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Title: The Wisdom of Silence
Series: Of Innocence and Empathy
Author: Frogg
Beta: None
Rating: FRT-13
Disclaimer: I don't own them. Damnit.
Author's Note: I haven't written - okay, I haven't finished - a story in Of Innocence and Empathy since early '09, so please keep that in mind that I am extremely rusty. Suggestions and/or constructive criticism are welcome and I totally reserve the right to yank and rework if necessary.
Summary: ~4 months prior to the beginning of Criminal Minds the series, Gideon gets a message.

Gideon's cell phone vibrating with a text message wasn't enough to send him into a panic, but it was enough to tense muscles as if he'd wanted to, enough to shift breathing slow and steady to shallow and choppy.

Enough to catch the attention of a good half dozen of his students, from the eyes he felt drawn to him by the quiet buzzing, a half dozen, possibly more.

The combat vets clustered to his left in solidarity, Davison from Afghanistan, three more from Iraq, all too familiar with the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder; Sheila, soon-to-be social worker, second row center, already interning at the local VA hospital; next to her, Bethany, a trauma counselor come back to school for her Masters. Their collective notice would inevitably draw the attention of the rest of class.

Gideon struggled to slow his heartrate, his breathing, and pulled his phone from his pocket, switching it off before setting it on the table in front of him. "Eyes on your exam," he said gruffly. It was bad enough that they knew, knew who he was, why he was here in a classroom - not that he begrudged them his instruction, but this wasn't, wasn't - he didn't belong here. Not yet. 'They haven't put me out to pasture yet,' Gideon reminded himself bitterly.

Bad enough that this was hardly the first, and thus far the mildest, of the triggers he'd had here. Bad enough that he and that handful of students danced between a proper professor-student relationship, and... he didn't know. The vets treated him as one of their own, inviting him out for dinner or drinks with 'the guys', slipped phone numbers and "If you need to talk" in with their papers. It was touching, and heartbreaking, and humiliating, having these men try and reach out, when he could see the same signs in them. Sheila stayed after class, 'just to talk,' she said, 'just to learn,' and always managed to have a story of unexpected coping mechanisms, unexpected triumphs, things he'd found himself trying despite himself. Bethany just watched, listened, half-managing Sheila on days she sensed Gideon couldn't weather her well-meaning interference; she'd slipped her card to him the first day, with the index cards of contact information, a scrawled "I know people who can help" on the back.

Bad enough that collectively, they'd probably kept him out of a psych ward the day the school'd had unannounced construction going on out in the quad, a few dozen feet from the classroom; the jackhammer had sounded all too much like the gunfire, the explosion, cement dust coming in through the window catapulting him back into a hell that had taken six lives, six lives he'd been responsible for...

He viciously cut off that line of thought, suppressing another, a worse reaction. The grading he'd been doing couldn't hold his attention now; he'd learned that early on. Instead, he picked up his phone again, flipping it open, shut, silencing the snap with a cushioning thumb, open again, unable to decide whether or not to read the message.

Only one person bothered to text him. The only person in his personal circle who, arguably, saw more of life through technology than through living, even though Gideon knew perfectly well that wasn't true.

Minutes trickled past, a melting waterfall of time as, one by one, his students finished their exams and brought them to the desk with a smile, or a nod, or a guilty lack of eye contact, a look of concern or compassion; Davison tapped his exam paper twice, drawing Gideon's eyes to the invitation to a local bar, 8 pm, Davison mouthing "You'd be welcome," before giving a small salute and striding out. They both knew he wouldn't go, couldn't...

The classroom finally emptied, Sheila having been gently herded out by the last of the vets (Marks, his mind whispered), leaving Gideon to his thoughts and the phone still blank-faced in his hand.

All thumbs, the keypad unlocked, and the screen flashed.

Three words, too familiar, too painful.

He needs you.

Gideon's gut twisted in an agony of guilt. "I know," his voice rasped out unaware, hoarse to his own ears. 'I know Hotch needs me, I don't even want to think about how bad it is there, how bad he is without me, how bad he's going to get...he needs me.'

His fist tightened enough to blank the screen again, enough to press an imprint of edges, of buttons into his palm.

'He needs me whole.'
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October 2013

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