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There was a thunderstorm rolling in. Spencer could see the dark clouds on the edge of horizon. Grey masking the blue. The low rumble of thunder just barely reached his ears. His mom always said thunder was just God crying, the rain his tears and the crack of lightning nothing more than a sob. As many times as he tried to correct her, explain meteorology that he'd learned in one of the books from the library, she was unshakeable in her belief. Now, he could almost see some irreverent God watching, finally feeling some emotion towards the great state of Nevada.

 

After all, it was a desert for a reason.

 

Seconds later, rain started to hit the window.

 

His eyes tracked the droplets as they fell along the glass. Each one, tracking its own path across the clear pane, until it reached the bottom of the sill, and fell five stories to the earth below.

 

"Reid?" A voice called out softly. He turned around in his seat, eyes landing on Hotch. His short brown hair was dark with water, suit jacket in slight disarray from the rain. But still just as straight and proud as he always was. Time and age had treated him nicely.

 

"Hey Hotch." He said, a smile briefly appearing. He saw the small the amount of relief that entered his friend's eyes, relief that was painful to see. Some days, that little bit of happiness wouldn't be there. Some days... "Dr. Perrow said you were going to come by today."

 

"She.... called ahead, said it was a good time for me to fly in. It's been too long since I last saw you." Hotch took the seat across from him, hands folding gently on the small table. Reid noticed his wedding ring was still as brightly polished as it was three years ago.

 

"Five months, two weeks, and six days." He said quietly. "It was November 17th. A Tuesday."

 

Hotch smiled, slightly. It was a good look on him, something anyone rarely saw. But his eyes crinkled, lips turning up ever so slightly, and he just looked happy.

 

It was rare for anyone at the BAU to look happy anymore.

 

"Seems old age hasn't changed you one bit."

 

Reid laughed. "Old age?"

 

"I've known you for over decade, Reid. You're not exactly a spring chicken anymore."

 

"I'm thirty-two!"

 

Some of the joy fled the older man's eyes then. As though he was just reminded how young the man before him really was, and that thought was truly sobering.

 

Schizophrenic breaks often happened before the age of thirty.

 

Reid cleared his throat, eyes glancing down to his lap. For a second... for a second, he'd been able to forget how much had changed in the last three years. "How is everyone?"

 

Sighing, Hotch ran a heavy hand through his hair. Hair that was greying ever so slightly at the temples. "We're getting through. "

 

Hearing the words left unsaid, Reid pressed. "Hotch, tell me."

 

"It's..." The agent trailed off, eyes looking down for the first time. "It's not the same, without you. We miss you. Everyone's.... everyone's struggling."

 

"Emily called a week ago." He murmured. "I keep telling her to stop, but she still calls every month, like clockwork. She said Garcia saw a Doctor Who movie on TV. That she wouldn't stop crying." His breath came in a bit shakily, hands naturally reaching in his pant's pocket. His fingers gripped the small mendalion there, edges digging deep into his palm. "It's been three years, Hotch. You guys need to move on."

 

Hotch shook his head. "It may've been, but we were a family. We are a family. They can't just let go of you that easily, you know that. It's hard on all of us, having you so far away."

 

Spencer turned to the window again. Four months after officially leaving the BAU, he'd moved back to Nevada. Back to the place where his mother had passed, peacefully. He couldn't stay in Quantico. Not after everything.

 

But it's been three years since he walked into the office on a Friday morning, sat Hotch down and explained why he had to leave. It's been three years since he said goodbye to his friends and attempted to cut all ties.

 

They need to let go. They have to.

 

"Have you told them yet?"

 

Silence hung in the air. Reid turned around, glancing quickly at his former boss. Profiling, in a way he hadn't done in so long. The dark under eye circles, the bitten nails and cuticles. The smattering of grey at his temples. The uncharacteristic tremoring of his fingers as they gently twisted his wedding ring.

 

"I..." Hotch's voice wavered, strongly, and he cleared his throat. "No, I haven't."

 

Another, louder crack of thunder reached their ears, and the whole building shook. Rain only pelted the building harder.

 

"You know the chances, Hotch. You signed off on it." Reid took a deep breath, before meeting the other man's eyes. They were dark with... what? Pain, emotion? "You need to tell them. You need to tell them everything."

 

"If... if you don't make it out of that operating room, if something goes wrong, you have my word they will know." He visibly saw Hotch's shoulders move as he took a deep breath
"But right now, I see that you have a pretty good chance of walking out of this hospital. The team, they can't handle anything else, Spence. They can't."

 

I can't handle anything else. That was really what Hotch was saying.

 

Tears sprung unbidden into Reid's eyes. If he had any other choice, he would never ask this of his former unit chief. But Aaron was his medical proxy, everything had to go through him. And this... he needed this.

 

He thought back, to the beginning of all this. To the hallucinations, the headaches. Then to his first real episode, sitting on the flour of his bathroom crying as the voices assaulted him on all sides. The doctor's visits, his gentle firing from the bureau. Schizophrenia, they said. Just like Mom. Just like he'd always feared. They'd given him medication. It helped, let him manage. For four months, he stayed in his little apartment on the outskirts of DC.

 

Four months, until the voices told him he couldn't eat, that all the food in his house was poisoned. And from there, it was only down.

 

When Morgan finally visited him, he'd taped over every window. He'd lost five pounds. The lights were on, all the time. He hadn't slept in so, so long. He'd started using again, if only to make the voices stop.

 

It'd only been three weeks.

 

And Morgan had picked him up in his arms and drove him to hospital. Had sat him down and explained - carefully, gently - that he needed help. So he moved back out West, back to Vegas and the deserts he hadn't seen in a decade. And he checked himself into Bennington, giving Hotch his power of attorney.

 

But the one thing the doctors had never been able to explain was the headaches. Headaches which got steadily worse over the years. There were symptoms, ones that schizophrenia couldn't explain away. His vision would blur, constantly. He wouldn't be able to talk right, all his words slurring together.

 

And one day, he just collapsed. Finally, an MRI showed something. A dot, a miniscule speck made up of a few thousand cells.

 

A tumor, hiding in some small recess of his brain.

 

Hotch had been the one to sign off on the surgery. He trusted Hotch. Trusted him with his life.

 

There was only one more thing.

 

Reid cleared his throat, hands going to the small, folded piece of paper in his pocket. He didn't want to ask this of Hotch, but he needed to. He needed to. "I looked over the details of the surgery. There's... the most common cause of death is artitial fibrillation, leading to cardiac arrest."

 

He saw Hotch's brow crease. Saw the confusion in his gaze. And he wanted to stop, he wanted to stop so much, but he couldn't.

 

"I, um... the, the D-Dilaudid, it caused some damage. To my heart. And, uh, that's why the risk is so high." He sighed, looking down. "You already know all this."

 

"Spencer," There's was a striking amount of fear, in Hotch's voice. "What do you want to tell me?"

 

He tried to speak, he really did, but the words refused to come to him. So he just took the folded piece of paper from his pocket, and slid it across the table. With shaking hands, the older agent grabbed it, reading slowly.

 

It was a full two minutes later when Hotch looked at him again. "No."

 

"Hotch - "

 

"Did you really think I was going to sign this, Spencer? Did you really think - "

 

"Hotch, let me explain - "

 

" - I would just let you do this to yourself - "

 

"Aaron, stop!" His voice was loud, breathtakingly so, but it got the other man to quiet down. He sighed, softly. "At least give me a chance to explain."

 

Hotch just shook his head, the moisture in his eyes finally dripping down his face. "No. No, Reid, I won't let you explain. This," He held up the paper. "This is a fucking DNR order. And you think I'm going to sign this?"

 

Spencer just stayed silent, looking out the window. Already, the rain was lightening up.

 

"Are you suicidal?" It was seriousness in his friend's voice that made him look back.

 

"No, of course not."

 

"Then why?" Hotch put the paper back on the table, letting his hand support his forehead. "Why would you want me to sign this?"

 

"You don't understand what it's like, Hotch." A tear fell down his face, and he desperately wiped it away. "I... when I was five and I first heard the term 'schizophrenia,' I didn't understand. Then I found my Mom's old medical dictionary. From that moment, it became my most frightening nightmare. I spent countless.... countless nights, lying in bed, too scared to fall asleep because what if I wake up crazy? What if the next day was the one when I start hearing the voices, just like Mom?" A shaky breath came out, and on it something akin to a sob. "When the doctor first told me, I laughed. I laughed because I was so damn scared. I couldn't move, I couldn't think. And then when everything happened and I moved to Bennington, I realized I might be okay. The meds were working better than I had hoped and I could only think 'maybe I'll be able to see Henry again.' Maybe, just maybe, one day I'll be able to go back to the BAU."

 

He laughed, but the sound was cracked. Disfigured. "They called you about the incident last week, right?" He barely saw Hotch's confirming nod. "I-I almost cut through that nurse's radial artery. And I was sure, absolutely, more than anything else in my life, that she was some devil who was trying to kill everyone I loved. How many Unsubs have we heard say the exact same thing? How many people died because of them?"

 

He took a deep shuddering breath, resisting the urge to look down and make sure there was no blood on his shirt. Hotch used his brief pause to jump in. "You're not an UnSub, Reid. You have some bad days, but those are - "

 

"You didn't think I was going to recognize you." Reid cut off. "I saw it in your eyes. How many times have you visited me, called me, and I didn't know who you were? How many times?"

 

Silence opened up in the small beat of rest.

 

"I'm not suicidal." Reid said softly. "But if I do go into aFIB - if I die on that table - I don't want them bringing me back. It's better that way."

 

A single tear slid down Hotch's face. The man didn't make any move to stop it. "I can't... I can't do this, Spencer. I can't."

 

Reid just reached a slow hand over, grasping Hotch's shaking one. The older man's fingers held his wrist tightly, as though terrified to let him go. "I shouldn't... I wish I didn't have to ask this of you. But I have to. I have to, Hotch."

 

"I can't just let you die."

 

Reid smiled, gently, at the crack in the man's voice. "I'm not scared. Not of this, Aaron."

 

"What," Hotch cleared his throat. "What about the team?"

 

His eyes tracked to the small picture on the table beside his bed. It was a photo from his thirtieth birthday, the last time they'd all been together. They'd insisted on traveling across the country to be there with him on the day. Garcia decked out his hospital room with so many streamers and balloons, the nurses told her it was a fire hazard. "I keep trying to push them away, to make this easier on all of you, but you keep visiting. Everyone keeps calling. I never thought I'd have a family like that."

 

"Then why do you want to give up?"

 

"Hotch, this isn't a guarantee. I could make it through the surgery just fine. But being here, doing this," He gestured around the bland hospital room. "This isn't living. Not for me. And if my time comes in that operating room, I'd prefer to go peacefully."

 

Hotch took a moment, looking around the room, then back to the man before him. Reid could see the gentle realization in his eyes as he took the genius in. He knew he looked horrible, nothing like how he did three years ago. He looked tired, scared. The claws of paranoia had sunk in deep, and his skin bore the furrows in the lines of wrinkles. He wasn't the fresh-faced agent having just graduated top of his class in the academy, officially becoming the institution's youngest graduate; he was a man weathered by age and the cruelties of life.

 

Hotch finally reached up and wiped the tears from his face. With a deep breath, the older agent adopted his infamous shell, the one which allowed him to keep his emotions locked tight. "I'll sign it. I'm against it, but I'll sign it. And I'm going to be there, when you wake up, and we're going to rip this apart. And you're going to keep fighting."

 

Reid laughed, the sound choked by tears. "You know that ripping up a DNR order makes it no less legally binding. In fact, the court case - "

 

"Reid," Hotch interrupted. His eyes were red, his hands still trembling, yet somehow he seemed as stoic as ever. Reid knew, underneath it all, his old friend was falling apart. But Aaron Hotchner was not one to allow that to be known.

 

"Yes, sir?"

 

"Just get me a pen."