Chapter 31

Aaron Hotchner showed the young agent out of his office. Regretfully, he would advise Erin Strauss that the team should resume its full duties a man down, without Spencer Reid. The conversation he'd had with the younger man would stay with him for a long time. Not because of anything Reid had said. But because it brought the unit chief back in time, to the many weeks and months when he'd been the one feeling so lost.

"Reid, thank you for coming in."

Hotch extended his hand to indicate that his young profiler should sit. The expression on Reid's face was one of relief. He'd just barely escaped the ministrations of his colleagues down in the bullpen.

It had been his first time setting foot back in the BAU after the events in the loft, and he'd been obviously overwhelmed. Not so much by the fact of being back in his work environment, but by the reception he'd gotten. Seeing him on her home turf, Garcia made no effort to restrain her enthusiasm. She had, indeed, tried to squeeze him to death. Or so it had seemed to Reid. Rossi and Blake made less effusive greetings, but their emotion was palpable nonetheless. Morgan's grin was wide, and his embrace tight. All of it overwhelmed Reid. He was healing, and he was definitely more emotionally steady than he had been a week ago. But he was far from ready to be back in this environment.

The one person missing was the one he most wanted to see. The one who would have sheltered him from their reactions, and his. But Henry's preschool was putting on its spring concert, and JJ would be beaming her maternal pride at her son for the next few hours.

Hotch purposely sat in a chair across from Reid, rather than behind his desk. He wanted to project a sense of support and intimacy, rather than authority.

"How are you doing?"

As solicitous as Hotch was being, Reid felt pressured, just by the very fact of being here, of remembering the last 'case' they'd been on together. Despite the innocence of Hotch's simple question, Reid felt pressured by the knowledge that he was being asked to make a decision. Was he ready to come back? Was he ready to be back among the living, and to do battle with those who caused death and destruction? Feeling the burden of the decision, he couldn't even make eye contact.

"I'm okay."

Hotch studied him. He'd expected the uninformative answer.

"Are you sleeping? Eating? Getting out?" All signs of a slow return to function. But only if they were present.

"I'm eating. JJ's making me." Small smile, returned by Hotch.

"Sleep is hard to come by. I'm still having nightmares, but not as many as before."

The unit chief remembered. If they were anything alike in this aspect, he knew the nightmares would persist for a long, long time. And then recur, unexpectedly and inexplicably, long after he had a right to expect them to be gone. But he wouldn't share this with Reid. It would be too discouraging.

"And have you been getting out?" Socialization, even if done the 'Reid way', was an important indicator.

"I've mostly just been to JJ's, and to the grocery store." Long pause, not sure if he should share it. But then realizing he was speaking with a man he trusted, and who, of all his colleagues, would most understand. "And I went to the cemetery yesterday."

Hotch's brows went up, just barely. This was news. The look on his face encouraged Reid to continue.

"I…..I... just needed something concrete. Something to force me to know it was real. And I saw the marker. They haven't put up a stone yet."

"Have you spoken with them?"

Reid shook his head. "I don't think I'm ready for that. Don't know that I ever will be. But JJ told me what they said."

At Hotch's expectant look, Reid acknowledged, "It helped."

"And the cemetery?"

Reid took a deep breath. It was hard to explain, and he wasn't sure he understood it himself.

"Until a few minutes before she died, I only had a mental image of Maeve. It wasn't even a picture really, but just a sense of her. And then, the only image I had, the only one that stayed with me, was of her lying on that floor. I just didn't have a way to translate that the person lying on that floor was her, was the person I'd come to know so well. I couldn't process that she was gone. But somehow, seeing her name on the marker at the cemetery makes it more concrete, more real. I don't know why, but that's what happened."

Hotch probed. "So, it was good that you went to the cemetery?"

Reid nodded. "I wish it wasn't so, but it made it real. More real than just having her not answer my pages."

Step one. But Hotch knew Reid had many more steps ahead of him.

"Reid, I want to you see someone."

He'd barely gotten the words out before the younger agent interrupted him.

"I don't need therapy, Hotch. I lost someone. A lot of us have."

"Maeve didn't just die, Reid. She was killed…murdered….in front of you. I want you to see someone."

Challenged, the snarky, defensive side of Reid showed itself.

"What, you think I have PTSD? Are you afraid I'll do something…..stupid?" Like the last time.

Hotch just looked at him steadily, authoritatively. "I'm not saying anything definitive. But we both know you're at risk. I want you to see someone."

He knew Hotch was right. But he feared what he would learn in therapy. What he would feel in therapy. And still, he knew. It had to be. Defeatedly, he conceded. But he wasn't at all sure that therapy would give him the direction he felt like he so desperately needed.

He looked at his superior with earnest sincerity. "Hotch, when it happened to you… did you do it? How did you get past it? How did you come back?"

The unit chief hesitated. He'd not shared this with anyone on the team before, including Rossi. But, sometimes, good leadership demands humility, and a willingness to show oneself as human. Now was such a time. And the bond he felt with his young genius commanded honesty.

"I saw someone."

Reid's face showed his surprise. "You saw a therapist?"

"Reid, our situations are more similar to each other than they are to anything any of our colleagues has dealt with. We both lost the women we loved, despite our efforts to save them, in the most cruel and violent ways. I couldn't get past that on my own any better than you are getting past losing Maeve. If I wanted to return, and to be effective, I knew I needed help. And I had to be humble enough to accept it."

Reid stared at his boss, swallowing thickly. He implicitly trusted the man, and the counsel he was receiving. Slowly, he nodded, admitting his concession.

"All right. Okay, I'll see someone. I need to get through this. I don't know that I'll ever get past it, but I need to get through it."

Hotch had a sense he was hearing some of JJ's wisdom in those words. He was grateful for Reid's agreement, no matter the source.

"I'll set it up. We'll meet again in a week, and see where you are then." He rose to signal the end of the meeting.

"Thanks, Hotch."

The unit chief was surprised, and more than a little bit touched, when Reid turned their handshake into a quick embrace before he left the office.

On the floor of the BAU, there was a little scrum taking place at Blake's desk. Rossi and Morgan were chatting with her, surreptitiously watching Hotch's office for action. Garcia was just joining the group as Reid came down the stairs.

"Hey, Kid. Are you ready for us to slip some files into your stack?"

They all smiled as Morgan gave voice to a long practice within the BAU. It was his way of asking if the genius was returning. Reid gave him a small, regretful, smile.

"Not unless they don't need to be done for a while." He put down his messenger bag and looked around at his circle of friends. "I'm not quite ready to come back yet. Soon, I hope, but not yet."

Garcia was touched to notice that the most disappointed look was on Morgan's face. He loved his younger colleague more than he would ever admit to anyone but her.

"But you'll be back, Pretty Boy. Don't you worry about that." Morgan punched Reid's arm as he spoke, a gesture meant to diffuse the strength of his emotional reaction.

"Take your time, Reid. There's no rush. We'll all still be here whenever the time is right." Alex tried to be encouraging and sympathetic.

Rossi's Italian came out. He grasped the younger man's face and spoke earnestly to it. "This job we do is difficult in the best of times. And this isn't the best of times. You take care of yourself first and come back to us when you're ready. The work isn't going anywhere." He embraced Reid, not having had the chance before this. "I'm so sorry, my young friend."

It almost broke the young profiler, but he was determined to hold it together in public.

"Thank you. And, Rossi? Thank you for the donation. It was important to her, cancer research. Her mother has cancer, and she was trying…." His voice began to fail him. She was trying to find a way to save her mother, and now she couldn't.

"You're welcome, my friend. It was the least I could do."

Just then, Hotch stepped from his office and motioned the rest of the team into the conference room. Left alone, Reid considered waiting for JJ. She and Henry were the two brightest lights in his life right now. Even though their glows were dimmed by his sorrow, they were still providing a beacon for him to follow back to himself.

He realized she would have to go right away to join the team in their case discussion, even if she did arrive soon. So, instead, he took the two items from his messenger bag and left them on her desk, hoping she would see them before the team headed to the jet, to the next godforsaken town afflicted by unspeakable evil.

Reid's cell sounded as he made his way home. A message, indicating he'd been appointed to see FBI psychologist, Anna Hughes, this afternoon.

He gulped. Even though he'd agreed, he'd not quite reconciled himself to it. Starting this afternoon seemed too soon. But if I don't start, I'll never finish. That's what JJ would say. Without planning it, without realizing it, he'd begun to speak her wisdom to himself, measuring many of his decisions against what he thought she would advise. So I guess I'll dive in.


At the BAU, JJ rushed directly to join the others in the conference room just before they broke to head to the jet. Hotch gave her a quick synopsis of the case, and then dismissed all of them to prepare for departure. She stopped by her desk before heading to the airport, and was surprised by what she saw.

Lying there, atop the clutter that was characteristic of her desktop, was a single yellow rose. And an envelope. She recognized her name written in Spence's scrawl. She was smiling as she pulled out the card within, and fighting tears a moment later.

"Another one of my favorite thinkers is Henri Nouwen. My words would pale compared with his, so I'm stealing them:

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.

I don't think I would have survived the past few weeks without your warm, tender hand, JJ. Thank you."

He hadn't signed it. But he didn't need to.

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