AN1: Thanks again if you favorited, followed, or reviewed this story! Oh-I suppose I should have said this earlier, but please excuse any inaccuracies concerning drug addiction and recovery throughout this piece. All I know about the subject comes from a Psychology class I once took and various media/TV outlets. Anyways, here is the third and final part of this fic:


Part 3

Their next case was a serial arsonist, and Reid could hardly focus at first, becoming so preoccupied with the daunting prospect of finding some help that he accidentally burned his hand on the local PD's coffee machine. The copious amounts of coffee he'd been drinking really wasn't any sort of effective substitute, but he tried to convince himself that it was anyways. The others didn't seem to notice-what else is new, a traitorous corner of his mind seethed-and he played it off absentminded professor style. JJ actually aided in this misdirection so effectively-his coordination tends to drop off while he's thinking-that Reid spared half a moment reflecting on what an excellent magician's assistant she would make, before quickly shoving that thought to the back of his mind.

Work quickly took precedence over any errant thoughts, and Reid didn't find an opportunity to say something until they were at the tail end of giving the profile. It was stupid and rash and not the time nor the place for it, but he took the chance regardless because there would never be a "right time." He had the good sense to connect it to the case, obviously-he hadn't completely lost his mind, after all-and he hoped they got the thinly veiled message.

He said the arsonist was like a drug addict. He said the unsub wouldn't stop, that his obsession with fire was similar to needing more and more of a drug with each new fix to get the same high. He said it'd be almost impossible to stop without help, and then he hoped to God someone heard what he was really saying because he wasn't so sure he had the willpower to drop another blatant hint like that anytime soon. He felt Morgan and Hotch's eyes on him, and he even risked a glance at Gideon right after that last incriminating statement.

He hoped to see understanding, some sort of realization that this was as close as Reid could bring himself to asking for help, but Gideon looked down, and all Reid could gather from the look in his mentor's eyes was denial, and pensiveness, and pain. Reid looked away then, too, his stomach dropping as a cold realization sunk in.

He doesn't want to believe it.

And Reid knew Gideon-he would think himself in circles, in knots, until he had convinced himself that what Reid had said was unconnected to anything other than the case, that it was merely an illustration to prove a point. That if this had anything to do with the Hankel case, it was because of Tobias's drug use and not Reid's own. Or even more preferably, because of the genius's medical knowledge and extensive reading, or even just because he went to a Las Vegas public high school.

Then Hotch was ushering on the investigation and everyone was getting swept up in the case, and Reid's partially-revealed inner turmoil was being put on the back burner once again.

In the end, the unsub went up in a ball of benzene fire, killed by a well-meaning father dying of cancer who just wanted his death to mean something. The case was definitely the hardest on Hotch, a fellow father that understood where Abby was coming from just a little too well.

Reid heard that the man had left Hotch to give a letter to his son. Honestly, Reid was grateful for this (despite his own misadventures with letters from absent fathers), because it wasn't until after that trip that their Unit Chief had shored up the few cracks in his composure, pulling himself together with a rapidity and totality that only Aaron Hotchner could achieve. It wasn't anything anyone outside the team would have noticed, but Reid could see it in the way he stood with just a little less tension, how the worry lines were just a little less pronounced, and how just a little bit of light had returned to his dark gaze.

Worrying about Hotch seemed to have pushed any thoughts about Reid's cry for help out of sight and out of mind. A few weeks ago that would have saddened and embittered him-okay, it still hurt-but on the whole, the case had reminded him of something very important: perspective.

They all had their demons. They all had ghosts haunting them, and they all had been stained in some way by the shadows of the past. If being in this job had taught Reid anything, it was that no one who took up profiling was ever really whole. They were all broken in some way. But somehow despite that, on this team, a collection of shattered souls had found a way to fit the jagged pieces of themselves together to form some semblance of a whole. Not on their own, but as one. As a unit. As a family.

And if his own experience, the cases he worked, and time itself had shown him anything, it was that families weren't perfect. In his previous analysis, he had deduced that the only explanation for his teammates' behavior was that their relationship was one of casual friends; that they could not possibly have the close, familial bonds he used to believe they had considering they had let him slip further and further away. It was simply incongruous.

Now, however, he realized that it was precisely because they were family, and more than friends, that it had been so hard for any of them to see what was right in front of them. The inattention of coworkers to each other's problems could explain the lack of understanding and subsequent lack of aid, but so could a fierce denial to face a difficult truth about a loved one. He knew he was seen as the baby of the team, the little brother that everyone wanted to protect. Sometimes it irritated him to no end, that they would shield him from some things, but more often than not it just felt nice to be cared about for once. And what he'd come to realize was that his team didn't want to face the fact that someone they cared about, someone they saw as their little brother, had a drug problem.

He had been doing a bit more of that soul searching thing-not of his own soul, but of his teammates', trying to get a new perspective on things. If he had been in their shoes and one of them had been in his, he knew he would have found a way to blame himself for it, and he knew that's exactly what they had done. When you had a job like theirs, a job to protect and to serve, and then to find yourself in a position of absolute helplessness, well. Let's just say most of them didn't cope too well with something like that. No doubt they felt they had failed him in some way, even though it was he who had suggested they split up and then promptly gotten himself kidnapped.

JJ most likely thought it was her fault for letting them separate, even though he hadn't really given her a choice. Garcia probably blamed herself for not being able to track the live video feed, her technological skills of no use in the situation. Morgan and Prentiss, people of action if Reid had ever met any, probably went crazy being unable to do anything, their prowess in the field as inapplicable in the circumstances as Garcia's hacking abilities. Gideon likely felt as though he had failed Reid as a mentor, what with how his encouraging words had ended up being directly responsible for the genius's brief death. And Hotch, well, he had undoubtedly felt responsible for Reid, believing that any harm that came to the youngest agent was on him as the team's leader.

So was it that hard to believe that after everything that had happened, his family simply refused to believe that something even worse had come out of it all? That Reid had never really left that graveyard, that he carried a piece of that night with him wherever he went-literally running through his veins? They wanted to forget and put it all in the past so much that they would rather ignore the signs and deny the facts, look the other way and sell themselves a lie, than face the truth.

They would rather believe in magic than recognize the misdirection for what it was.

Sitting on the plane ride back to Quantico, Reid made a choice. He decided to quit-that he was done for good-right then and there with Morgan next to him, eyes closed and headphones on, Hotch and Gideon talking quietly over an open file, JJ and Prentiss sitting next to each other across the aisle, and a sunrise warming the clouds outside the plane window.

He would quit, and he would stay clean, and he would do it alone.

Was it the right choice? Maybe, maybe not. But he found that he had all he needed to move forward, and he didn't want to put his family in a difficult position. As soon as one of them knew definitively what was going on, they would have an obligation to report it, and while Reid was sure that none of them would give a damn about being implicated and risking their job for keeping his secret, he didn't want to do that to them. He cared too much about them. So he would take advantage of their denial and refusal to see, and he would face this alone.


It was hard. Trying. Painful. Arduous. Actually, it was perhaps the most difficult thing he had ever done in his life, with the sole exception of sending his mother to the sanatorium. While that had been devastating emotionally, however, withdrawals were like a special kind of hell; a mixture of physical, psychological, and emotional torture that had Reid drawing on every last reserve of willpower he had. Countless times he wished he had told someone so they could help him through-just one person-and even more times he had almost picked up his phone and did just that. But he never did.

He told himself it was his turn to protect them, even if they never found out about it. It would be enough to have saved his family the risk, to have saved them the pain of seeing him go through agony and torment, again. Spencer Reid had become an expert at turning personal pain into the caretaking of others. The way he saw it, he had suffered years of bullying and ridicule to protect his mother from being taken away until he could pay for and pick out the best care available. He could suffer a bit more to spare his patchwork family the jagged edge of the latest fracture in his soul.

He couldn't fool himself entirely, however. He knew his reasons were not wholly altruistic in nature. Part of it was that he didn't want them to see him so weak. He didn't want them to know that he hadn't been able to resist the drug, and the escape it offered, in the first place. And he sure as hell didn't want them to think any less of him because of it. He didn't want them to baby him more than they already did, and he didn't want them to pity him. Disappointment he could handle, anger he knew he deserved, but he wouldn't know how to deal with pity.

Despite the research he had done, he had underestimated the prolonged torture that was withdrawals, and he ended up having to take more than a few sick days to pull through it all. He still wasn't entirely sure how he had survived. Not necessarily the physical symptoms, but the battle of wills against the intense craving that bled through the whole experience, unrelenting as the tide. It was a greater relief than could accurately be described once it was over.

He wasn't naive enough to believe that all his struggles were behind him, however. Dealing with addiction was a lifelong effort. He would have to resist its insidious allure after tough cases, bad days, personal trials and losses-moments of weakness would be the moments most critical to remain strong in. But he would do it, no matter what. Not just for his own sake, but his family's as well.

Hopefully, though, fighting off a potential relapse was far in the distant future. At any rate, he couldn't live in fear of the structural integrity of his own strength of character. He would have to trust himself, avoid triggers and temptations, and carry on with normal life. First and foremost, that meant returning to his job.

When he did come back to work, the only one who seemed to have figured out what had been going on was Hotch. The moment Reid stepped through the glass doors, he felt those inscrutable dark eyes sweep over his thin frame from above the bullpen. When JJ called everyone into the round table room to be briefed on the next case, Hotch held the door open for Reid and gave him an almost imperceptible nod as he passed, a hint of pride in his eyes that filled Reid with a warm glow of both gratitude for Hotch's discretion and happiness at his acknowledgement. Reid's mouth quirked upwards in a small smile even as he averted his gaze to the ground and walked past his boss into the room.

"Hey! Look who's back," Morgan called out from his position reclined in a chair. Prentiss looked up from the file she was reading and sent a sympathetic smile Reid's way, a slight shadow of uncertainty in her bright eyes.

"I heard you had a pretty bad case of the flu, huh? You feeling better?"

A month ago he probably would have taken her head off at that (for insinuating he couldn't do his job or something else to that effect), but now he only felt relief. Seeing her query for the olive branch it was, he dipped his head in appreciation for her concern and cleared his throat, giving a hesitant smile.

"Much."

Prentiss's shoulders and smile relaxed minutely, her posture more at ease as she turned back to the file in front of her. Settling his messenger bag on the floor next to him, Reid followed suit and opened up his own copy of the file.

And that was all that was said on the matter.

JJ began her brief presentation of their next case as soon as everyone was seated, and theories, questions, and banter were soon flying back and forth across the table. Reid always marveled at the way this group was able to bounce ideas off of one another, refuting, adjusting, and adding onto one another's thoughts in an organic dance that never grew old.

"Wheels up in thirty," Hotch said, and Reid had to try to hide his radiant smile by reaching down to collect his messenger bag. Evidently he was unsuccessful in this endeavor, however, as Morgan tilted his head at him to follow his progress.

"What's got you smilin' so big, pretty boy?" he asked, an amused-if puzzled-grin on his face. Reid straightened up, bag in hand as he glanced around at some of the people he loved most in the world, the team going about packing up their things. He shook his head, his smile having grown impossibly wider.

"Nothing, I'm just...really glad to be back."

Fin


AN2: And there you have it. This might have been my favorite chapter of this story, if only because I'm a sucker for happy endings. (Or at least...feel-good endings? Whatever you would classify this as.) The last part is obviously not canon, but I did my best to make it seem like it was. Just pretend the last scene was after "Ashes and Dust" but before "Honor Among Thieves" for some random, boring case in between the two. (They must get some unremarkable cases once in a while, right?)

As always, I'd greatly appreciate hearing your thoughts on this little fanfic! (Especially now that it's actually complete.)