Living

Author's notes: Any statistics used in this fic are made up; I'm not Reid. :P Usual disclaimer applies… If I owned Criminal Minds Maeve would not have died. If I somehow managed to come into possession of the TV series after that sad fact then Reid would have a girlfriend in season ten. This fic is not meant to follow season continuation; especially considering when I first wrote this fic I was in season seven. My husband is ahead of me and sometimes I watch where he's at.

Dear staff: PLEASE ALLOW shift+numbers TO BE SCENE BREAKS! *Unhappy Rad*

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Chapter 1: At First Glance

Late September

"Reid, I want you to talk to this Reese Wellings when he arrives. If he saw or interacted with the unsub at all, we have to know about it. The other students we interviewed said he was shy with new people."

Almost eleven years they'd worked together; Hotch didn't even have to say 'You're the youngest we have; I'm hoping he'll feel more comfortable and open up to you quickly.' It was interesting the way they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses so well. They were so much like unsubs themselves; manipulating themselves, teammates, police, detectives, even witnesses.

He was fine until a women was ushered to the detective's office. The deputy closes the door and Reid blinks at her. "I'm sorry, how can I help you?"

She sits as far back into the chair as she can, arms not quite crossed, hands on top of her small purse.

"I'm Reese Wellings; I was told I could be of help in the – " her voice hitches, "murder investigation."

Her voice is small, quite; it matches her stature. Reid's sure she's hardly five feet. Mousy light brown hair, uninteresting eyes the shade of forgetful blue. Clearly she's uncomfortable around strangers but it's also clear that if she can help she will. Blue jeans, plain green t-shirt, hair in a ponytail, no jewelry.

Sensing a young version of himself in her, even if she has a few friends and he hadn't, Reid says gently, "I'm Dr. Spencer Reid with the FBI. Are you friends with Alexis Gale?" She nods, eyes widening. He alleviates her fear before she asks or gets too worked up. "There's nothing wrong with Alexis; she simply informed us that you worked in the mailroom, usually sharing the same shift with Zack Kenny. Is that correct?"

Reese nods.

"What can you tell me about Zack?"

'If someone thinks the conversation is about just the two of you, they're more likely to open up. Be one-on-one with shy people. There's no 'group,' there's no 'us.' It's just you and that person.'

Blue eyes hide momentarily behind her eyelids as she scrambles through her memory. "Zack? Um… He keeps to himself mostly. We hardly ever talk. Once in a while we might say 'Hi' or 'How are you?' but we never actually talked." Reid noticed her hands relax a little. "I don't really think he's a loner or anything – I've seen him walking and chatting with the same guys around campus."

"Has he ever been late for his shift?"

"Not for any of the ones we worked together."

"There's a punch-in clock; how early do you arrive? What is your usual routine before you punch in?"

"There's a small room of lockers to store our stuff in. I usually arrive about ten or fifteen minutes before the shift starts. I dump my backpack and maybe a coat in my locker and use the restroom." Brown hair is jostled as her shoulders become less tense.

"Do you hang out by the punch-in clock for any length of time before you actually punch in?"

"Yeah. We're allowed to punch in up to five minutes before the shift starts."

"How early do you punch in? Do you punch in late at all? Does Zack ever hang out by the clock with you? Does he arrive before you, after you; do you see him in the locker room at all?"

Reese's eyes blink as he fires the questions rapidly at her. Her mouth works up and down, trying to catch up, trying to find answers. "I usually punch in at five minutes; I like to actually start on time and therefore get done on time and get as much done as I can during my shift. I do hang out by the punch-in clock for a few minutes… Zack does… sometimes? But not all the time. I typically don't punch in late unless the weather prevents me from doing so. But I typically prepare for the weather. I think we arrive around the same time? Some days his backpack is already in the locker room, some days it isn't. I think he lives off campus and drives. I know he has a truck. He's dropped me off once or twice if it was raining or snowing really badly."

Reid sat up straighter. "You've interacted with him outside of the mailroom?"

"Mhm. Well, sort of. He'll ask if I 'want or need a ride,' I say 'yes,' he says 'ok,' we sit in silence until he drops me off, then we both say some variation of 'good night, see you later' and that's it."

"What about while you work with him in the mailroom? Do you have a rapport going at all? Or are you both pretty quiet?"

"We might have some small talk between the three of us – Amelia's usually running the front counter while we're in the back."

"Does he seem organized? Does he follow a routine while he works? Has he ever seemed agitated or angry or sad or affected by anything that's happened on campus?"

Again she blinks at him, digging through her memory for the answers. Reid knows that what she sees on a daily basis will not be remembered immediately. But it's a normal, routine thing so it shouldn't take too long for her to recall easily. "He likes to sort the incoming mail and I sort the campus mail. He uses whatever method he has to sort the mail. I guess he's pretty organized. There hasn't even been much happening on campus for either of us to react to."

"Could you explain that to me in more detail?"

"I – I… He sorts the mail that parents and companies send to the students on campus. They go in bins – each matches a wall in the mail box room. I sort the papers and mail that professors and administration want to send to students."

"Did you two discuss this division of labor? Was it assigned to you? Did Zack say specifically that he wanted that role?"

Uncertainty crosses her face and he can see her bite her inner cheek. "That was two years ago… I… I think we just kind of fell into the roles? I don't think we were assigned them…" She closed her eyes and breathed in. After a moment one eyebrow rose a little and she opened her eyes. "I remember Gary saying 'One of you will sort the incoming mail and the other will sort the campus mail. You choose. Chop to it!' and clapping his hands."

"So Zack has easy access to students' names, mailbox numbers, and any person off-campus that would send them any kind of letter or small-box mail."

"Yes."

"Do either of you have access to what rooms match student names and mailbox numbers?"

"No, absolutely not. The mailroom has no need for that information. None of us would ever need to bring mail to a student's room or talk to them where they live for any reason."

"Is there a place where one could inconspicuously watch as students opened their mailboxes?"

"Uh, yeah. There are three doors leading into the mailbox room. Not all mailboxes are visible, but at least half of them are. There is always students milling about near the doorways or across the hall from them."

Reid listed off the names of the four girls who had been found murdered and queried, "Can all four of these girls' mailboxes been seen from those three doors?"

She pondered a moment. "I… don't know. They sound vaguely familiar. I'm not friends with any of them. I'd have to see their names and their mailbox numbers together to even try to remember. Wh – why does that matter?"

He jots down the girls' names and pushes the paper towards her. Her eyes take in the names while he answers. "I'm wondering if the unsub is choosing his victims as he watches them get their mail. Or if someone off campus is tipping him off via the mail he's delivering. If I can rule out one or both of those things, it will narrow down our suspect pool."

"'Unsub'?"

"Unknown subject."

She shakes her head. "The mailboxes of these girls don't particularly jump out at me – but I would have to see them in print and with their mailbox numbers. I don't remember much of anything I see at work."

A nod of understanding. "I'll get the mailroom to send those over right away. Is it possible for you to stay at the station for a little while until we can get those numbers?"

"Sure."

"The sheriff will probably need his office; I'll get you settled in the break room."

Reese had hardly gotten her books spread around her to continue working on a paper when over a dozen cell phones and pagers went off. The cacophony of noise was quickly replaced by the owners answering their phones. Almost immediately the room emptied as the police, detectives, and other official people out of uniform ran for the exits. Her eyes follow the brown curly-haired man that had interviewed her earlier as he runs with a group of people towards a door. Seconds later she heard sirens leaving the area.

'He's probably kidnapped another woman again. Poor thing… I really hope they catch him in time to save her. I really hope that it's not Zack. I worked with him for two years; he drove me home. He can't be a murderer.'

Suddenly it was too small in the break room, too stuffy. The walls were closing in on her, the air was too thick. Reese burst from the chair, pushing the table a few inches from its original resting place. She needed air.

A few seconds of indulgence of his gorgeous face is all that Reese allows herself as a distraction while she unwinds.

She was on her third turn in front of the police station when a familiar dark blue pick-up truck filled her view.

'Oh. Damn. It.'

It stops as close to her as it can get; she isn't going to get away and the street is populated with people.

"Hey Reese."

Plastering her usual smile on her face, she looked up. "Hi Zack."

He was frowning and

Gun.

"Get in or I'll shoot up the street."

Her eyes dart back and forth; there are people eating outside a café, people leaving the post office, people walking down the sidewalk. People, people, people. Zack is a murderer! Reese's palms sweat before she opens the truck door and she forces herself to not wipe them on her pants. Zack is a murderer! "Ok." After she closes the door behind her and buckles her belt, she turned to him. The smile never leaves her face. "How are you doing?"

Zack angrily pushes the master lock button on his door and slams the gas pedal down. The gun smashes into the seat, still pointed directly at her. He turns the corner, driving too quickly. "Don't give me that bullcrap. Amelia said you were going to be late for your shift because you were talking to the cops. What'd you tell them?!"

He kept the gun pointed at her as he drove, now laid on the seat between them, glancing over at her every few minutes.

"N-nothing! Look man, I hardly know you! All they asked about was working in the mailroom! All I told them was that we usually punch in at the same time and you dropped me off at my dorm once or twice!"

They were nearing the edge of town now. It slammed Reese hard in her gut then. He'd just made things worse. Zack had kidnapped her and now she was either a hostage or his next victim. Whatever his motives, he had just proven he was the murderer.

The murderer of blonde-haired, green-eyed women.

So she wasn't his usual type; he had taken her because the police had wanted to talk to her.

But did that assure her safety? Just because she wasn't his type didn't mean he wouldn't hurt or kill her. The police had spoken to her. It never ended well in the movies for the random person who had spoken to the police.

He parked the truck in the driveway of a little cottage a mile off a dirt road that was several miles from the main road that led into town.

Reese doesn't react as he marches her up to the house, into the basement, and into a chair. She doesn't say anything as he ducttapes each of her legs to a chair leg, then a long strip around both of her wrists. "Scream and one goes over your mouth, hear me?"

A short, quiet whimper escapes her but she nods her head.

Zack tromps back upstairs.

Despite the probable crick in her neck later, Reese manages to doze on and off. She wakes irregularly as far as she can tell. She does manage to track the shadows across the floor. Her hands are flaky from the dried sweat and she manages to twist at her wrists and wipe them on her thighs. Eventually it's dark, her stomach is loud and empty, and she really has to pee. She manages to nod off again. Tears make their way down her cheeks a few times.

She's woken by sirens nearing the house.

Does she scream?

Someone yells "FBI!", she hears doors break down and "clear" repeated.

"Hey, basement!"

That's her cue.

"Down here, down here! Help me!"

The door bangs open, a light flashes near the stairs, and at least two someones cautiously make their way down the stairs. The light shines on her, not in her face, and their reaction to her is immediate. A black man searches the room while a white, light-haired woman holsters her weapon and begins to untie her.

Her tears start slowly.

"Hey, hey, it's ok, it's ok, you're going to be ok. We've got you, you're ok. You're Reese Wellings, right? The mailroom girl? Reid interviewed you at the station right?" She can only nod her head. "It's ok; we'll take you home, you're safe now."

Reese collapses into the other woman's arms.

"Did he hurt you? Reese, this is important. Did he hurt you? Honey, could you just shake your head yes or no? I need to know if you need an ambulance. No? No, are you sure?"

"Yes… yes I'm sure. He never touched me."

A medic looks her over anyway, right after she uses the closest bathroom.

She's in and out of consciousness for the next hour or so. A blanket had been draped around her early on at the house and the dark-haired woman's name had slipped past her fog; Kate. But her eyes wouldn't focus; her mind wouldn't make sense of the shapes and colors moving around her. Sound entered her ears but the vibrations wouldn't get past her eardrums. She knew they were putting her in a car and she knew there were a lot of people around her.

"Hey Callahan, is she ok? Reese? Reese."

"She seems fine Reid; just in shock."

That voice sounded familiar. Somehow her brain connected it to the FBI agent that had interviewed her at the station. Tall, gangly, a little awkward, brown curly hair, gorgeous.

They're driving; the woman, Kate, is poking her a little to make sure she's alright. Unconsciously she leans away from the prodding. Bright lights break past the defenses of her eyelids and they flicker open. A multitude of colors scream into her optic nerves. Blinking rabidly to dispel the dizziness in her head, the puzzle pieces of store and restaurant signs slowly fall into place: they're going back to the police station.

Somewhere along the drive they hit a bump hard and she leans over further. Her body leans over and her head leans even further. It comes to rest on something hard and angular. Reese doesn't care. She's tired and sore and hungry and her head hurts so hard…

A car door opens, "No no, you stay there. We'll be right back."

Something heavy and vaguely familiar is plopped on the car seat beside her.

"Reese? Reese honey, we're at your dorm. You need to wake up."

"Mmm…."

A gentle hand pushes her up while another, a bit more forceful, pulls at her.

Her eyes snap open and she jerks up, nearly banging her head on a blessedly padded vehicle front seat. Reese's eyes race around the brightly lit SUV. She's too hot, boiling in the blanket and she throws it off.

"Calm down, honey calm down."

Snapping her head to the side, she sees the black-haired woman that untied her from the house. Her hands are up and away from her body, palms open. "Reese? Reese, focus on me. Remember me? Kate? Do you remember me?"

The adrenaline leaves her body and she sags back into the seat. Reese takes several deep breaths, wiping at her mouth with her hand. "Yes. Yes I remember you. I'm – I'm ok." She grabs her backpack and slowly gets out of the car.

Kate cautiously grabs her arm for stabilization. "I'm going to walk with you up to your room, ok? Do you think you'll be fine after that?"

"Y-yeah. Ff-fine enough."

"Ok then."

Her mind is clearer now, better translating what her eyes are seeing and her ears are hearing. Kate holds her close as they approach the building. A flash of her credentials and the night watch opens the door and calls her RA to meet them. Apparently they'd contacted her roommate before their arrival; Sasha quickly promising to keep an eye on her. Kate tells her to expect nightmares tonight and to see a psychologist as soon as possible. The older woman makes sure that her RA and roommate both understand this as well.

Something rocks her as Kate is leaving. "Wait!" The agent turns around. "Did you get him? What about the woman he took before me?"

A slow, small smile graces her pretty face. "Yeah, we got him. The other woman he took was a distraction to get to you. She's fine."

A sigh of relief. "Good. Thank you, Kate. Thank you."

"Of course. Goodnight ladies."

()

He's always relieved when they're able to rescue the victims. He's even more relieved when he'd had direct contact with them. His relief is at its peak when they remove a victim before too much terror can be inflicted on them.

Reid had pushed his mild attraction to Reese out of his head the second it had arrived. His radar always pinged when he found a woman he thought was pretty. It was rare; most women were always far out of his league and deep into Morgan's. But Reese… She reminded him so much of himself at that time in his life. Even if she was older and more socially adjusted. She was still shy, quiet, and socially removed. Yet she was completely comfortable in the place she had chosen. She was the sort of woman whom most wouldn't give a second thought to.

Obviously the case came first. He was always good at filing his attraction away and giving it a thought or two either on the plane ride back or when he was home. The attraction was always gone after he had indulged himself for those few minutes. Besides, it came so rarely he hardly ever had to deal with it.

Everyone was quiet on the way home from Zack's grandparents' house. Nobody really wanted to discuss anything in front of Reese, even if she probably couldn't hear them or wouldn't remember it. She'd gone through enough; there was no need to add to it.

Sleep had almost claimed him too when they went over a particularly large bump and it was robbed of him. He leaned back to try snatching it back when something connected against his shoulder. Looking down his vision was filled with the sleeping face of Reese leaning against him, head on his shoulder.

His eyes widened, his mouth fell open; Reid leaned his head back and accepted this tiny gift of luck.

Out of the corner of his last bit of consciousness he thought he saw Hotch's eyes squint into a smile.

()

Reid closed the last folder and flopped it into the file box. He put the lid on, grabbed it, and hauled it to the front with the rest of the boxes. Leaning against the desk, he let the conversation of his teammates wash over him. He wasn't paying any attention, simply listening to their after-case chatter.

"Are they still here?"

Her voice pierces through his daze and his eyebrows raise in surprise. His teammates hadn't heard; he turns and sees Reese across the room. A police woman points to their general direction. Reese smiles and assumedly says 'thank you', then makes her way over.

He turns… to find his teammates and the boxes are gone. Hotch is the last one out, smiling encouragingly at him as he exits the door. "Wh –" Reid hurries to catch up to his teammates. The SUV is waiting for him just outside the door.

Hotch sees Reid rush out the door, too early and too quick, he turns in the driver seat. "Morgan."

The younger man turns also, sees Reid, understands, and exits the vehicle.

Morgan is baring his way to the SUV, arms crossed. "Hey man, get back in there." His head tilt indicates the police station.

Confused, Reid stops. "What? Why would I do that?"

"Because that woman came back to see you. She came back here to talk to you. Hotch saw it, I saw it. Find your courage and get back in there." Softly he adds, "Maeve wouldn't want you to pass up this chance, would she? Spencer, do you want to muddle through your life or do you want to start living it? How often is a woman going to come to you? With everything you've done in your life, don't you think you deserve something? Don't you think you deserve at least a chance?"

'"No kiddo, there's no winning, there's just living. Moving forward. If you keep doing that… you'll be alright."'

Rossi had said that to Seaver after a case.

Robert Kennedy had once said that "Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live."

Without reply Reid swiftly turns on his heel towards the door.

He doesn't want to. He doesn't want to argue with Morgan, he doesn't want to talk to Reese. He doesn't want to be alone for the rest of his life. He doesn't want to be vulnerable. He doesn't want to muddle through getting to know someone else.

Arguing with himself won't get him anywhere either and deep down, truly he does want to find someone. Someday. Why not now? Why not her?

No reason why not other than his cowardice.

Reid reenters the station. His eyes sweep the room, looking for her. She'd sat by the chairs near the main entrance. He wonders why she decided to wait and as he nears her he sees that she has that look of embarrassment on her face, like when someone realizes they did something really foolish. She probably felt the need to sit and process what she'd done. There are little dark patches under her eyes; probably from lack of sleep due to nightmares. He stops a few feet from her and clears his throat. "Hi Reese."

Her head shoots up and her eyes are large, deer-in-the-headlights large. "Uh, hi." She's chewing the inside of her cheek again.

"Hi."

They both wait there awkwardly for a moment and Reid can practically hear Morgan's voice in his head prodding him forward. 'Ball's in your court man.' "Can – can I help you?"

"Um, maybe? Not really? I – I don't know." Her bottom lip curls over her teeth. "Is it – is it against the rules if I… If I ask for your… phone number?"

His eyebrows nearly reach his hairline. "My – my phone number?" he repeats stupidly.

Maeve's voice echoes through his head, made staticy because they're both using a phone booth.

Reid turns away from her, hands to his face.

"If it is, that's – that's fine. I'll just – go then."

An escape route!

Her sadness is evident in her voice and the way she stands up to leave.

Hotch had smiled at him… Morgan had told him to come back inside…

Was he ever going to get a chance like this again…?

She had come to him. She had made the first move. She had chosen to come back to the police station after everything was all over and seek out him. She had taken that first step, hardest of all.

'"Scars remind us where we've been, they don't have to dictate where we're going."'

Rossi's words float through his mind again.

"Um, wait. Reese?"

He squints at her, pushing away his grief and digging for that desire to have a someone that he'd buried way down deep when Maeve had gone into the ground, he licks his lips. "How about – how about addresses?" It was a cheating way out – if it didn't work out then he wouldn't have much of her voice in his head when she lef- when – if it didn't work out.

Her words would be in his head; he'd bury that too under everything else in there.

Reese smiles at him. "Yeah, sure."

Reid smiles back. He digs paper and pen out from his bag. As he writes he says, "And make sure you see a psychologist too. Statistics are heavily in your favor of dealing with this trauma if you see one and soon. It'll help with the nightmares. It'll help you – move on."

Internally he laughs at the situation, but Reese is already replying, "Yeah, I'm going to find one today and try to schedule an appointment this week."

She writes her address on the other half of the paper, rips it in two, and hands him her half. "Bye."

"Bye."