This is the thing about HIV. It's not a death-sentence. Not anymore. Nevertheless, speaking the acronym aloud has the potential to strike fear in people. Therefore, Reid doesn't speak it at all. For a while, it wasn't a lie. He really didn't know what was causing the headaches so intense he wished for unconsciousness. For the flu-like symptoms that would not go away, no matter what homeopathic remedy he tried. No matter how much heat he applied to his stiff muscles - and ice to his aching ones - it made no difference.
After he went for the MRI in mid-January last year and was pronounced physically healthy but left to consider a psychosomatic cause. True, he had not been altogether truthful about the entirety of his symptoms, but the headaches were the most pressing. If he could get answers for the headaches, then maybe, the rest would fall into place.
It was only after speaking with Emily early in March that he felt compelled to do more. To go in for more comprehensive testing. By mid-March, Emily was gone, and so, too, it seemed, was his life.
The test results came back showing what he never suspected. He was HIV-positive. He wracked his brain and tried to think. This had to be a mistake. He'd never slept with anyone. Never had a blood transfusion. The only thing that came to mind as a remote possibility was his drug use. He knew it sounded ridiculous, but he had been exceedingly careful. His thoughts raced along with his crazed heartbeat until the realization slammed into him.
Three weeks into September 2009, Reid was shot by a grieving man, who had been aiming for the doctor. Unfortunately, this man wouldn't lower his weapon, and instead, had raised it again, as if to fire. Reid had to shoot first. The man, Meyers, had an abdominal wound, and Reid had sent the doctor to tend to it. When the EMTs arrived, Dr. Barton returned to Reid and probed his own through-and-through gunshot wound with bloody hands.
Reid felt lightheaded. If his team found out, he would lose his job. He felt sure of this, even as his rational mind told him that would be discriminatory and not allowed. Still, instead of telling them, he carried on as usual. He grieved over Emily's death - not able to believe that she was truly gone for months. He spent time at the firing range. He separated himself and made sure everyone was of the mind that it was due to Emily's loss and not any other cause.
He knew if Garcia wanted, she could get into his records, and see the medications he was currently taking. She could then deduce, or research what they were for, and then everyone would know.
It's not that he's ashamed. He isn't. However, as long as he keeps this knowledge to himself, he doesn't have to consider its depth. He doesn't have to consider how knowing it will undoubtedly have a similar effect on all those he tells. Reid wants nothing more than to spare them the sensation that everything they knew for certain was being sucked down an interminable vortex.
It isn't long, though, before he begins to doubt his decision to hold back this information. He dreams of past mistakes - moments in the field where carelessness resulted in a bleeding wound - like prior to his exposure to anthrax. Strauss is indisposed herself now, in treatment for alcoholism, so Reid steels himself. He will have to tell Hotch. He cannot risk the safety of his team.
And then he wonders, how he could have been so selfish.
They have just thrown him a birthday party. Though he is not usually fond of people in his physical space, Reid finds himself striving to commit to memory this feeling of his friends' willingness to touch him without fear or reservation. They will still touch him, but soon, they'll think twice. It's enough to pull him down even further, despite the successes earlier in the day.
He has just contributed to the arrest of not one, but two unsubs. Two young men with superior IQs like his own. He started opening up to Emily a little bit during that case. Admitting he was not sure why he was in the FBI and whether or not he could have done more with his life by now. How he'd thought, at one time, that by 30, he would have discovered the cure for schizophrenia. He hadn't. He could not cure his mother and he could not cure himself. Still, Emily's presence means something. Her reverse-psychology means something. It gives him the courage to do what he knows he must do.
It's late when they are finished celebrating, and Reid follows Hotch back to his office. "Can I speak with you for a moment?" he asks, clearing his throat.
"Of course," Hotch says, sitting down behind his desk. "What is it?"
Reid thinks about the best way to go about this. Then, he realizes, there is no best way. Better to just come out with it. Still, he finds, he cannot be that direct. "I haven't been feeling the best," he begins, clearing his own throat, nervously.
Hotch stares at him an extra beat, and Reid knows he is thinking of his substance abuse history. He is wondering how they will function with both their Unit Chief and their geographical profile expert sidelined due to addiction.
"It's not what you're thinking…" he hedges, knowing he had better just come out with it. "I was diagnosed with something…and I think it's best I told you. I should have told you a long time ago."
Hotch is silent, waiting.
"I'm HIV-positive, Hotch." he says quietly, not looking him in the eye.
"I'm sorry?" Hotch asks. A question, not a statement of pity. Reid can breathe again.
"Last year, in March, after I spoke with Emily about these persistent headaches I'd been experiencing, I decided to get more comprehensive testing done. I'd had an MRI done last January but that didn't show any abnormalities. The headaches didn't go away, though and I started showing other symptoms…"
"You've known for quite a while," Hotch observes.
"Ten months. The incubation period was about sixteen months," Reid adds unnecessarily.
"Excuse me?" Hotch questions.
"The timeline shows it's not related to my drug use." There is silence and Reid rushes to fill it. "I was exposed on a case, around the same time Foyet broke into your house…and stabbed you…" Reid trails off. He is used to reciting facts and events without letting them affect him, but now, it seems that everything has an impact.
"How you were exposed isn't relevant," Hotch says quietly.
Reid nods. Swallows once. Twice.
"Is there something else?" Hotch asks, his eyes concerned. "Do you need to take some time?"
"No! No… I need exactly the opposite of that, and if I could keep my position I'd be exceedingly grateful…" Reid tries not to make it seem as if he is begging.
"I'm not firing you. It isn't legal, and even if it were, it would be an incredibly ignorant decision on my part," Hotch maintains, his voice calm. "Forgive me, but is there some reason you wanted me to know? You weren't receiving any kind of pressure, were you? Your medical care is your business."
"No, it was my choice. I just…I hated feeling as if I was putting the team at risk on the field. There were times in the past where I'd been hasty and gotten injured - not post-diagnosis - but just the thought of that… I didn't want you being at risk and not being aware of it."
"Well, thank you for telling me," Hotch says. He seems sincere. "If you want to tell the rest of the team…and if you want me there…I'll be there."
One down. Five to go.
Over the next few days, Reid gets them done. First, Morgan, who asks what he can do, and if Reid needs anything. Then, Rossi, who listens quietly and promises to be here through whatever comes, but adds that this diagnosis isn't the death sentence it once was. Reid knows this, but it's nice to hear.
Garcia's eyes fill with tears. "I knew something was wrong," she said. "I knew it was more than your turning 30. More than grief. More than feeling unfulfilled…" He sits and lets her cry, feeling strange that he should be comforting someone when he's the one who is sick. It is strangely satisfying, though, because the last thing Reid wants is to be treated as someone who is ill. He holds Garcia's hand and shares Rossi's words with her. They only make her cry harder.
Then, Emily. She simply says, "Okay," as if she is waiting for the rest of the sentence. As if she is waiting for Reid to get to the point. When he tells her that's it, she says okay, and then asks if she can have some of the gourmet jellybeans from the stash he keeps in his desk. He gives her the bag. His mouth is full of sores, and the sharp edges of the candy and the sugar bother him.
Finally, he brings himself to call JJ. To ask if he can stop by. He wants to tell her on the phone - doesn't want to see the look on her face when the truth of what he is saying registers - but he knows he owes it to her. It's 10 PM. Will and Henry are sleeping, so Reid and JJ sit on the couch in comfortable silence that comes with being friends for a long time. From trusting each other, losing that trust, and gaining it back again, one day at a time.
"Has anyone said anything to you?" he asks.
"About?" she asks. JJ is sipping English breakfast tea with sugar and vanilla despite the hour. She offered him some, but Reid has declined. He drinks water and hopes for courage.
"JJ…I'm sick…" he says slowly.
"Yeah?" she asks, and like a true mother, she feels his forehead with the back of her hand. "You don't feel warm. Wait." She takes her hand away and puts it to her own forehead and then back to his. Then back to hers again. "I'm holding tea, so I'm probably not the best judge of this…" She laughs and the sound breaks his heart. How is he supposed to tell his best friend this?
"Not that kind of sick…" he says finally, catching her hand in his own.
She is quiet now, waiting. Somehow, she knows to put her tea down. Somehow, she knows this is big.
"I have HIV," he says, blunt now, when he doesn't want to be.
Her eyes have the world in them - somehow a deeper blue in the wake of so much sadness - but she doesn't cry as Garcia did. She does not give him the gift of hope that Rossi did or support like Morgan or steadfastness like Hotch. She does not treat him exactly the same as Emily has. JJ does something no one else has.
She doesn't speak. She just leans forward and puts her arms around him. They sit like this for several minutes. He closes his eyes. How is it that she knows, and gave him exactly what he has been afraid all along to lose?
"I'm going to be okay," he says. "It'll just be a little harder now."
A small lie is still a lie.
That realization leaves him wondering how he could have been so cold to JJ after finding out her secret. Now that he understands the circumstances that warrant keeping one, he can understand how she kept Emily's survival a secret. It still hurts, but not nearly as much. In fact, he may have subconsciously suspected as much, and instead, Emily's physical loss became a catalyst for him to grieve this change in his own health.
It's comforting to have such thoughts in the arms of a friend. It's comforting to be in the arms of a friend, period.
He had been frightened beyond words of being reduced by these string of words - this acronym - this virus. Instead, though, he has realized that it's his own perception that needs altering. He is not a virus or a sick or dying person. He is Doctor Spencer Reid, newly 30. He has not had the impact he dreamed to have by this point in his life, but he has had an impact nonetheless. He vows to live with integrity. Because he is nowhere near done.
He has many good years left. As many or more than he might have had if he continued down the road of addiction, or received the diagnosis of the mental illness that he feared.
This diagnosis is not a gift, but his life is.