Disclaimer: Not my characters, not my show. I'm just playing.

AN: This takes place in the Good People 'verse. It's probably a good idea to check out Good People and Bad People before reading this.

I've never been to Las Vegas, thus all info about the strip, highways etc. is courtesy of Google.

The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness. ~Honoré de Balzac

My head explodes at thirty thousand feet.

Woken from a half-sleeping state by a loud pop, I'm certain the sheer number of unanswered questions has finally done me in.

Maybe the saying is true and curiosity really has killed the cat?

I'm worried for a second- still in the haze of dream logic- but then I remember that Simon is safe in Garcia's apartment, and I am sitting in business class with a fully intact cranium.

The flight attendant pours champagne into two glasses while a cork rolls around somewhere under our seats.

I wonder what we're celebrating, and if it's a happy occasion. Judging from the stupid grin on his face, Reid's merely intoxicated and has sprung for bubbly to bring me into a similar state. I don't bother to remind him that a slower and stupider Reid is pretty much like everybody else is sober, minus the coordination.

The doctor's joints are well oiled and he's reached that brief and magic period between sobriety and oblivion where I might finally get some answers.

I take the chance and go for it.

"Why are we going to Vegas?"

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The rental car is standard and it's been a good while since I last drove stick.

It shows, but Reid is polite enough not to say anything about the jerky ride.

The sightless navigator that refused to spring for GPS calmly directs me down the I5 through countless exits and a five lane intersection without breaking a sweat.

The ride down the strip is slightly less impressive by daylight, but not much- I haven't really got time to gawk in any case. Reid launches into a startling number of state-related statistics, and I find my interest wandering.

I don't want to hurt the doctor's feelings, but knowing the exports of Nevada isn't exactly on my bucket list. The city of sin is famous for casinos and strippers- everything else is just details as far as I'm concerned.

I'm not a big drinker, and rarely gamble beyond the occasional 649 ticket, but I'm hopeful that this trip won't be all work and no play. For one thing, we're not here on behalf of the BAU. For another, I'm supposed to be at the annual Wilder family reunion- thirty of my nearest and dearest eating barbecue; the women gossiping and catching up while the guys make fools of themselves on the links.

To be honest, I've never liked golf and am tired of deflecting personal questions from well meaning relatives. When and if I'm going to settle down with a nice girl and contribute to overpopulation is my business, but that's beside the point.

Reid is telling me about the complex reproduction process of the nine-banded armadillo when I finally pull into a visitor stall at Bennington Sanitarium.

I remember one of the donations Reid made from his recent inheritance; this has got to be the same place.

It's not uncommon for philanthropists to drop by and say hello after making a donation is it? Back home these kinds of stunts are a big deal- a giant cardboard check, men in suits smiling for tomorrow's front page. Maybe the facility has named a wing after him and we're here for the ribbon cutting?

"Apart from a few close relatives, they're the only known creatures to give birth to same gender quadruplets from the same embryo," Reid informs me, slipping out of his cardigan and draping it casually over one arm as if he's finally noticed the temperature is a tad on the warm side.

I'm in a t shirt and flip flops, and the A/C is cranked but I haven't once forgotten that we're in the desert.

The heat doesn't seem to bother him, but I worry about dehydration or heat exhaustion with Reid, that's partly why I agreed to come along; that, ghoulish curiosity and the free trip to Vegas.

"We're here."

Reid leaves his cane in the car and shrugs off the light hand I put on his shoulder. I cringe as he stumbles over the curb, regaining his balance just in time.

The lobby is decorated in a minimal esthetic that's welcoming and easy to clean. It's an older building, and has that faint urine and bleach smell I'm so accustomed to: eau d'hȏpital.

The lady at the desk greets Reid by name and tells him to go right in.

"Dr. Waltham's expecting you."

The common room has a couch and a few tables for playing cards. One wall is lined with bookshelves while another has a window that offers a peek at the grounds. There are benches outside on a lawn that appears to have been transplanted from Pebble Beach. A large fountain sits in the middle of it all (the spout disguised to look like a child urinating). It seems kind of wasteful to have a putting green in the middle of the desert, but who am I to judge?

A woman in a bathrobe sits in front of an enormous flat screen; her eyes are glazed and a silvery thread of drool leaks out of her mouth. There's an old game show playing; a woman in a shower stall trying to stuff her bra with dollar bills as money blows around her like leaves in a windstorm. A man in a wheelchair lists forward in his seat, his arms shaking as they reach for her hair.

"Personal space, Barry," reminds a twenty-something guy in khaki scrubs, coming over to move the man away from the bathrobe lady. His voice is pleasant, the response automatic, like he's done this a hundred times today already.

An old man writes frantically in a notebook at one of the card tables.

"Tell Ruth to go home," he repeats like a mantra, pressing so hard with the ballpoint that he goes through to the other side. He swears and rips out the torn page, balls it up and tosses it over his shoulder. There's a mountain of crumpled paper behind him, a few pages float in the murky fish tank by the TV.

A black woman around Liz's age is talking loudly, arguing with someone I can't see.

"Don't interrupt me," she snaps, pulling the strings on her hoodie until her face disappears.

The people are in street clothes, and there's no medical equipment as far as I can see. Their bodies are strong, but no one here is getting well, no one is going home.

"He's in his office," says a slight woman in purple scrubs, patting Reid's arm. Her hair is a graying blond, pulled back so tightly the corners of her eyes tilt upward. It must be hard for her to blink.

"Thanks Marcia," he says softly, not resisting her touch.

"And you must be Noah," she says, extending a hand to shake. Her palm is cool and calloused; her grip is firm but not too tight.

"Why don't we have a cup of tea while Spencer meets with the D.O.C?"

Tea turns out to be lemonade, which suits me just fine. I press the sweating glass to my cheek and groan in delight before taking a big gulp.

It's not overly sweet- cold and a little bit tart, delicious. I groan again.

Marcia laughs and pours herself one too.

"I've been here twenty five years, and I'm still not used to the heat. Lemonade and air conditioning just make it tolerable," she confesses, taking a sip.

I tell her about my contract with Reid and the BAU, and how well he's adjusted to going back to work. She tells me about the Sanitarium's active recreation program and the various amenities offered for the residents.

There's an uncomfortable silence and I can see Marcia looking over my shoulder.

Reid is standing in the doorway, he looks exhausted.

He's wearing his cardigan again; his eyes are puffy and his cheeks are pink like they've been slapped.

It's time to go.

We have lunch at the deli across from our hotel; it's another hour before we can check in. Reid pushes away his sandwich after a couple bites which I take as my cue to shake up the carton of Boost in my duffel bag.

"I don't want it," he protests as I pierce a straw through the foil.

"You haven't had anything to eat since the flight- and champagne and pretzels aren't exactly healthy. Not to mention you're not supposed to drink on your meds."

"My mom is a paranoid schizophrenic," Reid says suddenly without prompting.

The comment is random, but if he's trying to distract me from the subject of food, it's totally working.

"She's been there a long time."

"Since I was eighteen… I called and had them pick her up," he admits, sounding guilty and traitorous, like he'd ratted out his best friend.

He talks for a long time, pinning up every sordid detail, until all the dirty laundry is on display. I want to stop him, to tell him that he doesn't owe me an explanation- he doesn't owe me anything. I don't say a word.

"Before my accident I wrote her a letter every day- it made me feel less guilty about not visiting. When I was recovering, I asked Garcia to do it," he says softly, shaking his head like the action was regrettable.

"She pretended to be me, and said that my schedule was so busy it would be easier to keep in touch online. She emailed Marcia, who helped mom set up an email account."

I nod, not knowing what to say. My pasta salad suddenly looks very unappetizing, and the noodles sit heavily in my stomach.

"When I was well enough to do it myself, I started writing her again. I had to act like I was still working, like nothing was wrong."

"That must have been hard," I finally respond, not sure what to say.

"You'd think so… but it wasn't really. If anything it was an escape; sometimes it was kind of fun," he adds quietly.

"Don't get me wrong, I hated lying to her, but I was also in contact with Marcia… she would send me updates on how my mom was doing. She let me know that mom's doctor was trying a new medication to lessen her agitation, and that it was working. She was calmer and having more lucid moments- she was happier."

He's smiling now, and I can't help but cheer up as well, his voice trails off, and I know the story is about to take a turn.

"I felt guilty about lying, but it was the right thing to do… I still believe that," he adds, almost daring me to argue. My knowledge of schizophrenia is basic at best, but I know that most illnesses are exacerbated by stress.

News of Reid's accident and the aftermath (coupled with all the lying) would be a lot to handle for anyone, even with a healthy mind.

"She was happier than she'd ever been at Bennington- more social with the other residents, more trusting of the staff, especially Marcia. Jeopardizing all of that for a handful of visits each year… it just wasn't worth it."

"Wasn't she suspicious, going from letters and visiting to just email?"

Reid laughs, but it comes out sounding like a sob, "She's a paranoid schizophrenic, Noah. She's always suspicious… I just did my best to reassure her. I called at Christmas and on her birthday, made excuses about why I couldn't come and see her in person..."

He sinks a little lower into his seat, ashamed. The waitress is trying to make eye contact about the bill, but I ignore her; this has been eating at Reid for over a year, she can wait five minutes.

"Marcia called me last week. My mom was going through a rough patch- she wanted to leave Bennington and come live with me in D.C. She threw an African violet against the wall… Marcia cleaned up the mess and found pills in the soil."

He draws in a shaky breath, and slowly exhales like he's trying to keep his cool.

"Marcia called again last night and said that my mother is still refusing to take her medication. She thinks the facility is keeping me from visiting, so she's given them an ultimatum- she'll only cooperate with the staff if she can see me. So here we are."

"Thanks. For trusting me enough to tell me that," I say, trying not to be overly sappy, but I feel a little teary that we've reached this new level of disclosure. It's like playing that first game of chess all over again- he's letting me in.

We check in and pick up our keys to the room; we're sharing a room with two queens, but I'm too tired to make a joke that the doctor won't understand anyway. Reid kicks off his shoes and flops down on the nearest bed, his eyes closing immediately.

He's been tired lately- more so than usual. The team's always on call, so their hours aren't exactly conducive to a regular sleep schedule. He's mainlining coffee like never before, arguing that an upset stomach is better than the headache he gets from caffeine withdrawal.

I pick my battles.

We have two more days in Nevada, which is the longest the team can spare us. Suddenly forty eight hours feels like an eternity.

TBC

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