Summary: He can remember the first time he saw Emily, but he can’t remember the last time he ate.
Prompt: "Execution" for angst_bingo
Notes: Season six spoilers. This breaks from canon after "Lauren" because I started writing it in that mini-hiatus and didn't feel like re-writing huge amounts of it. This can be read as a prequel to my one-shot Scar Tissue, but it's not necessary to read it to understand what's happening (or vice versa).
"The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost."
Over the course of his high school experience, Reid had learned an effective skill: Dodging. Bullies can’t hurt you if they can’t catch you. It was a lesson he’d learned when he’d willingly walked into a trap, when he’d felt the cold, rusted metal of the field goal against his naked back. If you can dodge someone, you can get away from that kind of pain and humiliation. He can’t stop thinking about dodging as he sits on the jet, away from the rest of the team. Maybe if he’d put that dodging into effect, he could have gotten around JJ, could have said goodbye to Emily, could have seen her one last time.
Morgan says that it’s better that way—that believe me, kid, you don’t want that in your head—but it should have been Reid’s decision. He knows that JJ was only trying to protect him, but none of his teammates seem to realize that he isn’t the one who needs protecting. Maybe if they’d spent more time worrying about Emily than about him, none of this would be happening.
He’s angry with himself for pinning this on the team, even on a subconscious level.
He should have been allowed to say goodbye.
The morning of the funeral—two days and a million conflicted emotions away from his last chance—Reid has a headache. Not one of the Headaches, nothing blinding or incapacitating, just a stress headache that throbs beneath the surface of everything like a constant reminder.
His hands are shaking too hard to allow him to force his tie into submission. Eventually, JJ steps over from where she’s been leaning against the doorway, and she puts her hands over his, stilling them. He drops his hands to his sides and watches her steady hands neatly manipulate the fabric into the right place.
“I love her,” he blurts, because he can feel the silence pulsing away at his temple and there’s nothing else to say.
“We all loved her,” JJ responds, stepping back and giving his upper arm a squeeze.
He knows that she doesn’t understand what he’d meant—love, present tense, noun, a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. Not the same sort of love he felt for JJ or Morgan or Garcia. He loves Emily, and he’s not sure if he can ever stop.
Reid’s been unable to breathe before. He remembers choking and convulsing on the floor of a dirty cabin. He remembers feeling his lungs burning because of the damage done by anthrax, remembers twisting and straining as if he could get away from the mind-numbing pain, like if he could just distance himself from his own body, then maybe he would be able to draw a breath.
It’s a familiar feeling. Feeling the weight of Emily’s coffin, feeling the cool metal handle against his sweating palm, it evokes that feeling. His chest is tight. Morgan walks beside him, on the other side of the coffin, and he’s standing tall, looking straight ahead. Reid’s staring at the grass, doing all he can just to keep one foot in front of the other, to not trip and send Emily’s coffin slamming into the ground.
A Catholic priest does the sermon. It’s moving, touching, and personal, but it’s not what Emily would have wanted. She’d wanted to be cremated. She’d talked about it once, but Reid can’t remember the specifics. He twists the rose in his fingers and focuses on breathing in and out. He’s on autopilot as he steps forward to lay the flower on the coffin.
He steps back, standing between Seaver and JJ, and watches as they lower her into the ground. His eyes are burning. He takes a shaking breath and looks up, catching Garcia’s eyes in time to see the dawning realization on her face. She gives him a sad smile, tears sending tracks of eye shadow over her cheeks. He tries to return it, but he feels like the motion will break him.
They’re given two weeks off to cope with their grief. Fourteen days to put Emily Prentiss behind them. Three hundred and thirty-six hours to learn to move forward. Twenty thousand, one hundred and sixty minutes to remember what it feels like to breathe.
Reid spends the two weeks sitting on his couch and staring at the floor because it hurts too much to do anything else.
Memories scroll past like film in a projector. Emily grinning when she beat him at cards. The gentle smile and kind words she’d offered him when Gideon had left. The absolute panic coursing through his veins as he’d listened to her take a beating for him at Liberty Ranch. Her mouth to his ear, saying words that he couldn’t hear over the ringing from the explosion. How soft her skin had been when she’d held his hand on the plane home.
This is all that’s left of her. There will never be another smile, another touch, another laugh. And that’s all it takes for it to hit him full force, to send him scrambling to make it to the kitchen sink before he’s retching. Stomach acid burns his throat. He can remember the first time he saw Emily, but he can’t remember the last time he ate.
He turns the water up full blast and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He leans forward, shaking hands pressed flat against the counter, and breathes.
Dead. Emily isn’t off somewhere finding herself, isn’t ten minutes down the road, isn’t at a different job, she is dead. And there is nothing he can say, nothing he can do, that will ever change that. He will never, never speak to her again.
For all the time that Reid’s spent dreading losing his mind, he never thought it would feel like this.