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Three weeks, one day, seven hours and forty-two minutes

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“If this boy’s mother tried to commit suicide and he’s from a chronically unhappy household- Maybe this wasn’t an abduction at all. What if Bobby simply ran away?”

Rossi quickly cut in before Reid’s idea could be given further thought. With a shake of his head he says “When nine-year-olds run away, they’re usually home for supper.”

“I managed three weeks when I was eight.” Reid retorted.

“Three weeks? They didn’t find you?” Rossi joked back, although with some concern laced in his voice.

“Hmm?” Reid looked up at him, confused for a moment before continuing, “Oh, they didn’t realise I was gone. Makes it significantly easier.” He answered, before looking down at his file again, just missing how the colour drains from the faces of the other people aboard the plane.

“At all?” Prentiss asked, “They didn’t wonder where you were for three weeks?”

At the continuation of the subject Reid finally focussed his attention on the conversation. Looking at his team members, he realised they looked worried. For him, probably. He hadn’t realised his comment had had this effect on them. As much as they were pressing for answers however, Spencer didn’t want to give them.

He realised then that he shouldn’t have mentioned it at all, considering how much he hates recalling the memory. He takes half a second to curse himself for it, before he realises he should defuse the situation to have any chance of them dropping the subject.

“It wasn’t of importance, forget I mentioned it. Where were we on the case?”

JJ looked ready to combat his change of subject, opening her mouth to speak, when Hotch cut her off before she could even begin.

“JJ, you and I will talk to the mother.” Even though Hotch accepted Reid’s conversation change, he looked far from comfortable dismissing it. He would probably mention it later, Reid realised. Hotch still continued however. “Morgan and Reid, go to the boy’s house. Prentiss, you and Dave assess the site where the mother claims to have dropped him off.”

+*+*+*+*+

Morgan and Reid were in the car en route to their assigned location when Morgan inevitably mentioned Reid’s earlier statement. “Are you gonna talk about what you said earlier?”

Reid astutely continued looking out the passenger side window of their car. “Right, of course. I wondered if the unsub wouldn’t have- ”

“No, I didn’t mean that and you know it. Stop doing that, stop pushing away from it.”

With an exasperated sigh Reid conceded “I don’t know what you want from me Morgan,” he finally stopped looking out the window to focus on the other man, “Yes, I ran away for three weeks. I feel it’s clear by now that I was and still am above average intelligence, it wasn’t too hard so I was rather successful. Will that be all? We have a child to look for.”

Reid realised that it might not have been the calmest of responses he could have given, which was only confirmed by Morgan raising an eyebrow and turning to look at him for a moment before returning his eyes to the road.

“I’m not talking about you being away for three weeks, I’m talking about no-one realising you were gone. Now I can clearly tell you don’t want to talk about it, which makes me believe you don’t like it either. So you’re gonna have to-”

“‘Gonna have to talk about it’? I don’t have to do anything, and I’d very much appreciate it if you respected our rule of no profiling in the team.”

Reid looked fuming if anything by now he’d bet, and it occurred to him that Morgan must have also figured out that the issue might lie deeper than thought at first. Morgan didn’t say anything for the rest of the ride, and Spencer sure wasn’t going to pick up the conversation either.

+*+*+*+*+

Though Spencer certainly didn’t miss the less-than-well-hidden looks the team were giving him, they dutifully didn’t mention what they so clearly wanted to talk about. He tried to act as normal as possible, still carrying conversations with them. They were mostly about the case, for fear of them mentioning the plane incident. The case progressed as they always do, for better or for worse, and was eventually wrapped up after several days. As horrible as it was when children were involved in the cases they investigated, Spencer couldn’t help but mourn the loss of the distraction. For his eidetic memory, you’d figure he wouldn’t get upset by recalling something. His skills in selecting which memories to focus on however, serve him rather well.

Except for right now, of course.

The reactions of his team to what he’d revealed had triggered something, as if recalling all over again how much it should hurt that it had happened.

Spencer had long learned to make peace with his youth. He, to some degree, accepted his mother’s schizophrenia, the bullying he’s suffered, how different he’s always been. That did not mean, however, that he would be happy to think about it. Making peace with it consisted more of accepting that it had happened and shoving it all in the big cupboard named ‘youth’. He’d mentally decorated said cupboard with a sign that read ‘keep out’.

And now the team had opened the doors and pulled out a very delicate item.

As they boarded the plane for their return to quantico, Reid knew they’d mention it. At least one of them would.

They all took their positions in the plane and Spencer knew he shouldn’t have been this early to board. If he’d maybe entered later, he would’ve been able to avoid conversation and gone straight to sleep. As it was, he found himself surrounded by nearly all of his team members.

He pulled out a book as soon as everyone settled, a futile attempt to form a wall between himself and the others.

For a while, it didn’t seem futile at all. They didn’t mention the delicate item. They had quiet conversations amongst themselves, or occupied themselves with other things. Reid found himself actually able to read his book, filling his mind with the words that flashed by on the pages.

“Spence.”

And here it was after all, Reid commented in his mind.

After hearing his name, he noticed the silence throughout the plane first. It seemed everyone was in on hearing this, then. The second thing he noticed was the use of his first name, rather than his last.

Pulling his book down into his lap, he feigned nonchalance and looked at JJ, the one who called his name.

“Yes?” He asked, almost innocently. Everyone tried to look like they weren’t participating in the conversation, even though they clearly were.

“Do you wanna talk about what you said on the flight over to St. Louis?”

He stared her down for a moment, not antagonising, merely dreading the conversation and appreciating the moment he wouldn’t have to answer yet, however short.

And as petulant as the answer he gave was, he gave it anyways.

“Not particularly, no.” Trying to be dismissive, he pulled his book up again until halfway through he was interrupted by a hand softly pushing the book back down again. JJ looked at Spencer. Spencer has taken to calling this look JJ’s ‘mom eyes’. She looks kind and understanding and full of love. Spencer recalled the saying ‘if looks could kill’ and wondered for a moment if looks could feel like hugs too.

“When I was eight years old I ran away from home for three weeks, one day, seven hours and forty-two minutes. My- My mother was having an episode. It was a particularly bad one. The paranoia had expanded to me too. Usually she would feel compelled to protect me, but this time she felt that she should be protected from me. I figured, if she feels I’m an intrusion, she might calm down if I leave. So I did. I left for three weeks, one day, seven hours and forty-two minutes. It was surprisingly easy, really. If you stay close enough to other families, people, they ah, they think you’re with them. For a moment it was freeing, not having to take care of my mother. At the time, I suppose I felt like I was still taking care of her by simply not being there.

“But of course, in time, I decided to go back. As resourceful as I thought I was, I was still 8 years old. I needed a proper home. Or, ah, not proper, but...” Spencer trailed off, lost in thought.

“I don’t know what I expected. I thought that surely by now she would start to get a little worried. Her episode should be long over, she’s had time for rest, so now would be the right moment to return. Not too worried yet, just wondering where I was.

“When I came home, she- she was sitting at the kitchen table. I looked at her, and she smiled and said ‘Hey Spencer, how was school? Didn’t you say you were gonna handle a new subject in class today?’” Reid couldn’t keep the monotony out of his voice as he perfectly repeated the words spoken to him all that time ago.

“She didn’t know I was gone. Had never even realised. I didn’t ask why either. Maybe her episode had only just ended, maybe she was happy I was gone,” Reid quickly put his hand up in a silent request as both Morgan and Rossi looked ready to interject, “I responded ‘It was fine, mom. The new subject is nice. I’m going upstairs to put away my stuff’. So I did. I went upstairs and I put my stuff away.”

The team took Reid’s silence as the end of his retelling. None of them responded for a moment.

“Spencer, your mother was clearly still too much out of it at the time. Otherwise she would’ve long realised you were gone and done everything to find you”

“But-” Spencer cleared his throat at the crack in his voice and quickly blinked away tears that threatened to surface, “But she didn’t. She didn’t realise. That doesn’t change.”

“You’re right.”

Everybody looked perplexed at Hotch’s sudden comment, Reid also at last removing the laser focus he’s kept on the table in front of him for the entire time he spoke. Hotch then continued.

“You’re right, that doesn’t change. What does change is your understanding of it, and the way you deal with it. You can’t put this away. Telling us means you know that too. You’re not the boy that was forgotten. You’re doctor Spencer Reid, who has been dealt more than a bad hand in life, and came out of it stronger.

“You are no longer the boy that was forgotten.”

Spencer looked around at the faces that surround him and felt a small smile grace his features.

“No, I’m not.”

And Spencer suddenly recalled one fact in his seemingly unending stream of knowledge.

Ancient chinese tea sets were found to be best preserved not when they were left to sit in glass casings, but rather, when they were regularly used to make tea.

He decided the delicate item that was taken from the cupboard called ‘youth’ with the sign that says ‘keep out’ was going to be an ancient chinese tea set.