Dec 062009

Title: Realisations In a Cold Bath
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Characters: Spencer Reid
Rating: T
Warnings: Angst
Notes: Sometimes, things don't work the way they're supposed to. Sometimes, the little things are the most important ones.

It was an hour that the lead detective on the latest case had been fond of referring to as 'fuck-thirty in the morning', and Spencer Reid was finally back in his own apartment. On the bright side, he was home. On the dim side, it was the middle of December, in Virginia, and the heat was not working. He glanced at the thermostat — sixty-two degrees. Either it hadn't been out long, or it was just starting to warm back up. Either way, the hot water heater was probably still okay, and he intended to get the bath he so desperately wanted.

He turned on the water, and then went to the kitchen to microwave the remnants of the breakfast he hadn't finished eating, before he left on this case, three days earlier. Three days in the fridge didn't usually do much damage to fried potatoes, and even if they weren't going to be as good microwaved instead of reheated in the skillet, they were still the food that took the least effort for the reward, right now. With the plate in one hand and a cup of tea dangling from his fingers, he tapped the stereo on the way through the living room, and swept up a book that Prentiss had lent him.

Piling everything on top of the toilet tank, he undressed and turned off the hot water. The bath was probably too hot, but he'd also probably forgotten something. That was how this went, he knew. Anticipating the scalding heat, he plunged one foot into the blandly tepid water. He rubbed his eye and stared into the bathtub in confusion. This wasn't how it was supposed to go, at all. With a sigh, he lowered himself into the tub, retrieving the book with one hand and dinner with the other. He lounged on his side for a few minutes, curled up, awkwardly, to fit as much of himself under the water as possible, while he ate and read, but the water was not enough to keep him warm.

This was unexpectedly unpleasant. Sure, he'd been through worse, but that wasn't here. Those things happened in the field, where food, sleep, and showers were more frequently theoretical than actual. This was his home. Things were supposed to work, here. He was supposed to be comfortable, here. And somehow, this was an appalling violation of his reality.

He set aside the book and the empty plate, and curled up, further into the tub, trying to leach what heat he could from the water, before he got out, back into the cold air. He lay unnaturally still, for a minute or two, reflecting that it was peculiar for him to be coming apart at the seams over a cold bath. Every day, he faced the worst that humanity had to offer, and every few days, he actually got to come home. He lived in a suitcase and fought the most brutal kinds of crime from hotels in other cities. Sleep had never been the kind of requirement for him that it was for other people, and he suspected he'd inherited that from his mother — which made him wonder what else he might have inherited, but this wasn't the time for thoughts like that. He lived on willpower and the fear of losing time, and all he asked in return was that his home remain safe and warm. Apparently, that was too much to ask for.

As he dragged himself out of the cool water, aching more now than he had getting in, he realised that being the unstoppable boy-genius hero was exactly his problem. When a man faces things, as part of his normal routine, that evoke horror and revulsion, at the very least, in the greater part of the species, he needs unbreakable supports to prop him up. And, of late, it seemed, those things had been in short supply, all around. He knew, suddenly, why Gideon retired, why Hotch would only last a few more years, at best. He knew why, one day, he'd just start screaming, and not be able to stop.

As he pulled his bathrobe down from the bathroom door, and wrapped himself in it, listening to the water drain from the tub, he realised that it all started here. It all started with a cold bath. It all started with the knowledge that the things you depend on won't always be there. It all started with the realisation that nothing could be expected or relied upon, even, and perhaps especially, the little things. It all started with a vivid reminder of things he already knew.

The room was colder than he'd thought.

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