James David Rossi lived for seven minutes in 1979. Dave has the memory, at least, of holding his tiny, failing son in his arms, of those seven precious moments before the labored breathing stopped for good. It's not enough.
Over the past thirty-something years, he's developed an intricate fantasy that occupies a little corner of his mind, a network of false memories, fantasy and pure self-bullshit that he falls back on when there's nothing else to occupy his thoughts. In it, he and Carolyn are still married, of course, though he's managed to resist the temptation to rewrite them as a perfect Ozzie and Harriet couple. Still married, and raising their son, together. As a family.
That little part of his brain dwells happily in the past. Tomorrow Jamie turns two, it would say, helpfully providing an image of his sunny, grinning boy covered with birthday cake, while Carolyn laughed and Dave took picture after picture. Today is Jamie's first day of school. And so on. It starts as self-torture, but over the years it's become soothing, like a small, secret fire over which he warms himself, driving away the chill of the real world.
As the years pass, Jamie grows (Jim, Dad, his son insists at thirteen, preening his nonexistent mustache). Dave suspects that this is not a healthy coping mechanism, but he doesn't give a shit. He's supposed to settle for seven lousy minutes, out of a lifetime? He won't give him up, even when Jamie - Jim - is an adult. He's tall, for a Rossi, at least, strong and athletic and confident. He's the kind of man who walks into a room and just owns it, making friends with a handshake and a smile.
There's a point, though, once Dave's been back at the BAU for a few years, that the image of his son begins changing. It's gradual, so gradual that Dave never notices until one day he checks in with Jim and finds that he's become thin and nervous and so, so smart. Bespoke, monogrammed shirts have been replaced by sweater vests. The confident smile has been replaced by a nervous, flustered wave, and the neat, short hair has grown longer and wildly out of control. And Dave is left to wonder when his twisted little mind settled on Spencer Reid as his ideal son.
He's pretty sure it was in Vegas. Reid had desperately needed a calming, steady influence, so Dave had filled that role, listening to William Reid's pathetic excuses for abandoning a ten-year-old boy into the care of a mentally ill mother and valiantly suppressing the urge to squeeze the puny little asshole's neck until his head popped like a tick. Rage had him grinding the finish off his molars. Did this idiot have no idea of the precious gift he'd been giving? Not only did he have a healthy son, he had an exceptional son - bright and inquisitive and compassionate. And he'd thrown it away with less thought than Dave gave to yesterday's newspaper. He wanted to shake the man until his teeth rattled in his skull, wanted to make him feel one iota of the tearing heartache he'd gone through. Wanted to tell him how God damned proud Dave would be if his son had grown up to be a man like Spencer Reid.
And now it's Reid's thirtieth birthday, and he's only a few years younger than Jim would have been. Reid is surprised and smiling, having finally shaken off the melancholy he's been wearing like a wool sweater. Rossi holds Reid's face in his hands and kisses him firmly on both cheeks and thinks, mio figlio. Spencer blushes and grins, and Dave is struck with the thought that he'd do damn near anything to keep this young man happy and safe. He's pretty sure a shrink would have a field day with his new coping mechanism, but Dave doesn't give a shit. He's been given a second chance, though he damn well doesn't deserve it. It may not be everything he always wanted, but it's more than he ever thought he'd have.
He only wishes Carolyn could have met him.