Status: complete

All the Madness in the World

Baby Steps

"It has been said that time heals all wounds. I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue, and the pain lessens, but it is never gone." – Rose Kennedy


It was almost as bad as before Ares was gone.

For the first few weeks Spencer was over every second he had to spare, to the point where he temporarily moved in. It was hard because sometimes he would just look over at me and his eyes would water and it would break my heart and I would tell him to stop even though I understood why he did it. He cooked what he could and brought me all the takeout food I used to love and put on my favourite movies and cleaned my fish tank to my standards and kept everything in their respective colour coded, numerical, or alphabetical order.

But the order of things was completely thrown off the second I’d decided to step into that house. What order, what justice, what logic was there left in the world where a man who’d tormented me for months as a child was able to pick up again when he pleased and puppeteer me into his trap for the second time? How was it in any way fair that he was chosen as the game master, the leader, the one who gave the orders? What point was there to adhering to the normal laws of the universe when your life could be obliterated into useless atomic fragments because some asshole had a fucked up childhood?

I refused to speak about what had happened in the house when everyone was gone and I was alone with Miller. The only thing I ever discussed was how Spence had been taken in the first place—he barely made it out of the building before he was knocked out. If I could control anything, it was who had to share the second worst time of my life. Spencer never, ever would. Not under any circumstance, ever. I would play the complacent wounded animal, the broken girl who needed tending to. I would cherish his company and be grateful for his help and accept all of his gestures of kindness.

But I would never let him know.

At nights, I couldn’t even cry for fear that he would hear me. Could not tell him again how terrified I was. Had to close the door and sleep on my stomach in hopes that my pillow might muffle whichever version of my nightmare decided to present itself each night only to have too much pain and flip over again. He’d dealt with this all when we were kids, he didn’t need to go through it again. He’d been there for the month and a half after my return home that I stopped speaking, dealt with my flings with depression and suicidal tendencies. I needed to get over it and make sure he could lead a half-way normal life. He didn’t need to watch me suffer all over again.

The biggest difference this time was the physical pain. I was all bandaged up, both my abdomen and my neck. It hurt, everything hurt so much. The drugs took the edge off but it was always there, this underlying sharpness that peaked whenever I moved the wrong way. Eventually I convinced Spencer to leave, to limit his visits, to let me suffer alone. It was easy to make him believe I was getting better. It was simple to put on a happy voice and tell everyone who called that yes, I was feeling good, thanks. Of course, I’ll call if I need anything. Well duh, I missed them too. Why was it so easy to lie?

The brunt of the damage had been taken on by my liver, parts of it so obliterated they had to be removed. However the liver, as the doctor explained, was capable of regenerating cells and essentially mending itself in the long run. They’d also had to sew my stomach up and minimize the damage all of the spilled acids had caused inside me. All of this, the miracle that I was still alive, the pills to quell the pain, they didn’t always help. It hurt like fucking hell.

Most days I wished I was at work so that I could have something to focus on other than my own self-wallowing, but there was no way around the fact that I would be incapable of doing most of the physical labour required simply because it hurt too much. So while I was stuck at home in a dangerous spiral with my mind, I did my best to get my body back together again. Whatever workouts I could manage, I would do. It was something I could commit to, something I could control. Unlike my mind, where the horrors ran free and the nightmares were plentiful, I could determine the number of reps or when I should stop or how much pain would be my limit for the day. Not everything had to be a runaway train.

The problem was with each minute of each day my apartment felt smaller and smaller. I was going stir crazy, not being able to leave and not being of any use to anyone. I would just sit out on the balcony and pray to God I’d tire myself out until I fell unconscious with no chance of dreaming. It made me angry, that after everything that had happened Ares still had a hold on me. Before, I’d thought that if I was dead things would be okay because he couldn’t torment me. Naturally, I thought if he was dead the same logic could apply; but that was so far off from the truth.

He was every shadow and footstep and bump in the night. Every creaky floorboard and noisy appliance and blaring car horn. He hid in the spaces between the phone rings and the breath between words and hid in every place I ever considered safe. He was the electricity buzzing through every light bulb, he was the dust that settled on every surface, he was the ripple in the bed sheets that didn’t go away no matter how many times you pulled or pushed at it.

Even in death, he made me a fugitive in my own home. And no matter how hard I tried those first few weeks to get over it, the fact of the matter was this man had been the cause of the worst moments of my entire life. All of my bad days were a direct effect of his existence in my life, his obsession with his fantasy. In reality I should have been better equipped to handle it the second time around, given that this time he was actually dead not hidden and I had a whole team of people willing to help me mend. But the fact of the matter was the mind is a delicate thing and I’d spent almost two decades building up this scar tissue only to have it scraped away in the course of a single day.

Most times I just let the phone go to voicemail because it was so much easier to just hear everyone’s voices, to accept their love and well-wishes without having to tell them that they could come over the next day, the day after that, maybe next week—just not today. On one of my worse days the phone rang only once, but the voice leaving a message was that of a child. Jack.

“N’Tasha?” His voice echoed through the apartment. “Are you there?”

I wiped my eyes and tried to clear my throat before picking up the phone. “Hey, Superman.”

“What’s wrong?” I pressed my hand to my forehead, clenching my eyes shut. “N’Tasha?”

“I’m just not having a very good day, buddy.” I cursed my voice for cracking. “But I’ll be fine.”

“When I’m sad Daddy sings me a song, do you want him to sing to you?”

I leaned back on the couch and laughed, the action sparking a pain in my abdomen. “Somehow I don’t think your daddy will be up to singing to me, sweetheart.”

“Well…If you’re feeling better do you want to come to my soccer game next month?” He asked, and I could practically hear the pout in his voice.

“I sure will, buddy!” Lying to a six year old—an all-time low. I heard him move away from the phone and say something to Hotch, and after a brief exchange he said a quick goodbye and it was Hotch on the phone. My insides squirmed and I itched to hang up as soon as possible.

“How are you feeling?” I gave a quick response, trying not to sound rude but making it clear I wasn’t up for talking. “Jack made you a card today and I was wondering if it’d be alright if he came by and dropped it off?”

“Oh.” It didn’t take a genius to see he was using Jack to get around my habit of blatantly ignoring everyone except for Spencer. “You can just give it to Spence.”

“Are you—”

“Listen, I’m not feeling the greatest so I’ll talk to you later, tell Jack I said thanks.”

From then on I started letting absolutely every call go to voicemail—especially considering Derek once called from Spencer’s phone trying to get through to me. I felt bad, but I just wasn’t ready to re-integrate into that part of my life. I didn’t bother denying that I’d relapsed into the hermit-like ways I’d adopted the first go around; but this was my coping mechanism. I wasn’t self-harming, I wasn’t lashing out, I was just taking my time. A very long time. You don’t really think about how many messages your machine can hold until you spend thirty plus days screening your calls.

One day, though, the nightmare had hit me particularly hard. I’d fallen asleep on the couch in some uncomfortable way, a pain shooting through my abdomen which my brain decided to work into the nightmare. Miller was stabbing me, just as he had a thousand times already, each movement feeling all-too real in this dream world of mine. Apart from my sobbing the two of us were silent. He didn’t taunt me with words, he was doing enough to my physically. Something happened though that was out of place, from the top of the stairs, three knocks came against the nine-time dead-bolted door. Ares looked at me in confusion as the knocks came again and he disappeared, the world fading to black.

When my eyes finally opened I realized the knocking was real, but so were my tears. I got to my feet, clutching at my bandaged body as the blanket fell to the floor. My face was soaking wet and I tried to get it through my head that I’d just been dreaming again, but even as I crossed the short distance between the living room and the door I checked over my shoulder a hundred times. As I got to the door and fiddled with the locks with my free hand I tried to figure out how I was supposed to get Spencer to leave.

“Spence, I told you to stay home.” I cringed at the weakness of my own voice as I pulled the door open, wiping at my face. A heavy sigh escaped me and I immediately regretted leaving the couch.

“Are you okay?” Hotch asked with the type of worry I’d forbidden Spencer to exhibit. Out of anyone, Hotch was the last person I wanted seeing me like this. There was absolutely no way he’d let me back to work anytime soon now that the first time he’d actually seen me in almost a month I still looked as horrible as I did the day I woke up in the hospital.

“I’m fine.” I tried to straighten up in the doorway but it wasn’t working out at all and he gave me a look. “How’s the team?”

“May I come in?” I hesitated, knowing that I would get some speech and questions and everything I’d already heard from Spencer already. But the truth was I missed him terribly and keeping him away was hurting me as much as a regenerating liver. I stepped to the side and pulled the door open, apologizing for the state of the place as he set a big bag down on the counter.

“What’s that?” I asked, staying put for fear of going too close. I hadn’t forgotten about the night we’d picked up Deimos, the night we almost kissed. And although it might’ve just been me being arrogant, I didn’t think he’d forgotten either. But how the hell do you bring something like that up? The solution was you didn’t. You left it for a better time, like when you weren’t in recovery. Talking about the taboo feelings you have for your boss isn’t exactly the best way to get them to clear you to return to work.

“Garcia.” He said simply, casting a glance back at the bag where a huge bouquet of multi-coloured flowers was peeking out. I thought I could make out the label of some Ben and Jerry’s through the plastic and it almost made me smile. I looked up at him but quickly avoided his eyes and went to the living room, pulling the blanket up off the floor and trying to make the place look a little less messy. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Do you know when I can come back?” I didn’t face him, wiping away all of the wetness on my cheeks and sitting down on the couch. It was quiet for a moment before his shoes started clunking their way closer until they were in my field of vision. He sat down on the coffee table and waited for me to look up at him, hands folded before him.

“Have you taken the time to talk to anyone yet?” He asked quietly.

“I talk to Spence.” I said simply, dropping my eyes to his tie.

“He told me you didn’t.”

“So if I talk to someone then I can come back, right? Because If I’m stuck here much longer I’m going to lose my mind.”

“You need to get better both mentally and physically. When’s the last time you had a good night’s sleep?”

“I sleep.” I shrugged, picking at my nails before remembering I was dealing with a profiler and every move I made was being analyzed. He was quiet for a while and eventually my eyes rose up to meet his. He let out a sigh and I was about to ask what was wrong but he started speaking.

“You have to talk or else that feeling will keep you awake forever.” He said simply. I looked at him with confusion before he started telling me a story. His story. All about George Foyet, the man who’d gone after him, his ex-wife and Jack. He told me how Foyet attacked him in his house, how he stabbed him 9 times, how he tormented him all the way to the bitter end. Spencer had told me all of these things, but it was so much different hearing it from him. But I understood what he was doing; he was showing me his scars, and he wanted me to show mine.

When he was finished I turned away from him, bringing my knees up against my chest and knowing that, if anyone was to understand and not be as bothered by what had happened to me, it would be Aaron Hotchner. He had lived a version of it himself, he would know not to tell me the same stupid things rephrased in a million different self-help books. He wouldn’t waste time asking questions or telling me what a brave survivor I was. He understood better than anyone, better than even Spencer, because he was me a few years ago.

“I didn’t think I was coming out of there alive.” I said quietly as he moved onto the couch in front of me. I took a deep breath and walked him through every agonizing second of that day. Sometimes it felt like another lifetime, sometimes it felt like it had just ended. I explained every action and word and laugh and cry. Every hit, every stab, every seared bit of skin. Although I hated it, although it made me feel even weaker than I already was, I couldn’t control my crying. When the story was finished, I sighed in relief. It felt like a load was lifted off my shoulders, the loneliness of that cold basement not so dark when it was shared between to people.

“Try to sleep.” He said after a moment, but the notion brought fear to the surface all over again.

“N-no. I can’t, whenever I try—”

“Natasha.” He caught me completely off guard as his hands went to either side of my face, stopping my nervous rambling. “I will stay here until you wake up, but I can’t let you come back to work unless you actually do recover.”

He released me, turning to get the blanket from behind him. I leaned forward, stopping him in his tracks as my arms wound around his neck. I buried my face in his shoulder, trying not to cry for the billionth time as he held me. There was no place in the world I wanted to be than in his arms, the safety unchallenged and the comfort unparalleled. When at last I pulled away I got comfortable on the couch while he slipped off his shoes and jacket, retreating to the other couch and telling me to sleep.


In an attempt to prevent any unnecessary surprise parties courtesy of Penelope, I limited the knowledge of the date of my return to Hotch and Spencer—who probably would have been furious with me if I hadn’t told him. It was a breath of fresh air returning to work; it felt more like a vacation. Well, it was a vacation from the solitude of my apartment. The bandages were off (although the scars were a very prominent reminder) and I had been sleeping well. I was healing.

When I got onto our floor Spencer gave me a smile as we walked through the doors. I couldn’t contain my happiness at the sight of Derek and Emily and Penelope and JJ sitting around our desks, laughing and joking. Emily was the first to see me, her eyes growing wide as she quickly crossed over to me.

“I didn’t know you were coming back today!” She hugged me gently as I explained I didn’t want a big deal to be made of it. “Oh, Tash.”

“Come here, you.” Penelope said, nudging Emily out of the way and squeezing me tight. “Did you get my care packages? Because I know that no matter what a little colour and a lot of ice cream can make anything feel less crappy. Spencer told me your favourite flavour so if he got it wrong don’t look at me.”

“Thank you, Penelope.” I smiled as JJ took her place, welcoming me back. Derek was waiting on my desk, arms crossed over his chest as I raised my eyebrows at him. He shook his head, opening his arms only when I walked over to him. He held me close and sighed heavily. “I’m sorry.”

“You shouldda let me come see you, girl.” He said quietly. I pulled away and pressed my lips to his cheek, resting my hands on his shoulders.

“I’m here now, okay?” I reasoned. “So you can bug me all you want and I can remind you how stupid you are.”

Dave came out of his office, descending the stairs and smiling as he came up to me. “It’s good to have you back, kiddo.” He said, placing his hand on my cheek.

“It’s good to be back.” I said honestly, marvelling at how much better I felt just being in the presence of these people. Maybe Spencer had been right, and there was some neurological basis for the notion that being with those you loved improved your health. JJ checked her watch and grabbed a pile of case files of the desk, handing them to all of us.

“Let’s get started.”
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Again, thank you so much for all the feedback. It definitely makes writing a lot easier when I know at least some people don't hate it haha.