fic: Two Pair Of Aces
Title: Two Pair Of Aces
Rating: PG, possibly PG-13 for one mild swear
Summary: A gambler will bet on anything. (also, there is a sequel, "Dead Man's Hand," written by cpolk and me.)
Disclaimer: legally useless, of course, but no, I don't own any of this.
Two Pair Of Aces
He's careful not to win too often.
He can't afford suspicion. Not that what he's doing is cheating--getting caught just once, cheating, would get his name in the Black Book, banned for life from every casino, and that's an unacceptable risk.
He needs the money too badly, for the same reasons he's needed it since he turned 18. A government job does not pay for top-tier mental health care. So he doesn't cheat, though he could. And even get away with it.
But what he can do, just by virtue of who he is, is still the sort of thing that the gambling establishments frown upon.
The eye in the sky is always watching. It doesn't pay to look suspicious.
He'd rather not be escorted to the street. Or worse, to a back room somewhere. Bruises would be difficult to explain at work, and Metro doesn't want to know anything about what casino security gets up to. Even if the victim of a little unnecessary roughness is an F.B.I. special agent.
In the old days, it would have been the mob, and he'd have been risking a kneecapping. That, too, would have hampered his ability to do his job.
He could play poker on the internet. It's statistics, after all; he could win there, too. He could play without the travel, though he'd come here anyway--to watch her from a distance, and try to get up the courage to walk over and see if she recognizes him today.
He could play on the internet. With much less risk. Without the smoke and the chime of slot machines in the background. But the likelihood of a conflict of professional interest is much higher. There are ethical implications.
But there's nothing even quasi-illegal about gambling in Las Vegas. Also, he's a profiler; it helps to read the faces and the body language of the men and occasional women he plays against. He knows his own face, his clothes, his quirks of manner work in his favor. People dismiss him.
And he's comfortable at these tables; he's been playing this game, in this fashion, for over seven years.
But most of all, he comes here to play cards because for Spencer Reid, Las Vegas is still the closest thing he has to home. And when they're not there, chattering in the background, he misses the sound of the slot machines.
That had been the hardest thing to get used to. Not the snow. Not the inexplicable lack of palm trees. Not even all the verdant green and the close, cluttered horizons that made him feel... caged... had thrown him for a loop the way the silence did.
A specific kind of silence: the supreme oddness of walking into a grocery store, a drugstore, a convenience store, a gas station, a bar... and not hearing the seductive tinkle of slots or of video poker. A silence so loud it was background noise, and the absence never quite stopped nagging at him.
He discards, draws two.
The scabs have come off his wrists. The bruising has flared red, violet, indigo; faded through greens and jaundiced yellows. You could mistake the last brown smudges in the hollows below the bones for the shadows on his sallow skin.
Normally, this is how he spends his two weeks of vacation. Two weeks to earn enough money to pay another twelve months of medical bills. Enough money, that is, after taxes: he is scrupulous about declaring everything. Another case of the opportunity cost being so much higher than the payoff that it's not worth cheating. And he knows--intimately--exactly where the kind of thinking that starts but I'm special and so the rules don't apply to me leads. Society is fragile; it only survives due to its own inertia, and a certain number of individuals who understand that banding together is their best defense.
And a few, who are willing to defend it.
Two weeks a year to stay solvent.
He's actually about three years ahead, more if you count in his mom's disability checks. He doesn't need to be here, in a vaulted cream-colored room in the Bellagio, peeking under the bent edge of his cards to see the numbers, the cardstock tinted green by light reflected off the baize.
But what else is he going to do in Vegas? It's not like he has a lot of old high school friends.
And now he's on medical leave, six weeks, while the fractures heal (they say it will be six months at least before the cracked rib stops hurting) and there's really nothing for him to do in D.C., and at least, here, the discomfort is comfortable.
And the Bellagio's poker room is nonsmoking.
It's too quiet, though. Too isolated. You can't really hear the slot machines.
The two he drew were the wrong two. Jack high.
He folds without regret.
It's just statistics.
When he plays with friends, he makes up his own rules. His team--Hotch, in particular--expect him to cheat.
He expects them--Hotch, in particular--to cheat right back.
It's part of why he loves them. The other part is being accepted, and valued, and treated like a human being rather than a sort of useful parrot.
Cheating and teamwork are what keeps them all alive. Once you understand the rules, you can avoid them when it's necessary.
If you're special enough to get away with it.
Except when the rules are rules you can't avoid.
Like the ones Elle broke. Not just broke.
This is why Gideon insists on teaching him chess. Because whatever else is wrong with Gideon--and the list is at least as long as the list of What's Wrong With Spencer--Gideon knows people. And both of them know that some things appear on both Lists of Wrong.
One of those things is risk-taking behavior. Gambling. The higher the stakes, the better.
Gideon gambles with lives. His own. Other people's.
Sometimes Spencer gambles that way, too.
The drawback of being a psychologist--and even more specifically, a profiler--is that if you are in the least bit self-aware, you also know exactly what's wrong with your own brain.
Physician, heal thyself.
He waits, self-effacing, while the final two play out the hand.
Reid never watched a lot of television--his mother thought it rotted brain cells. But he could catch old shows, sometimes, syndicated, in the afternoons when she was sleeping. One of the things he watched was Star Trek, beautiful escapism. And it fits the geeky image, doesn't it?
But another one was Columbo.
It was the first thing he ever saw in which the good guy's only advantage was that he was smarter than the enemy.
Spencer was entranced.
It's not much effort to seem gentle and unassuming and cooperative and fumbling. He is, in general, gentle and unassuming and cooperative and fumbling. And awkward. And kind of a wuss. Not to put too fine a point on it.
He's neater than Peter Falk was, though. But fussy neatness can be just as deceptive as a false sloppiness.
People assume if you are tidy, you are reluctant to get your hands dirty. Unworldly. Inept. They assume that you have a tidy, effeminate little mind.
The stereotype is useful to him.
None of the women he works with, none of the women in his family, affect effeminate little minds. Elle--
He misses Elle.
He failed Elle. The same way he failed his mother. The same way he failed Tobias.
He wonders if he's going to fail himself, also.
His tie is crooked. He straightens it, smooths his sweater. He orders a coffee. They keep these places near freezing. They keep the liquor flowing. Harder to think when you're cold. Harder to think when you're intoxicated.
He stops himself before he can push his hair out of his eyes. Too much fidgeting at the table is a bad idea.
Really, he knows, it's a reaction to his upbringing. The clutter. The impossibility of keeping the house and himself and his mother presentable, meeting the expectations of his schoolwork, and hiding everything. If things--like him--are tidy (not filthy, caked in blood and piss and vomit, reeking of rotten fish and wood smoke, sweating in unclean clothing) then things are under control.
If it disarms people, so much the better.
Pair of aces.
He walks away from the table twelve grand ahead. Another four hours of work; another month paid for.
It was a lousy night.
It would be so easy to walk away from the B.A.U. Should be even easier. He's not in it for the money. He can gamble anywhere.
He catches a cab home. He has to give directions. The cabbies don't know anything about Vegas if it's off the Strip. None of them grew up here.
Home is an empty house, just another off-white, red-roofed, California-style stucco, identical to all the others on the street. Once he came back to find it had been broken into, but there's nothing here to take. When the television died, he never bothered buying another.
He should sell the house. He should have sold the house while the market was high. That would pay for a few years of--
An ugly word, but his mom would have insisted on precision.
There's no saving Diana Reid. But he could bring her home. He's not eighteen any more. He could make her take her meds.
Her books are here.
Except the ones the vandals destroyed, which he never told her about. There's a painfully precious metaphor there, the vandalism to her incredible mind and the vandalism to this abandoned house.
His mom would say it was a pathetic excuse for poetry.
So, a lousy night at the poker table, and he's still twelve grand ahead. He might have gotten too good at this, he thinks, as he walks to the door, key in hand, puts his key in the lock, lets himself inside. Disarms the security system. Re-arms it in occupied mode. Puts the messenger bag with his winnings and his pistol in it on the table, takes the money and the holster out, clips the latter to his belt. He lets himself limp, since nobody is looking.
Yes, he's wearing the gun in the house now. Is it too soon to admit that he's putting it on his nightstand when he sleeps? When he pretends to himself that he's sleeping?
Someday, he's going to have a lousier night.
Someday, he's going to get somebody killed. Again.
He told J.J. it wasn't her fault. And it wasn't. It was his fault. He gambled.
It won't be the last time. He's going to fail himself, his team, the victims. His mother. He's going to fail somebody who was so oppressed by an unbearable life that they shattered into a monster.
It's statistics. It's going to happen.
It's not gambling if you know you're never going to lose.
He's pretty sure Gideon doesn't sleep much anymore, either. Hotch might. But Hotch has his own issues. Heck, never mind issues: every single one of them has a subscription.
And Hotch isn't a gambler.
He opens the wall safe behind a framed Waterhouse print and puts the money inside. There are two transparent plastic vials in the safe, beside the money, his grandmother's wedding rings, important paperwork.
He concealed evidence. He stole it. The ethical implications are staggering. But it was a special case, he tells himself.
And the rules don't always apply.
He could walk away. He wonders what his mother would say of him squandering his gifts as a professional gambler. He knows what Hotch would say.
What Hotch wouldn't say.
The glue that holds society together is the people who are willing to fight for it.
He touches the vials with a fingertip, rocks the nearest back and forth. It ticks softly, like dog nails on a wooden floor.
A talisman. He's just keeping them as a reminder. That's all. Magical thinking; Tobias saved him once, and he couldn't save Tobias. Maybe the vials will save him again. Hole cards.
A pair of aces.
Denial and justification are, of course, how it starts. He remembers Gideon, when he came to retrieve his personal effects, a last lingering look around the bullpen before departing on indefinite leave. He remembers Elle, and the line of minibar bottles.
Gideon got an entire team killed.
Hotch nearly got Elle killed.
Spencer nearly got J.J. killed.
He is piteously glad that it's him limping on a foot that should probably still be in a brace, and not her.
He tidies the stack of hundreds. In the morning, he'll take it to the bank. And then maybe he'll go and visit his mother. Or maybe he'll try his luck at the Wynn Las Vegas this time. Like a smart killer, a smart poker player varies his hunting grounds.
But no. The Wynn is an ugly thing. Too quiet. The Palms. That's where the locals play. Better symbolism. He likes the wood floors.
He shuts the safe.
He'd rather be playing on the plane, for pennies.
That would be the unnecessary-explication-of-implicit-angs
And now, I have to go write a thousand paying words.