elephant's Memory'.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Morgan demanded of Reid as they left the station for the airstrip. They were all glad to leave. The picture of Reid standing unarmed and unprotected in front of Owen Savage wasn't something that they would forget anytime soon.

Prentiss sat in the front seat of the SUV, shotgun to Morgan as driver, leaving Reid in the backseat as usual. Just like a little kid. Her solid disapproving presence was as tangible as Morgan's more vocal version. Everybody else had ridden in the other SUV, and Reid knew it was because they were so furious they were afraid of what they'd say to him, and Morgan and Prentiss had obviously drawn the short straws.

Reid's temper flared right back. "I was trying to save somebody everybody else seemed gung-ho to kill."

Morgan cut in as though he hadn't said a word. "Blocking the kill shot? Kid, if I didn't know any better, I'd think you were suicidal."

"I'm not a kid, and I was the only one who was trying to save him!"

Prentiss turned in her seat, twisting to look at Reid. "Reid! You know better than that. He'd killed so many people, they were being cautious."

"Something you weren't. Geez kid, you didn't even have your vest on."

Reid's voice rose, cutting over the heated comments of the other. "Just because he wasn't a jock, or considered valuable by the town . . . "

"Is that was this was all about?" Morgan cut in, somewhat amazed at the depth that Reid had identified with Own Savage. "Kid, this wasn't you. Just because you were tied to a goal post . . ."

"Shut up, Morgan!" Reid yelled over the top of Morgan's voice, hurt to the quick at his betrayal.

Prentiss turned with wide eyes to stare at Morgan in shock as an uneasy silence descended. Morgan pulled up to the plane, quiet. He parked and turned back to Reid. "Kid, I'm sorry. I didn't mean too . . ."

"I'm not a kid, and just shut up." Reid said tightly again, fighting back tears. Some FBI agent he was. Trying not to cry. None of the others would break down. He pushed his way out of the car, fighting the door. "Just shut up." He headed for the plane, go-bag and messenger bag over his shoulder without a look back, ignoring all of the others.

The plane ride home was nearly silent. And it wasn't the quiet, job-well-done silence. It was the discord of irritation, and afraid to talk about it in case it all blows up. The scene of Reid standing in front of Owen Savage, blocking the kill shot, no vest, no weapon, was haunting each of the team members in living color and high definition. The what-ifs were unthinkable, but exploding in each of their minds. That fear translated to a simmering anger.

And in Reid's thoughts as well. He knew he'd been right. Owen Savage would have been killed. Yes, the kid was to blame, but what he'd lived with? The teasing, the ridicule? The video from the wrestling team hazing was burned into his brain like a document left too long on a computer screen. Then Morgan's betrayal. He shied away from that thought, and returned to his anger. That was safer. He was still livid.

The overall result was a team that wasn't a team, and instead tried to sleep.

At airstrip, the group quietly separated for their cars. Reid, striding towards his car, his long legs purposefully taking him apart from the others, surreptitiously brushed angry tears away once again. And again feeling like a failure. The conversation with Hotch was still brutally face forward in his mind.

"I should fire you"

But as always, things applied differently to Spencer. He was too valuable to fire. In some ways, he wished Hotch had just fired him. That way he wouldn't have feel like he was there at the BAU on sufferance. He was tired of being treated differently; being treated like he was different.

Even the angry tears marked him as different. He wished he could be tougher. Like Morgan. As he unlocked his car, he could see Derek laughing with Prentiss at something, just like his betrayal in the car on the way to the airstrip had never happened. Derek wouldn't be tearing up. Reid just sighed and got in his car. Life sucked. Just like always.

The next day wasn't much better. Reid was grateful it was Friday, because he didn't think he could take another day of this. He had been right. Owen Savage was alive because of him, but the attitude of the other team members showed that they didn't seem to agree. Spencer just didn't get it. Their job was about saving lives, and Owen Savage was alive. But the wrestling team that had tormented Owen wasn't alive now. And that was the rub. The popular, athletic kids were dead, and they were clearly so much more important.

Reid looked around the bullpen. Morgan and Prentiss were bent over the files on their desks, working hard. They ignored him as much as possible. There wasn't any joking, no levity. Not today. Rossi and Hotch were up in their offices. Hotch had had his say last night, and he was acting normally today. Rossi had nodded at them, chatting with Prentiss later, but Reid was clearly the invisible man.

He looked down at the files on his desk. They had grown again, where as Morgan's and Prentiss' had shrunk. Dumping more work on him again. The geek types were only important when there was work to be done. Owen was expendable, the wrestling team wasn't. Reid wasn't expendable because he was useful. His lips tightened, and he seethed in silence, bending over his files, letting his hair cover his face so his emotions wouldn't show. He was good at hiding. He just never thought he'd have to do so at the BAU.

Lunch time came, and Morgan headed out of a game of pickup basketball, bypassing Reid with a tension in his shoulders that told Spencer he was just holding onto his temper. He knew from experience that Morgan would stay away from him until he cooled down.

Prentiss and JJ headed out for lunch, ignoring him. The bullpen emptied out. Rossi disappeared somewhere, and finally it was only Hotch in his office and Reid in the bullpen. Reid decided to skip lunch. His stomach was still clenched, he was so frustrated, and he wasn't sure anything would stay down.

"Where is everybody?"

Garcia's voice startled him. She was looking around bemused.

"Ah, lunch," Spencer answered. The first words he'd spoken all day, but who was counting.

"Great." Garcia's brow furrowed. "Just my luck. Everybody's gone."

"I'm here," Reid answered tightly.

"So you are," the tech answered. "Though I understand that you did your best to not make it back on this one," she said conversationally.

That did it. Reid slammed his pencil down on his desk and exploded. "What do you want me to say, Garcia? That he was expendable? That he wasn't worth saving? Sorry," he said turning on her as she took a started step back. "I don't think that just because he wasn't an athlete, or popular, made him a sacrifice."

Garcia's eyes were wide. "Sweetie, I'm sorry. . ."

"REID!" Hotch's voice echoed in the empty room.

Spencer clamped his lips, shutting off the sound that wanted to continue and turned to look at his boss. Hotch was leaning over the railing of the catwalk looking stern. "That. Is. Enough."

Spencer glared back at Hotch, meeting him eye to eye, fire smoldering, and wanting to explode.

"We've discussed this," Hotch continued. Take the rest of the day. Use it to come to terms with this case. I expect you back here Monday morning, head on straight. Got it?"

Reid glared for a moment, then nodded shortly. He grabbed his bag, and slammed out of the BAU office, fury in every line of his body. He could hear Garcia in the background as he left.

"Sir, I'm sorry," she was saying, worry and fear in her voice. "Did I say something wrong?"

"It's not you, Garcia," he heard Hotch explaining as he dove into the elevator. They didn't understand. They just would never understand.

There were times when he just really, really hated life.

Owen Savage was in his room. He was side by side with Marshall, the kid from Chula Vista that had been executed right in front of him on the word of the teenage daughter of a mob killer, protected by Witness Protection. Both were staring at him. Reid sat up in bed and looked at them in horror.

"But, Owen, you're alive!"

"And you think you did me a favor by keeping me alive?" Owen growled, lifting his shot gun and pumping a shell into the chamber.

"I'm not alive," Marshall growled. "Fat lot of good you did me."

As both stepped forward, Tobias Hankel came out of the shadows, watching impassively as Owen took aim and fired.

Reid sat up with a gasp, breathing hard, looking around his empty bed room desperately. The room was empty, a soft glow from the nightlight, illuminating the room in a friendly light. Spencer wiped his sweaty hair off his forehead and dropped back onto his pillows. "Just a dream," he murmured. "It was just a dream."

As his breathing settled, he debated whether to get up or try to sleep some more. It was only 2am, and he was exhausted. After a moment of deliberation, he finally grabbed his ipod, and punched up a scientific podcast that he liked. Putting on his headphones, he lay back down, purposefully shutting his eyes. The voice might just keep the ghosts away for this night at least.