DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: For racethewind10 because I owed her fic. Neither of us remembers why, but here we go. Itís nothing much, but I hope it settles my debt.Thanks to darandkerry for being a fussy, anal-retentive neat freak. *g*
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Art of Melancholy
By atfm


The Panther

The weary passage of these bars
has made his gaze an empty stare:
as if the bars were all there are
and that behind them nothing's there.

Strong and supple strides around
and back to their beginning come.
A swirling play of power surrounds
a noble will that stands there numb.

Just at times the curtain parts
quietly inside his eyes.
Along a nerve, awareness darts—
arriving in his heart, it dies.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

She liked it, at least to some extent. That subtle weight of sombreness, not quite dark enough to be gloom, and the nearly intangible presence of a blurry ache, not quite sharp enough to be pain. It never failed to surprise her that something which stemmed from a mind tipped slightly off-balance could manifest itself in such a physical way. It didn't rush through her body in a bright flash like fear did, scorching and chilling, nor did it possess the breathtaking, numbing grasp of utter despair. There were no metaphorical metal bands clasped around her chest, no fingers trembling in trepidation, and no heartbeat rapidly trying to keep up with racing thoughts.

Instead, like morphine from a drip, the feeling trickled slowly through her veins, little more than an undercurrent, and settled in her limbs like lead. A grey shadow crept up on her, steadily but not menacingly, and she didn't struggle against it because it revealed itself only in the form of a delicately thin veil, altering her perception but obscuring nothing. It didn't overwhelm her, it didn't demand her entire focus; it was merely there. She wasn't even certain where the feeling was strongest. Perhaps beneath her ribs, between her heart and her stomach, where she felt it lurk like an alien liquid, unable to tell whether it was hot or cold. Or, maybe, along her back, making the skin near her spine tighten and creating a fleeting, prickly sensation every now and then, here and there.

And yet, she knew, there was no proof of her physical unease, nothing that would show up in her blood if tested, no visible changes in her outward appearance, not even a sign of pallor detectable in her face. She often smiled at the theory of ancient physiology that believed an excess of black bile to be responsible for melancholy when, in her mind, it was so obviously the result of troubled thoughts and circumstance, and sometimes occurred, it seemed, without a reason at all. Sometimes, it came after a case was closed and a life was saved, with the bitter aftertaste of knowing it had only been solved based on the analysis of lives lost and leaving her with the question of how this could be called a success. Other times, it was the impression of failure, nothing that could be rationalised with objective facts, just an underlying emotion interwoven with memories from the past and a hesitant glance towards the future that she couldn't escape, just another futile comparison of credit and debit on her balance sheet of happiness.

To assess how it affected her mind was, to her, like wrapping a bandage around an injury with the very finger that had sustained the cut. But that certainly didn't stop her from trying. Of all the profiles she'd created over time, her own had always been the hardest to figure out and was still – and always would be – a work-in-progress.

For others, she was aware, those crestfallen states of mind were dull experiences. A dispirited sadness prevailed and tarnished their every thought, locking the only part of them that was without restraints in an iron cage of paralysis. Every attempt at breaking out was in vain, every sparkle of an idea drawn down from their heads deep into their chests, abandoned and left to drown in the dark sea that lay there silently. She'd witnessed the outer signs of this inner mechanism – curse, she was tempted to call it – in cheerless faces that seemed incapable of wearing a smile.

She, on the other hand, felt her mind become more alert and her senses more acute, not in a bone-chilling Poe-like manner, but in a way that was both curious and fascinating for her. Sometimes, she would touch her own skin as if she were touching a stranger, or listen to her soft breathing and hear it more with her mind than with her ears, or lift her hand to her eyes and see minuscule wrinkles on her fingertips that looked like tiny scars, symbolic remnants of coming into contact with all that had the potential to hurt her. In those times, she often compared the functioning of her mind to an emergency power supply. All energy flowed into the essential things; everything else was blocked out, and the sole focus was on that which really mattered. Her thoughts were never as clear as when her soul was clouded, her perception never as intense. Somehow, it was easier to separate one emotion from another and to recognise things for what they truly were; it was less difficult to find beauty and more difficult to avert her gaze from misery.

It allowed her to see into others. The vibe of their moods, their needs, their entire beings drifted towards her, unfolding in its full complexity when it reached her, like the frantic wings of a hummingbird generating the smallest of air movements that grew as it travelled over a distance. She could read her, too, in those minutes or hours or days, delve deeper than what she already knew, frightened when what lay behind clear blue eyes said, "Come," and when those eyes said she knew. Time and time again, this clarity took her by surprise, when everything was offered in such a simple manner for her to contemplate.

She didn't fear the feeling. Long ago, she'd learnt that it was inevitable, like catching a cold in dreary autumn weather, a part of life just like euphoria and perhaps a necessary counterbalance. Its fickle nature, here and gone again, seldom staying for long, had taught her to not consider it a threat to her balance, but, instead, to welcome it as a bittersweet companion for a certain time, patiently enduring when it painted her soul and mind in subdued hues. To know that it would pass gave her a sense of peace, and because she let it surround her like a hazy fog with such calm acceptance, it had no power over her. The control was hers alone.

Her careful consideration to not pass it on to those around her caused her to withdraw, leaving her content to quietly observe. In those moments, she allowed herself to feel her environment and yet remain detached from it, the ghost of a serene smile often passing across her features and nearly hiding the hint of sorrow beneath.

Her body heavy and her mind keen, she indulged in reflection, sometimes on her own with a glass of wine and looking out at a sky that weighed down on the city with a suffocating pressure; other times, when she wasn't granted the gift of solitude, she'd simply stare at the wing of the plane cutting through shreds of white clouds. Then, she would turn her head and see blonde strands spilled across the sleeve of her shirt, having come to rest there in the unawareness of sleep and tickling her palm, and she would wonder, and ultimately be unable to decide, whether the sight elevated or alleviated the melancholy she had mastered so well.

The End

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