Apr. 19th, 2011 | 04:00 am
Author's Notes: There are medical and especially psychological themes in this long story that, if the reader has a background in either field, he or she may turn their nose at. The fact of the matter is that I avoided going into the depths and kept the issues as figurative as I've felt. Still, if you're not comfortable with reading stories that deal with pyschological themes, be advised that this one-shot is centered around one such theme.
I ask for the reader's patience with this story. Any feedback about the writing would be very much appreciated. Thanks, and enjoy.
These days, it's really not a wonder that he's dreaming about her.
Two days, three days, five days after the funeral, and he still has the nightmares. He can't stop thinking about Emily; he can't stop his eyes from watering whenever he thinks she won't be there when he returns to work. It's only normal that he dreams of his fallen friend every time his eyes close, every time he lies down to sleep.
He's not resting well, despite the increasing bodily exhaustion, despite the uncommonly stagnant way he's been living these past few days. The dreams are only just made of fleeting images, rough strings of unrelated snapshots his mind has taken at various moments through the years. Her amused laughter, her teasing smile, her irritated roll of the eyes, the way she threw her hair out of her face, the way she was Emily Prentiss as Reid knew her. It's a wonder why it disturbs him little that she's had a completely different life he knew nothing about. It just doesn't matter, because what hurts is the loss of her friend, not the loss of someone he never knew.
That's why he has the nightmares.
When he lies on his right side, she's being beaten by Doyle. It's as bad as the way Benjamin Cyrus had beaten her; Doyle throws her from one blank wall to the other, a mirror shatters, and Reid cringes each time another punch lands on Emily, each time she whimpers, each time she's hurt. He switches to his left side, and she's lying on the cement ground, wrists raw, scraped hands cuffed before her, and thin branches of blood streaming across those bitten fingernails. He wants to rush to her side, but she's in another world, he's in another, and there's no trespassing. There's only the impossible inability to help.
Reid wonders what Morgan sees in his dreams. He's the one who's been there, who has the real memory. Reid never asks him about it, but it's easy to see the horrors filled in the newfound creases on Morgan's face.
These nights, when Reid goes to bed, he sometimes thinks of Gideon. He thinks of that moment in the jet, a whole lifetime ago, when Gideon had given him the secret to fending off nightmares. Reid fumbles for his wallet and looks at the photograph that once belonged to Gideon. There are some of his own; there's a picture of Adam Jackson, and one of little Michael Bridges, but these nights, he looks at them, and having helped them just isn't enough.
They couldn't save one of their own. There is no redemption for such failure.
With a sigh, he leaves the wallet back on the nightstand, and closes his eyes once more. These nights, in the darkness, it's all and only Emily.
Nearly two months later, one night when sheer exhaustion has managed to overrule the transience of his weak slumber, he dreams of her again. He's tired, slightly feverish, and stuck in somewhere between all the thoughts and worries is the rhythmic headache beating to the jagged string of visions. Emily is so vivid as she sits tied to a wooden chair in a bare warehouse. It's strangely hot and stuffed, but there's a cold breeze blowing in, ruffling Emily's bangs, making Reid shiver. A thin stream of blood runs down the side of her face, and Reid wants to help, to touch her, to shake her into consciousness and take her away from this horrible place. His heart begins to beat faster and faster when he hears approaching footsteps. Surely it is Doyle who's coming, and Reid can't possibly fight him; he doesn't have his gun, and even if he had, there's no back-up, and it wouldn't be a fight he could win. But he can't leave Emily here, he won't leave Emily here, so he rushes towards her, and nothing happens.
There's no hand, there's no substance, there's no distance to be closed. Reid isn't there and Emily just sits, head fallen to her chest, and footsteps echo louder and louder and Reid can't penetrate into that reality, can't materialize, can't exist to save her, and the horror continues to unfold but nothing continues to happen.
In the timelessness of his mind, there's no telling how long he remains stuck in that painful desperation. But when he finally comes around in the morning, sitting up in sweat-drenched sheets and shaking like a leaf, "I'm so sorry," he admits loudly. It's the first time he has ever even acknowledged the guilt, and it breaks the dam, and "I'm so sorry, Emily," he repeats, louder this time. There's nothing else he can possibly say to her when she's still sitting there, waiting for help, etched into Reid's eyelids.
Teardrops burn the image away, and that day, Spencer lights a candle for Emily.
It's almost five months after the funeral, and he's writhing on his living room floor, eyes blinded, head about to explode, not just because of the pain, but also because of the pressure of his own palms on his brow. There are muffled whimpers booming in his ears and ridiculously, he can feel the bruising on his back and shoulders as his body turns and twists on the hard floorboards. The migraine -if it actually is a migraine- has never been this bad, so bad as to drive him to insanity - and he hasn't missed the irony here; because if it's not an indicator of him going crazy, it is the reason he will. He's terribly scared. So when he manages to get a hold of his phone, in half-unwilled motions and contorted images of his own place as he shifts around on the floor, it's all his intention to call an ambulance. Something is very wrong this time, maybe he's having an aneurysm, maybe a hemorrhage, and he knows he needs help and he dials 911. The operator quickly responds to his call.
"Hi, you've reached Emily. Please leave a message."
The headache pauses for a moment.
There's been a mistake, but what the mistake is isn't clear. "Emily," Reid breathes. Emily's been dead for months, but it is her voice on the phone and Reid wonders if she'll pick up.
"Emily," he says again to the phone, squeezing his eyes shut as he struggles to sit up and rest himself against the couch. He keeps one hand on his brow, just in case, just in case. "I - I need help," he admits. "Emily, I need help."
He wouldn't call anyone else when it's about the headaches. Morgan thinks it's been about stress and depression; he doesn't know they haven't gone away. Emily's the only one Reid has confided in about them. She will come to help, no questions asked, except-
Except really she's not at the other end of the line, ready to leave her warm bed and rush to his aid like best friends do, because Reid is suddenly struck by the truth, phone still pressed to his ear, that Emily's dead.
It surprises him when his only reaction to his own foolishness is a bitter smile. He brings his arm down, rests his head on the cushions, ambulance forgotten, and he lets himself be.
A month after that evening, he's alive and well, physically at least. The memory of the event is a scary one; scary on so many levels, because what if he had actually had an aneurysm then and there? He's been unable to call an ambulance, and then, there's the memory of his mistake, of calling Emily, and as though it isn't enough, of talking to her, of forgetting that she's gone, and most of all, of expecting her to come for help. He's not only very much scared but also ashamed of that memory, so he's stuffed it somewhere in the back of his mind and pretended to have forgotten.
The team has moved on from losing Emily. They've had two probationary profilers; after about a month of stalling on Hotch's part to give everyone the time and space they needed to get used to Emily's absence, a profiler has joined the team for a trial run, but she's lasted only for a month. A week later, another agent replaced her, and she seemed a good fit, until two weeks ago when she suddenly departed as well. Reid and Morgan have heard about unspecified clashes of authority between her and Rossi, but they haven't questioned it; it just didn't matter.
These days, they're by themselves again. As Reid climbs down the SUV in a crowded street of uptown New York, he wonders, just for a second, if maybe that's for the better. It just feels right not to have anyone replace Emily, even though he knows that it's a selfish feeling. He falls into step with Morgan as they get to the latest crime scene, feeling the increased stress on everyone and the prolonged time it's taking to catch the unsub. And he thinks, no, it's not for the better, because they need more eyes. There's that feeling that they're missing something obvious, and with the staccato beat of the low-key headache just beneath his thoughts, Reid feels like he's about to break. It's getting harder to keep his head together, and if they don't crack this case soon, he's afraid he won't be the only one, or the first, to snap. Morgan is tenser than a violin string as he talks to the detective in charge. Hotch has almost literally stamped upon the local police when they made the mistake of hampering their work. Even Rossi has grown short of patience; Reid has seen him lose control twice with an uncooperative suspect.
They can't go on for much longer like this.
He nearly jumps when Morgan's harsh voice cuts across his reverie. "Yeah?"
"You've heard anything I just said?" Morgan demands. Reid shakes his head.
"Sorry- I'm sorry."
"Keep your head together, kid," Morgan says stonily, but Reid doesn't miss the underlying tone of understanding in his voice. "Come on, we're going back to the station."
Embarrassed and angry about his own uselessness, Reid nods and walks back to the SUV. He's trying to think about the case, going over victimology in his head, trying to find patterns, spot connections, anything, anything at all to give them a better understanding of their unsub, but it is useless. Soon enough they're stuck in traffic, the large, black vehicle caught up like a cockroach in a spider's web, and Reid finds himself watching the crowds on the pavement instead, massaging his forehead in little circles. There's something oddly soothing about the ebb and flow of people, it's like a constant reassurance that life does go on, no matter what, and at least for the moment, it seems like a good thing to Reid. There's a little girl happily devouring her ice-cream as she clings to her mother's hand. A red-headed young woman has taken seven dogs for a walk. Five teenage boys stand before the display of a music store, admiring the flashy electric guitar at the center, and a huge, black man walks past them with boxes in his arms. A tall woman with big sunglasses perched on a long, elegant nose is sipping her coffee as she waits for the light to go green- wait- is that-
Reid sits up and frantically lowers the window, leaning forward as his heart drums against his chest and he looks hard at the woman. She is thinner, the hair different, but Reid looks at her fingernails and they're bitten, and he looks up at her face as the SUV begins to move, and he gets a glimpse of the smooth jaw, the straight nose, heart-shaped lips and most of all, and the most illogical of all, the way she holds that coffee cup, and is sure that it is Emily. In that one fleeting second as the vehicle passes before her, Reid opens his mouth to call out, but he can't get his breath to cooperate, and in the blink of an eye, Emily's gone.
He remains looking out of the window, mind numbed.
It can't be.
"Stop- stop the car," he hears himself say difficultly, clutching his stomach.
Reid retches in response to Morgan's query. The vehicle sharply pulls over; Reid opens the door and is sick before he can get out of the seat. He sees a blurry patch of grass ruined by his indigested lunch, and when his stomach finally stops rebelling, Morgan is standing before him and aside the vomit, leaning through him, some Kneelex and a bottle of water already in his hands. Reid's fingers tremble as they reach for the Kneelex.
"You all right?" Morgan questions. Reid stumbles out of the car and has to hold on to Morgan in his frantic attempt to see Emily again. They're not far from the traffic lights, but Emily, of course, isn't there, and Reid feels the tight grip of Morgan's hands on his upper arms.
"Reid," Morgan calls sharply, but doesn't get a response. Breathing deeply, Reid closes his eyes and tries to get a grip, but it proves difficult, because under the strong sunlight on his closed eyes, rational thought is quickly returning.
He's just seen Emily. And Emily is dead.
It can't be.
When they're back in the car and on the road again, Reid tucks his icy fingers under his arms and keeps his eyes closed as he tries to stop shaking. This can't be happening. Morgan is throwing worried glances at him so frequently that he may cause an accident, and when he suggests Reid to go back to the hotel and get some rest, Reid doesn't refuse.
Three days later, when they're finally back home, he books appointments with three more specialists.
It's a lovely evening in the park. The trees are adorned with glowing lanterns; they chase the night away with a golden hue, and as they sway with the warm summer breeze, they're like fireflies roaming over the heads of the crowd. There are families everywhere, children running, there's ice-cream and cotton candies, and laughter all around. Reid walks purposefully past a teenage couple surely on a date, a father talking to his toddler son in the stroller he's pushing, an old couple walking slowly with identical smiles on their wrinkled faces. He's beginning to regret having decided to take a walk. His apartment has seemed too cold and depressing for such a beautiful night. He's called Garcia, just to talk a bit, and although she's been great, she's on a date with Kevin, and Reid has hung up quickly. So he's taken a book and walked out, just to find a bench somewhere quiet and read under a street lamp.
How he ended up in this park, who knows how far away from his apartment, he's not sure. He's been looking for a bench in a relatively peaceful place, likelihood of finding one in his neighborhood aside. He's walked past at least four cozy cafés and coffee shops, but didn't go in, because he doesn't want to be indoors. The way his head is pounding tonight, the ache seems to echo off the walls and return to him ten times more forcefully. He has to be outdoors, and yet he keeps running into crowds. The lights and the noise is what he needs the least. He bumps into a man about his own age, twice his own size, and scowls instead of apologizing, unusually impolite for once, because, hey, he's an FBI agent and he has a gun. He's not the one who has to apologize, he's not to be messed with tonight, even if it's only an accidental bump. Tonight he's angry at the entire world, because his headaches aren't going away, and the way his thoughts keep splitting and changing entirely against his personality, he is nearly assured that he is, contrary to each doctor's assurance, going crazy.
He hasn't been fixated on Emily any more than any of his team members had been after her death. He has moved on, just like the rest of them. He's solving cases, he's profiling, reading books and playing chess, going to movies and writing to his mother, and yet Emily's become a fixture in his dreams, and a couple of times, he's seen her when he was awake, and he can't figure out why. It is the unsolved puzzle that drives him crazy, perhaps even more than these violent headaches, and it is, especially tonight, terrorizing that it seems he has no escape from eventual insanity.
He almost breaks into a run through the park's exit, uncaring that it's not an area he's familiar with as the headache begins to raise its volume like a challenge. The distance seems only to grow as he approaches the exit, and it's already begun to feel like a nightmare; like he's a child lost in a carnival, unable to find his parents, the noise and laugher suddenly out of tune like a horror movie and it just doesn't matter that he is a thirty-year-old, capable adult.
Just get to the exit.
And he's nearly there, almost left the crowd behind him, when a voice, mockingly familiar, calls out.
It is she.
Emily. She looks exactly as she's suppossed to; wearing black from top to toe, bangs slang across her forehead, posture tough and preserved. She's standing just by the park's exit, aside the people walking in the opposite direction. Reid blinks as his feet slowly takes him closer to her out of his own accord.
"Hey, Reid," Emily says. Reid stares, eyes narrowing as his gaze drills into her.
"Stay away from me," he growls.
She doesn't respond.
"Stay away from me!" Reid shouts aloud, and breaks into a run out of the park and into the street, aware, in some distant and still intact corner of his mind, that he has just shouted at nobody, and the people around has witnessed a lunatic shouting at nothing. If he has needed more proof that his mind was splitting, he's just had it, because never before had Emily spoken to him, and he knows very well that it means he's already past the initial stages and at another level of psychotic break.
How did none of those doctors notice this?
How did none of his team-mates notice?
How did Reid fail to notice?
He hasn't; he knows now. He hasn't failed; he's just wanted to believe the experts. Despite his certainty, he wanted to believe there could be another explanation.
None of it matters now.
He slows down, only then noticing that he's been running, and that he's completely unfamiliar with the part of the city that he's in. Neon lights in all varieties of red and greens blink rapidly all around, cars horning, and the world is a bloodcurdling battlefield of colors and noises. Running away from it all, Reid crashes into a deserted alley, sliding down on the dirty road, and tries to keep himself together.
Slowly, he takes his head into his hands, squeezing his eyes so hard that two lone teardrops leak out through the corners, and he tries to breathe. If this is the end of it all, at least he'll go down with dignity.
When he reaches for his phone and dials Morgan, he's almost calm. There is no more space in his mind for thoughts. He acts on instinct.
"Hey, kid,"Morgan's voice greets. Reid rests his head against the rough wall.
"I'm wandering," he says softly, "around the streets... aimlessly." He laughs then, at what he's just said, because it's funny; funny that he thinks Morgan will remember his own words, that the moment Reid is wandering around the streets aimlessly is when he'll be concerned*.
"Reid, where are you?"
The last thing Reid actually thinks before the phone slips away from his fingers is that according to the sharp change in his tone, Morgan does remember his words.
Then, there's only jagging lines of sound moving across a depth of darkness.
His initial coming around isn't dramatic. There are no voices preceding his ability to open his eyes; no, he wakes suddenly and easily. It's all too quiet in the hospital room. He tries to shift his weight and realizes how heavy his head is. He settles for staring at the ceiling.
It has finally happened. His mind's broken.
He blinks, and Emily's face is suddenly floating above the bed. He flinches, rational though immediately retreating, and after that, an army of people floods into the room. There's shouting, loud and low, familiar and unfamiliar voices, machines beeping, and there are faces, faces of Hotch and Morgan and Garcia, but Emily's face is there, too, and Reid is too angry and frightened to do anything about it.
He's acting exactly as he should.
It's all complete, then, isn't it?
There's a sting, and he slips into blissful oblivion.
When he wakes up again, the first thing he feels is surprise at the lack of restrains on his limbs.
The second is the hand on his arm.
Hotch is there. His frown is softened, he keeps averting Reid's gaze, but he begins to talk. Reid doesn't remember anything about the last few days, so he listens to Hotch with no predisposition. But then Hotch says something, something so contradictious to everything Reid knows, that it brings back the headache, and for once, it's almost justified.
"Emily's not dead," Hotch says.
Reid can almost hear the jarring clash of two distinctly opposite thoughts strike against each other in his mind.
Emily's been dead. JJ had told them that she'd never made it off the operating table after Doyle had impaled her. They have buried her. But now, Hotch, Hotchis saying that it was fake; that Emily Prentiss is alive.
Two logical realities.
Which one of them wins remains to be seen, but there's something else. There's the fact that Reid has been seeing Emily all along.
His head is pounding terribly. With a moan, he eases himself back onto the pillow, and blocking out Hotch's voice, blocking out everything, he closes his eyes, and he sleeps.
It takes a total of four days and many sessions with Garcia, Morgan and Rossi for Reid to remember and piece together the events of the last four days. They're sticking memories on his mind but they keep falling off. His friends pick them and put them up again and again until they stick permanently, but in the end, thankfully, his memory is restored.
It is almost a week after Hotch has told him about Prentiss that Reid finally truly believes him. That he hasn't seen Emily ever since that first day is the biggest reason he does, and sometimes one of his friends, sometimes a doctor makes suggestions that actually make sense as to how he might have seen Emily before. Maybe they weren't hallucinations. Maybe it indeed was Emily waiting by a traffic light in New York; maybe it really was Emily at the park. The probabilities fill in the cracks of the reality Reid chooses to believe.
It takes him another week before he's ready to talk to Emily. There are no words to describe that experience.
For him to fully trust Hotch again, more time than mere weeks needs to pass. Reid understands his reasons, he understands very well, and it's not rational that he feels himself distanced from Hotch, but there's no helping it. Things are difficult for a while. Morgan won't look at Hotch in the eye. Rossi has become too withdrawn. Garcia is always strangely unsure, and JJ is nowhere in sight. It's a rough patch.
It takes Reid a long time to fully recover from his fears and his headaches. He's forced to take at least four weeks off work, aside from sick leave. He spends some of it travelling out of the States, away from everyone and eveything he knows. One week he spends at home at Las Vegas. And one week he keeps for himself, just to read, just to watch movies, just to play chess in the park, and to enjoy the lack of headaches.
In the end, it is one year that he'd have been too happy to erase from his life. But it's all over, and with Emily once again in the team, everything is finally right again.
*Derek Morgan, Episode 6x19, With Friends Like These