Author's Note: I was going to wait to post this until I had all three chapters finished, but this kind of an apology for not getting I Had Your Attention All Along updated this weekend. That will happen by Tuesday, I swear. Life happened and I decided to get a Ph.D. As of 9pm today, I was dead set on never going back to school, but what are you gonna do?
So here is the first chapter of Frequent Flyer, the second is completed, but I don't want to post it yet. I'm not sure how you all are going to feel about this story. I've written it in present tense and that's new and awkward for me, so I hope I pulled it off. The tone is distant, you're more like a bystander really. It's...odd. Oh well, I hope some of you enjoy it!
Year Fifteen: Is This Seat Taken?
**May—Friday at Noon**
There's something to be said for the normalcy of routine. Of long habit. The comfort it creates.
Once a month, every year, for the last fifteen years, Dr. Spencer Reid boards a plane in D.C. for a flight to Las Vegas, Nevada. It is always on the same day, at the same time. The third Friday of every month. The date is not important, it is the day that matters. He stays for only one night and leaves at 9 o'clock in the morning the next day. The trip is always non-stop. Dr. Reid flies first class, because he can afford it. After all, a 27 year-old high-priced government consultant with three doctorates expects a small amount of luxury.
That's a lie. He flies first class because he had to fly coach the first five years he made this trip. They don't need any extra people in that section. So Dr. Reid flies first class.
He takes the same airline, sits in nearly the same seat. And over time…He's come to see the same faces. The most common are not the travelers of the business world, but those with emotional baggage. The faces aren't always consistent, they come in waves. Most don't accompany him on the return flight, staying longer for conferences, pleasure, or pain. Only a few fly monthly as he does. But he knows many of their names, their stories, why they go where they go when they go. And he knows why they pay the rates of first class: who's paid for by the company, who pays for it because they can afford it, who pays for it to pretend they can. He has his favorites.
These people know him, too. Not in the real sense, but in the only way that matters on a five hour flight. Because they know him, the men and women who join him call him "Doc". It's a bit of a running joke between himself and his preferred companions, a bonding of sorts. Of the things they know, they don't know why he flies this route so frequently, or why he doesn't stay. Those who have inquired have not done so again.
Sometimes there are new faces. Many don't last long, typically only appearing once. But some stay. Last year, a new face joined them. He flies only three times a year (January, May, and September) on the same day as Dr. Reid. He also stays for only one night and leaves the next day at 9. He has not said why. If he boards today, it will be their fifth flight together.
Dr. Reid knows that the gentleman's name is Derek Morgan. He knows Mr. Morgan is an accomplished architect. The second time he accompanied the "frequent flyers", as Dr. Reid refers to them, an old customer travelled happened to be travelling as well. He sang Mr. Morgan's praises.
However, Dr. Reid finds more can be learned from watching and listening to a man himself, rather than his acquaintances. The unusual thing about this particular man is that he provides so many opportunities to learn. What Dr. Reid knows of his other companions, he learned through catching the tail ends of phone calls as they boarded the plane. Behavior in the terminal while waiting for the flight. Rambles when too many glasses of wine were emptied. He himself is called "Doc" because of an official call he received while waiting for a flight. A curious older woman, Mrs. Baggott who flew every other month to see her grandchildren, questioned him about the call after they'd boarded. That was almost seven years ago. Dr. Reid hasn't seen her in four years. He doubts he'll ever see her again. It's a shame.
Mr. Morgan does not require such obtuse methods, though. Where the others tend to travel in silence, he prefers to maintain constant conversation. With anyone, with everyone. He is enigmatic, flirtatious, precocious. And one of the most handsome men Dr. Reid has seen in a very long time.
He is boarding the plane now. Dr. Reid smiles faintly and returns his attention to a reference for the case he is to consult on next week. Mr. Morgan's attendance allows him to derive a pleasure from these trips that he never expected to find. If he thinks about that sentiment for too long, it scares him.
"Hey, kid, this seat taken?" A query from Mr. Morgan.
Strange. Dr. Reid does not recall having seen any children in the seats around him. Maybe one boarded while he wasn't paying attention. But the request sounds so close. He would have noticed a child in his vicinity.
Why does Mr. Morgan wish to sit beside a child? He tends to sit beside the women, and there are empty seats available for him to do so.
"Doc." This from the man seated behind Dr. Reid with the tearful voice. Kevin Lynch, who makes this trip twice a year. Their flights only overlap on Mr. Lynch's return trips. He and his wife are divorced, over accusations that he married his work first, so he travels twice a year to see his children. He cries silently the whole flight back, and probably will until the children have grown. They never come to him.
Dr. Reid turns to reply, but stops when his eyes pass over a broad dark form standing in the isle by him.
"What?" Mr. Morgan does not know his nickname yet and is confused. Dr. Reid stares silently, trying to make sure that his tongue won't butcher his first ever words to this man.
"He answers to Doc." David Rossi, flies monthly and stays for three nights to gather inspiration for his books.
"Cool. You're a doctor?" Mr. Morgan remains standing in the isle. He shifts easily to allow passengers still boarding to get by. Dr. Reid continues fighting his traitorous tongue.
"Not a medical doctor. He's got Ph.D.s three times over." Emily Prentiss, flies once a year for a business retreat and stays for the whole week. She drinks the most wine. Mr. Morgan has sat beside her many times. Quite beautiful, and just as single.
"Holy… In what?" The knowledge piques Mr. Morgan's interest and he's about to sit down whether Dr. Reid (who suddenly has no moisture in his mouth) agrees to it or not.
"Mathematics, Chemistry, and Engineering." Aaron Hotchner, the first and third weekend of every month for the whole weekend to see his wife and son. His family cannot live with him. He has never explained why.
"Oh, is that all?" With a laugh and a shake of his head, Mr. Morgan drops down into the seat by Dr. Reid. So the kid is sexy and smart. A wonderful combination.
"No. He's also got B.A.s in Sociology and Psychology." Jason Gideon, single and childless, three times a year to look for himself. Dr. Reid wonders when he realized this 'self' was lost.
"Jesus Christ. What do you do with all that?" Mr. Morgan looks directly at Dr. Reid, trying to force him to speak. He's never heard the young man's voice.
Dr. Reid gulps a desperate swallow of coffee. Thankfully, today's travelers have flown with him the longest of all. Most for at least the last ten years; they met him as a teen. They are his favorite companions. They know what he would tell of his story well enough to share it. Before Mr. Morgan joined their ranks, no one would have said anything at all. That is the effect he has on people. His charisma pulls out the words they would keep to themselves.
"Doc is a consultant for the government. That's all we get to know." Jennifer Jareau, wife and mother, once a year to visit her sister's grave on the weekend of her death.
Mr. Morgan stares at the young man beside him. "A mute consultant?"
Dr. Reid chokes on his coffee.
"Here you go, Sugar Plum." Penelope Garcia, world's sassiest flight attendant, hands Dr. Reid a napkin. She's the only one who can make Mr. Lynch smile. Probably because of her flare for embarrassing nicknames. But she only uses them on this select group, and Dr. Reid admits to himself that the teasing makes him smile as well.
"I-I'm not," Dr. Reid chokes out, coughing, "a mute."
"There we go! Knew you had a voice somewhere." Mr. Morgan smiles the smile he usually saves for his mother. But only he knows that, so the significance will go unnoticed. It is a pleasant voice, even mangled as the coughing makes it.
The rest of the occupants of the section return to their various distractions. This conversation is meant to be a private one.
"And that's fine," Dr. Reid mumbles passed the napkin.
"What's fine, Doc? Sitting here? That's good, 'cause you don't have much choice in that now." He leans back into his seat and buckles up, the cheerful flight attendant reciting the mantra of safe travels, oxygen masks, and floatation devices.
"No-I mean, yes that too. But it's fine…if you call me 'kid,' Mr. Morgan. I am quite young to be a doctor even once, much less three times over. Or Doc, if you'd rather. Or I guess, Spencer. That's my first name. I'm Spencer Reid. You can call me that, or whatever. Really, whatever you want to call me is fine." Dr. Reid glances up from the book he's gripping tight enough to wrinkle. His inability to silence his ramblings embarrasses him.
"How about Reid, then? You can call me Derek. Or at least just Morgan. The 'Mr.' thing's gotta go," Morgan has to stop himself from winking. If he comes on too strong he may scare the skittish doctor off.
The first time he flew to Vegas last January, he saw Reid sitting in the second seat from back of First Class. All he could think was how pretty the boy was, and as a result he'd smiled a bit to brightly at the other passenger he'd been talking to. He had to let her down easy when it came time to get off the plane. It's an awkward beauty, Morgan can't help but think. The kind that draws the eye. It certainly drew his.
The residual agony of his first night in Vegas, his first night of failure, was cut in half when he saw Reid boarding the plane the next morning. That time, it was a coincidence that they both had a ticket for the nine o'clock flight. He'd wanted to stay the entire weekend, but he hadn't been able take it. Now, Morgan buys that ticket specifically to see this kid.
"Reid is fine too…Morgan." Reid sets down his book, holding in a sigh.
Morgan will expect to talk, that's how he is with everyone. Reid fights the urge to squirm. Casual conversation is not his strong point. The smile that spreads across the older man's face when he places the book on the table makes up for it.
"So what can you share about your job, if so much of it is a secret?" Morgan wants nothing more than to drop the act and flirt shamelessly, but this little genius doesn't seem like the type for one night stands. Their paths only cross three times a year, and he cannot trust that to last. Not good odds. Morgan will settle for friendly acquaintance, and that will have to be enough.
Reid turns slightly in his seat, wanting to at least indulge in this opportunity to watch the attractive man to his heart's content. "The level of confidentiality all depends on the case I'm consulting on. What I can tell you about all of them is that you won't find the role I play in them so interesting as you think. No one does."
"Really? No one in the world?" Morgan gives in to the desire to tease the young doctor just a little.
"Well, no one who's asked." Reid glares, knowing that Morgan took him literally on purpose.
"Tell me anyway. I might change your streak."
When Morgan tilts his head and grins like that, Reid almost believes him. "I'm a statistics consultant. I run variables, likelihoods, comparisons…I sort through what appears to be overwhelming amounts of data and reproduce the vital portions in terms that are more comprehensible."
"Isn't that usually done by paralegals and lawyers?"
"I am one of the resources they use outside of the courtroom. Much like a library. I'm rarely called into the court room. When I am, it's more to be used as a tactic than a resource. I'm not typically needed to make a point, but to keep the opposition from making theirs. My job is to throw them off a pattern of questioning with well-placed numbers and quotations. I fluster them with information they weren't aware existed."
"Ok, I'm gonna need you to explain to me why anyone would find that boring." Morgan stares at the young man before him, eyes blatantly appraising. He controls the heat that flairs when Reid blushes prettily.
"I really couldn't tell you. I myself find it fascinating and mentally stimulating. And my work gives me access to so many libraries I would never have dreamed of entering otherwise…" He trails off, lovingly fingering the spine of his book. "But what about you? I must confess, I'm not very familiar with the world of architecture."
The two men pass the next five hours immersed in their exchange, unaware of the attention they've drawn from their companions. Reid does not open up to other passengers much. Even so little as they offer of themselves, he offers less. They know that what he has given Morgan today is more than just a few hours of conversation.
A nod at the gate. They would see one another in the morning. Both would be hurting, that's why they're here.
**May—Saturday at Nine**
"Hey, kid, this seat taken?" Reid opens tired eyes and finds a haggard looking Morgan standing over him. There are no regulars on this flight, only two other men in the section. Morgan could sit anywhere he wanted.
"No." Reid is glad he wants to sit here. For once…he wouldn't mind the company.
Like everyone else, Morgan has no idea why Reid stays for only one night. What he does know is that when he boards the plane the next day, Reid always appears to share his physical and emotional exhaustion. To be able to sit beside him and share the burden…It almost makes it better. Almost makes up for the fact that he failed again. He always does.
Morgan and Reid recline in their seats when the warning light clicks off. There will be no talking this time. Morgan's legs relax and fall open, his knee bumping Reid's.
Reid subtly shifts his out of the way, then closes his eyes and follows Morgan into sleep.
They wake when the flight attendant, Ashley Seaver (quiet, not one Reid sees often) comes by with instructions to return to upright positions for landing.
Waking up next to Morgan, Reid nearly smiles. But he cannot allow himself this happiness so soon after. This needs to hurt. That's why he makes these trips.
The two travelers part ways silently, each hoping to see the other in four months time.
**September—Friday at Noon**
Reid fidgets in his seat. A book lays forgotten in his lap. Morgan is late, if he's going to show up at all.
He plays with the buttons that adjust the back of his chair. Morgan has never been late before.
He presses the button again and sits himself up ramrod straight. Late is a relative term. The flight leaves at noon, with all the punctuality of a typical aircraft. So it's usually closer to 12:30. Morgan has never boarded the plane later than 11:45 am, and he only cuts it that close because he's still in the waiting area flirting with the receptionist. It is now 11:50. Morgan had yet to make an appearance in the waiting room when they made the first call to board.
Reid sighs and fixes his seat. He stares out the window, ridiculing himself silently. For one thing, he's not going to see Morgan running up to the plane through the window. This is not a bad 1960s film.
"Doc, if you don't give it a rest, I'm going to take that damned pen away from you!" Mr. Rossi groans, smacking the back of Reid's seat with his file folder.
"Pen?" Reid looks down at his hand. He's clutching a pen and, if the marks on his pants are anything to go by, has been clicking it incessantly. "Oh. Sorry, Mr. Rossi…" Reid ducks his head sheepishly and sets the pen down.
Reid's antics have drawn the attention of his regular companions. Mr. Hotchner raises an eyebrow, looking up from his work. Mr. Gideon chuckles quietly. It takes quite a bit of distraction to get Doc to set down his books. Enough to be worth note. There are a few others scattered about, some are new, some he's seen before. None that he's seen often enough to know their stories, or to even care to try to learn them.
"How many times do I have to tell you not to call me 'Mr.'? You listened to Morgan the first time and I've been trying for years!" Rossi is completely exasperated now.
Penelope sets a lidded cup of coffee on Reid's tray. It's against the rules, but she always sneaks him one because they all know he'll finish it before the plane starts down the runway. "He'll be here, Kitten. He's just a little late this time." Penelope smiles soothingly.
Beyond simply noticing his unusual behavior, it seems everyone in attendance knows the cause of it too. Not surprising, they know his behavior patterns by now. It is not a secret that Reid watches Morgan out of the corner of his eye from the time the man boards the plane until they all go their separate ways.
"'Scuse me! Sorry I'm late, Momma." Morgan winks at Penelope as he slips by her, slightly out of breath.
"No worries, hot stuff, we knew you'd make it. Even saved you a seat," Penelope says with a smirk and a nod towards the seat beside Reid.
Reid bites his tongue. He wants to object, on mere principle, but…he wants Morgan beside him more. This man, he makes it all just a little better, just a bit more present and less past. A part of Reid screams that he should be fighting this. He fought off all the others who pushed the past away, but he's so tired now. Sixteen years. Over half of his life. His therapist, Ethan, said he should forgive himself, forgive all of it really. Mostly himself. Reid isn't sure just how to do that yet. Morgan seems like he knows how. Maybe someday, when Reid finally has the courage, Morgan can teach him how.
Penelope has already given him the go ahead, but Morgan asks anyway, because he needs to hear Reid say it. "Hey, kid, this seat taken?"
Reid looks up and holds Morgan's stare for too long. "No," he answers.
Morgan sits down beside him. This time they talk about the author of the untouched book in Reid's lap.
Gideon, Rossi, and Hotchner eavesdrop shamelessly. Reid is smiling. A real smile. A smile they have never seen, and one they hope to see again. The doctor is too young to be so serious.
Morgan grits his teeth, silently instructing himself over and over again that he cannot chase Reid away. Yes, the sex would most likely be amazing, but Morgan does not want to run the risk of hearing Reid tell him that this seat is taken. Reid had shied from even the accidental contact of their knees. He would certainly flee from more.
So Morgan pretends he doesn't want more than this.
**September—Saturday at Nine**
Ethan says it was an accident. It was more than that. Reid should have been there. He was supposed to be there. But he didn't come home.
Reid was 12 years old. He and several "friends" were celebrating their recent graduation. The game of the night was "Get The 12 Year-old Smashed."
Reid woke up the next morning with eighteen missed calls on his cell and the worst hangover of his life. The only hangover of his life. He never drank again, and probably never would.
"Hey, kid, is this seat taken?" Morgan's voice is hoarse with exhaustion.
Reid snaps out of his reverie. "No," he mumbles. He feels heat rising to his face and water to his eyes. He can't remember the last time a trip home made him cry. Not home. This hasn't been home since that night.
Morgan sees the tears flooding Reid's eyes and sits as close as he can. He forgets the promises he made to himself not to crowd the young man, not to scare him away. Morgan wants to be the shoulder Reid cries on and he is.
The doctor cries himself to sleep on Morgan's shoulder, clutching the strong hand. The weight of a head resting atop his own relaxes him. His mother was the last person to touch him when he cried.
Gideon and Hotchner monitor the situation carefully. Penelope stands ready with tissues. Rossi quietly assures them that Morgan has this handled. Their boy is safe in his hands.
Reid and Morgan wait at the baggage claim. There is no reason for it. Both men only bring carry-ons for the overnight stay. But they are reluctant to part, so they watch the belt and comment on oddly colored bags.
"Hey…do you maybe want some coffee?" Reid finally asks, plucking at his sweater vest.
"Yeah, yeah that'd be cool." Morgan's shoulders sag in relief.
They spend two silent hours in the airport coffee shop, knees touching beneath the table.