"Lions are born knowing they are predators. Antelopes understand they are the prey. Humans are one of the few creatures on Earth given the choice." - Patrick H.T. Doyle
Reid had almost died. For the second time in their relationship, Morgan had sat by his bedside while he was intubated, watching their friends come and go with their worry and Morgan eventually so delirious with lack of sleep he'd found himself praying to a god he didn't believe in that the man would pull through. Smoke inhalation had left Hotch with a painful cough too after he'd entered the scene to pull Reid out, but the younger man's exposure had been much longer and done a lot more damage.
Medical science and blind luck were all Morgan could give credit to when Reid was taken off ventilation almost four days after being admitted, weak and groggy but conscious and alive. It began a flutter of activity, visitors who were glad to see him recovering, and finally Morgan crashed out, falling asleep in his chair by Reid's bed, snoring softly, a softer sound than the roar of flames engulfing the room around him that still played over in his mind.
The faint sound comforted Reid as he read the book Prentiss had left with him, paced not just by choice but also by painkillers. When Morgan murmured he looked over, watching him shifting in his sleep and considered everything he could have lost if Hotch hadn't managed to pull him out in time; seventy five percent of fire deaths were down to complication and injury from smoke inhalation. Morgan roused, peeking open an eye, and then when he met Reid's gaze he tried to blink himself awake.
"Hey pretty boy," he said softly, stood and stretched, and then leaned over to plant a kiss on Reid's forehead; Reid turned his face up at the last second and caught the kiss on his mouth. Morgan made a little surprised sound, and then eased into the exchange as Reid reached up to grip his neck, having to hold tight or his arm would fall down with the effort it took to keep it elevated.
"Go home," Reid murmured as they separated.
"Don't think so, baby."
"Derek," Reid smiled as he traced his thumb over the man's jaw, "You need a good night's sleep in a proper bed. I'll still be here when you come back, and you won't look like you're about to die on your feet."
"You're snoring," he said gently. He didn't say it was disturbing him because that would be a lie, but drawing attention to it seemed to do the trick.
"Guess I could do with a shower, too," she said as he straightened up and gave himself an experimental sniff. Reid gave a content hum, leaning back. "You rest up, okay? I'll be back in the morning."
Reid watched him leave the room, and then closed his eyes. Despite being unconscious and sedated for several days, he felt weak and tired, and his chest ached.
Sleep was welcome when it came.
He woke up to the sensation of someone touching his hand. He flexed his leg without opening his eyes, smiling slightly even though he still felt very weak.
"Either it's morning," he muttered, "or you didn't go home like I asked, Derek."
The hold on his hand turned into a gentle stroke of his knuckles, but there was no verbal response. Reid peeked his eyes open, and found the room still dim, illuminated by the light coming in from the hallways outside. It was not Morgan sat by his bed, stroking his hand.
There was no mistaking him; the same intense gaze, the same worn face, although a little fuller than the haunted, gaunt one he'd left him with a memory of.
"Spencer," he said, smiling warmly.
"What are you doing here?"
For the briefest of seconds something like confusion passed over Gideon's features, as if he was surprised that the first thing Reid did was question him instead of greet him with the same warmth.
"I heard you were injured. That you almost died."
"How did you hear?" There was a slightly sick feeling in Reid's stomach.
"Just through the grapevine. I keep updated."
"Through the FBI?" Reid asked, pulling his hand away. "But I tried to find you. You've been checking up all this time? Does Hotch know?"
"Nobody knows," he continued to smile appealingly. "One of the benefits of being an old hand at this, if you don't want to be found-"
"Don't want to be found?" Reid echoed incredulously. "We thought you were dead. We thought you'd killed yourself. You left me a note, and I thought you'd committed suicide, and all this time you've been alive and in contact with the FBI?"
"I couldn't do it anymore, Spencer," Gideon said, looking ruffled.
"Then why are you here?" Reid posed, all his energy going on keeping his voice clear and clipped rather than to sitting himself up. "It hasn't gotten any easier. Things are still as dark."
"I wanted to be here. For you."
"No," Reid snapped, "you don't get to do that. You don't get to turn up now. I've been in danger so many times since you left. We all have. I was exposed to anthrax. I was shot. Hotch lost his wife. Where were you then? It's been years! You couldn't have even told us, told me, that you were alive?"
Gideon looked taken aback, but before he could begin to answer, Reid continued, a harsh edge to his voice.
"Your letter- I don't have it any more. I threw it out. But I remember it. I'm never going to forget it. It profiled like a suicide note. You expressed remorse for letting Nathan Tubbs kill, but not for anything else, before Sarah was murdered. You weren't sorry about getting Elle shot, or getting me-" he paused, and drew in a slow breath. "For goading Hankel. For acknowledging I had a drug problem and doing nothing."
"Nobody else helped you either-"
"They weren't the ones I came to for help. They weren't the ones I told I was struggling."
"I idolised you. You were what I wanted to be, until I saw exactly what that was." Reid scrunched as he coughed, a painful affair after damage to his lungs and airways. It took the breath right out of him, and he flopped back into his propped-up position on the bed.
"You said in your letter you set a lion loose that day on that campus," Reid continued, closing his eyes and shifting as his chest throbbed in pain. "But you were a lion all along."
Gideon made a desperate snatch for Reid's hand, as if that would solve anything, and Reid tried to pull it free from his grasp.
"Don't," he groaned.
"Spencer, what's going on?" Morgan's voice was added to the exchange, and Reid looked at the door to see him stood in the doorway. "Gideon?"
"Derek," he said, releasing Reid's hand and standing up. Morgan looked between them, and Reid could tell he was preparing for the possibility of a physical confrontation.
"Spencer, are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Gideon was just leaving."
"Spencer-" Gideon said sadly.
"I don't have anything else to say to you."
Morgan stepped away from the door, leaving room for Gideon to leave. He stood for a few seconds, looking from Morgan to Reid, and when neither of them spoke he dropped his head and left.
"You okay, baby?" Morgan asked as the door closed softly behind their former colleague.
"I thought I told you to go home and sleep," Reid murmured, lifting a heavy hand to rub his chest.
"I tried, I promise," Morgan said, crossing over to the bed. "It's lonely without you. Do you realise we haven't slept apart since you moved in? That's something like six months."
"Eight," Spencer corrected, smiling up at his lover. "And there's something to be said for the Bureau only funding double rooms for us these days."
With as much energy as he could muster, Reid shuffled himself to the side a little, and turned, careful not to dislodge his IV. He pushed the sheets away in invitation, one that Morgan understood and toed off his boots before climbing onto the hospital bed behind him, spooned against his body and pulled the sheets over them.
"You sure you're okay?" he murmured as he wrapped his arm around Reid's middle and slotted his knees behind his.
"You know he keeps updated on us?" Reid said. "Like my father kept tabs on me."
"Why do you think he turned up now?"
"I don't know," Reid said, and then after a beat: "Absolution." He drew in a long breath through his nose. "But if he really wanted it he wouldn't have walked away. If he cared he'd still be here. If he cared, he wouldn't have let us think he was dead."
"Forget about him," Morgan breathed, nuzzling his neck.
"Hmm, can't forget anything," he smiled softly, closing his eyes and letting his body relax.
He stroked his hand along Morgan's arm, and briefly thought about the tattoo of a lion he would touch if he could keep going past his elbow. Facts about lions and their prides surfaced in his mind and settled, Reid too tired to give them thought or voice. Even though he'd said so to parallel the contents of the letter that had hurt him so much, Gideon wasn't a lion, and neither were the unsubs they chased. Everything 'bad' about lions was instinct; the badness of humans they tackled was not survival, but destruction. As he felt sleep curling it's soft fingers around his mind he thought that if anyone were lions, it was his team; his team that fought for each other, that hunted together and protected each other.
He would always lie down with the other lions, he thought with a smile as he fell asleep with Morgan's hand stroking his belly.
"I was dead, then alive. Weeping, then laughing. The power of love came into me, and I became fierce like a lion, then tender like the evening star." - Rumi