Work Header

equivalence principle

Work Text:



Spencer is 10 when his father leaves. 


There is screaming, and his mother is crying. He watches numbly as his father pulls a suitcase from the top of his closet, throwing in clothes without folding them. 


Him and Diana are yelling at each other, and all Spencer knows is that the words are angry and sharp and biting. 


“I can’t live like this,” William snaps, slamming the suitcase shut. “You need help.”


Diana scoffs, crossing her arms over her chest. “And you’re such a great help,” she spits, “Trying to change me, trying to fix me.” Her face twists. “There’s nothing wrong with me. You’re the problem here.” 


William pushes past her on his way out the door. His hand is on the knob when he finally turns and looks at Spencer. Despite everything, a thrill shoots through him. Maybe this is where his father says that he’s sorry, that he didn’t mean it, that he loves him, that he’s going to stay. 


William pauses, and then shakes his head. “Be good, Spencer.” And then he’s gone. 


Diana slides to the floor bonelessly, sobbing as the fight drains out of her. Spencer reaches for her, but she shoves him away as she stands on unsteady feet. 


He lets her. 


Later that night, he makes mac and cheese. His mother is still looked in her room crying. He undercooks it, uses too much butter, and somehow manages to burn the cheese. 


He begs her to eat. She doesn’t. 


And for the first time in his life, he realizes that this responsibility is now his. For some reason, it doesn’t scare him as much as it probably should.




Spencer is 12, and Diana is breaking. 


When he comes home from school, high school, not middle school like all the other kids his age, he finds his house empty. 


“Mom?” he says hesitantly, dumping his bag by the door and toeing off his converse. 


Silence answers him. 


He makes his way through the house, making sure to check everyone room as he goes along. His blood freezes when he sees the kitchen; there are knives strewn everywhere. Shattered glass litters the floor, and every single one of the cabinets is open. 


“Mom!” he shouts. “MOM!” 


He finds her in the bathroom curled up in the top. She’s holding a knife and muttering to herself. She screams when Spencer tries to touch her. 


He begs, he pleads, he cries, but she brandishes the knife and tells him he can’t trick her anymore. 


Spencer does the only thing he can; he leaves her there.

Hours later, she emerges. The knife is nowhere to be found. She holds him, cries, tells him she loves him and she didn’t mean it. He’s a little slow hugging her back, but he doesn’t think she notices. 


Spencer finds the knife on the ground in the backyard the next day while taking out the trash. Diana threw it out the window. 


The thing that hurts the most is that she wasn’t always this bad. 


Some days she’s lucid, cooking dinner and reading to him like there is nothing wrong. Spencer curls up against her side as she flips through the pages, voice soft and sweet; the only lullaby he has ever needed to fall asleep. 


But then there are days like today. 


Spencer loves his mother. But he knows the facts, and a small part of him can’t help but think it’s hopeless. 




Dr. Spencer Reid is not even 20 when he meets Jason Gideon for the first time. 


Gideon is giving a lecture at CalTech and Spencer finds a seat in the back and listens raptly. He can tell the other students are interested, but he finds himself falling deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. It’s more than a passing interest - Spencer is enthralled. 


Gideon makes direct eye contact with him while he’s leaving, and Spencer has to physically stop himself from flinching back from the intense gaze. He bites down the questions threatening to roll off his tongue and gives the man a nod. 


Later that night, he reads every paper Jason Gideon has ever published. He reads every article about the BAU, about monsters wearing human skins, and something settles within him. 


The next day, he’s running late to a lecture he’s giving to first year chemistry students. He blinks the sleep out of his eyes, throws open the door with enough force to almost knock the coffee out of his hands and . . . stops. 


Instead of a lecture hall full of students, there was Jason Gideon sitting in the second row, feet propped up on the seat in front of him and looking completely comfortable. 


“Uh,” He says, mouth opening and closing in utter shock. “Wh - what? I -” 


“Dr. Reid,” Gideon says, smirking. “Why don’t you have a seat?”


Gideon leans forward, previous state of ease replaced with the same intense look that Spencer saw yesterday in his lecture. “Dr.,” Gideon says. “How would you like to hunt monsters?” 


Gideon explains the job, explains the stakes, but Spencer doesn’t even need to hear it. This is it, he thinks. 


“Yes,” he says. “Yes.”


Gideon only smiles. 




Elle Greenaway is probably the most beautiful woman Spencer has ever seen. 


Not in that way, of course, though he will admit he does daydream about it now and then. But it’s more than that. 


Elle is smart as a whip, a quick thinker, and she never takes no for an answer. 


She’s also one of the only people who treats him like he’s capable.

He fails his gun examination and shoots Philip Dowd between the eyes the next day and Elle doesn’t even blink, just pats him on the shoulder like she would any other teammate. None of Hotch’s apologies, or Morgan’s worry, or Garcia’s frantic checking over. Just acceptance. 


“I thought you were full of hot air, Reid!” She laughs over his shoulder as he tries to blow out trick candles on his 24th birthday cake. 


He takes her home during the Fisher King case, and she tells him to leave, and god damn him he goes. 



And just as she is always there, she is gone. 


She doesn’t say goodbye. 


Her replacement is a gorgeous, lean woman with dark bangs and a smile that only gives a glance into how dangerous she really is. 


Emily Prentiss struts into the bullpen like she belongs there, and Spencer feels a stab go through his heart as she sits down at Elle's desk. Something in him knows nothing is the same; he just doesn't realize how right he is. 



SSA Dr. Spencer Reid is 26, alone, dying, and there is a snake that won’t go away. 


It circles him, hissing. It tells him to confess. It hits him when he says no.


There is a single bulb above him and it flickers, swings slowly. It stinks of burning fish and he is alone and tied down and he is going to die. 


Confess your sins the snake sneers from above him, and Spencer would ask which sin he would like confessed if his tongue didn’t feel like sandpaper. If his throat didn’t burn with each ragged gasp. 


There is a person in front of him now, and they are holding a needle and a belt. 


“Please, no,” he chokes, voice rasping. He’s crying, he realizes distantly. He tries to squirm but he’s tied down and there’s nowhere to go. “Please, no, I don’t want it, I don’t want it, I don’t want it.” 


Tobias’s face floats into view. “It makes it better,” he promises, before there’s a pinch in Spencer’s arm and the world goes away.  


There is something floating through his veins; it is the feeling of being lost and coming home all at once. It feels like redemption. It feels like everything he doesn’t deserve. 


Gideon tells him it’s not his fault after he kills someone (someone he didn’t choose to live, someone he condemned to die ) and Reid can’t believe him. 


There is a blow. Then another. Spencer can’t help it - he begs. “I haven’t sinned,” he whimpers, as Hankel’s fist smashes against his face. “I’m not a sinner.”


And then the world is tilting, back back back and - and something breaks inside him. The last thing he registers before the world goes dark is the thud of his back hitting the floor. 


Then there is nothing at all. 


He comes back to a fire in his chest and a face above him. “Tobias,” he tries to say, but the name chokes itself in his throat. 


All at once, the face twists into something harder. You came back the snake says. You came back to life. Witch.


Things are blurry after that. His head hurts; pounds incessantly. 


Choose one to die, the snake hisses. It’s forked tongue flickers between fangs. Your team members. Choose one to die. 


“Kill me,” he says, and he’s not afraid anymore. He’s already died once tonight. 


There is one bullet in the chamber. Spencer knows the odds are in his favor as he watches it spin round and round. A baited breath - a blank. “No,” he says. The click of the hammer - another blank. “ No ,” he says, unwavering. Once more, the gun clicks empty. 


There is one bullet in the chamber. The odds aren’t in his favor anymore. 


“I choose Aaron Hotchner,” he spits, and prays they understand. “He’s a classic narcissist. Always thinks he’s better than everyone else on the team.” 


The gun goes off above his head. Once more, the snake jeers, conjuring another bullet,  for God’s will. 


Its blank. 


He’s not sure how much time has passed, only knows that its later, when his hands are uncuffed and he’s yanked to his feet. His legs feels too long and jelly-like after the days of disuse and he stumbles. 


Hankel hauls him up, hand bruising around his arm, muttering to himself as he shoves Spencer out the door. Then his knees are in the dirt and there is a shovel being pushed into his hands and any bravoda from before is gone. 


Spencer Reid is 26 when he dies, lives, and then digs his own grave. There is dirt on his hands and the knowledge that this will be his final resting place, his final anything, and something snaps. 


“I’m too weak,” he says, formulating a plan as he throws down the shovel. If it doesn’t work, he’ll die. If he doesn’t try, he’s dead anyways. 


There is one bullet in the chamber. 


Turns out, that’s all he needs.



He takes the Dilaudid with him. When Spencer reaches down to Tobais’s corpse, he is looking for some sort of redemption. But he can’t help himself. 


“I knew you’d understand,” he says, thinking of the Dilaudid in his pocket, before promptly collapsing into Hotch’s arms. Hotch doesn’t say a word, just holds Spencer. 


He’s sliding, he realizes belatedly. Resolve waning and adrenaline crashing, he’s no longer in danger and his found strength slips away from him all at once. 


Distantly, he hears someone shouting, and he’s being lowered to the dirt. “Eyes open,” Hotch snaps, and Spencer opens eyes he didn’t even know were closed. 


There are stars above him. An endless Georgia sky, a blanket of constellations. He couldn’t see the sky in Vegas, light pollution too heavy unless you ventured into the desert, but here it seems like there is nothing but stars. 


Everything feels fuzzy, and a face floats above him. The face looks familiar. And concerned. Familiarly concerned. A laugh bubbles in the back of his throat. 


“Kid,” Morgan says frantically, and he feels a warm hand cup his face. “Eyes on me, Pretty Boy.”


“Morgan,” he breathes out. He lifts his hand until he’s grabbing Morgan’s wrist. “I missed you.” 


His eyes roll back and the last thing he sees are the stars, the swaying treetops, and the face of his best friend. 




Gideon leaves. Just like William Reid, there is nothing more to prove his existence in Reid’s life but a couple of memories and a crumpled note full of excuses. 


It’s like Elle, but worse, somehow. 




Reid hates the fact that he’s a drug addict now. 


He snaps at everyone, even Garcia, when they express their concern. He was never a good sleeper, but he gets an hour or two a night at most now. Reid’s gotten better at hiding the shaking of his hands, at hiding the track marks, despite the strange looks he gets at wearing long sleeves in the heat. 


He knows Elle would understand. Then he remembers Elle isn’t here anymore. 


At first, he tries to make it through without. Tries to ignore the need drumming in his veins. But then he can’t think straight. The floor rolls beneath him every time he stands up too fast, and the scent of food makes him ill. 


He’s too large for his skin and too small for his bones. When he dreams, it is either of Tobias or Hankel or a needle and belt. He dreams of not existing anymore. He dreams of going away.


Spencer may no longer be playing Russian Roulette, but the outcome will be the same. 




Gideon’s replacement is David Rossi. 


David Rossi. 


The man’s a legend. Spencer may be the tiniest bit obsessed. He’s read every word the older man as ever written, learned every case and situation. 


When he tells him that, Rossi looks at him unimpressed. “Who are you again?” he asks, distaste clear in his voice and the way his mouth twists like he’s tasted something sour. 


“This,” Morgan says, thankfully coming to Reid’s rescue as his brain short-circuits, “is our resident genius.” 


“Dr. Reid,” Spencer chimes, finally managing to find his voice as one of Morgan’s elbows finds a target on his ribs. “I’m Dr. Reid.” 


“Uh huh,” Rossi says slowly, looking between the two of them like they’ve both gone crazy. He takes a step back. “I’m going to go find Aaron.” 


Morgan laughs at him the moment Rossi turns the corner. “That was smooth, Reid, real smooth. Way to make a great first impression.” 


“Shut up, Morgan,” he mutters, swigging down his coffee. It burns in the back of his throat. He shoves Morgan and gets back to work. 


Rossi corners him later that evening. “So,” he says conversationally, leaning against Reid’s desk as Reid finishes up paperwork for the night. The bullpen is practically empty, but Reid can see the silhouette of Hotch through his office window. “How long have you been a drug addict?”


Reid chokes on his coffee. “Ex-excuse me?” he splutters once he can breathe again. His heart is racing in his chest, and he shoves aside his papers to look up at the older man with something he hopes resembles innocence. 


“Oh, c’mon kid,” Rossi says like he didn’t just upend Reid’s world. “Don’t play dumb with me. We’re both too smart for that.” 


“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Spencer says firmly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Rossi cocks an eyebrow, smirk playing across his face. “Is that so?”


Spencer nods. “That’s so.” 


“Prove it.” 


Spencer blinks. Once. Twice. “Prove it,” he repeats slowly. “You want me to prove that I’m not a drug addict.” 


Rossi won’t stop smiling. “That’s what I said, wasn’t it?”

“You’re crazy,” Reid is standing up now, towering over the older man whose perched on his desk like he owns the goddamn thing, still smiling and Reid wants to wipe that smug look right off his face. 


“No,” Rossi says cooly, unbothered. “You’re a drug addict, you’re a liability to this team, and I don’t know why Aaron keeps you around. You’re not cut out for the field, and being a junkie increases the risk tenfold.” 


“Get off my desk,” Reid snaps. 


“Or what, Dr. Reid?” Rossi says condescendingly. “What are you going to do?” He gestured his arms to the empty bullpen. “I want to know why you started, though. I have a couple ideas myself.” 


Reid wonders what Rossi’s ideas are. He thinks of leather straps and hard back chairs, of burning fish and the click of a revolver and dirt beneath his knees. Of a starry Georgia sky. 


“Shut the fuck up,” he growled. “Shut up.”

Rossi leans back, looking surprised at his tone but also pleased. “Hit a nerve, Dr. Reid?” 


“You don’t know me,” Reid says. “You don’t know who I am, or what I’ve been through, or,” Tobias’ face flashes through his mind, bleeding, thanking him, “or what I’ve done.” He takes a deep breath. “So stop pretending.” He shoulders his messenger bag, stuffing in papers and pushing in his chair. “Stay away from.” 


Dr. Spencer Reid walks away from Agent David Rossi without a second glance, hands stuffed in his pockets to hide the shaking. 


That night, he dreams of Tobias and beatings and a man playing God. He wakes in a cold sweat, and he does not go back to sleep. 


They’re chasing an arsonist when Reid finally cracks. 


The entire dock is ablaze, the orange reflecting off the blue as the smoke twists towards the sky. The team pulls up as the firefighters are hosing down the warehouses, fisherman watching in horror as their entire life goes up in flames. 


Spencer steps one foot out of the SUV and stops dead in his tracks. Hotch is barreling ahead with everyone else close behind him, flashing his badge before ducking under the tape without hesitation but Reid is stuck. 


The air is potent with the smell of burning fish. He barely makes it three steps before he’s crumpling to the ground, body curling in on itself as he throws up his meager breakfast of an apple and coffee. 


It’s cold and he’s tied down and there’s blood dripping into his eyes. 


He shakes himself, heaving again. The wood of the dock bites into his palms. 


“You’re not there,” he tells himself as he continues to shake and gag. “ You’re not there you’re not there you’re not there you’re not there.”


A hand falls onto the small of his back. “Reid,” Hotch rumbles into his ear. “You need to breathe.” 


He chokes as bile forces its way up his throat. His scarf feels like a noose.  


Morgan comes around his other side, supporting him. “You’re all right, Kid. You’re alright.” Reid feels Morgan turn to Hotch above him. “Should we get him back to the hotel?” he asks their boss. 


“Yes,” Hotch says, sitting back on his heels as Spencer finally stops throwing up. “Would you -” 


“Yeah, I got it.” Morgan pulled Reid’s arm over his shoulder. “Cmon, Pretty Boy, up you go.” 


Reid avoids everyone's eyes as he and Morgan painstakingly make their way to the car. He stumbles once or twice, eyes glued to the slats of the docks. 


“Spence,” he thinks he hears JJ say from behind him, but he ignores her as he climbs into the SUV. 


He buries his head in his hands, and Morgan drives without a word. 


The person at his door won’t stop knocking. He’s already yelled “Go away!” loud enough for them to hear. He knows because the incessant rapping stopped, for enough seconds that Reid thought the person might have gotten the hint and left him the fuck alone, before continuing. 


He throws down the book he was reading, stalking over to the door and throwing it open without looking through the peephole. 


“JJ, I swear to God, I’m -” he trails off when he realizes the person standing on his door is most decidedly not JJ. “Fine,” he finishes slowly meeting David Rossi’s eyes. 


Rossi looks decidedly uncomfortable. “May I come in?” he asks politely, then pushes by Reid without waiting for an answer. 


Reid closes the door behind him. “Sure,” he says, sarcasm dripping from the words. “Go ahead.” 

He goes and sits on the bed, watching Rossi survey the room; watching him take in the scattered books, papers, clothes tossed hazardously onto the dresser. 


Rossi remains silent for a moment. His back is facing Reid, and Spencer can see the tightness of his shoulders. “I came to apologize,” he says gruffly. 


Reid blinks. Then he blinks again. “Wh - what?” He doesn’t squawk. He doesn’t. 


Rossi finally turns around, and Reid can see a similar tension in the lines of his face. “What happened today,” he starts hesitantly. “On the dock.” He shakes his head. “That was intense.” 


Reid can’t help it; he snorts. “You can say that again.” 


Rossi plows forwards now. “And I’m sorry for making assumptions. You were right when you said I didn’t know you - I don’t. And for me to assume something like that was wrong. I’m sorry.” 


Reid let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Apology accepted.” 


“So,” Rossi said, settling himself in a chair. “Why did you think I was JJ?”


Reid gave a nonchalant shrug. “I was expecting her, I guess.” He turned red at Rossi’s raised eyebrow. “N-n-not like that!” he spluttered. “She just worries sometimes, that’s all.” 


“She was worried.” Rossi leaned forward in his chair. “We all were.” 


“We?” Reid questioned, tearing his gaze away from the slowly spinning ceiling fan to meet Rossi’s gaze. 


The man gave a nod. “I seem to be the only one not in the loop about why, though.” He cracked his neck, eyes never leaving Reid. “If you don’t want to tell me, I get it. I was kind of a dick. But if you can . . .”


Reid thinks of JJ and Emily and Garcia, begging him to talk to them. He thinks of Hotch on one side and Morgan on the other as he throws up, talking over his head like he isn’t even there. He thinks of an addiction he never asked for and trauma he doesn’t know how to deal with, and he thinks of it all in the span between David Rossi’s words leaving his mouth and hanging in the stale motel room air. 


“We were in Georgia chasing a killer choosing his victims based on their sins,” he says quietly. The fan circles lazily. Endless Georgia sky. “And there was a man named Tobias Hankel.”


Rossi gives a quiet hum of acknowledgment to show he’s listening, and Reid continues. 


“We thought he was just a witness, so Hotch sent me and JJ out to talk to him. But,” the words get stuck in his throat, so he takes a deep breath and keeps talking. “But he wasn’t.” 


“He was the UNSUB, wasn’t he?” Rossi asked with his usual intensity. 


Spencer nods. “We figured it out. And I said we should split up. That I would take the cornfield, and JJ could take the barn.” A laugh bubbles up, forces its way out. “So I took the cornfield, and JJ took the barn.” 

Rossi’s eyes seem to burn through him. “And then?” he said, quiet. “And then?”


“He locked JJ in the barn,” Reid chokes out. “He locked her in there with a pack of wild dogs. She had to shoot them. Because of me.” 


“You both made the decision to split up,” Rossi said. “Just because you suggested it doesn’t mean that you were to blame.” 


“It was my idea,” he repeats. His hands are shaking. He watches them tremble. “Mine.” 


Rossi is in front of him. Reid hears the bed creak as he climbs on, but he can’t tear his gaze away from the shaking. “Spencer,” he says quietly. “She’s ok. What happened next?”


“I heard her scream,” Reid says. The words are pouring out of him now - a tidal wave of feel too much and not at all. He can’t stop. “And there he was. Hankel. He … He knocked me out.” 


Spencer finally makes eye contact with Rossi, expecting disgust or revulsion at being so weak, but the only thing in Rossi’s eyes is unadulterated horror. “He took you,” the older man says slowly, like he’s trying to wrap his head around it. “He kidnapped you.” 


Spencer nodded, and Rossi let out a muttered string of curses that Diana would have smacked him for if she heard. “How long?”


“Two days,” Reid said. “He said it kept the devil away. The burning fish livers,” he clarifies at Rossi’s confused look. “When I came too, that was all I could register.” 


Rossi looks apprehensive, the lines of his face drawn over his beard. “What did he do to you?” He almost looks like he doesn’t want to hear the answer. 


Reid lets himself fall back onto the bed. “Tried to get me to confess,” he says to the ceiling. “Hankel would play Russian Roulette and Raphael would beat me, and Tobias . . .” 


“Wait,” Rossi says, confusion evident in his voice. “Raphael? Who’s Raphael?”


Reid gives him a wry grin. “Due to his abusive childhood and massive amounts of drug consumption, Tobias’ personality fractured into three after his father’s death. There was him, his father, and the archangel Raphael, who acted as the mediator.” 


“So Raphael and Hankel beat you, and Tobias . . . ?” 


“Drugged me.” He hears Rossi’s sharp intake of breath, but he can’t stop talking. “He said it would make it better. Take the pain away. I was tied up and concussed, I didn’t exactly have an option. And then I,” he chokes on the words. “I died. I died and I was alone and Tobias brought me back and then Hankel beat me for it and he took me outside and I dug my own grave and -” 


Rossi’s hands land on his shoulders. “Breathe, kid.” He takes in an exaggerated breath. “Just like this, see?” Reid’s hand is guided upwards until his fingers are splayed against Rossi’s ribs, feeling his lungs expand and contract. “Just like this.” 


Reid focuses on the feeling of Rossi’s shirt, rough under his palm, on the sweet taste of air as it slips down his throat. He distantly hears Rossi murmuring reassuring words. 


Reid sees the open window over Rossi’s shoulder. The sky is cloudy and dark, the smell of rain and thunder and electricity. He can’t see the stars. 


“You’re alright kid,” Rossi grumbles. “You’re alright.” 


And Reid, for the first time in a very long time, believes it.