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     The first thing Spencer notices about his apartment is how untouched everything seems; how his books are piled by the door and a blanket lies haphazardly on the dent in his couch. Nothing has changed since he left, and he doesn’t know why he felt it would be otherwise.

 

     (It’s a good thing, he decides. He doesn’t want the room to look different.)

 

     (But sometimes, he turns the lights off.)

 

     Spencer drops his bag by the coffee table and the atmosphere seems to vibrate with the disturbance this causes. He’s still a little damp-eyed, a little sick, and when he turns on the stove, he stares at the ring of blue flames for a while, feeling perspiration bead on his hairline.

 

     (The fire smells clean. There’s no trace of woodsmoke, no trace of fish.)

 

     (Sometimes, he burns candles.)

 

     The paper bag the pharmacy gave him crinkles when he opens it. It feels wrong to disturb the silence, but Spencer pushes past the uncomfort and reaches father without knowing what he’s looking for. His fingers know, though, and before he knows it, Spencer is holding a small bottle of painkillers.

 

     (He didn’t want it but didn’t complain when he got it.)

 

     (Sometimes, he sharpens pencils and pushes the graphite tips into his elbow.)

 

     He doesn’t know why he should be scared of it. It’s been five years since Georgia and he shouldn’t think anything of it—it’s not even a liquid—and he doesn’t need sumatriptan or fluoxetine to take the physical pain away; his body is doing a perfectly good job of numbing itself.

 

     Eight hours.

 

     It’s been eight hours since Emily’s funeral, and somehow, no one thought of volunteering to host dinner. Isn’t that what they do, when things get too much? Tragedy brings this team together, but somehow, they never expected things to ever get more than too much—never expected to be forced apart instead of brought close.

 

     Emily’s grave is a hole in the ground that’s splitting at the edges, cracking the earth and keeping everyone away from each other, and Spencer realizes he doesn’t remember leaving the funeral.

 

     (But he does know the foliage was cold and crunched underneath their shoes when they left them to rot, both Tobias and Emily.)

 

     (Sometimes, he says goodbye instead of good night.)

 

     There’s a headache starting to pulse through the denial, behind his eye, rippling up his neck and squeezing the breath from his throat on its way to his brain. Spencer expands his lungs and it doesn’t give him any oxygen, so he sits down and stares at the backs of his hands until he seems to breathe again.

 

     But he doesn’t. Each heartbeat echoes in his ears and pounds a hammer in the back of his head, and no matter how much air Spencer can feel himself getting in, he can’t feel the air getting in. His eyes move to his feet, then to the rug underneath, which tilts sickeningly until Spencer feels himself slide to the ground, landing awkwardly between the couch and the table.

 

     (He’s on his back, staring at the ceiling light.)

 

     (Sometimes, he tilts his chair backwards as far as it will go, but no one makes the connection when sometimes, he falls, and for a moment, everything will go away like an oil painting of light and sound.)

 

     Emily’s gone.

 

     Emily’s gone.

 

     Emily’s gone.

 

     Emily’s gone.

 

     It doesn’t feel like it, maybe because he’s not at work yet. With fleeting hope, Spencer sits up and crunches his knees to his chest, ignoring the exhausting rush of blood that accompanies the movement. 

 

     Emily’s gone.

 

     His hair is short now, and Emily liked it. She liked all his haircuts, always dragged her fingers through his hair or flicked his bangs with a little love the ‘do and a teasing smile. It was uncomfortable at first—maybe it never felt not uncomfortable—but it was familiar and light and now, Spencer runs a shaky hand through his hair if only to get a semblance of what if felt like, because for the first time in his life, he’s worried that he’ll forget the sensation.

 

     (It seems like the littlest things will forever remind him of her, of him.)

 

     (Sometimes, he takes his sock off and freezes in place for twenty minutes.)

 

     He leaves. He stands up and walks down the stairs, out the door, without knowing where he’s going, letting the people he passes think that the wind is what’s making him teary-eyed. On a park bench, a woman gives her friend a hug, and he chokes back the mucus and walks faster.

 

     He wonders who Lauren was.

 

     Granted, it doesn’t matter anymore. Lauren Reynolds is dead, for real now. But still, Spencer wonders how the woman from the photos he’s seen acted; how much Emily Emily wove into her faux backstory; and how much Lauren was left when Emily joined the BAU.

 

     Did they even know her?

 

     Maybe that’s not even something to think about. Spencer is starting to get the feeling that maybe, it doesn’t matter how you die, but maybe, it doesn’t matter how you lived, either. Perhaps it only matters how you affected the lives of others. Getting shot lasts a second, getting sick takes a while, and that part is not what’s important.

 

     Because dead is dead. 

 

     Emily is dead.

 

     She left them alive, but she did not leave them happy.

 

     (In summary, there’s nothing special about getting chosen to die, but there is something special about being the one chosen to die.)

 

     (Sometimes, he takes out all the bullets in his gun except one and spins the cylinder at the wall, wondering whether it was physics or the people watching that allowed him to stay.)

 

     He’s sobbing openly now, again, and making his way up the staircase of a house that does not belong to him. His eyes go to the phone in his pocket and his fingers click buttons until the air is split by the continuous ringing of a call that he knows, distantly, will end in a dial tone.

 

     Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system. 2...0...2...3...1...6...6...1...0...1...is not available. At the tone, please record your message. If you are finished recording, you may hang up, or press 1 for more options.

 

     He tries again with her other number as if she’s hiding from them, knowing it’s futile.

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss—

 

     And he stops, hangs up, dials the same number again and hears her voice—

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss—

 

     And he stops, hangs up, dials the same number again and hears her voice—

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss—

 

     And he stops, hangs up, dials the same number again and hears her voice—

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss—

 

     “Spencer?”

 

     Spencer looks up and he can’t see through his tears, can’t hear over the voicemail that’s ringing in his ears, past the headache and the cravings.

 

     —I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now, but if you leave a message, I’ll get to ya’ as soon as I can.

 

     “Hey, hon? Spencer’s at the door.”

 

     There’s no response, and without the voicemail, the silence is strangling him. Spencer dials again and again with trembling fingers, watching someone move towards him with slow steps in his peripheral vision, but they don’t matter right now, even though logically, Spencer knows this real, live person is someone he needs to hold onto, not a ghost, not a pill bottle, not a phone call.

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now, but if you leave a message, I’ll get to ya’ as soon as I can.

 

     “You just sit tight and JJ’ll be down soon,” Will is saying, as they walk through the house. Spencer has enough clearheadedness to slip his shoes off before letting Will nudge him forward, then down, until he meets a cushion and sinks into it. 

 

     On the floor, a blurry pile of books sit in a corner; Henry’s vocabulary flash cards, JJ’s fantasy novels, Will’s Tom Clancy collection, all balanced precariously on top of a Joy of Cooking and a Bible.

 

     (He wonders how people find solace in God; if this family believes Emily is in a better place now.)

 

     (Sometimes, he stands outside the church, stares at the stained glass portraits, and confesses to the bright white light that he knows exists somewhere above him.)

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now, but if you leave a message, I’ll get to ya’ as soon as I can.

 

     Spencer upturns his pockets and the bottle of pills spill onto the floor. Will scoops them up and reads the label, but before he can crack open the Prozac, Spencer takes it from him and shakes his head, eyes still on the floor.

 

     JJ’s footsteps are hurried, but slow down when she takes in the scene. Spencer can hear her sigh and lean against the doorway as she asks, “How’re you holding up?”

 

     Spencer can’t answer her; he’s focused on the little piece of Emily in his hands.

 

     “Yeah, me too,” JJ says softly, crossing the distance and taking a seat next to him on the couch. She notices the bottles clenched between his fists, but doesn’t say anything.

 

     Spencer does, though. “I want it.”

 

     “Emily?” Will clarifies.

 

     Spencer clenches his teeth. “Yeah.” No use bringing a long-dead addiction to life again. “I want her.” And that’s when the dam breaks, because the simple word has knocked a chink in his armor that can’t withstand JJ’s arm around his shoulder or the phone in his hand, and before he can stop himself, Spencer blurts out, “I want her so badly.”

 

     JJ’s voice is shaking, fighting back tears. “I do, too.” She swallows. “But she’s gone.”

 

     “I’m never gonna—”

 

     “I know.”

 

     Spencer leans away from her hug—he doesn’t want her hug, he wants her hug, but what he wants, he’s not getting—and curls up on the couch with his knees to his chin and his eyes to his chest, to his phone, and he plays it again.

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now, but if you leave a message, I’ll get to ya’ as soon as I can.

 

     The voice seems to break JJ, too, and Spencer knows it isn’t fair for him to be playing this over and over, but he can’t bring himself to stop listening to the message.

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now, but if you leave a message, I’ll get to ya’ as soon as I can.

 

     (It’s a pattern, he supposes, with people leaving messages; whether that be Garcia asking if he wants to go clubbing or Morgan updating him on the tox scan; or whether it be the calls he doesn’t get, like Hotch telling him not to go to the Hankel home with JJ or Gideon saying that you’re not responsible for this, he’s perverting God to justify murder, you are stronger than him, he cannot break you .)

 

     (Sometimes, he has to remind himself he isn’t weak.)

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now, but if you leave a message, I’ll get to ya’ as soon as I can.

 

     “Spence,” JJ says softy.

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now, but if you leave a message, I’ll get to ya’ as soon as I can.

 

     “Spence, stop.”

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now, but if you leave a message, I’ll get to ya’ as soon as I can.

 

     “Please.”

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss. I’m sorry—

 

     His phone is taken away; JJ wrenches it from his grasp and replaces it with her own hands, interlocking their fingers, their eyes. Spencer chokes on a sob and feels the hands move behind his shoulders, pressing him against their owner’s chest. He makes miserable eye contact with Will behind JJ’s back and doesn’t think about the fact that he looks more genuinely devastated than she does until later.

 

     (And maybe JJ was sad, sure, but she was sad for all the wrong reasons.)

 

     (Sometimes, he hugs people not to show he loves them, but to hide his face from them, and he knows they understand.)

 

     It’s not fair of him to be treating them like this, but they buried her, and he wants to forgive them, so, so badly, but he can’t. Everyone else is back to normal, no one seems as bitter. Spencer finds his anger slipping out through passive-aggressive remarks and frustrated outbursts, and suddenly, it comes out—

 

     “What if I started taking Dilaudid again? Would you have let me?”

 

     JJ takes in a tiny breath, voice wobbling as she points out, “You didn’t.”

 

     “Yeah,” Spencer hisses, “but I thought about it.”

 

     It’s so manipulative and so wrong of him to say, despite it being the truth, and he can already feel the apology welling up in the back of his throat, but the words don’t come, so he storms off to the bathroom to get angry at himself.

 

     There are pills in his pocket, still, completely unopened.

 

     It could be easy. Through his tears, Spencer recognizes the small green-and-white capsules that could take away the thoughts and the feelings and the pain, within minutes. It would be so easy. So easy.

 

     He thought that, and knew that, too, five years ago, but five years ago, he actually deserved the relief it brought.

 

     And these medications are non-narcotic, but still—and that, the but still, the what if, is what makes Spencer throw the bottle of pills across the bathroom and watch it hit the wall, then the ground, with an anticlimactic clatter.

 

     (He’s from Vegas; he takes his chances, but there are times when he’s sick of winning and suffering because of it; or sick of being forced to lose.)

 

     (Sometimes, he sticks his palm in the dirt and holds his breath and wonders if he could have lasted long enough underground before they got to him.)

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now, but if you leave a message, I’ll get to ya’ as soon as I can.

 

     Emily’s voice bounces off the walls, and it almost sounds like she’s talking to him.

 

     This is Emily. Reid?

 

     But then she is, behind the door, and Spencer hesitates.

 

     “Reid? It’s Emily.”

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now, but if you leave a message, I’ll get to ya’ as soon as I can.

 

     He spent ten weeks wishing to hear her voice, but now that he can, Spencer is all-too-willing to shut her out again; hyperfocused and clinging on to the artificial Emily in his hands, the Emily that existed before things got too complicated.

 

     “Could you open the door? We need to talk.”

 

     Spencer gets to his feet and cracks open the door so that she can only see his face, blotchy and red. “What do you want?”

 

     “I know you’re mad at me,” Emily begins, “and I—”

 

     “You’re right,” Spencer interrupts her, “I am.” And then he closes the door, but Emily sticks her foot between it and the wall.

 

     “I’m not finished.”

 

     Spencer feels the now-familiar surge of frustration bubbling up in his stomach. “I am,” he snaps. “Do you know how much time I spent not being finished with you? How much I wanted you back; how many—” He chokes on a breath, and swallows it down, “—panic attacks I had over it; how many times JJ’s shirt was soaked with my tears?” He keeps talking before Emily can continue, “And by the way, I didn’t take it. I didn’t. I didn’t even take any medicine for anything, because I knew you wouldn’t want me to.”

 

     “I wouldn’t want you in pain,” Emily argues. “You need to take care of yourself.”

 

     Spencer scoffs. “You don’t want me in pain? Maybe you should have thought of that.”

 

     “I didn’t have a choice, Reid, you’re being—!”

 

     Spencer closes the door all the way and locks it.

 

     But isn’t that the truth? Maybe his anger is justified, but not like this, not like whatever he’s doing to everyone right now. He needs to fix it, wants so bad to fix it—wants so bad to hug Emily instead of shove her away—but it’s too late for that.

 

     He thought it was too late, too, when he was deep in his addiction.

 

     Spencer knocks his head back against the doorway and hates himself, because the pills are so tempting; he knows how good it would feel to take them. He wants to be selfish—is being selfish—but he wants to not care, just this once.

 

     But he knows it’s impossible when through the doorway, he hears Emily slide down and sit outside the bathroom with her back to the door, because he misses her, and here she is, and here he is, but here they are, on opposite sides of a doorway, as Spencer plays the voicemail over and over and over and over while Emily’s real, live voice is telling him to breathe.

 

     This is Agent Emily Prentiss. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now, but if you leave a message, I’ll get to ya’ as soon as I can.

 

     But eventually, his phone runs out of battery and dies.

 

     Eventually, Emily leaves him to work the case.

 

     Spencer sits in the silence with a dial tone of his own playing in his head, wanting to do more than just think about it.

 

     (Because sometimes, he turns the lights off, yes, but sometimes, others do it for him.)