"I mourned the loss of six."
That was how it all started.
Six little words, spoken with the best of intentions, that lit the long fuse to a mountain of dynamite. Six little words that caused the youngest member of the BAU's finest team to turn cold, his body and voice adapting a kind of vitriol even he didn't know he was capable of.
"You mourned the loss of six?"
His posture had shifted, back straightening and book disappearing beneath the table. His eyes had darkened, bitterness drowning out any semblance of innocence or care the honey-colored irises once held. He had changed. He had turned into something different, something no one on the team suspected he could ever be.
"You mourned the loss of no one, Emily Prentiss. You mourned separation from six friends; you didn't mourn our deaths. You didn't lose us, you left us. You knew you would see us again, you just didn't know how long it would be, and you had that hope to hold onto. Do you know what I held onto? Your casket."
Emily had stared at him with something akin to horror on her face, but she was ultimately left speechless. She had stayed for a moment or two, sitting in silence, and then she got up. She walked to the other end of the plane and found a corner to sit and be alone in, trying to hide the tears welling up in her eyes.
Reid had gone back to his book without another word, eyes hard but glassy.
Hotch had considered approaching him but decided to give him space instead.
Reid hadn't gone to Rossi's house that night.
Hotch wondered if he should have approached anyway. Maybe if he had, things would have turned out differently. Maybe Reid wouldn't have withdrawn, slowly decreasing the amount of time he spent with the team outside of work. Maybe he wouldn't have gone off-script time and again because he didn't trust half his team to have his back.
But he hadn't, so they didn't, and he did.
It started off relatively small. In fact, while they worked cases, it was almost unnoticeable. He would get sarcastic from time to time, throwing bitter jabs whenever the opportunity presented itself, but that was hardly problematic. Off the clock, however, things were different.
If the team went out after a case, he wouldn't go with them, and he took his work home with him whenever possible. It seemed he didn't want to spend any more time with him than he had to, and when they insisted, he got defensive. Or, on occasion, he would begrudgingly go along and make them regret pressuring him by maintaining a chronically negative attitude.
It stayed like that for a while, and when they didn't notice improvement, they began to approach him. One by one, they tried to get him to leave the past in the past, pushing him toward the notion of forgiveness with varying degrees of aggression.
JJ tried to talk to him first, waiting until their work was finished to initiate conversation. She came right out and brought up the elephant in the room, pleading for forgiveness, trying to explain why she had to do what she did.
Ten minutes in, she asked if he was listening.
Ten minutes in, he said no, he had been counting prime numbers.
Hotch and Emily tried with similar results, Hotch being interrupted with a long-winded lecture about the fascinating properties of Halloween while Emily received a cold, dead stare that didn't go away until she stopped speaking.
Morgan tried to appeal on their behalf, empathizing with the hurt and betrayal but encouraging Reid to move past it for everyone's sake. Reid had responded by asking if Morgan could explain football to him so he could watch and actually enjoy it. He spent so many nights at home now, after all, and he needed something new to do.
Garcia had sobbed, begging him to find a way to resolve things. He had responded by giving her some tissues and telling her there was a Doctor Who marathon going on that might make her feel better.
Rossi, after one particularly ugly argument with JJ, lectured Reid on his immaturity. He preached about letting bygones be bygones and responsibility, about the team being family, about the nature of the job. Reid stared at him, deadpan, and intoned, "Sorry. I forgot you can only be a terrible person if you've been ordered to."
It snowballed from there, every conversation seeming to make him angrier, every confrontation breeding more spite that seeped into every aspect of his interactions with them. It went from not trusting them to have his back in life-threatening situations—an adrenaline-induced fear they could overlook—to mistrusting every word that came out of their mouths.
Nothing Hotch or JJ or Emily said to him was considered fact. Everything was double and sometimes triple-checked. He would do it right in front of them, shamelessly displaying his refusal to believe anything they said.
"Reid, Garcia didn't have time to print the files and pictures, so you'll have to use electronic copies until we land," Hotch would say, trying to get the team from the conference room to the plane without any arguing.
"Garcia, did you not have time to print the files and pictures?" Reid would ask, waiting patiently for the flustered techie to nod her head. Then he would continue with a smile. "That's okay. I'll just use the electronic copies. Thanks, Garcia."
It kept getting worse.
Reid wore noise-cancelling headphones for the entirety of every flight, unless they were discussing a case or Morgan wanted to talk to him. Most days, he didn't talk to anyone unless he absolutely had to, and many of his theories got to the team in paper format. His eyes grew bloodshot, dark circles underlining the distant hues, and his temper grew shorter every day. Then his voice started to fade, gradually moving from angry to irritated to defeated.
Hotch tried to talk to him again. He told Reid he was letting his bitterness kill him.
Reid laughed. If he had the guts to kill himself, he would use Dilauded, not bitterness. Dilauded would be a much more pleasant way to go. He told Hotch as much, and then lapsed back into the silence they had come to accept as normal for him.
It was a mere two weeks later that Reid found himself standing at his nearly empty desk, packing up the last of his things. Hotch stormed up to him, resignation papers in hand, and asked how he had managed to go over Hotch's head. The noise drew the attention of the other team members, and Reid threw his bag over his shoulder, turning to leave. He had taken no more than three steps when JJ fired the gun Emily had cocked six months earlier.
"Spence, you can't just run away every time someone hurts you."
Reid froze on the spot, every muscle in his body turning to stone as the suffocating apathy that had consumed him for weeks was replaced by fire. "How dare you?" he whispered, staring dead ahead for a moment before whirling on them. "How dare you?"
"There is a difference, JJ. There is a difference between hurting someone and emotionally manipulating them." Reid was seething, vision half blurred. "There is a huge difference."
"I didn't—" JJ stopped and shook her head. "I didn't emotionally manipulate you."
"Oh, really? What would you call it, then? What would you call those ten weeks of excruciating pain you put me through? What would you call the past six months?"
JJ held her hands against her chest, hurt showing clearly on her features. "I was trying to help you, Spencer."
"No, JJ. No, that was not help." Reid shook his head, setting his bag on the desk next to him. "You didn't help. You were cruel. If you told me my mother was dead, when you knew for a fact she wasn't, and you watched me break down over and over, and you did nothing to stop it, you would be profiled as a sadistic psychopath who gets off on the emotional torment of her victims. It wouldn't be okay, because it wouldn't be government sanctioned."
"Reid," Hotch interrupted, his voice solid and more than a little stern. "That is enough."
"Oh, don't even get me started on you." Reid practically hissed out the words, vaguely aware that tears were welling up in his eyes. "You sat in that office right there," he pointed as he spoke, spit flying from his lips, "and you listened to everyone on this team pour their heart out. You knew there was no reason for us to grieve, and you sat there, and you gave us tips on how to mourn someone who wasn't dead. Not only that, but you didn't even keep up with your façade. How many times did you come by my apartment to see how I was doing? How many times did you ask if I wanted to have lunch and talk? How many times did you call to say," he let out a bitter laugh, spreading his arms in a gesture of nonchalance, "'Hey, Reid, just wanted to make sure you haven't thrown yourself off the roof or gotten so high you don't remember how to put your shoes on.'" Reid let the silence hang for half a beat. "That's right, zero. You never did, so don't stand there and tell me when I've said enough. You don't have the right."
Reid gulped down a lungful of air, hands shaking even as he gesticulated to express his anger, eyes locking onto a pale, horror-stricken Emily.
"And you." Reid felt himself start to choke up, and immediately wished he had kept his head down and continued to walk away.
He didn't want to cry, he wanted to be angry.
"You didn't do anything. You could have sent me some sort of clue. Just something to let me know you were okay. Some sort of riddle or code—you could have sent me that stupid star puzzle you couldn't figure out. I would have known it was you, or at least I would have hoped. I would have had that much. I would have—" Reid felt a sob escape his lips, and he quickly swallowed any that tried to follow. "You played Scrabble with JJ. It was so important nobody knew you were alive, but you played Scrabble with JJ. You could have done something to help me." His tears came faster, hot trails running down his cheeks. "Something, anything, but you did nothing."
JJ wiped her eyes. "We couldn't risk—"
"What? Doyle finding out I like star puzzles? Me not being able to keep my mouth shut?" Reid snorted, his tears retreating as a wave of anger washed back over him. "I can see it now. I'm hanging out with my friends—oh wait. Well, let's say the kids who play chess in the park. Maybe I get a little drunk and—oh wait. Well, maybe I just let it slip for no reason whatsoever, and then that kid starts telling all his buddies about his friend, who has another friend, who's a secret agent, who faked her death. Then Doyle, who is now hanging out with kids who play chess in the park, overhears it and suddenly knows you're alive and how to find you. He shows up in Paris, and stares you down, and he says, 'You never should have sent that star puzzle.' Is that what you thought would happen?"
"Reid, we couldn't tell you," JJ tried.
"Milgram's." Reid took a deep breath and let out a bitter laugh. "It was an experiment where teachers were told by an authority figure to teach volunteer subjects and electrocute them when they got an answer wrong. It wasn't real, it was all recordings and acting, but the teachers didn't know that. I remember sitting in class as a kid, watching these teachers increase the voltage until it induced death, and I couldn't figure out how they did it. I didn't understand how they could listen to someone begging them to stop the pain, and then keep electrocuting them because an authority figure told them they needed to."
He wiped his eyes and tugged on his shirt, trying to compose himself somewhat. He inhaled deeply and shook his head at the gathering, pain stabbing through his sternum. "It took a while, but I think I understand now. I understand what kind of person you have to be to do that: you have to be a psychopath. That's why I'm leaving. Because if I could spend years on a team with three psychopaths and not know it, my talent as a profiler is non-existent."
"Kid…" Morgan started, but Reid cut him off.
"Don't think you're off the hook. I might not be nearly as angry at you as I am at them, but there is enough anger for all of you, I promise."
Garcia, who was crying even more than he was, shook her head. "Reid, what did we do? I'm sorry, I—what did we do?"
"I remember every conversation you each had with me, every lecture, word for word. I've played them over in my head enough times to recite them perfectly with or without an eidetic memory. Do you want to know what not a single one of you said even once?" He paused and wiped his mouth, waiting to see if they would answer and continuing when they only stared. "'Hey, Reid, how are you doing? I know it's hard having everyone on the team tell you how to feel, and what to do, and when to forgive. I know it's hard having emotions that are completely irrelevant to everyone you care about.'"
Garcia opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She squeaked, distraught and wanting to make things right but not knowing how.
Morgan said nothing, staring at a spot on the carpet and no doubt trying to recall whether he had said anything close enough to make an excuse.
Rossi stared blankly, and Reid got the idea he was still unsympathetic.
"You know, the really awful but kind of funny thing is… if you had just given me some time, I might have been okay. If you had just… let me be angry, which I had every right to be… if you had just let me be a human instead of a walking encyclopedia…" He shook his head suddenly, banishing the thought and grabbing his bag from the desk. "It doesn't matter. It can't be changed now."
"Reid," Hotch started softly, and Reid hated the sincerity he heard in his ex-boss' voice. "We never meant for you to feel that way."
"You never meant for me to—?" Reid held up his hands in a gesture of frustration. "How is that relevant at all? If I shoot you in the leg, intending to wound you, and I accidently graze an artery and kill you, it doesn't really matter what I meant to do, does it? You're still dead. I can shout and scream and lecture about what I meant to do until I'm blue in the face, but you're still going to be dead. When you accidently wreck your car, you don't say, 'Well, I didn't mean to wreck,' and keep driving it the way it is. You try to fix it." He spread his arms and took a few steps back, knowing he had to get out before the argument escalated any further, before he couldn't keep himself from melting down in the middle of the bullpen. "Well, this car's totaled now. Go buy a new one. Get a warranty. Try, try again."
Reid looked Emily dead in the eye and, without missing a beat, replied to the appeal she never got to make. "Don't worry, Emily. You've mourned the loss of six friends before; I'm sure mourning the loss of one will be a piece of cake." He turned around and continued to walk. "You should talk to Hotch or JJ. They're great grief counsellors."
And he left. He just… left.
He pushed the doors aside and made a beeline for the stairs, clutching his bag for dear life and avoiding everyone he came across. He left, and he rode the subway home in a daze, replaying the conversation over in his head a million times. He edited out certain things and added others, manipulating the words and tones to see how it could have gone worse, gone better, gone… something.
By the time he got home and tumbled into bed, he was utterly spent. He stared out the window, dazed, and watched as the phone lines and windowpane blurred.
And he cried.
He finally let the tears roll, unabated, down his cheeks. He was exhausted, and he didn't really want to cry; it brought him no relief, but his eyes were determined to have their way. So, he surrendered. He let that familiar, dull ache sink into his chest, sobs racking his frame, throat tight and head pounding.
And for a moment—for a very brief moment—Reid had sympathy for Emily. He quelled it almost immediately, berating the thoughts. He reminded himself that he was leaving because his team betrayed him, not because he invented an unnecessary lie he had to protect.
Still, he couldn't deny… whether it was by choice or by tragedy…
…mourning the loss of six friends really was painful.