"Have you ever thought that maybe you don't like women because you, um, don't like women?" asked Reid, hands fidgeting in front of him. "Sexually, I mean."
Nathan Harris stared at him for a long moment, mouth working as though he had words he wanted to form, but couldn't quite figure out which ones. "You. I. No?" he said finally, staring at Reid with a new kind of calculation.
Reid swallowed, nodding. "Often a pathology will develop because the unsub can't perform with women, and sometimes it's because he isn't willing or able to admit that he has a preference for men. He becomes angry with women for being unable to arouse him, and the knife, well... I'm sure you've read about this."
Nathan nodded. "I hadn't... I skimmed the parts about h-homosexuality in serial killers because..."
"Because they made you uncomfortable, and you told yourself it didn't apply?" asked Reid shrewdly, hoping he wasn't driving this kid away. It had taken so much for him to admit his own preferences, and even after years later he still found himself trying to want women. The kiss in the pool and his subsequent crush on Lila Archer had only driven the point home more; he'd tried to tell himself his lack of reaction was due to the temperature of the water, but he knew better.
Nathan was still staring at him, calculating, running this new idea through his mind with a desperate sort of hope. Finally he glanced around the room and then said, "I want to try out your hypothesis. With you, I mean."
Reid blinked; the boy was attractive enough in his way, but he was underage and about to go into a psych hospital, not exactly the sort of relationship either one of them should be seeking. "I'm not sure if that's such a good idea..."
"One last night of freedom," said Nathan, his voice full of sadness with something like panic at the edges. "Come on, Dr. Reid, let me spend it doing this instead of walking the streets and trying not to become your next case file."
Reid swallowed, acutely aware of the responsibility here, one that he'd taken on willingly but that seemed terribly unwieldy now with so many things he could do wrong. "I'll spend the evening with you," he said finally; that wouldn't be much of a burden at all, since Nathan was bright and articulate, well-educated and interested in Reid's work. "We can talk about... the other thing, but I won't. I can't."
"Because you're straight?" asked Nathan, sounding surprised enough that Reid wondered who else might have picked up on his preferences.
Reid shook his head. "Because you're underage, and at risk for... so many things. I can't in good conscience take advantage of that, especially in this situation." Reid prayed that Nathan would see that he was telling the truth, that it wasn't a rejection of who he was but the simple fact of their relative positions.
Nathan sighed and nodded. "But you'll still, you know, go out with me tonight?"
"I'll even treat," said Reid, relieved. "Just let me tell my boss where I'm going, and gather some things up." He looked around the room a little desperately, relaxing just a little when he spotted someone he just knew would be able to handle Nathan's neediness. "Garcia, hey!"
"What's up, sugar pie?" she said, sauntering over. "Is this the kid?"
"Nathan Harris, this is Penelope Garcia. She's our computer expert," said Reid, giving her a pleading look not to screw this up for any of them. "Nathan's going out to dinner with me tonight since it's his last night of freedom before he goes into voluntary hospitalization. Can you, um..."
"Keep an eye on me so I don't start reading your top secret files?" said Nathan, his eyes sparkling with brief humor until they hit Garcia. The light died and his gaze slid away and down to the floor, his posture becoming more hunched.
"Don't worry," said Reid, giving his shoulder a squeeze. "She doesn't bite."
"He's too small, I'd have to throw him back," said Garcia teasingly, though there was a tightness to her voice that said Reid would owe her big time for making her babysit the budding psychotic. "Don't worry, we'll be fine. I think Gideon's in his office."
"Thanks, Garcia, I owe you one," said Reid, slipping away to Gideon's office. He knocked tentatively and said, "Can I talk to you for a moment?"
"Of course. I see you're still talking to Nathan Harris," said Gideon, nodding toward where he and Garcia were talking, the tension obvious even from here. "Are you sure it was a good idea leaving him with a woman?"
"It seemed better at the time," said Reid, fidgeting. "He's going into the hospital tomorrow, and he asked me to spend this evening with him, his last night of freedom. I think he just wants someone to supervise him, so he doesn't do anything crazy."
"That's a good idea," said Gideon. "He looks up to you as an authority figure, someone who can help control the demons inside him."
Reid nodded, rubbing his palms against his slacks, then said guiltily, "I asked him if he'd ever considered he whether might be homosexual, and now he wants to try it with me. Of course I refused, but... I'm worried I shouldn't have brought it up at all."
Gideon's head snapped up. "How did he react?"
"Stunned, at first, and then almost eager, like if he could be gay, then he could find some other channel for all these feelings he's having. As if that would fix him," said Reid with a sigh.
Gideon nodded. "It might be true that he's got latent homosexual urges, but that's not the root of his problems, or if it is, it's only one root." Gideon shuffled through some papers on his desk and continued, "Don't let him get you alone, keep to public areas, and don't be afraid to stay out late. I'll call in and check on you regularly. Hm, make sure you return him to his mother and not just drop him off at the front door, and don't kiss him."
Reid blinked, then nodded. "I appreciate that you've taken this seriously," he said, and Gideon held up a hand to interrupt.
"He came to you in order not to become a monster. It makes you a good person, that you're willing to go this far to help him," said Gideon, tearing off a post-it and handing it to Reid. On it were the names of two restaurants and a book shop. "Take him to the first one now, the bookstore in between, and if you're still talking at ten when the bookstore closes, go to the all-night diner."
"Thank you," said Reid, pocketing the note. "This is in the neighborhood near his house?"
"Don't let him kiss you," said Gideon by way of a reply, getting up and opening the door. "I'll tell Hotch what you're up to. Let's go rescue him from Garcia."
"Thank you," said Reid, leaving with his cheeks still stained with pink. He'd crushed on all the men in the unit at one time or another, and it was moments like this that reminded him why his crush on Gideon had lasted the longest, and in fact still lingered in moments like these.
When this was all over, Reid vowed, he was going to find himself a date.
"I see you two survived," said Reid, walking up to find them talking stiltedly about a graphic novel they'd both read. "And even have something in common."
"It's good to be reminded that women are more than what you see in your head," said Gideon. "Garcia, I need you in my office."
"It was, ah, nice meeting you, Nathan," said Garcia awkwardly, turning to Gideon with a grateful smile. "What can I do for ya?"
Gideon led her away talking about database searches, and Reid turned back to Nathan. "I have permission to leave a little early and even a restaurant recommendation," he said, holding up the post-it. "Just let me get my things and we can go."
"It really bothered her to talk to me," said Nathan, his voice thin and sad. "Is it that obvious now, what I am?"
Reid sighed sadly, grabbing his things and patting Nathan on the shoulder again. "It's not that; she's part of the team. She knows... I mean, we had been discussing you as a suspect in the murders, which obviously you're not anymore. So she's a little freaked out because of that."
Nathan shrugged, though some of the light was coming back into his eyes as they left the building and headed for the Metro station. "I can see how it would make her uncomfortable. I didn't want to... I mean, she's not a whore or anything."
"I know," said Reid, and a tension he hadn't known he'd had began to ease. "She's pretty much different from any woman I've ever met."
Nathan laughed, and it was the most free and open sound that Reid had ever heard him make. "I'm glad I came and found you, Dr. Reid," he said, his voice shy, eyes glancing up and down in a way that was less the nervousness of earlier and more something resembling coy flirtation.
"Call me Spencer," said Reid, knowing it was a bad idea, grateful that Gideon would call him at random intervals and know in an instant if Reid had done something stupid, which would be enough to keep him from doing it in the first place. "Do you know the best way to get to Hungry Hunter?"
"Oh, yeah, we can take the red line from here," said Nathan, pointing to the station. "It's only a stop from my house, so you won't even have to-"
"Escorting you home is part of the service," said Reid with a wink. "We all want to make sure you're safe, and that you have the best chance we can give you to overcome these impulses and live out your life as the good person you are inside."
Nathan glowed under the strange praise, as though Reid's approval was as worthwhile to him as his own efforts. They rode in silence for a little while, Nathan looking thoughtful while Reid tried to think of something to talk about in public that didn't involve Nathan's sexuality in any way. They got off the train and made their way out of the crowded station, ducking into a doorway briefly to get their bearings while the human traffic eddied and flowed around them. "Is Hungry Hunter all right for you?" asked Reid, realizing he'd just sort of taken over their evening, or really, let Gideon do it from afar.
"Oh, yeah. I mean, my mom took me there once, it was a little fancy, but... If you don't mind, I'm up for it," said Nathan, looking nervous again.
Reid nearly laughed and ruined it all when he realized Nathan was trying his hardest to turn this into a date, not like a desperate psychotic, but like a teenage boy who was hoping to find a willing outlet for his urges despite being told 'no'. "It's not a date," said Reid, though his voice was light, teasing. "But I'll take you out to dinner to celebrate not becoming a monster."
Nathan flushed and nodded, and Reid hoped he hadn't stepped in it. "All right, well, it's over this way," he said, leading Reid out into the crowd, making it too hard for them to talk.
Reid sighed, frustrated, and followed. The restaurant wasn't trendy, but it had a lot of couples, and he could only wonder why Gideon would send him to a fancy restaurant like this if he wasn't supposed to be leading Nathan on. "Two for dinner, please?" he said, stepping up to the hostess.
Eyes flicked over the two of them, but her smile stayed plastered on as she snagged two menus and said, "Right this way."
They sat, and Nathan's eyes followed her, taking Reid's along with them. "She looks like one of them," said Nathan, his voice holding a mix of distress and longing and something else, the thing that scared Reid whenever he thought about it too much.
"I'm pretty sure it's required," said Reid; she had on a silver satin blouse and a short, tight black mini skirt, high heels that must kill by the end of the night and perfectly fashionable hair. "Not all women can dress like Garcia when they're at work."
That made Nathan laugh, and the haunted look faded from his eyes a little bit. "It feels like it's getting harder and easier at the same time," he said, fidgeting with his silverware. "I keep slipping into that place in my head, but it's like I can open the door and leave when I want to, thanks to you."
"It wasn't just me," said Reid, opening his menu to give him something to do with his hands, his eyes. "You did most of this all by yourself, coming to me, crying out for help. You kept from hurting anyone, and you can keep doing it."
Nathan looked so terribly uncertain, but he opened his menu and looked over the choices anyway, letting it end the discussion. Reid was glad to see that, unlike his own, Nathan's menu didn't have the prices on it, and would have wondered if he could get the FBI to pay for the meal if he didn't honestly make enough to cover it easily anyway. They ordered, and Reid was grateful that their server was a man old enough to be both their fathers, polite and knowledgeable but not particularly attractive, not another target for the violent urges in Nathan's head.
"When were you here before?" asked Reid.
Nathan shrugged. "I won this award thing, for my writing, and Mom brought me here to celebrate." He swallowed, gaze flickering over to the hostess as she led another couple to their table. "The judge was really impressed with how well I portrayed such a disturbed mind at my tender age," he added, his voice ironic and just a little hopeless.
"People are always surprised when they find out teenagers understand more than music and hormones," said Reid, steering the conversation away from the shoals of Nathan's madness. "Writing can often be a healthy way to explore ideas that are too disturbing to deal with in reality. Murder mysteries aren't just popular because they make people feel smart for solving them, but because we're fascinated with the idea of taking another life. Fiction is a safe outlet, as long as you don't let it become a 'to do' list."
Nathan laughed at that, and Reid relaxed, since he knew he'd been straying into the lecture mode that usually bored the pants off of people. "I never, ever want to do those things," said Nathan determinedly.
After that the conversation wandered all over the place, and Reid stopped worrying about Nathan so much and spoke freely about his work and the things that Nathan so hungered to understand. Nathan's mood was up and down, but Reid couldn't really blame him, considering. Eventually Reid paid and they left, full but not so much so that they wouldn't be ready to camp out in the diner in a few hours -- Nathan had confessed to insomnia, which Reid dutifully reported to Gideon when he called, getting a promise to call again in another hour.
"Is he really worried about you?" asked Nathan curiously, having overheard Reid's reassurances.
"I think he just wants to make sure neither one of us does anything stupid tonight," said Reid. They'd talked about transference a little bit earlier, and Nathan had acknowledged that it was possible some or all of what he was feeling would vanish once he became healthier.
"It doesn't always help, knowing more about what's going on inside my head. I mean, it doesn't stop it from going on, you know?" said Nathan, hands shoved into his pockets as they went into the bookstore.
"I know," said Reid, thinking back to his own social difficulties, all the psychology he'd picked up to explain it and him still stuck inside his own skin, unable to effectively relate to those around him. "Are they going to allow you some books at the hospital?"
"I don't know, I hope so," said Nathan, leading them straight to the Psychology section with a manner that suggested he haunted it a lot. "I bet they won't let me take a lot of these, though," he said, stopping in front of a shelf full of books like The Psychology of Criminal Conduct and Remaking Relapse Prevention with Sex Offenders: A Sourcebook.
"It'll depend on your doctor, but probably not," said Reid, putting a hand on Nathan's shoulder. He was so thin, his body familiar like a suit that Reid had outgrown, someone Reid could have been, had his life been just a little different. "Why don't we look in the fiction instead?"
"True crime is probably out, too, so yeah," said Nathan, his voice picking up a little bit of that wry irony that Reid clung to as a sign that there was still someone home in Nathan's head besides the part of him that saw street women and wanted to cut them open.
They spent a long time in front of the genre shelves, amassing a pile of mystery and scifi, fantasy and horror, trading recommendations and acting almost like friends. "You know," said Reid, as they took their haul up to the register at five minutes until closing, "making friends is another healthy thing that I can only encourage."
Nathan blinked for a moment as if he didn't know how to interpret the statement, and Reid cursed his own awkwardness until a smile bloomed on Nathan's thin features. "You mean us, being friends," he said, and Reid was grateful that he was smart enough to puzzle through the maze of what Reid said to get at what he'd meant.
"Yeah, that's what I meant. Letters and visits and me buying you a whole pile of inappropriate reading," said Reid, nodding at the books in Nathan's arms. "I've never been a mentor before."
Nathan laughed and put his pile on the counter next to Reid's. "All right, mentor, buy me a pile of books and then get me some French fries. I'm starving."
"I don't think either one of you could stand to skip a meal," said the girl behind the counter, her eyes sparking with mischief. She was somewhere between Reid's age and Nathan's, that nebulous age with girls where confidence and some makeup could add years, or subtract them.
Nathan swallowed, plunged suddenly back into the cold waters of nervousness, and Reid tried to come to his rescue. "I'm not fat," he said, thinking of something Garcia had said to Morgan the other day, "I'm just big boned."
She laughed and shook her head, bagging up the books haphazardly as she rang them. They'd have to sort them out later, but they had plenty of time, and if one of them got the wrong book, well, it would be an excuse they both needed. "I'm descended from birds, we have to stay light or we fall out of the sky," said Nathan suddenly, eyes anywhere but on her face.
She laughed again. "Clever and cute, and probably taken." She accepted his credit card, reading the name aloud with a little wink, "Dr. Spencer Reid and his protege." Paused to swipe Reid's credit card with a flourish before handing it back. "Count yourself lucky to have this one, kid, that's an impressive amount of plastic he's burning."
"I do," said Nathan, and Reid squirmed under the adoration in his gaze.
"We're both lucky," said Spencer, signing the slip. "He found me."
"And here I am, about to lose you both," she said with a mock sigh. She handed them each a heavy bag, and Spencer smiled insincerely and steered them away, seeing the tightness around Nathan's eyes.
"She talks like Garcia, but dresses like the rest of them," said Nathan.
Spencer gave him an odd look. "She was wearing a polo shirt with the bookstore logo on it. Is that common among prostitutes?" he said, which seemed to snap Nathan out of his fugue.
"No, I think... she had a lot of makeup on," said Nathan.
They went into the diner, which was thankfully staffed by a fat, cranky old matron with a beehive and a bad attitude, and snagged a booth in the back where they wouldn't be overheard. "You snapped out of it, though," said Reid, just a tiny edge of doubt creeping into his voice.
Nathan flushed and nodded. "Yeah, I did. You're right, she was just being nice to us, and putting our books in the wrong bags."
Reid laughed and put his bag on the table between them. "I'm pretty sure we can figure it out again. Besides, you wanted to borrow Nightfall, since they only had one copy."
Nathan blushed and nodded. "That can be your first visit, I guess, getting it back from me."
Reid shrugged. "I'll bring you the Brust books when I do, so I'll have an excuse to come back again," he said, a casually as he could manage.
It squeezed something inside him to see how much that meant to Nathan, remnants of a childhood of his own with no friends, no one who wanted to come back and see him. He remembered how Nathan had so casually said he didn't have any friends, that one painful fact laid out before a stranger, raw and vulnerable. The moment passed when the waitress came and got their orders, burgers for now and pie for later, and coke delivered in glasses of dubious cleanliness a minute later.
They pawed through the books and went back to talking, mostly about pointless things, wandering the thorny paths of their mutual experience and finding the few harmless subjects that they could use to relate.
Reid's phone rang twice while they sat there, drinking refills and using cold French fries to demonstrate a point, and both times he reassured Gideon that all was going well, with enough confidence that Reid was pretty sure both Gideon and Nathan believed him. Finally, when the conversation and the waitress' patience were both running out, Nathan's cell phone was the one to ring.
"Yeah, mom, I'm at the Silver Diner with Dr. Reid. He bought me some books for while I'm in the hospital. He says he's gonna be my mentor now," said Nathan, and Reid couldn't help but smile.
Reid motioned for the check, adding a generous tip and only half listening to what Nathan was saying, something about the hospital and what he'd be allowed, followed by excuses for being out after curfew without calling. "I think that's our cue to take you home. Can I talk to her for a second?"
"What? Oh, sure, hey, Mom, Dr. Reid wants to talk to you," said Nathan, handing the phone over after a short pause.
"Mrs. Harris?" said Reid, one of those phone rituals he'd never understood but learned to mimic. It wasn't as if he didn't know who she was.
"Yes, Dr. Reid, I'm here," she replied, politeness hedged about with impatience.
"I, ah, just wanted to see if you'd be home tonight, so I can bring Nathan back safely. I know you work odd hours, but he really ought to be with someone..." Reid trailed off, hoping Nathan didn't take it the wrong way.
"Oh, yes, of course. I'm home now, so any time is good," she said, the impatience sharpening enough to make it obvious that it was only so long as that time was now.
Reid nodded, though of course she couldn't see him. "We were just finishing up here, I'll bring him home to you right now."
"I'll see you soon, Dr. Reid, thank you," she replied, hanging up before Reid could interpret her tone.
"She'll be all right," said Nathan, gathering up his things. "She's just kinda freaked out. She thought I was just a creative kid who didn't have any social skills, you know?"
"Yeah," said Reid, sliding out of the booth and offering Nathan a hand up. "I know."
They made the trip in silence, both of them lost in their own thoughts though, much to Reid's relief, Nathan never took on the glossy look he got when he was going places in his head that they'd both prefer he didn't. They were the only ones in the elevator at this hour, going up to Nathan's apartment, and Nathan cleared his throat and turned hopefully to Reid.
"Dr. Reid, um, Spencer, I... thank you for everything. For tonight, for finding me, and, you know, for caring enough to make sure I didn't get lost in the system after you did," he said, the words halting and awkward.
"Thank you for coming to me," said Reid sincerely. He hadn't been kidding earlier when he'd said that knowing Nathan had changed him, and he felt it was for the better, broadening his compassion and showing him hope. "I'm really glad to know you."
The elevator dinged open just as Nathan was about to say something, but he stayed silent as they walked up to Nathan's door. Reid reached out to ring the bell and found his wrist caught in thin, cold fingers, found Nathan's mouth pressed clumsily to his own, the lips dry and chapped, but warm and mobile, eager.
Don't let him kiss you.
Gideon's words echoed in his head, but he let the kiss linger for just a second before pulling away, kissed back just long enough to give Nathan the information he was so desperately seeking. "It might be transference," said Reid, pressing the doorbell resolutely. "Don't let me be your only data point."
Nathan flushed and nodded, swallowing nervously. "Was it... bad?"
"No," said Reid softly, listening intently for the sound of footsteps, of locks being undone. "And you're not a bad person. It's just not the right time, for either of us."
The door opened, the sharp eyes of Nathan's mother quelling further conversation on the subject. Reid nodded toward the bag, where he'd stashed his card in almost every book. "Don't forget to call me when you need something new to read."
Nathan's face lit up, and he grinned. "I won't. You have to get your copy of Nightfall back, anyway."
Reid smiled back, hoping he hadn't screwed up too much in his inattention, in his compassion. "Thanks for taking our recommendations seriously, Mrs. Harris," said Reid, as much for Nathan's sake as hers, one more confirmation that Nathan had chosen the right path even when his mother would have protested.
"I won't say you're welcome, but I can admit that you're right," she replied, stepping back into the apartment a little further. "Come on, Nathan, time for bed."
Nathan slid one hand along Reid's arm, an innocent gesture that they both knew held just a little more warmth than strictly required. "Thanks again, Spencer."
Reid felt himself softening, and he gave Nathan's shoulder another squeeze. "I'm glad I met you this way," he said, a statement that seemed to annoy his mother, but that Nathan only nodded at.
They both knew that the other way was worse.
Title: Missed Connection